Culinary and Cooking Careers
Professionals in food preparation
Do your meals look as good as they taste? Do you know your herbs and spices by sight, smell and flavor? Do you regularly alter recipes because they are “missing something”? If you answered yes to all three questions, the culinary arts are practically calling your name.
Even if you're not advanced in preparation and presentation but you've got a passion for good food and entertaining, training in the culinary arts can provide the skills.
From making appetizers, soups and salads, to entrees, side dishes, breads and desserts, a culinary or cooking school gives you everything you need to break into the industry.
Typical culinary jobs
- Bakers - Breads, bagels, buns and a variety of desserts are prepared in restaurants, grocery store departments or specialized shops.
- Food preparation workers - Peel and cut vegetables, prepare meat, monitor cooking temperatures and ensure workspace cleanliness.
- Fast-food cooks - Batches of different foods such as burgers and chicken are cooked and packaged, then left on a heated surface ready for customers.
- Short-order cooks - Quick service is the emphasis for these workers, who prepare breakfasts, burgers and fries.
- Institution and cafeteria cooks - Large amounts of a few meals are prepared and served in hospitals, schools and other institutions.
- Personal chefs - Plan and prepare meals in a client's home, often tailoring them to dietary requirements and preferences. They order food and supplies and keep a clean kitchen.
- Research and development chefs - Food science education and food preparation skills are combined to develop and test recipes, equipment and cooking techniques for manufacturers, marketers, restaurants and food growers and processors.
- Line cooks/assistant cooks - Assist the head chef or cook by working certain stations. They may be fry cooks, grill cooks or vegetable cooks and prepare meal portions based on what station they are in charge of.
- Sous chefs - When the number one chef is away, the sous chef takes over.
- Chefs de cuisine - In charge of a single kitchen, adding the finishing touches to dishes, coordinating staff and controlling quality.
- Head cooks/executive chefs - Plan a restaurant's menu and serving sizes and coordinate other kitchen staff in meal preparation. They also make the finishing touches and ensure quality. An executive chef may supervise a number of kitchens in a hotel or restaurant group. Chefs are generally more skilled than cooks.
How long will it take?
Some cooking schools offer diplomas in less than six months, but with most of these programs you'll learn a limited range of skills. The diploma will likely only prepare you for a few entry-level positions. Sometimes a school will offer a variety of diplomas, in specialties such as pastry chef, culinary management and more. In this case students may be able to take more than one diploma or a combined diploma program.
If your goal involves becoming a sous chef or higher in an upscale eating establishment, it pays to complete a two- to four-year degree program. Not only will you learn more techniques and cuisine styles, but you'll enter the workforce in a better position to land higher paying jobs.
Independent cooking schools, professional culinary institutes, community or career colleges and universities offer programs in the culinary arts.
Skills and requirements
Diploma programs in trade or vocational schools tend to offer basic training, such as sanitation and safety, knife skills, cooking methods and teamwork. Some will focus on certain areas, such as baking and pastry, while others will offer general instruction on all cooking and baking methods. Make sure you know what to look for in a culinary school before enrolling in any classes.
Degree programs tend to focus more on the increased demand for nutrition and high quality, sophisticated meals. As well as the basics, these programs may teach students to prepare regional and international cuisines and to use advanced preparation techniques. Business skills are also an important part of many degree programs. Purchasing and cost control, computers and accounting, communication and even psychology can be learned by culinary students.
Many schools offer hospitality and restaurant management programs for ambitious students who aim to run the show.