The culinary arts provide many career opportunities within the food service industry. As this industry has grown and prospered, a career in this field has become highly visible and offers the flexibility to work anywhere. Although a career in culinary arts requires extensive professional training and discipline, it offers a combination of challenging and creative work and can provide real job satisfaction.
The culinary arts are open to anyone who loves food, cooking, and a challenge. Although the majority of chefs are men, women are gaining master chef status, which is the highest level they can achieve in culinary arts according to the American Culinary Federation (Donovan 1 and 18). This achievement comes after meeting strict requirements for experience, education, competition, and passing an exam. A chef must be skilled in cooking, baking, presentation, cold foods, and nutrition while working in various conditions (Donovan 18). Many kitchens have modern equipment, convenient work areas, and air conditioning. Older places may have marginally equipped and ventilated kitchens. Working conditions also depend on the type and quantity of food being prepared and local laws governing food operations (Donovan 18).
A chef requires stamina as he must stand, lift heavy pots, pans, and kettles, and work near hot ovens and ranges (Chmelynski 47). Many chefs have earned fame for themselves and the places where they work due to their skills, but how did they get there? Cooking is a profession that emphasizes continuous learning. An increasing number of chefs are obtaining initial training through high school or post high school programs. Although a high school diploma is not required for beginning jobs in the culinary arts, it is highly recommended for a career as a chef (Chmelynski 25). Many two and four year colleges offer programs in the culinary arts.
Many of the leading chefs agree that formal schooling is the best way to begin a career in the culinary arts (Peterson 15). Schools offer an opportunity to quickly gain fundamental knowledge of cooking techniques, nutrition and sanitation theory, and various foods. The type of training a chef receives is not exactly similar to other careers. Instead of all classroom education, the trainee incorporates hands-on, practical work as an apprentice (Donovan 29). An apprenticeship is an on-the-job training program. “Typical apprenticeship programs entail completion of specific term (typically, three years or 6,000 hours) of full time employment for wages in a kitchen under a qulified chef” (Peterson 26). Besides a quality education, a career in the culinary arts demands dedication, perseverance, and hard work.
A chef’s career usually starts at the bottom of the kitchen staff. Some trainees are surprised to find so much repetitive and boring work. The hours are long and demanding and the work is exhausting and highly stressful (Chmelynski VII). The chef must be able to work in a team setting while preparing food in all stages of production, possess a keen sense of taste and smell, be in good physical health, and have good personal hygiene. Most states require health certificates indicating that kitchen workers are free from contagious diseases (Chmelynski 26). The chef must learn how to handle stress and develop people skills, as he will have to coordinate kitchen operations with management and consistently satisfy customers. If a chef is comfortable with other people passing judgment on his work, then the rewards are numerous.
“Pay rates of chefs vary depending on the part of the country and the type of establishment in which they work. Wages are generally higher in the west and in well-known places and hotels. Chefs in famous restaurants earn much more than the minimum rate of $40,000 a year with the additional benefits of health, dental, and life insurance and a profit sharing plan” (Donovan 51). The best benefits are satisfaction as a respected, skilled professional and the opportunity to travel and work in a variety of settings.
Plenty of employment opportunities exist in the culinary arts. “There is a strong demand for talented, well-trained personnel within the food service industry. Approximately, 3.4 million chefs, cooks, and other kitchen workers were employed in 1996” (Chmelynski 48). Usually the kitchen staff is set up in the Traditional Brigade system with three levels- the entry, mid, and chef (Donovan 17). Entry-level positions are the kitchen apprentice and prep person. They generally clean, trim, and prepare vegetables for stocks, soups, and salads (Donovan 25). Mid-level positions are line cooks working on the food line. The line chef’s titles are sautÃ©, broiler, vegetable, pantry, and pastry (Donovan 21). The top level is the head chef and sous chef (Donovan 17). The head chef is the authority in the kitchen and is responsible for all kitchen operations (Donovan 16).
The sous chef is in charge of the kitchen when the head chef is away (Donovan 20). The size of kitchen staff depends on the type of establishment, variety of food items prepared, and the number of customers served (Donovan 20). However, no matter the size of the operation, advancement opportunities for chefs are better than other culinary art positions. Many chefs acquire higher paying positions and new cooking skills by moving from one job to another. Others advance to executive chef positions in hotels, clubs, and elegant restaurants (Chmelynski 27). A review of highly respected master chefs indicates there is no substitute for experience or education.
Julia Child, master chef and author, trained at the famous Cordon Bleu School under the master chef Max Bugnard (Child 19). Paul Bocuse, a famous master chef, apprenticed to legendary French Chef Fernand Point (Bocuse 9). Emeril Lagasse, Commander’s Palace head chef in New Orleans, graduated from Johnson and Wales University in Denver with a degree in culinary arts (Lagasse xi). These chefs show the different ways to obtain a career in the culinary arts.
In conclusion, a career in the culinary arts requires a foundation of basic skills and knowledge. It also requires extensive formal education with “hands-on” training, a desire to be the very best, discipline, and a creative imagination. This is an exciting time to be starting a career in the culinary arts. Not only does it provide a competitive salary, job security, and numerous benefits; it gives you the flexibility to work at national resorts, fine hotels, and exclusive restaurants. Throughout the country there is a strong demand for chefs that are well trained, talented, and creative. It might be interesting to explore the employment opportunities at the 2002 Winter Olympics at Salt Lake City, Utah.