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Culinary Arts Degrees and Schools
Most chefs have had formal training in the culinary arts. Programs offered through vocational schools, trade schools, colleges and universities may last from a few months to four years. Shorter programs award certificates of completion or associate's degrees. Longer programs offered through four-year colleges, culinary institutes or professional cooking schools provide specialty training to prepare chefs for work in fine dining. It is also common for large hotels and restaurants to offer their own training programs, and for aspiring chefs to apprentice under established chefs.
Example Culinary Arts Program
Career tips, salaries, and lists of schools.
This video follows a student over several weeks as she builds a house out of chocolate as the final project for her Chocolate Works class. Produced by Penn College, a part of the Penn State University system.
Basic courses in the culinary arts include:
- food handling, kitchen safety and use of equipment
- public health and sanitation rules
- nutrition, portion control and menu planning
- knife techniques and methods for cutting meats, fruits and vegetables
- basic cooking methods such as grilling, broiling and baking
- purchasing and inventory tracking
- proper food storage for perishable and non-perishable foodstuffs
- economy of food preparation, using leftover food to limit waste
- food service management including accounting
- banquet service
Advanced courses include:
- world cuisines and cooking styles
- cooking for buffets, banquets or parties
- advanced cooking techniques
Most programs require substantial practical experience in a commercial kitchen through an internship or apprenticeship.
Online Classes and Programs
There are quite a few online programs that offer degrees in the culinary arts, food science, dietetics and nutrition, food research, restaurant management and other related areas. When evaluating a program, consider whether it offers credits that can be applied to on-campus programs, job or apprenticeship placement assistance, and supervised practical experience in a commercial kitchen.
School reputation is often important to employers, especially in high-profile careers in the culinary arts; online programs may not carry the same weight as on-campus programs. Accreditation through the American Culinary Federation (ACF) means that the program has met industry standards, and graduates of these programs are often preferred by employers.
Anyone who is creative and loves to cook can become a chef through work experience, school and apprenticeships. Most employers who run commercial kitchens seek chefs with proof of some formal training and previous work experience, and prefer graduates of ACF-accredited schools. Optional certification as a chef through the ACF can provide leverage in this competitive industry.
How to Evaluate Culinary Arts Schools
When evaluating degree programs for photography or fine arts, consider asking these questions:
- Reputation and accreditation - Are the school and program given a national ranking by a credible publication or organization? Has it been accredited by the ACF?
- Curricula and focus - Does the program emphasize: restaurant cuisine; banquets and parties; nutrition, science and research; food service management or other focus area? Does it prepare graduates for optional certification through the ACF? Does the school offer substantial business classes? Programs that align well with personal career goals are important.
- Class structure and amenities - Are classes small enough for optimal learning, yet reasonably easy to get into? Do lab kitchens have state-of-the-art equipment appropriate for the number of students?
- Financial aid and expenses - Does the school provide substantial assistance in helping students take advantage of financial aid options such as grants, scholarships, work / study and student loans? Is there additional cost in lab fees in addition to tuition and fees?
- Graduate success - Are internships and / or apprenticeships coordinated by the program? What is the job placement rate for graduates?
Chef Job Description
Cooking a meal can be as simple as flipping a burger or as elegant as a choreographed symphony of creativity. The difference lies in the training and experience. Whether they're cooking for five, 50, or 5,000, chefs must be skilled not only in creating appealing meals with quality ingredients (with perfect timing), but coordinating a complex process with many moving parts every day.
Example Culinary Technology Program
A future chef is followed around the kitchen for a day. She takes time out to talk about her culinary arts program and why she loves it. Produced by Penn College, a part of the Penn State University system.
Chefs may work in restaurants, hotels, conference centers, schools, grocery stores, hospitals, prisons, large amusement parks, cruise ships, and anywhere else where people go to... or need to... eat. When they do their jobs exceptionally well, restaurant chefs can become celebrities.
There are commonly three kinds of chefs who work in food service: an executive chef or head cook chooses recipes for the menu, determines portion and meal sizes, orders supplies and equipment, oversees kitchen staff, directs food production, and makes sure food is prepared to quality standards in clean, well-run kitchens. At a high level in organizations such as hotel or restaurant chains, an executive chef may oversee many kitchens. A chef de cuisine supervises one kitchen while reporting to the executive chef. A sous chef or "sub chef" runs the kitchen when the chef de cuisine is absent.
The responsibilities of all three roles in the culinary arts include:
- Supervising kitchen staff as they prepare, cook and serve meals
- Continually expanding their knowledge of recipes, cooking techniques and available foodstuffs
- Frequently selecting and creating new recipes for meals
- Choosing quality foodstuffs and preparing them according to food handling, sanitation and safety standards
- Ordering food supplies according to how many people are expected to be served
- Meeting requirements for healthy and nutritional meals
- Establishing portion sizes for each serving and the size of the overall meal
- Artful presentation of individual servings
- Ordering equipment needed to serve the number of meals planned
- Maintaining standards of cleanliness, making sure equipment is well-maintained
Research chefs work for food manufacturers, inventing food products by creating recipes based on their culinary skills and knowledge of food science.
Self-employed chefs may work as private chefs for individuals in their homes or be hired as part of an event. Chefs who run their own restaurants or catering businesses also handle business tasks such as paying bills, marketing, planning expansions, and choosing and maintaining decor. They may supervise employees or hire vendors to manage some of these details.
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