How to Become a Chef Tennessee

The state of Tennessee is famous for its hospitality and home-cooked Southern cuisine. Where food is concerned, Tennessee is probably most famous for its barbecue, but there is a good mix of burger places, coffee shops and upscale eateries throughout the state. Working as a chef or cook in the state is a great career choice if you are passionate about food and enjoy serving others. Completing an educational training program is a great place to start if you are interested in working in this field. [En Español]

Requirements for Becoming a Chef in Tennessee

Tennessee does not have any certification or educational requirements for working as a chef. Most employers will prefer to hire employees who have at least a high school diploma or equivalent. The best way to learn how to become a chef or cook is through hands-on training. You can start as a server in a restaurant or dishwasher in the kitchen and work your way up through learning your skills strictly on the job. Or you may prefer to earn a technical certificate or degree from a culinary school or culinary arts program at a two- or four-year school.

Culinary Arts Programs in Tennessee

Completing a post-secondary educational program is not mandatory to work as a chef in the state, but it will help build the foundational knowledge and skills you will need to have a successful career in the culinary arts field.

Tennessee is no stranger to good food, and as you might expect there are plenty of training options for future chefs and cooks in the state. Whether you want to attend a culinary school that completely focuses on cooking or complete a degree program at a nearby community college or university, Tennessee has several programs for you to choose from:

  • Nashville State Community College. The Randy Rayburn School of Culinary Arts at NSCC offers an AAS degree in Culinary Arts, which can be completed in two years. This program is geared toward students who are interested in achieving high-end chef and cook positions. They also offer a one-year culinary arts technical certificate that prepares students who will be starting off at entry level with the basic skills they will need.
  • L’ecole Culinaire. The Memphis campus of the culinary school L’ecole Culinaire is accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges and offers diploma and degree programs in culinary arts, as well as cooking classes that are open to the public. The Culinary Fundamentals diploma covers the basics and consists of 40 weeks of classes on cooking theory with accompanying labs. The Culinary and Restaurant Management associate’s degree prepares students for work in culinary management positions. This program consists of cooking theory classes, labs and general education classes. The program can be completed in 70 weeks. Finally, if you are looking to just dabble in the culinary arts to begin, or want to keep honing your culinary skills, L’ecole offers several classes periodically that are open to the public. The classes cover different international cuisines and are also holiday-specific. Prices range from $65-$95 per class. Come classes are offered in the daytime and some are evening classes.
  • University of Tennessee at Knoxville. The University of Tennessee at Knoxville offers a full-time, 12-week course in Culinary & Catering. Students will train in an equipped commercial kitchen as well as in the classroom. This program is short but very thorough and fast-paced.

Certification and Licensing

You do not have to be certified or licensed to work as a chef or in any branch of food service in Tennessee. However, certification may help set you apart from others in your field. It may also help you to advance more quickly in your career if you are planning on working your way up to a head chef position. Certification may help you to earn a higher salary as well.

If you are unsure about how or where to earn certification, the American Culinary Federation (ACF) is a good place to start. They offer several certifications including Executive Chef, Pastry Chef and Personal Chef. You will be required to pass a practical and written test to become certified in the area you choose.

Career Outlook and Salary Expectations

In 2016, there were around 3,700 chefs and head cooks working in the state of Tennessee, and that number is predicted to rise to 4,160 by the year 2026. This will mean a 10 percent increase of workers in this field in the state during the 10-year period between 2016 and 2026.

The average hourly salary for a chef or head cook in the state was $19.80 in 2017. The average annual salary was $41,180 that same year. More experienced chefs may earn as much as $62,760 yearly.

Working as a Chef in Tennessee

Chefs can be found working in restaurants, entertainment venues, casinos, dining halls and more. You may also choose to work as a personal chef or as a part of a catering business. You may even wish to start your own catering business.

There is no shortage of good food in Tennessee, but some of the more popular eateries include Huey’s, Loveless Café and The Barn at Blackberry Farm. You will be likely to find the most work in the cities of Chattanooga, Knoxville, Memphis and Nashville.

If you are interested in working with food, have a strong work ethic and can be creative, with the right educational training program and certification you will be ready to look for work as an entry-level chef anywhere in the state.

Popular Colleges

College Programs

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Chattanooga, TN-GA Area

Southern Adventist University

4881 Taylor Cir, Collegedale, Tennessee 37315-0370
(423) 236-2000
Vegetarian Culinary Arts – Associate Program, Vegetarian Culinary Arts – Certificate Program

Southern Adventist University offers multiple training options, including an Associate program and a Certificate program. All programs are taught at their campus in Collegedale in Hamilton County. This is a full, 4-year private college with 3,125 students, of which 86% are undergraduates. The university is institutionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges. Tuition fees are around $21,150 annually. Books and supplies can cost around $1,100, although this will depend on the program.

