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01

01. An Introduction to Cooking

The formal name for the field of cooking and food preparation is the culinary arts. Although you may not feel like an artist if you hold an entry-level job in cooking, preparing complicated meals at high-end restaurants requires precision, taste and skill.

There are few formal educational requirements for cooks and chefs since you can qualify for most jobs in this field through on-the-job training. That means that you do not have to earn a cooking certificate or degree in order to work in this field. However, if you do not attend college for cooking, you can expect to spend several years in lower-level positions in the kitchen before you gain the knowledge and skills that are necessary to become a head cook or chef. And since cooks and chefs must develop hands-on food preparation skills, you should not plan to earn your cooking degree online if you choose to pursue a cooking degree.

In addition to having culinary skills, if you want to work in the culinary industry, you will need to be able to multitask by performing many duties at once. You will also need the abilities to work quickly under pressure, to work cooperatively with others on a team and to provide friendly customer service.

02

02. Cooking Defined

If you want to work in the field of culinary arts, there are many different jobs available to you. However, these jobs tend to fall into 2 levels. Generally speaking, you can become a cook or a chef.

Cooks

Cooks work in a range of eating facilities, from fast food restaurants, cafes and institutional cafeterias to mid-range establishments and gourmet restaurants. They often work in teams to prepare simple meals and side dishes. Some cooks are able to learn enough that they become promoted to chefs.

Chefs

Chefs are in charge of the kitchen at mid-sized and large restaurants. They create dishes, supervise cooking staff and handle hiring decisions for their kitchen. Many chefs are also responsible for business decisions like purchasing food, setting meal prices and keeping budget accounts for the restaurant.

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03. Things to Consider

If you are thinking about starting a career in cooking, you may want to consider your professional development options.

Professional Certifications

The American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers professional cooking certification. Although professional certification is not necessary to get a job as a cook or a chef, it can improve your job prospects since it demonstrates a commitment to the career. Candidates for certification must meet certain work and education requirements, pay a fee and pass an exam. You can earn certifications from the ACF in the following areas:

  • Personal Chef
  • Baking
  • Culinary Administrator
  • Culinary Educator
04

04. Types of Cooking Professions

Some of the most common jobs that you can get with a degree of cooking include:

Line Cook

Job Description
Line cooks work as part of a team of cooks at restaurants with varied menus. Typically, line cooks are assigned to a station in the kitchen, such as the frying station or the salad station. They focus only on preparing the type of food at their station so that head cooks and chefs can focus on the more difficult parts of meals.
Average Salary
$10.93 per hour
Education Required
On-the-job training (1 – 2 weeks)
Work Environment
Restaurants

Short-order Cook

Job Description
Short-order cooks prepare quick meals and snacks for patrons at bars, coffee shops and cafes. The food that short-order cooks prepare usually includes informal items like sandwiches, omelets and french fries. They often work independently and make several meals at once.
Average Salary
$9.42 per hour
Education Required
On-the-job training (1 – 2 weeks)
Work Environment
Cafes, coffee shops, pubs

Institutional Cook

Job Description
Institutional cooks are cooks who work at institutions like schools, hospitals and corporate cafeterias. They prepare large quantities of food for many people. Head institutional cooks are in charge of designing simple menus and coordinating meal preparation between their cooks. They may also serve the meals that they prepare.
Average Salary
$10.93 per hour
Education Required
On-the-job training (1 – 2 weeks)
Work Environment
Cafeterias

Bakers

Job Description
Bakers prepare various types of baked goods, including breads, desserts and pastries. They follow established recipes and create their own recipes for their products. They measure and combine ingredients, knead and cut unbaked dough and bake the mixtures in ovens. They also apply icing and toppings to their baked goods.
Average Salary
$23,450
Education Required
On-the-job training (1 – 6 months)
Work Environment
Bakeries, restaurants, grocery stores

Sous Chef

Job Description
Sous chefs work under executive chefs as the second-in-command. They have supervisory roles in large kitchens with multiple cooking stations. They oversee the personnel and the food production at a single cooking station to make sure that dishes are prepared efficiently. In some cases, they manage an entire shift and all the employees on duty.
Average Salary
$38,000
Education Required
On-the-job training (2 – 5 years)
Work Environment
Restaurants

