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Chef salaries in one graph

Chowhound took data from's 2009 salary survey and pulled together this graph comparing the effective hourly wage of chefs de cuisine -- that is, the No. 2 chef at nice restaurants -- with the pay of a bus driver or a trash collector. On first glance, the chefs come out okay, making nearly $60,000 a year. But when you break that down by their 62-hour workweeks, it gets a little less impressive:


Tough business.

By Ezra Klein  | October 13, 2010; 11:02 AM ET
Categories:  Charts and Graphs, Food  
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Reading the chart, I realized that for the 22 years or so of cumulative child rearing, I performed the jobs of school bus driver, trash collector, and chef de cuisine for exactly $0.00 per hour. Which is not to denigrate the hard work involved in any of those professions. Just to recall that parenting was hard work, too.

Posted by: JJenkins2 | October 13, 2010 11:15 AM | Report abuse

try making money owning a restaurant

Posted by: bdballard | October 13, 2010 11:32 AM | Report abuse

Not to mention, working in a kitchen is a pretty physically dangerous job. Fire, knives, all in very tight quarters, often with a linguistically diverse workforce (how do you say "hot pan comin' through" in French? Spanish? Cantonese?).

I used to volunteer at an ER, and I remember a handful of chef-types coming in with severe gouges on their hands. They almost always also had scars on their forearms from oven burns, and many also had torso scars from splatter.

Maybe I was just seeing the most klutzy chefs, but from what I've heard, it's pretty common in the profession to have these kinds of injuries. It's not arm in the combine kinds of injuries you see, but it's certainly not a safe profession.

Posted by: theorajones1 | October 13, 2010 12:07 PM | Report abuse

If the restaurant biz is like every other profession, then if they report they work 62 hours a week it means they really work more like 45 to 50.

Posted by: ostap666 | October 13, 2010 12:19 PM | Report abuse

thorajones1 is right, there are occupational hazards in the kitchen, starting with the heat (in a normal restaurant kitchen, maybe not in a fancy schmanzy restaurant kitchen). But working in kitchens when I was younger taught me to use a knife (which makes cooking at home so much easier -- I think more people would enjoy cooking at home, and would be able to do it efficiently, if they knew how to use a knife and would throw away the stupid knives their drawers seem to be filled with), to always assume a pan is hot when I'm going to pick it up, to never try to catch a falling knife, and to wash your hands after working with hot peppers (use the toilet before starting with the peppers, not immediately afterwards!)

I have a couple of nice, but not too grand, knife scars, each with a little story -- again, nothing grand, but memories about a part of my life I don't mind recalling.

Posted by: bdballard | October 13, 2010 12:45 PM | Report abuse

"On first glance, the chefs come out okay, making nearly $60,000 a year"

That seems low. On the other hand, I expect that the only people who really believe executive chefs should be paid more than garbage collectors are folks who never spent any time collecting garbage. Granted, it may not require a college degree, but it certainly requires some stamina.

Posted by: Kevin_Willis | October 13, 2010 1:08 PM | Report abuse

It's all about what turns your crank. An issue with the state of our current financial system is the drive to make money, not ply your profession, which leads to ethical decision-making focused on making money for yourself. Nothing wrong with making money, but I've met a number of chefs who dropped out of their high-money jobs that were killing their souls and personalities to do what they loved and enjoyed; cooking food.

With school bus drivers and trash collectors, they're vital functions in our society, but receive very little public acknowledgement or bad press when they do. I also doubt many of those 'Chefs de Cuisine' would be suitable bus drivers, who go through very extensive licensing requirments then need to navigate the roadways with your kids misbehaving behind them while dodging your poor driving on the road and do it every day, only to come home and read about how unimportant they are compared to someone who cooks food at overpriced restaurants they can't afford. I hope they love their jobs, for the sake of my kids and yours (someday Ezra).

Posted by: Jaycal | October 13, 2010 1:15 PM | Report abuse

I'd like to see a congressional staffer included on that chart. Salary in the low 40s, with 60 hour work weeks = $13.14. That includes dealing with some of the highest cost of living in the country.

Posted by: jadamvogt | October 13, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

Two handy resources: (Occupational Wages Around the World) and (Congressional Staff Salaries).

Columbus Day always reminds me of the differences between Congressional Staffers (who have the day off) and Chefs, [most] School Bus Drivers, bankers, etc.

Posted by: rmgregory | October 13, 2010 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Executive chefs are at the top of the 'heap', and Executive Pastry Chefs make less. And they work super hard, often 80 hours a week, and it's physically demanding. Of course, the most important job in the restaurant, the dishwasher, gets paid crap.

Posted by: moiraeve1 | October 13, 2010 6:41 PM | Report abuse

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