What does it mean to study culinary arts?
Culinary career paths are as diverse as food options, and include certificate and degree programs. Gaining culinary experience includes working in jobs away from the stoves; even big-name chefs had humble beginnings that helped them in their careers.
Culinary Arts Studies Offer Well-Rounded Education
Today, culinary arts is a vast field that embraces some of the best things in life: food, wine, coffee, cocktails, baked goods, nutrition, and more. Although the field has become a rapidly-evolving and largely inclusive one, this was not always the case. In ancient times, fine dining was generally reserved for kings and other royalty. Even then, dishes tended to be simple whole-food ingredients. Although it is estimated that people began consuming pistachios around 7,000 BC and fish long before this, it is doubtful that ancient people were cooking up pistachio-crusted halibut with a white wine sauce back then.
The Wide World of Culinary Arts Studies
There are many paths to completing your culinary arts education and starting your career, including:
- Community colleges, for certificates and associate's degrees
- Undergraduate colleges, for bachelor's degrees
- Technical schools, for certificates and associate's degrees
- Professional culinary institutes/independent cooking schools, for certificates and degrees
Certificate and degree programs are usually completed in culinary arts or hospitality. Associate's degrees usually take two years to complete, while bachelor's degrees usually require four years of study.
Certificates can be completed in as little as one year. The path you choose depends on your ultimate career goals. For instance, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), to become an executive chef, head cook, or sous chef in a fine dining restaurant, extensive training/education and experience is necessary.
While culinary programs vary, your studies should include many or all of the following:
- Proper use of kitchen equipment, including appliances and knives
- Nutrition and sanitation
- Menu planning and portion control
- Food storage procedures, including how to use leftovers to minimize waste
- Plenty of supervised cooking/baking time
Some programs include internships with local restaurants; such experience can be a great way to gain valuable experience and professional contacts.
Beyond Studies: What Can Help Launch My Career?
In addition to completing a career-focused education program, gaining real-world culinary experience can help you advance in your career. Diners and big chain restaurants have a big need for prep cooks; cafeterias in hospitals and schools are struggling to meet healthier mandates, and are seeking trained chefs; head chefs need assistants.
It's important to remember that even the most successful chefs started humbly. Famous Thai-chef extraordinaire Ian Chalermkittichai began his culinary career scrubbing pots and pans. Up-and-coming New York Chef David Chang bussed tables. The Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver, began working in his parents' restaurant at the age of eight. You don't need a family restaurant or even a willingness to scrub pans to gain valuable experience. Before or during your studies, working in the field in any capacity might help your career. Culinary jobs include:
- Managers/assistant managers
Your career may go more smoothly if you possess certain traits. Strong leadership and motivational skills, stamina for long hours, creativity, and a fantastic sense of taste and smell are important. You also must keep a tidy and clean appearance, since health inspectors are just as much part of business as commercial ovens. A well-rounded culinary arts program can teach you everything you need to know about creating fabulous dishes and keeping your kitchen running like a well-oiled machine.
David Chang (Chef) - Aug 18, 2010 • The New York Times
Timothy France - Bangkoks home-grown, Waldorf-trained, world-famous chef - Jul 26, 2010 • CNN International
Jamie Oliver Biography • jamie's kitchen
Chefs, Head Cooks, and Food Preparation and Serving Supervisors - Apr 20, 2010 • Bureau of Labor Statistics