How To Prepare For A Career In Culinary Arts

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Careers in the culinary arts field are exciting, dynamic and sometimes even prestigious. And with the emergence of the charismatic television cooking personalities over the last several years, culinary arts careers have become increasingly popular. The culinary arts field can be exceedingly enjoyable for those who choose the profession. Professionals in the field employ their creativity experimenting with food, learning to create tantalizing food dishes and developing unique recipes. However professionals in the field are also charged with serious responsibilities. The responsibilities associated with the culinary arts can be immense; especially for individuals holding higher level positions. All individuals charged with the responsibility of food preparation must maintain the highest level of cleanliness. This is necessary to ensure food doesn’t become tainted. And these professionals must adhere to the strict food preparation regulations to limit the potential for consumer illness. Additional responsibilities may include planning menus, determining food serving sizes and ordering supplies. Those in supervisory positions may also be charged with overseeing food preparation and presentation.

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The field of Culinary Arts offers extensive career opportunities in an exciting and challenging profession. Individuals interested in careers in the culinary arts have substantial and varied opportunities. These individuals can choose to work in any food service facility including restaurant settings, resorts, cruise ships, hotels, cafeterias and bakeries or can work as private chefs/cooks, as caterers, as consultants or managers. Employment opportunities are not geographically limited; positions in culinary arts can be obtained in nearly every region of the country and around the globe. The positions available to professionals in the culinary arts field are nearly as wide-ranging as the employment settings. Industry professionals can obtain positions as head cooks, souse chefs, sub chefs, executive chefs, chefs de cuisine, cafeteria chefs or short order cooks. These individuals can specialize in certain types of cuisine or food preparation; pastry items, vegetables, Italian, French. The possibilities in the culinary arts field for interested individuals are endless.

Though the employment opportunities may be limitless, securing an available opening may still be challenging. The competition for positions in the culinary arts fields is significant; especially those of higher standings or distinction. The Department of Labor reports that job growth in the culinary arts field is expected to increase by only six percent, which is much slower than the average for other occupations. However, the job turnover rates are extremely high for this field; compensating for the slow job growth and resulting in good job prospects for those intending to pursue employment in the field. The high turn-over rates are a direct result of the immense demands of the job. Individuals responsible for food preparation work long hours in a regularly stressful environment. This is especially true for employees possessing higher level positions such as head chefs. Restaurant chains and various fast food service facilities employ the majority of professionals in the field. Available positions at higher class restaurant facilities are expected to rise. The increasing demand by the public for healthier menu choices and home made meals will translate into more exciting and varied employment opportunities for culinary arts specialists.

High School

Individuals who choose a career in culinary arts will need a high school education. Culinary arts requires a proficiency in mathematics, an understanding of basic business concepts, effective written and verbal communication skills and an ability to understand the laws and regulations by which they will be expected to abide. Computers have become an integral tool in restaurants. As such, individuals expecting to attain employment in the industry will be required to be proficient in their use. The high School courses requisite for graduation will ensure students receive training in all of these areas. Students acquire essential foundational skills which are necessary for successful employment in every professional field; problem solving, analytical and critical thinking and ethical standards of conduct.

Technical high schools often offer programs in the culinary arts. The curriculum will include the general high school courses required of all students such as English, social studies, science and mathematics. Students may also complete courses in statistics, economics, physical education and foreign language. But in addition to the general studies, students receive focused, comprehensive training in the field. Students learn the basics of cooking and food technology, menu planning, nutrition, purchasing, food regulations, kitchen and dining room operations, portion control, procurement, costing and pricing, food and beverage control and the many other tasks associated with the field. The general curriculum can be tailored to suit the educational goals of the student; either following a college preparatory or a general studies path.

Advancement in the culinary arts field is contingent on experience. Though formal schooling teaches the skills and knowledge necessary to understand the concepts and theories behind the culinary arts, it is from practical experience that professionals gain an expertise in the practice of the field. Obtaining an after school or summer job at a restaurant or food service facility will provide experience upon which the individual can build. Becoming familiar with the working environment, common problems and procedures and customer expectations will provide invaluable insight into the industry. Most restaurants require some experience prior to offering a position of substance. This experience can be obtained early, paving the way for more substantial employment offers earlier in the individual’s career. Even though the position in which you will be employed is likely to be unrelated to cooking as most individuals begin as wait staff, table bussers or dishwashers, the experience will still be beneficial.

The national non profit organization known as Careers through the Culinary Arts Program or C-CAP provides a range of opportunities and services to public high schools in seven locations across the country. Founded by a cookbook author whose original intentions was to share the pleasure of cooking with students in inner city schools, the organization veered in a different direction when the founder discovered the necessity of providing job training and skills to students who wouldn’t have the option to attend college. The organization provides a curriculum enrichment program; offering teacher training and supplies and equipment for the classrooms. The program provides underserved high school students with job training and internship opportunities, cooking competition opportunities, scholarships, college advising and various other services to ready students for a career in the restaurant and hospitality industry. Students who attend schools in one of the host locations in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Philadelphia, Virginia, Washington D.C and Arizona have the opportunity to take advantage of the program.

