Culinary Careers

Careers in the culinary arts field can be found anywhere there is a need for food.

Culinary positions are most commonly found in the food service and hospitality industries, both of which contain bountiful opportunities in highly competitive job markets.As a result, obtaining a career as a culinary arts professional requires a lot of focus, persistence, dedication and resilience.

It also requires a love for food, attention to detail, the ability to work well under pressure, patience and creativity. An individual must take many steps before embarking on a career in the culinary arts. These steps include education and training, hands-on experience and assessing different career options. Read on to learn whether or not a career as a chef or head cook is right for you.

Education

Any career in culinary arts requires extensive training. Even though training can be obtained in various ways, getting a culinary education first is highly recommended for aspiring chefs. Becoming a chef is a continuous learning process, as there are limitless ways to prepare food. Therefore, having a general knowledge of food and of culinary practices is extremely beneficial. Luckily, there are many options available for a culinary arts education.

These are the four levels of chef’s education:

  • Certificate and diploma programs are one-year vocational tracks that teach the kitchen basics before placing students in positions such as line cooks or other kitchen staff.
  • Associate’s degrees involve two-year cooking programs that also require competency in English, math and communications. This is the most common educational path for culinary arts professionals.
  • Bachelor’s degrees are four-year programs issued by universities or cooking schools. Common degree programs for aspiring culinary arts professionals include Dietetics and Hospitality.
  • Master’s degrees require apprenticeships with master chefs and are offered by the most well-known culinary schools.

Many culinary schools offer work-study options in which working at a restaurant counts as course credit toward a degree. Culinary schools are strategically placed in large metropolitan cities for this reason.

Additionally, many schools offer resources like job boards that match you to employers, as well as career counselors who can give you advice on how to plan your future. If you are looking to own your own restaurant or catering business you should take courses in accounting, entrepreneurial and business in addition to completing your culinary arts training.

Experience

Most restaurant kitchens function according to a strict hierarchy, with the executive chef as the head of the kitchen and the sous chef as a close second. All other chefs are often assigned to a station of the kitchen and are responsible for one category of food preparation, like meats or salads. These chefs are commonly known as line cooks, as the plate of food is passed down the line to each specific cooking station until it is ready to be served.

The number of stations in a restaurant kitchen depends on the size of the menu. Commercial kitchens designed to produce large quantities of food function much in the same way as restaurant kitchens. However, there are some differences between the two. For instance, commercial kitchens producing food in bulk often serve the food buffet.

Whether you are looking to become a head chef or to own your own catering company, it is necessary to start from the bottom as a line cook. Line cooks do not make a lot of money. However, if you are an aspiring chef, taking a job as a line cook will pay off in the future.

Line cooking will not only give you the best experience possible by teaching you the different tasks required of each position within a kitchen, but will also allow you to prove your worth in multiple areas. Additionally, learning the different requirements of different kitchen jobs can help you assess what specific career path is right for you.

Careers

There are a wide range of consumer service environments where culinary professionals are needed. These environments include resorts, spas, hotels, cruise lines, retirement homes, recreational facilities, amusement parks, airlines, country clubs, convention centers, homeless shelters, casinos, schools, hospitals and of course are different restaurants from fast food to fine dining. Food trucks and pop-ups are also popular options.

All of the following are highly valued culinary jobs to strive for:

  • Executive chefs manage the kitchen, preparing work schedules, creating menus and computing food costs.
  • Sous chefs assist the executive chef in running the kitchen.
  • Banquet chefs manage the kitchen staff in quantity food production for banquets, conferences and conventions.
  • Pastry chefs bake breads, pastries and desserts.
  • Institutional food service chefs prepare food in schools and health care facilities.
  • Contract food service chefs prepare food within corporations.
  • Dietary managers are nutrition-focused food service professional.
  • Caterer prepare food for catered events.

The diversity of options available for culinary careers is an advantage of the culinary field. Most chefs work in several different culinary positions throughout their lives, learning as much as possible. The physical requirements of the job and the long hours are some disadvantages of culinary careers. That said, those who are passionate about cooking find the job extremely rewarding.

Helpful Tips

Since extensive training is required to qualify for culinary careers, looking for experience anywhere you can is highly recommended. Pay attention to events happening in your area. Local festivals are a great place to practice cooking food in bulk, as they usually need extra hands.

Entering a cooking competition is another great way to broaden your horizons. Immersing yourself in a competitive environment will test your creativity and ability to work under pressure. Doing so will also help you establish valuable connections that can benefit your career down the line.

Finally, be open-minded in your job search. Even getting a job as busser could be beneficial to your future, as it can be a relatively easy way in the door of a fine restaurant. It is important to remember not to get discouraged. Work in the culinary arts field can be grueling and unforgiving, so do not take anything personally.

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