Executive Chef

Job Description
Executive chefs are in charge of the kitchen at large restaurants. They plan menus, create original dishes and prepare entrees for guests. In many cases, they are in charge of hiring decisions for kitchen staff. They also control food costs, manage budgets and maintain financial records.
Average Salary
$40,630
Education Required
On-the-job training (2 – 5 years)
Work Environment
Restaurants
05

05. Career Outlook

There are 2 distinct levels of employment within culinary arts, so it is best to examine the outlook for careers in cooking by looking at those levels separately. Most entry-level cooking jobs are for people who prepare food in bulk for large groups of people. For example, common cooking jobs that require little formal education are school cooks, fast food cooks and short-order restaurant cooks who quickly prepare simple meals. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in this type of cooking job is projected to grow by about 8% through 2020. That means there will be approximately 2,212,000 cooking jobs available at the end of this decade. Although jobs in cooking will be abundant, you should not expect to make a lot of money in entry-level jobs. As of 2012, the average cooking job pay at this level was about $9.75 per hour, which translates to just over $20,000 per year.

In addition to entry-level cooking jobs, a higher degree in cooking will prepare you to become a head cook or chef. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a slight decrease of about 1% in employment for chefs and head cooks through the next decade. That means there will be just under 100,000 jobs in this area by 2020. Prospects for higher-level cooking careers will be best for cooks and chefs who have several years of work experience. Experienced cooks and chefs will also earn the highest cooking salaries. In fact, the average cooking salary for head cooks and chefs is about $40,000, as of 2012, which is approximately double the salary for entry-level cooks.

The graphical charts below display further information on careers in culinary arts as a whole.

Culinary Arts Professionals Employed Nationally

2011
4,051,790
2018
4,351,622

Average Salary growth

2007
$24,169
2008
$25,138
2009
$25,405
2010
$25,928
2011
$26,287

Salary by Percentile

10th Percentile
$17,733
25th Percentile
$20,047
50th Percentile
$24,140
75th Percentile
$30,576
90th Percentile
$38,260
06

06. The Educational Timeline

No formal education is required to become a chef or a cook, although it may be beneficial. However, if you want to become a chef, you should expect to spend several years working your way up through lower-level jobs in the kitchen as a dishwasher, server or prep cook. Many chefs choose to become professionally certified in their specialization, which can take up to 5 years of cooking training.

07

07. Studying Cooking

You will gain the following knowledge and skills in your cooking program:

KNOWLEDGE

Menu Design

Menu design directly influences the decisions that consumers make when they purchase meals. In menu design courses, students learn to create aesthetically pleasing menus. These courses train students to design attractive menus, to consider dishes that complement each other and to describe meals in appealing language that targets a specific audience.

Inventory Procedures

Classes in inventory procedures discuss the importance of maintaining a well-stocked kitchen. This topic will also address practical inventory control concerns like selecting distributors, using computers to automate purchasing and receiving and storing large amounts of ingredients without spoilage.

Food Safety

In classes about food safety, cooking students are taught how to maintain a clean kitchen so that diseases and germs do not spread. Specific topics that are covered in culinary safety classes include foodborne diseases, regulatory cleanliness standards, microbiological problems and the principles of proper sanitation.

Management

Proper management keeps restaurants running smoothly. Culinary management courses will discuss ways to effectively organize your workforce to produce more work in less time. Specific discussion topics include scheduling, hiring and communication. Finally, management classes teach ways to resolve problems and create a positive work culture.

Business

Business classes are important to culinary programs because many food establishments are run as independent businesses. Some of the business principles that students will learn include accounting, human resources, budget control, management skills and culinary marketing.

SKILLS

Culinary Techniques

As a chef, you will need to master a variety of culinary techniques. You will learn to prepare hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, desserts, side dishes and main dishes. In your cooking classes, you will also learn the best way to prepare different dishes by choosing the right equipment based on the proper cooking methods. You will become comfortable using different kinds of ovens, knives, sauté pans and steamers.

Menu Planning

A unique menu will set your restaurant apart from others. After completing your culinary arts curriculum, you will be confident in setting a menu that incorporates complementary dishes at appropriate prices. You will be trained to consider factors like the availability of ingredients, nutritional value and taste when you decide which meals make it onto your menu.

Customer Service

Eating establishments must provide quality customer service in order to gain repeat customers. In customer service classes, you will learn to treat guests respectfully and listen actively to their concerns. You will develop good verbal communication skills so that you can promptly resolve complaints.

Time Management

Time management is an essential skill for cooks and chefs since it is imperative to serve guests in a timely manner. In your cooking curriculum, you will learn to multitask so that you can create many dishes in a short amount of time. You will also learn to design kitchen systems that allow kitchen staff to produce food efficiently.