Culinary School

There are a range of factors to consider when determining which school to attend. One of the first to consider is whether to attend a cooking school, culinary school or culinary arts school. The location of the school can impact the experience. Schools located closer to big cities will offer the advantage of proximity to top fine dining establishments. The experience and expertise of the faculty will directly affect the quality of your education and training. The instructors often specialize in a specific aspect which will be beneficial to students interested in pursuing that concentration. The tuition costs can vary substantially also. Most culinary schools are very costly to attend. Many schools do offer financial aid and assistance. It is important to consider your financial needs when determining which culinary or cooking institute to attend. Accreditation is always a principal concern as it ensures the quality of the curriculum. The most common agencies to grant accreditation to the schools include the American Culinary Federation, Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges of Technology, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, International Council on Hotel, Restaurant and Institutional Education.

Culinary school programs can vary greatly in the type of content taught and the length of the program. The school may specialize in one certain type of cooking or culinary arts or several genres. Some schools may offer only associate degree programs or also offer the bachelor degree program. Program lengths could range from several months up to five years time. The career goals of the individual should be evaluated prior to choosing which length program to complete. The bachelor programs prepare students for careers in upper level and management positions while an associate degree provides sufficient preparation for entry level positions. Bachelor degree programs in culinary arts can take as little as three years to complete. Advanced graduate study and certificate programs are also offered.

Schedule flexibility and curriculum structure should also be considered. Some schools require their students to adhere to a strict, rigorous course load while others permit students to tailor their schedules to suit their needs. The type and focus of instruction also varies based on the school. Some schools place more emphasis on theory while others stress practical hands on experience. Some schools even have an on campus restaurant where students obtain experience while others may have an affiliation with an outside restaurant where students are required to work to gain experience. Class size and career placement are other factors which should be evaluated. Larger class sizes provide increased opportunity to learn from other individuals. Smaller class sizes will ensure more focused attention from the instructors. Career placement services are an important resource when trying to attain employment. A culinary school with more affiliations and connections to the food service industry will be better equipped to offer job placement assurances to its graduates.

Apprenticeship Programs and Internships

Apprenticeship programs offered by the American Culinary Federation are often as readily accepted by employers as a degree. Many of the apprenticeship programs are private programs offered by hotels or various other organizations which prefer to train their own chefs and cooks. The private training opportunities, however, train the individuals in the techniques and preferences of that particular company. Formal apprenticeship programs are generally sponsored by a trade union or industry association. Some may be affiliated with one of the culinary institutes. A few of the programs are sponsored by the America Culinary Federation. The programs with ACF approval are guaranteed to fulfill the training requirements necessary to obtain a position in the industry. These programs are three years in duration and include both practical training and class work. The instruction includes basic fundamental cooking skills, food preparation instruction, food handling and cleanliness, proper methods of performing various preparatory tasks as well as more advanced training and culinary instruction.

Experience is an integral building block in the culinary industry. Individuals with the most experience are the first considered for upper level positions and promotions. Those with experience from internships at highly regarded dining facilities are held in higher esteem. But even before advancement becomes the concern, experience is a requisite for graduation from most cooking and culinary institutes and for entry level positions in the field. Internships are the process by which the experience requirement is satisfied. Most culinary and cooking schools are affiliated with outside restaurants and dining establishments specifically for the purpose of providing their students with internship opportunities. The training usually correlates with and complements the academic and practical training at the institute. Internships also offer a preview of the hectic work environment, the demanding schedules and the regimented procedures by which every food worker must abide to ensure all are adhering to the health regulations.


Completing a culinary arts or cooking school degree program or a sponsored apprenticeship program doesn’t necessarily mark the end of the educational experience for practicing chefs and cooks. The culinary field is remarkably diverse. Individuals trained in the field have the opportunity to pursue concentrations within the culinary arts fields. Certificate programs are offered at a number of the culinary institutes and by the American Culinary Federation. A general certification can be earned as well as 14 additional certification designations. Though certification is not a requirement to work in the industry, obtaining the certification serves as evidence of the competence and skill level of the individual.

Applicants must meet the educational and work experience requirements before certification can be considered. The applicant is also required to complete 30 hours of courses in food safety and sanitation, nutrition and culinary supervisory management. After the applicant is deemed qualified, they must take the exam. The total cost of certification depends on whether the individual is a member of the ACF but can amount to a maximum of $475.00. The certification must be renewed every five years unless the individual had attained a lifetime certification. The designated certifications can be attained in various categories including cooking professionals, personal cooking professionals, baking and pastry professionals, culinary administrators and culinary educators. You can go to the website to obtain more information: ACF Chefs

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