3 Helpful Things to Know About Training and Working in the Culinary Arts
For most aspiring culinary professionals, formal schooling offers the fastest way into today's food services industry. Here's a big reason: Fine restaurants, hotels, resorts, and other top employers increasingly want people who already know how to perform tasks and conduct themselves efficiently in a commercial kitchen—even for entry-level jobs. In the U.S., apprenticeship opportunities for those without any formal training are pretty rare.
That's why looking into the country's culinary arts colleges, institutes, academies, and universities is a vital first step in sparking your career potential. A focused and practical culinary education tends to be the most efficient method for getting off to a promising start.
So, as you begin visualizing what's ahead, just remember a few of the benefits you might reap along the way.
1. You'll Be Taught Skills You Can Use Throughout the Industry
This is how you can establish a new career with real built-in flexibility. Most culinary arts programs are aimed at giving you a broad background in kitchen fundamentals and popular cuisines, along with plenty of direct cooking practice. The goal is to prepare you for a lot of different employment possibilities.
The training you receive will probably begin with the basics and gradually build to more advanced concepts and techniques. Cooking classes tend to involve live demonstrations followed by time for you to recreate what you've just been shown. Through it all, you can expect your instructors to emphasize the importance of being disciplined, working quickly but safely, and respecting the kitchen hierarchy.
Here's a more specific sampling of what you're likely to learn about:
- Culinary terminology
- Kitchen tools, equipment, and organization
- Knife skills
- Food safety and sanitation
- Nutrition and dietary trends
- Food sourcing and inventory
- Controlling costs and maximizing revenue potential
- Managing a dining room
- Beverage operations
- Cultural influences on food
- Flavor and ingredient identification
- Cold food preparation (often referred to as garde manger)
- Dry- and wet-heat cooking
- Baking science
- American regional cuisines
- French and other European cuisines
- Ethnic cuisines like Indian, Asian, and Latin American
- Plating design and presentation
- Menu planning
- Catering, buffets, and other volume food preparation
- A la carte kitchen operations
2. School Can Help You Earn Higher Wages, Faster
Almost every aspiring chef begins his or her culinary career in an entry-level role. But getting formal training can have a significant impact on how quickly you're able to advance. That's because you'll probably learn most of the foundational skills in school, making it easier to hit the ground running and distinguish yourself while on the job.
So, even though you might start at a typical beginning wage, your income could rise faster than you think. In fact, many culinary pros have risen to the level of executive chef in only five years.
Take a look at the numbers: *
- In 2016, the median hourly pay for restaurant cooks in the U.S. was $11.61.
- The top-earning 10 percent of restaurant cooks made more than $16.87 per hour.
Pay is usually on the higher end for employees of upscale restaurants, casual fine-dining establishments, and luxury hotels and resorts. And the more experience you acquire, the greater your potential income.
Look at what head cooks and chefs tend to make: *
- Their median pay in 2016 was $43,180 per year.
- The highest-earning 10 percent made $76,280 or more.
That's what's possible with good training, genuine enthusiasm, and strong determination.
3. The Culinary Sector Offers Proven Advancement Potential
There are no limits to what a culinary professional can accomplish in this field, no matter where they begin their careers.
The facts speak for themselves. For example, check out these inspiring statistics from 2014 about the restaurant industry: ***
- 80 percent of restaurant owners first began their careers at the entry level.
- 90 percent of restaurant employees who earn salaries first started in the industry as hourly workers.
- Almost 5 in 10 operators of fine dining restaurants plan on focusing more on the recruitment and retention of employees. ***
Further to the above stats, from 2014 to 2024, cook job availability is expected to increase by four percent while chef positions are expected to experience nine percent growth.**
In today's culinary space, the easiest way to get a head start on reaching your own potential is to get a practical education.
So, when will you begin?
* Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, website last visited on September 11, 2017.
** Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, website last visited on March 8, 2016.
*** National Restaurant Association, website last visited on February 19, 2016.