Leadership

Chefs lead the entire kitchen staff. Therefore, as you study the culinary arts, you will be trained in the effective use of leadership techniques. Your courses will teach you how to motivate staff members to cooperate in order to serve guests quickly. In addition, you will learn to model the behavior that you want to see from your employees.

08

08. Types of Cooking Degrees

Cooking credentials are available in many levels of education. You can earn cooking degrees at the undergraduate level and opt for either an associates degree or a bachelors degree. If you want to go to graduate school, you can earn a masters degree in cooking. And if you do not want to spend the time and money that it takes to finish a degree-oriented cooking program, you can always choose to earn a certificate in cooking.

  • Certificate
  • Associates Degrees
  • Bachelors Degrees
  • Masters Degrees

Certificate

Although you do not need to gain formal education to become a cook or a chef, a certificate in cooking can teach you the fundamental kitchen skills that you need to start your career. Certificates for cooking are the shortest educational path that you can pursue in the field of culinary arts. As you look for a program, keep in mind that many schools refer to this subject as culinary arts, not cooking.

Types of Cooking Certificates

There is no distinction between undergraduate and graduate cooking certifications. But cooking certificates are usually pursued by people with little experience who want to learn the basic skills that professional cooks need.

Length of Cooking Certificate Programs

Certificates in cooking typically require students to complete 15 to 18 credit hours. Therefore, most students can complete cooking certificate programs in 6 months to a year.

Common Courses in Cooking Certificate Programs

You can expect to learn fundamental cooking skills through your certificate program in classes like culinary procedures and fundamentals of baking. You will also learn about the business side of running a kitchen in classes like menu planning, food purchasing and food safety and sanitation.

Jobs That You Can Secure With a Certificate in Cooking

You do not need to gain formal education to find a job as a cook. But a certificate in cooking may qualify you to work as an institutional cook or a line cook in a mid-range restaurant.

Studying Online for a Certificate in Cooking

Some students are attracted to the idea of earning an online cooking certificate. But even though a few online cooking schools do exist, it is not a good idea to earn your certificate for cooking online. Culinary arts jobs are hands-on professions, which means that you can only learn how to cook by doing it. Online cooking courses are not an acceptable substitute for interacting with a professionally trained chef or a teacher who can tell you if your recipe has turned out the way it should. It would be a better use of your time and money to pursue a certificate on campus at a cooking university or culinary arts institution instead of attempting to learn to cook through an online cooking school.

Associates Degree

An associates degree in cooking will teach you many cooking skills in addition to a general education curriculum. Although you do not need a cooking degree to get a job in the culinary arts, it will make your resume stronger and may increase your job prospects. In addition, remember that many schools advertise this course of study as an associates degree in culinary arts.

Types of Cooking Associates Degrees

Associate of Arts (AA)

An AA degree in cooking teaches basic cooking skills and offers many humanities classes to give you a broad background. This is the best choice if you want to transfer into a bachelors degree program after you graduate.

Associate of Science (AS)

An AS degree in cooking has cooking classes in addition to math and science classes. This option is very similar to the AA, so it is a good choice whether you want to start a job right away or continue to a bachelors degree.

Associate of Applied Science (AAS)

An AAS degree in cooking teaches cooking skills with a strong focus on career preparation. If you do not want to continue your education, the AAS is the best choice since it will prepare you for a job in the culinary arts.

Length of Cooking Associates Degree Programs

Associates degrees in cooking generally require students to complete 60 to 65 credits. Most students complete associates degrees in about 2 years.

Common Courses in Cooking Associates Degree Programs

The courses that you take in an associates degree program for cooking may vary somewhat between schools. But the best cooking programs at this level of education will offer courses that teach both culinary skills and business skills so you can effectively run a restaurant as a small business. Therefore, you can expect to take cooking classes like nutrition, culinary techniques and baking fundamentals. You will also take courses that teach you to manage a kitchen well, like food sanitation, sustainable food preparation and menu design. Finally, a comprehensive cooking program will also include classes in restaurant management, food purchasing, catering and customer service.

Jobs That You Can Secure With an Associates Degree in Cooking

Although you are not required to obtain a college education to start a cooking career, an associates degree in culinary arts will improve your job options. You will be qualified for all entry-level cooking jobs like line cook and institutional cook. In addition, the skills that you learn through an associates degree in cooking will help you to be promoted to head cook status sooner than people who only have on-the-job training. Therefore, as you gain work experience, you may eventually become qualified to work as a chef.