Virginia College-Chattanooga

721 Eastgate Loop Rd., Chattanooga, Tennessee 37411
(423) 893-2000 x2009
Pastry Arts – Certificate Program

Virginia College offers various Certificate program options for chefs. Classes are taken at their Chattanooga campus in the city of Chattanooga. Most of the school’s 287 students are on 2-year programs. The cost of tuition is usually in the order of $14,236 per year.

Knoxville, TN Area

Pellissippi State Community College

10915 Hardin Valley Road, Knoxville, Tennessee 37933-0990
(865) 694-6400 x6526
Business/Culinary Arts Concentration – Certificate Program

The Certificate program in Business/Culinary Arts Concentration at Pellissippi State Community College can be taken at their campus in Knoxville in Knox County, Tennessee. This public college has in the order of 10,325 students in total, with the majority of students on 2-year programs. The college is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges. Fees for tuition for in-state students are likely to be in the order of $4,084 and for students from outside the state likely to be about $15,748 yearly, while books and supplies may cost about $1,300, although this varies from program to program.

Memphis, TN-MS-AR Area

L’Ecole Culinaire-Memphis

1245 N. Georgetown Parkway, Cordova, Tennessee 38016
(901) 754-7115
Culinary Fundamentals – Certificate Program, Culinary Fundamentals – Associate Program

L’Ecole Culinaire offers multiple training options, including a Certificate program and an Associate program. Classes are taken at their Memphis campus in the city of Cordova. Most of the school’s 402 students are on 2-year programs. The college is institutionally accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges. Fees for tuition are broadly about $13,500 for each academic year, while study materials may cost roughly $2,300, depending on the program.

Morristown, TN Area

Walters State Community College

500 South Davy Crockett Parkway, Morristown, Tennessee 37813-6899
(423) 585-2600
Culinary Arts – Certificate Program

Walters State Community College’s Certificate-level Culinary Arts program is offered at their campus in the city of Morristown, TN. This public college has in the order of 5,947 students in total, with the majority of students on 2-year programs. The college is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges. Fees for tuition for in-state students are likely to be about $4,032 and for students from other states likely to be about $15,696 yearly. Books and supplies can cost about $1,200, although this will depend on the program.

Nashville-Davidson–Murfreesboro–Franklin, TN Area

Nashville State Community College

120 White Bridge Rd, Nashville, Tennessee 37209-4515
(615) 353-3333
Culinary Arts – Certificate Program, Culinary Arts – Associate Program

Nashville State Community College offers multiple training options, including a Certificate program and an Associate program. All programs are based at their campus in the city of Nashville, TN. Most of the school’s 10,192 students are on 2-year programs. The college is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges. The cost of tuition for in-state students is about $3,969 and for students from other states in the order of $15,633 per year, while study materials may cost in the order of $1,512, depending on the program.

The Art Institute of Tennessee-Nashville

100 Centerview Drive, Suite 250, Nashville, Tennessee 37214-3439
(615) 874-1067
Baking & Pastry – Associate Program, Baking & Pastry – Certificate Program

The Art Institute of Tennessee offers multiple training options, including an Associate program and a Certificate program. Classes are taken at their Nashville campus in the city of Nashville, TN. This private, for-profit college has about 740 students in total, with the majority of students on 4-year programs. The college is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges. Fees for tuition are broadly about $17,592 for each academic year, while study materials may cost roughly $1,500, depending on the program.

North Central Tennessee nonmetropolitan area Area

Tennessee College of Applied Technology-McMinnville

241 Vo Tech Dr, McMinnville, Tennessee 37110
(931) 473-5587
Culinary Arts – Certificate Program

Tennessee College of Applied Technology offers various Certificate program options for chefs. Classes are taken at their McMinnville campus in the town of McMinnville. Most of the school’s 276 students are on 2-year programs. The college is institutionally accredited by the Council on Occupational Education. The cost of tuition is likely to be in the order of $3,948 yearly. Learning materials may cost about $2,600, although this will vary with the program.

* Tuition fees and accredition status are correct at the time of writing, according to the National Center for Education Statistics (http://nces.ed.gov/). Confirm with college before applying.

Neighbor States

Residents of Tennessee may also wish to review their options in Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri.