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Information on Culinary Arts Schools and Careers

Considering a career as culinary manager or chef? School may be a good choice for you.

It’s easy to list the reasons why anyone would want to start a culinary arts career. Do what you love for a living. Work with your hands. Make art.

Chefs and restaurant managers are integral to healthy, successful restaurants and food establishments. Chefs design menus and recipes, manage the operations within the kitchen, and maintain food quality. Restaurant managers maintain the business and the daily operation of a restaurant, coordinating activities across kitchen staff, keeping track of supplies, cost, and revenue, and maintaining customer and employee satisfaction. Both help hire and train new employees; in some cases, the head chef is also the manager or owner of the restaurant.

Gaining experience while on the job is necessary to learn skills. Culinary arts schools, however, can help launch the careers of new and growing culinary professionals.

Choose Among Types of Culinary Arts Colleges

Some big, some small; some in big cities, some in smaller towns; some with campuses across the nation, others local: it’s easy to see that culinary arts schools in themselves come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The types of institutions vary, too. Some of the most common institutions offering a culinary arts education are listed here, along with some basic characteristics:

  • Culinary Schools: An education from a culinary school is rich in culinary training. Many of these schools for culinary arts, depending on the program, can also teach students about business skills and scientific processes relevant to a culinary arts career.
  • Vocational schools with culinary arts programs: These schools are effective in training students to use a wide variety of culinary skills, and can also include fundamentals in related business practices and scientific processes. This is a practical choice for many students.
  • Colleges that have culinary arts majors, degrees and certificates: Public and private, these colleges offer culinary arts training appropriate for aspiring chefs and managers. Students can find a wide variety of culinary arts degrees in these schools.

Prospective culinary students should research the schools according to their location and degree offering appropriate for them. Some schools actually offer online culinary arts degrees. In the end, while experience is important in the restaurant business, a diploma from a top culinary arts school demonstrates the depth of culinary knowledge to employers.

Culinary Arts Degrees for Aspiring Chefs and Managers

Students in colleges for culinary arts may choose to pursue either an associate degree, bachelor's degree, diploma, or certificate depending on their career goals.

Culinary arts certificates and diplomas in culinary arts usually take four months to a year to complete. Students in these programs learn fundamental culinary techniques, such as knife skills, sauce making, braising, roasting, beverage pairing, and seasoning. Alternative certificate and diploma programs in baking and pastry arts are also offered in most culinary arts schools.  

Associate and bachelor’s degree programs in culinary arts, on the other hand, are longer and offer more extensive training. An associate degree usually takes two years to complete, while a bachelor's degree takes four.  These programs may augment their included cooking training with basic human resources and culinary arts management, accounting, event management, and marketing courses—greatly needed skills for positions of leadership and for launching a new food business.

Some culinary arts colleges will include an externship as part of their chef training, which is a great way for culinary students to gain professional experience while still in school. A professional environment can help students practice speed, precision, and organization while making dishes. As a general rule, however, gaining experience in a professional setting with or without a culinary arts program is instrumental in a developing culinary arts career.

What are Typical Requirements and Cost of Culinary Arts School?

Most culinary arts colleges require an application and application fee, which some schools waive for financially-strapped students. Additionally, some culinary arts schools may ask for a short essay or personal statement, GPA, recommendations, and an official high school transcript as part of their application. Some require students to have previous food service experience under their belt; others allow students to start brand-new. Altogether, schools vary in their entrance requirements.

Costs also vary according to the training program, the school, the desired degree, and whether the program is taken at full or part time. Culinary arts programs are offered at a number of price points—so students should find one that fits their needs. It's also worth noting that schools and private institutions, as well as government sources, can offer a variety of financial aid options including culinary arts scholarships, grants, loans, and work-study to help finance a culinary arts education. Researching options pays off. Like any post-secondary training, a degree in culinary arts is an investment.

What Career Skills Are Essential for Culinary Arts Students?

In a nutshell, important chef skills (aside from the chopping, basting, marinating, and mixing) include: practice, persistence, ability to follow directions, setting priorities, communication, and leadership.

Persistence keeps a student in a cooking school focused while practicing, practicing, and practicing. The ability to follow directions is important when navigating complicated recipes. And when making multiple dishes at a time, it is good to know how to set priorities and have the coordination to adequately multitask. Communication is also necessary when working as a team; leadership is essential for chefs and managers who must keep a clean and efficient kitchen.

Not mentioned above, but obvious, is the sensitivity to taste, smell, texture, and appearance so essential to the creativity and performance during a culinary arts career.

Is a Culinary Arts School Really Necessary?

While it is true that many of the skills learned in culinary arts schools can be learned in jobs and internships, culinary school continues to be a unique educational experience.

Culinary arts school packs a wealth of experience and information into just a few years, allowing students to quickly gain the knowledge and skills they need to succeed in the food industry. For those serious about turning a passion for food into a career, the depth of a culinary arts school education is hard to beat.

Culinary Arts Salary and Chef Career Information

Many graduates of culinary arts schools enter the workforce in entry-level positions. Students who pursue chef training may start as a line cook, while graduates of management programs may start as assistant restaurant managers. Full-service restaurants and traveler accommodations, like hotels and resorts, employ the largest number of professional chefs, as reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As in any other profession, gaining experience during a culinary arts career is integral in gaining positions of higher responsibility.

Ultimately, culinary managers and chef salaries vary by position and industry. More highly paid chefs work mainly in upscale restaurants and hotels, as well as in major metropolitan and resort areas. According to the BLS, the average annual earnings of chefs and head cooks in 2008 came to $38,770. The middle 50 percent earned a salary between $29,050 and $51,540. That same year, the average annual salary for food service and culinary managers came to $46,320, with the middle 50 percent earning between $36,670 and $59,580. Notable among all of the findings was that, understandably, the highest paying food establishments had the most competitive jobs.

For those who love making and sharing food and are looking for a different kind of job, pursuing a career in culinary arts may be the right thing to do. Culinary arts degrees can help the aspiring chef move ahead.

Additional Resources for Culinary Arts Careers:
Bureau of Labor Statistics information on chef and head cook careers
Bureau of Labor Statistics information on careers in food service management

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