The requirements for becoming a chef are often a combination of education and experience. Career success and growth in the field are also determined by this mixture. Culinary arts careers are projected to grow, but salaries and placement rates do not necessarily increase with each level of education. The vast majority of culinary arts students pursue a combination of an associate degree in online chef school and an experience-based certificate. Between 92%-95% of culinary arts professionals complete associate degrees and postsecondary certificates, with most acquiring certification through the American Culinary Federation (ACF). Earning an associate degree and certification prepares students for a career as a chef or head cook, a profession that is projected to grow at 9% through 2024. Students looking to enter the field with no post-secondary education usually become cooks, a position that has a 4% growth rate and an entry-level median salary of $30,000.
A bachelor's degree in culinary arts at an online chef school is not the most common way students to learn how to become a chef, but advanced degrees do open other doors in the field. Graduates from bachelor’s programs often pursue positions as chefs, a career with a median salary of $43,000, but some look for management positions in the industry, such as food service management, a career with a median salary of $51,000. In terms of master's degrees in culinary arts at an online chef school, the options are limited. Graduates who hold a master’s often pursue a position in management; a master's degree in food science is another option. The placement growth rate in food science is slower than average at 5%, but the median salary of $64,000 is higher than a chef of head cook.
Job Options for the Culinary Arts
|Degree Level||Median Salary||Job Growth Rate|
|No Degree||$30,000||4% for cooks|
|Associate||$43,000||9% for chefs and head cooks|
|Bachelor's||$51,000||5% for food service managers|
|Master's||$51,000-$64,000||5% for food service managers, 5% for food scientists|
|ACFEF Culinary Apprenticeship||$43,000||9% for chefs and head cooks|
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Culinary Arts Salaries
- Restaurant Cooks
- Salaries for restaurant cooks vary by restaurant and style of cooking. The pay is highest at fine-dining restaurants. Restaurants are the most common starting place for aspiring chefs. The median hourly wage in restaurants is $12.
- Private Cooks
- Private cooks usually require more experience than restaurant cooks. A position as a private cook also demands more versatility in cooking ability since the menus are usually more flexible. The median hourly wage for cooks in private households is $15.
- Restaurant Chefs
- The positions in fine-dining restaurants usually pay above average, but the position require more experience and tends to be more competitive. The median salary for a restaurant chef is $40,000.
- Special Food Services
- The salaries in special food services depends on the food and the level of service involved. Some services simply deliver food, whereas others create an entire experience along with the food. The median salary is $45,000 for special food services.
- Traveler Accommodations
- Location and level of cooking competency play a role in determining pay. The median salary is $52,000 in traveler accommodations.
- Food Service Managers
- Salaries for food service managers depend on the restaurant and the level of responsibility involved in the position. The median salary for food service managers is $51,000.
Culinary Arts Concentrations and Careers
- Even though there are no formal requirements to be a cook, nearly every chef or food professional spends some time as one. Cooking, whether as a job or as part of an apprenticeship, is an essential experience in order to progress within the industry. Many chefs use their cooking experience to fulfill certification requirements through the American Culinary Federation. Others combine their experience with post-secondary education. The median hourly wage for cooks is $10.99.
- Restaurant Chefs and Head Cooks
- The most common route for culinary arts graduates is through the restaurant world. Restaurant chefs are responsible for the food that comes out of the kitchen, but they are not always the ones doing the cooking. They are often in charge of all restaurant operations, and many chefs find themselves in the office managing the budget and product supplies. Chefs are usually in charge of conceiving and building the restaurant's menu. The median salary is $40,000.
- Special Food Services
- Careers in special food services are common for graduates seeking work outside the restaurant. Food service workers are commonly meeting customers at different locations. This could mean food delivery, special events, or food presentation outside of the restaurant. Special food service workers and food service managers occupy these positions, and the median salaries range from $45,000 for special food services to $51,000 for food service managers.
- Traveler Accommodation
- Closely linked with the hospitality industry, traveler accommodation is another field that many culinary arts graduates pursue. Most of the positions in this area are in hotels and are very similar to restaurant chefs, but in some cases the food is more focused on travel friendliness. Since most of these positions are held in high-traffic locations, the median salary of $52,000 is considerably higher than that of a restaurant chef.
What It’s Like to Work in Culinary Arts
A career in culinary arts is rewarding for creative people who have a passion for food, but it is also a demanding profession in a fast-paced environment. Chefs are the leaders in the kitchen, they organize and coordinate large teams to work on individual tasks. This requires strong leadership and communication skills from the chef. A certain level of business management is also required. Chefs need the knowledge to ensure their kitchens are properly supplied with food and equipment. They must also safeguard the kitchen to maintain proper health and safety standards. Perhaps most importantly, chefs need a strong palate and taste for food.
While the responsibility of organizing the cooking process is often left to the sous chefs, head chefs are in charge of creating unique and tasteful dishes and organizing the menu. This requires chefs to work with ingredients on a daily basis and develop recipes that bring out the best in the foods they have available to them. Since chefs work most during the hours that the general public eats, the typical work hours are evenings and weekends. Early mornings are also important and required for preparing the restaurant for the day.
Types of Culinary Arts Degrees
|Degree Level||Definition||Possible Concentrations||Median Annual Salary|
|Associate||An associate degree is the most common option for aspiring chefs. In addition to kitchen theory and learning to prepare classic dishes, students learn kitchen management skills that prepare them for the business side of the career. Students spend most of their time in the kitchen where they receive hands-on training.||1. Chef
2. Special Food Services
|Bachelor's||Most bachelor's-degree graduates find work in management. The hospitality industry often seeks managers with an understanding of food preparation and business, skills that recipients of a bachelor's degree in culinary arts are provided with.||1. Chef
2. Food Service Managers
3. Food Nutritionist/Dietician
|Master's||Master's degrees are rare in the culinary arts, but some students pursue these advanced degrees to raise their chances of landing a management-level position. Undergraduates who took food science also have the opportunity to further their education in the field.||1. Food Service Managers
2. Food Scientist
|Certifications||Certifications are available to professionals in the culinary industry depending on their experience level. There are several areas that the CFA provides certification, including cooking professionals, personal cooking, baking and pastry, and culinary administrators.||1. Cooking Professional
2. Personal Cooking Professional
3. Baking and Pastry Professional
4. Culinary Administrator
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
The best answer for what education is ideal for becoming a chef is an associate degree at an online chef school. The two-year degree is the most common degree option for culinary professionals. Between 92% and 95% of culinary arts degrees are at the associate level. A two-year degree allows students to enter their careers quickly. Another common route for culinary professionals is to complete a chef degree online and then pursue certification through the American Culinary Federation (ACF).
About 4% of culinary professionals pursue a bachelor's degree, with the majority of those students seeking management positions. Four-year graduates are also prepared for work in food nutrition. Master's degrees are very rare in the culinary industry. Since most management positions require a bachelor's degree at most, students typically choose an associate-level chef training online or a bachelor's degree. Food science is another option for master’s graduates, but most workers in that field have degrees in a science-related field.
Culinary Arts Certifications and Licensing
When looking into how to become a chef, it's important to understand that there are no formal requirements to work in the field. There are certifications through the ACF that help improve a chef's chances, including other culinary classes online. The ACF certifies professionals based on the level of their experience. These certifications help track and display the level of expertise a professional has acquired and demonstrated. The ACF also maintains industry standards, so employers can measure prospective professionals against others in the industry. The various certifications available and the requirements for each are available here.