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Because food is a staple item, careers in the culinary industry are among the most stable jobs in the country.

Capturing a Culinary Career

Because food is a staple item, careers in the culinary industry are among the most stable jobs in the country. Culinary jobs are also diverse. They're located in kitchens, hotels, casinos, and laboratories, and they're available to people with a wide range of backgrounds, from culinary arts to business to physics. If you love great food, one of these culinary careers might be perfect for you.

Food Scientist
When you go to the supermarket, you expect the food on the shelves to be safe and appetizing. Many consumers read food labels to check for calories, protein, carbohydrates, and fat. A food scientist's job is to develop new and better technology for preparing, preserving, packaging, and storing food. Two of the responsibilities specific to a food scientist are analysis and inspection.

Food scientists analyze food for nutritional content and ensure that products are free from harmful additives. Many food scientists work in laboratories or test kitchens. Food scientists also work as inspectors, making sure food processing facilities meet government standards. One in four food scientists have jobs with the government.

Some food scientists begin their careers by getting culinary degrees, while others get degrees in chemistry, physics, and microbiology. Advanced degrees can lead to job opportunities in research and teaching.

Salary.com estimates annual wages for food scientists in eight metropolitan areas as follows: New York, NY: $68,600; Los Angeles, CA: $65,600; Miami, FL: $58,100; Chicago, IL: $62,600; Boston, MA: $64,900; Cleveland, OH: $58,800; Houston, TX: $60,200; and Seattle, WA: $63,900.

Executive Chef
An executive chef is the commander of the kitchen; he coordinates the kitchen staff and manages the preparation of meals. While the job may demand long hours, weekends, and holidays, it also allows for culinary creativity. Executive chefs work in restaurants, hotels, casinos, corporate dining establishments, and even the White House.

An executive chef's duties include menu planning and management responsibilities. An executive chef plans menus, creates daily and weekly specials, and determines portions sizes. Before and during meals, an executive chef oversees prep work and ensures that all meals leaving the kitchen are consistent in presentation and quality.

For many executive chefs, a job as a restaurant owner is the ultimate goal. Successful chefs may also find jobs as food writers or hosts of television cooking shows. A culinary degree allows a chef to develop a specialty cuisine and learn valuable business skills. Experience is also crucial, and many culinary schools place chefs in internships or apprenticeships.

According to Salary.com, average yearly salaries for executive chefs in eight metropolitan areas run as follows: New York, NY: $90,000; Los Angeles, CA: $85,900; Miami, FL: $76,100; Chicago, IL: $82,100; Boston, MA: $85,000; Cleveland, OH: $77,000; Houston, TX: $78,900; and Seattle, WA: $83,800.

Sous Chef
A sous chef is second in command to the executive chef. Because an executive chef may spend a great deal of time working from an office, a sous chef is responsible for maintaining order in the kitchen.

A sous chef shares many of the job responsibilities of an executive chef, including inventory, ordering, and menu planning. In addition, a sous chef directs the daily, hands-on operations of a kitchen, such as slicing, dicing, cooking, and seasoning the food, and may hire, schedule, and train employees.

A culinary degree from one of many on-campus or online schools provides a sous chef with the training in culinary techniques that keep a kitchen running smoothly. Practical job experience is also vital. A talented sous chef with years of experience may advance to the position of executive chef.

Average yearly salaries for sous chefs in eight metropolitan areas run as follows: New York, NY: $46,900; Los Angeles, CA: $44,800; Miami, FL: $39,700; Chicago, IL: $42,800; Boston, MA: $44,300; Cleveland, OH: $40,100; Houston, TX: $41,100; and Seattle, WA: $43,600.

Pastry Chef
Creating a show-stopping wedding cake requires creativity, precision, and patience. A pastry chef applies culinary skills to the creation and decoration of desserts for restaurants, hotels, and special events. According to Roland Mesnier, the White House Executive Pastry Chef, a pastry chef should love baking everything from simple cookies to elaborate cakes.

Baking and pastry arts rely on chemistry, and a pastry chef often begins the exacting prep work well in advance of the actual baking. Because pastry chefs work with perishable ingredients such as eggs, cream, and butter, knowledge of food safety and sanitation is crucial to the job.

Attending a culinary school allows pastry chefs to learn both the science of baking as well as the aesthetics. In addition to a culinary degree, a chef needs experience, especially for the delicate practice of cake decoration.

An overview of eight metropolitan areas suggests that pastry chef salaries range in the 40s: New York, NY: $49,400; Los Angeles, CA: $47,200; Miami, FL: $41,800; Chicago, IL: $45,100; Boston, MA: $46,700; Cleveland, OH: $42,300; Houston, TX: $43,300; and Seattle, WA: $46,000.

Restaurant Manager
Restaurant managers take care of all the business aspects of running a restaurant. The job is often hectic, as a manager is responsible for dealing with all the problems that crop up throughout the day. Daily duties may include:

  • Inventory. A manager often sets menu prices, completes daily inventory, and orders food, equipment, and supplies.
  • Administration. A restaurant manager takes care of all human resources tasks including hiring, firing, training, and scheduling. In addition, a manager is responsible for taxes, bills, sales, and deposits.
  • Customer Service. If a customer is dissatisfied, a restaurant manager's job is to investigate the complaint and fix the problem. During meal times, managers spend time in the dining room talking to customers and making sure they are satisfied.

A culinary school can provide restaurant managers with business and culinary training. Because managers sometimes fill in for other restaurant employees, experience is essential to the job.

Average yearly salaries for restaurant managers in eight metropolitan areas range from the high 40s to the mid 50s: New York, NY: $56,200; Los Angeles, CA: $53,700; Miami, FL: $47,600; Chicago, IL: $51,300; Boston, MA: $53,100; Cleveland, OH: $48,100; Houston, TX: $49,300; and Seattle, WA: $52,300.

Catering Director
Catering is the fastest growing section of the culinary industry, with annual sales between $6 and $8 billion. A catering director oversees food operations for a variety of occasions, including weddings, conventions, and charity events and may work for large companies, such as casinos and hotel chains. A catering director's job includes planning and preparation.

First, the catering director meets with clients to plan menus, event design, and serving options. Both presentation and style are important, and a good catering director knows you only get one shot at making a great impression. Next, at the event itself, the catering director must manage staff members as they prepare food, set up tables and decorations, and serve guests at an event.

Catering directors must be able to plan menus and manage a large staff, and a degree from a culinary school can provide the necessary balance of culinary and business training.

According to Salary.com, the average yearly salaries for catering directors working in eight major metropolitan areas suggest that location matters: New York, NY: $68,200; Los Angeles, CA: $65,200; Miami, FL: $57,700; Chicago, IL: $62,200; Boston, MA: $64,500; Cleveland, OH: $58,400; Houston, TX: $59,900; and Seattle, WA: $61,500.

Culinary jobs are expected to grow steadily in the coming years, and opportunities are available for a wide range of candidates. Culinary careers can be challenging, but the reward is the knowledge that you've helped to create a fantastic meal or a memorable dining experience.

Useful Links
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Salary.com
U.S. Department of Labor

Vocational & Technical Schools by State

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