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From the Food Network to the foodie blogosphere, one thing is certain: The culinary field is cooking. Recent reports from the National Restaurant Association suggest that consumer habits are trending toward high quality, locally sourced meat and produce (sustainably grown), and healthier menu options. This renewed interest in quality food means more training for the culinary experts who provide it -- training often honed in culinary school. This is true not just of chefs, but also of future bakers and restaurant managers or restaurateurs. Here is a brief review of some of the careers culinary graduates might choose, and the trends impacting them.
Not all students who attend culinary arts schools become chefs -- or move into a restaurant kitchen at all, for that matter. Even those who do might start as line cooks rather than a head chefs or serve private clients as caterers or personal chefs. The following are just a few of the careers culinary graduates might pursue. Descriptions are drawn from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) Occupational Outlook Handbook.
- Chefs and head cooks: Chefs and head cooks dish up food in restaurants, private homes and other establishments, and often manage lesser-trained or -experienced culinary professionals, like line cooks. Not all chefs attend culinary arts schools, but many employers prefer to hire these graduates, particularly in high-end restaurants.
- Bakers and pastry artists: Bakers and pastry artists make breads, pastries and other baked goods. They can work in restaurants or bake shops, but also grocery or specialty stores.
- Food service managers: Food service managers see to the day-to-day operation of restaurants, directing both cooking and service staffs. Though not all food service managers attend culinary trade schools, it is not uncommon for head chefs to transition into food service management, especially if they hope to open their own restaurants.
- Restaurateurs: Restaurateur is the trade-specific title for restaurant owners, many of whom begin their careers in the kitchen (or, more precisely, in culinary art schools).
Culinary Certifications and Degrees
Just as not everyone enrolled in culinary programs intend to become chefs, not everyone earns a degree. While bachelor's and associate degrees in the culinary arts are prevalent, so are diplomas, post-secondary certificates and professional certifications. Admissions requirements vary from one program or emphasis to the next, but in most cases, applicants need not any formal education beyond a high school diploma (and in some cases, might not even need that). Majors vary, too, but may include the following types of courses:
- Food science
- Basic garde manger
- Food sanitation
- Foundations of baking
- Menu planning
- Restaurant management
- Banquets and catering
- Professional cooking
How to Become a Culinary Professional
There are many different ways to enter the culinary field and gain skills to become a chef, front-of-house employee or even a baker or pastry chef. Below are some steps for you to consider for entering the culinary field.
- Finish high school or complete your GED. A high school education is important to any career and almost any employer requires applicants to have a high school diploma or its equivalent, the GED. Completing high school shows that you have basic fundamental skills in math and English as well as a commitment to following through on standard expectations.
- Enroll for a postsecondary program. Although post-high school education is not necessary for the culinary field, it can give you certain knowledge and advantages for seeking a culinary career. Whether it's a diploma program or a two- year or four-year degree, you could learn different skills, such as cooking, menu planning, food sanitation and more in a vocational or community college culinary program. In fact, the American Culinary Federation accredits some 200 culinary training programs around the U.S.
- Pursue certification. There are many different certifications available to you to help you validate your skills and show that you can do what is expected on the job. The American Culinary Federation alone offers 14 different certifications in fields as varied as personal cooking, baking and pastry, cooking education, and more. Other organizations offering certification include CIAProChef and Living Light.
- Continue on with your education and build skills. It's up to you whether you want to pursue more education, but if you have a culinary diploma or certificate, you may want to continue on to a two-year degree. A bachelor's degree could be next if you already have an associate degree. These will be decisions that you need to make, but be sure to keep building your skills and knowledge through any opportunities that arise.
Expert Q&A on Culinary Schools
There are many roads to becoming a culinary professional, and while picking a culinary school is an important decision, there are many other factors to consider. To get more insight on how to become a chef or culinary professional, we spoke with an expert in the field. Moshe Grundman is a chef at Sixty5 on Main on in Nyack, N.Y., and here's some of his advice for young chefs who are just starting out.
Moshe Grundman is a chef at Sixty5 on Main on in Nyack, N.Y.
RWM: What is the typical educational path needed to enter a chef career?
Moshe: The best way to get into the industry and to fast track (if possible) your career is to study at a top culinary school. You can also take alternative routes of working in restaurants, from a line cook to sous chef to hopefully one day becoming an executive chef. Generally, culinary school lasts 2 years, but there must be innate talent, longing for this career, and character that leads you to push through and persevere - as kitchens aren't always the easiest places to work. The cream rises to the top and you become a great and top chef.
RWM: How long does it typically take to complete education/degree/certification for this job?
Moshe: There are 1, 2, and 4 year culinary school programs. I attended a 2 year program. The longer 4 year programs give you a bachelors degree with more restaurant management, accounting, bookkeeping, and other business management skills that would apply to restaurants. The shorter programs focus on actual cooking skills, techniques, plating, and anything required to become a great chef. One of the 4 year programs is Johnson and Wales. In addition to this preparation and learning in school, anyone wanting to get into the culinary world must have a strong passion and willingness to work long and hard hours, beyond the classroom. It takes real world and restaurant experience to succeed.
RWM: Why would you encourage someone to pursue this career?
Moshe: You should pursue cooking, being a chef and the industry as a whole if your passion and dream in life is to become a chef and if you love cooking and take pride in the food that you produce. You must also combine that with a passion and love of people, as half the battle is hospitality and working with other cooks, chefs, restaurant managers, owners, but most importantly patrons and diners. Without patrons, you have nothing and you must have the people skills and be personable enough to engage your clientele and live by the "the customer is always right" motto. Lastly, because you are away from your family so often, and because you are cooking for guests and their families on holidays (and therefore missing them with your family) you must love your "restaurant family" and be able to make the sacrifices necessary to become successful in the culinary world. You miss vacations, holidays, birthdays and the like, so you can make others happy and help them celebrate those very special occasions with your food and in your restaurant.
RWM: Do you have any advice for young people who are just starting out in this career?
Moshe: Before you go to culinary school or pursue a career in the kitchen, spend some time in a busy kitchen, assist with prep work, try to make fun and complex dishes at home, and work on your plating skills. You must make a serious commitment to cooking and learning, working toward success by learning from mistakes and have a willingness to "pay your dues". You must have a hunger, and drive to succeed. There are plenty of other cooks, sous chefs and the like who are angling towards becoming the executive chef and you must therefore strive to be the best and to seek perfection (or as close as possible). In addition, go to farmers markets, sample produce, wake up early and pick things out at the local fish market, speak to other chefs and ask them about their journeys.
Culinary Salary and Career Info
Interest in the culinary arts may be growing, but market demand for its graduates is career-dependent. According to the BLS, some of the best opportunities for chefs and head cooks could be available to those who already have experience on the job, culinary creativity, and business skills. Below is a breakdown of salary and career projections of a few key culinary professions. Note that all statistics are drawn from the BLS.
|Career||Annual Median Wage||Projected Number of New Jobs||Projected Job Growth Rate|
|Chefs and Head Cooks||43,180||11,300||8.9|
|Food Service Managers||50,820||15,700||5.1|
These are just a handful of the careers waiting for culinary arts graduates. Some go on to specialize in a particular area of the kitchen, like garde manger, or -- in the case of sommeliers -- wine. You can research more by visiting organizations like the National Restaurant Association or the BLS online.