The Food Network. Top Chef. The foodie blogosphere. Credit what you will, one thing is certain: The culinary field is cooking. According to The Sacramento Bee, the number of students attending culinary trade schools doubled between 2010 and 2013, and the number of culinary degree programs grew, too. The market is also shifting. A 2014 report from the National Restaurant Association suggests 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 (often called pastry artists) 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 segue to the 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.
- Restauranteurs. Restauranteur 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
Culinary salary and career outlook
Interest in the culinary arts may be growing, but market demand for its graduates is career-dependent. Here is a breakdown of salary and career projections of a few key culinary professions. Note that all statistics are drawn from the BLS.
Chefs and head cooks. Competition for chef and head cook positions can be fierce. The BLS projects that demand for these professionals will grow by 5 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is slower than the national average for all occupations. According to Projections Central, the states with the fastest projected growth for chefs between 2010 and 2020 are as follows:
- Utah. 19.5 percent
- Washington. 18.4 percent
- Idaho. 17 percent
Earnings vary, too. The BLS reports that chefs and head cooks earned a national median salary of $42.490 in 2013, while the top 10 percent earners made in excess of $74,240, and the lowest 10 percent earned up to $24,160.
Bakers. As with chefs, competition for baking positions could be steep over the next several years, making culinary art schools possible resume boosters. The BLS projects that demand for bakers will grow by 6 percent nationally between 2012 and 2022, but Projections Central suggest some regions will fair better than others. The three states expected to experience the fastest growth in baking positions between 2010 and 2022 are:
- Idaho. 26 percent
- Georgia. 19.8 percent
- Colorado. 18.5 percent
The BLS reports a median annual wage of $23,160 for bakers in 2013, though highly skilled bakers may enjoy the best job opportunities (and, in turn, better earnings).
Food service managers. The BLS projects that demand for food service managers will grow by a comparatively sluggish 2 percent between 2012 and 2022, but notes that candidates with formal training through hospitality or culinary arts schools should have an edge over career competition without formal training. Geography matters, too, and according to Projections Central, the following states should see the strongest growth between 2010 and 2020:
- Utah. 21.1 percent
- Washington. 19.3 percent
- Oregon. 17.6 percent
Food service managers earned a median annual wage of $48,080 in 2013, reports the BLS, though earnings can vary tremendously. The top 10 percent of earners, for instance, earned in excess of $82,370 that year, while the lowest 10 percent earned up to $30,540.
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.
Bakers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes513011.htm
Bakers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/production/bakers.htm
Chefs and Head Cooks, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes351011.htm
Chefs and Head Cooks, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/food-preparation-and-serving/chefs-and-head-cooks.htm
Food Service Managers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes119051.htm
Food Service Managers, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, January 8, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/food-service-managers.htm
Projections Central, State Occupational Projections, Long Term Occupational Projections, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
"Students cook up careers at Citrus Heights culinary school," The Sacramento Bee, Debbie Arrington, April 24, 2013, http://www.sacbee.com/2013/04/23/5365230/students-cook-up-careers-at-citrus.html
"What's Hot: 2014 Culinary Forecast," National Restaurant Association, 2014, http://www.restaurant.org/Downloads/PDFs/News-Research/WhatsHot/What-s-Hot-2014.pdf