Choosing a School to Attend for an Associates Degree in Cooking

There are a couple of points to keep in mind when you are looking for the right cooking college to attend for your associates degree. First, you should see whether the cooking programs that you are considering are accredited by the American Culinary Federation. Although it is not mandatory for programs to be accredited by this organization, you can be sure that you will earn a high-quality education in the culinary arts if you attend an accredited school.

The second point to consider is whether your school has job placement resources like internships that you can use. Although there are many lower-level cooking positions available, competition is strong for advanced jobs in the industry. Therefore, the best cooking colleges offer internships for their students to help them build their resume and improve their job prospects after graduation.

Studying Online for an Associates Degree in Cooking

It is not a good idea to pursue your culinary arts associates degree in a completely online format. This field is based entirely on hands-on skills that you cannot earn in a cooking course online. For example, you need to practice skills like baking and attempting recipes in a practical environment with supervision rather than on your own through online cooking classes. However, if taking cooking classes online appeals to you, you do have some options. Some of the best online cooking schools now offer hybrid degrees, which means that you take some general education and cooking courses online while taking other courses on campus. Because they offer practical experience along with online classes, hybrid degrees are an acceptable option.

Bachelors Degree

A bachelors degree in cooking or the culinary arts teaches comprehensive food preparation skills. At some cooking colleges, you can also choose to supplement the standard cooking curriculum with classes in related fields like hospitality management or business. You may not need a degree to start a cooking career, but the knowledge that you gain in a formal cooking program will reduce the time it takes you to move up the ranks at a restaurant.

Types of Cooking Bachelors Degrees

Bachelor of Arts (BA)

A BA in cooking has many liberal arts courses to give you a broad educational background. This is a good option if you want to go to graduate school for cooking.

Bachelor of Science (BS)

A BS in cooking focuses on business classes to teach you about commercial food preparation. This is the best choice if you want to run your own food establishment.

Length of Cooking Bachelors Degree Programs

Bachelors degree cooking programs typically require 120 to 130 credit hours, so students can usually complete these degrees in about 4 years.

Common Courses in Cooking Bachelors Degree Programs

The classes that you take in a bachelors degree program may vary according to the focus of your cooking degree. For instance, you may take some business or hospitality management classes if your program has an entrepreneurial focus. But most colleges for cooking offer a similar curriculum that includes courses in baking, food preparation and cost control. You are also likely to take classes about food safety and sanitation, nutrition, menu design and beverage management.

Jobs That You Can Secure With a Bachelors Degree in Cooking

In this field, higher education is less important than having the ability to demonstrate your professional skills. So a bachelors degree in cooking will help you get started in entry-level cooking jobs like working as a line cook in a restaurant, but you should still expect to spend multiple years working your way up before you qualify to be a head cook or chef.

Choosing a School to Attend for a Bachelors Degree in Cooking

As you are comparing cooking universities, you should look for accredited programs that offer internships. Accreditation is a designation that schools get when they demonstrate high-quality programs in a given field. The accrediting agency for cooking schools is the American Culinary Federation (ACF). Even though it isn’t mandatory to attend an accredited school, earning an accredited degree means that your education meets specific standards set by the ACF. Your degree may also mean more once you are looking for a job.

Studying Online for a Bachelors Degree in Cooking

You should not attempt to attend cooking school online for your bachelors degree. If you want to be a cook or a chef, you need to gain hands-on experience and learn different cooking techniques. That means you need access to a kitchen and you need others to taste your dishes so that you can gauge your talent. Teachers cannot assess your skills or help you improve through an online cooking course.

However, if you are determined to take cooking online classes, you can earn a related online cooking degree. For instance, you can earn a degree in culinary management online, which does not require you to participate in a cooking class online. Instead, it teaches students about the business side of culinary arts. Because most business classes don’t require you to learn skills that require direct interaction with a teacher or other students, there are no significant drawbacks to earning this type of degree through cooking schools online.

Masters Degree

Cooking masters degrees are rare. You will have very limited options if you want to pursue a masters degree in cooking. Generally, students learn all of the culinary skills that they need to be a successful cook or chef through bachelors degree programs or on-the-job training. Instead of attempting to earn a masters in cooking, you may want to consider earning a related masters degree in fields like hospitality management or restaurant management.