We dove deep into the numbers and determined the best U.S. cities for chefs and head cooks to work in.
Chefs and head cooks play a major role in food-related businesses and industries. Whether in a small city or a large urban downtown, chefs and head cooks oversee kitchen operations, supervise other cooks, and tailor ingredients, menus, and dishes in order to satisfy consumers and drive local business. Many chefs are also business owners themselves, running their own restaurants or catering businesses, dealing not only with the food but also marketing and finances.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the demand for chefs and head cooks is expected to grow by 11% over the next ten years, a rate that is over two times higher than the U.S. average. With such a promising occupation, where exactly in the U.S. are the best places for chefs and head cooks to work in?
Here at AdvisorSmith, we conducted a study on 227 U.S. cities to determine the best places for chefs and head cooks to pursue their careers in. Our rankings were based on several key factors, including average annual salary, cost of living, and location quotient, and cities were categorized into small, midsize, and large cities based on metropolitan statistical area population. After careful analysis, we determined the top 50 most attractive cities for chefs and head cooks.
Top Cities for Chefs by City Size
In our study, cities were categorized into different sizes—small, midsize, and large—to account for a variety of lifestyle preferences. Small cities had a metro area population below 150,000, midsize cities had a population between 150,000 and 500,000, and large cities had a population larger than 500,000.
The top 50 cities for chefs in our study consisted of a fairly balanced mix of small, midsize, and large cities. There were 11 small cities, 20 midsize cities, and 19 large cities in the top 50 cities. Notably, Florida dominated the top ten, with 4 of the top ten cities being in Florida. This can be attributed to a multitude of factors, including Florida’s high tourism rate and large retirement population.
Best Cities for Chefs
1. Sebastian, FL
Sebastian is situated along Florida’s central Atlantic coast and is a principal city in the Sebastian-Vero Beach metropolitan statistical area. Sebastian is part of an area known as the “Treasure Coast,” which includes a number of golf clubs and resorts, including Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, as well as such attractions as the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge. Sebastian has experienced substantial growth over the last decade, with the population increasing 9.3% between the years 2012-2017, and personal income increasing 20.9% in the same period. These two rates are important factors driving both job growth and job demand for chefs and head cooks.
The average annual salary for chefs and head cooks in Sebastian is $75,450. This salary is 45% higher than the average salary for chefs in the U.S. This salary is also the second-highest salary for chefs and head cooks in our study. There are also 119% more jobs for chefs in Sebastian on a per-capita basis than in the average U.S. city.
2. Cape Coral, FL
Cape Coral is located along Florida’s Gulf Coast in the southwestern part of the state. Known as a “Waterfront Wonderland,” Cape Coral has experienced tremendous growth over the last decade, with the metropolitan area experiencing a 22% increase in population over the 2010-2018 period—one of the highest growth rates in the nation. The city is home to more than 400 miles of canals, 30 recreational parks, as well as seven golf courses, a fishing pier, and number of renowned Gulf Coast beaches.
The average salary for chefs and head cooks in Cape Coral is $71,940, 38% higher than the national average for chefs. It is also the third-highest salary for chefs in our study. There are also 122% more jobs for chefs in Cape Coral on a per-capita basis than the average U.S. city.
3. Morgantown, WV
Morgantown is a small city in northern West Virginia located 75 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Home to West Virginia University, which hosts more than 26,000 students each year, this college town is the medical, cultural, and commercial hub of the region and is located in one of the fastest-growing counties in the state.
The average salary for chefs in Morgantown is $66,140, which is 27% higher than the national average. There are 6% more jobs for chefs in Morgantown on a per-capita basis, and the cost of living is 11% less expensive than the national average.
4. Las Vegas, NV
Las Vegas is the 28th-most populated city in the nation and the second-best large city for chefs in our study. Las Vegas is internationally renowned as a major tourist destination and resort city, famous for its entertainment, shopping, and fine dining. With over 40 million people visiting the city each year, Las Vegas hosts a vibrant and competitive restaurant scene, with some of the most celebrated chefs from around the world opening up locations. Needless to say, Las Vegas has an insatiable demand for chefs and head cooks with experience, skill, and creativity.
Las Vegas chefs and head cooks earn an average salary of $57,650, a figure that is 11% higher than the national average. The city has 233% more jobs for chefs on a per-capita basis, which is the sixth-highest percentage among all cities in our study.
5. Springfield, MO
Springfield is the third-largest city in Missouri and is known as the “Queen City of Ozarks.” Over the last decade, southwestern Missouri, including Springfield, have experienced incredible growth. Since the turn of the century, the population in the Springfield metropolitan area has grown by nearly 30%. Like many metropolitan downtowns throughout the Midwest, Springfield’s downtown has seen a revitalization, with old buildings made new again and restaurants, shops, and living spaces filling once abandoned buildings.
Chefs and head cooks in Springfield are paid an average salary of $56,260, a figure 8% higher than the national average. Springfield has 73% more jobs for chefs on a per-capita basis compared to the average U.S. city, and the cost of living in Springfield is 15% less than the national average.
Top 50 Cities for Chefs
Below are the top 50 cities for chefs. In addition to rank, we include for each city its size, average annual salary, total number of available jobs, location quotient, and cost of living.
|Rank||City||City Size||Average Annual Salary||Total Jobs||Location Quotient||Cost of Living|
|2||Cape Coral, FL||Large||$71,940||520||2.22||105|
|4||Las Vegas, NV||Large||$57,650||2920||3.33||105|
|6||The Villages, FL||Small||$55,080||90||3.64||108|
|9||Port St. Lucie, FL||Midsize||$59,010||220||1.67||100|
|10||Glens Falls, NY||Small||$46,550||150||3.1||96|
|11||Punta Gorda, FL||Midsize||$58,300||70||1.69||100|
|12||Ocean City, NJ||Small||$67,930||90||2.55||131|
|17||North Port, FL||Large||$63,950||280||1.07||108|
|20||Atlantic City, NJ||Midsize||$58,540||150||1.35||104|
|25||Hilton Head Island, SC||Midsize||$52,310||190||2.76||117|
|26||New Haven, CT||Large||$65,830||310||1.21||119|
|39||Santa Fe, NM||Small||$53,830||90||1.66||114|
|40||Kansas City, MO||Large||$48,430||1000||1.06||94|
|41||Barnstable Town, MA||Midsize||$67,090||160||1.72||144|
|44||Lake Charles, LA||Midsize||$44,790||140||1.33||91|
|50||Virginia Beach, VA||Large||$54,120||610||0.91||105|
AdvisorSmith analyzed three key factors to determine the best cities for chefs and head cooks:
1. Average annual salary for chefs
We gathered the average annual salary of chefs and head cooks in each city and ranked cities higher if they paid chefs more. The annual average salary for chefs in the U.S. in 2018 was $52,160.
2. Cost of living index for each city
We adjusted the average annual salary of each city against a national cost of living index in order to standardize the annual salaries for comparison. Cities with a lower cost of living were ranked higher.
3. Density of jobs for chefs in each city
We utilized a location quotient to determine the density of jobs for chefs in each city. We calculated the location quotient by measuring the number of jobs for chefs against the total number of available jobs in each city. Cities with a higher location quotient were ranked higher.
There were 139,000 jobs for chefs and head cooks in 2018, and employment for chefs is expected to grow by 11% from 2018 to 2028. This is 2.2 times higher than the average national job growth outlook for all occupations.
 Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook
 Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics
 Sperling’s Best Places Cost of Living Index