Culinary Arts Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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Get the truth about salaries in the field of culinary arts. Read the job descriptions and learn about education and training requirements and career prospects to decide if a culinary arts career is right for you.
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Careers in Culinary Arts

The term 'culinary arts' encompasses the work that is done to prepare, cook and present food. A few common culinary arts career choices are cook, food service manager and head cook or chef. Here's an overview of each of these professions:

Cook Food Service Manager Head Cook or Chef
Career Overview Cooks and assistant cooks work under head cooks to accomplish various tasks in the kitchen. Food service managers oversee daily operations in restaurants, cafeterias and other cooking environments. Head cooks and chefs are in charge of the daily operations and staff of a kitchen
Education Requirements High school diploma or GED and sometimes a vocational or technical certificate High school diploma or GED and vocational certificate or some postsecondary education Associate's degree or sometimes a bachelor's degree
Program Length Roughly one year for a vocational or technical certificate 1-2 years depending on the certificate or degree About 1-3 years for an associate's degree and 3-5 for a bachelor's degree
Certification and Licensing Certification is required for certain positions Certification is required for certain positions Certification is required for certain positions
Work Experience None for entry-level positions, but 1-8 years is required for higher positions 1-8 years of management and food service experience 1-8 years of cooking experience and sometimes an apprenticeship
Job Outlook for 2014-2024 Slower than average (4%)* Fast as average (5%)* Faster than average (9%)*
Mean Annual Wage (2014) Roughly $26,780* Roughly $53,500* Roughly $45,880*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Cook

Cooks season and prepare an almost endless variety of foods. As a cook, there are also many settings in which you could potentially end up working, including restaurants, hospitals, cafeterias, casinos, cruise ships, prisons or senior care centers. Most cooks work full time, but the shifts you can expect to work can be quite unpredictable, with holidays, early mornings and late nights being commonplace in the industry.

Requirements

There are rarely extensive requirements for entry-level cooking jobs. In certain cases, you may need to earn at least a high school diploma or GED and some vocational training in the culinary arts. On-the-job training is commonplace.

The following examples show what a few employers were looking for in job listings published in the autumn of 2012:

  • A senior living facility in Minnesota was looking for a cook with 1+ year of experience and availability on evenings and weekends. A culinary degree, ServSafe certification and experience working with the elderly were preferred.
  • A non-profit organization in New York was seeking a cook with at least a high school diploma to assist a food services manager in creating various nutritious meals.
  • In New York City's Time Square, a high-end chain hotel was looking for a cook to work directly under a supervisor for an hourly wage.

Standing Out

There are steps that you can take in order to stand out as a professional cook. For example, having knowledge of the Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Points (HACCP) safety standards can be helpful or even mandatory. These standards are presented as part of a safety management system that covers everything from food retail to seafood production to juice regulations. These standards are established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and can be easily accessed from their website.

Food Service Manager

As a food service manager, you'll be responsible for running a kitchen, cafeteria or any other type of facility that produces food. Customer satisfaction and quality control are often a large part of the job. Although you'll usually be in charge of most duties, in some cases you may work under a food service administrator. These positions are typically full-time and it's not uncommon to be required to work 12-15 hour shifts as many as 7 days in a week, in some instances.

Requirements

To become a food service manager, it's possible to start out as a cook or an assistant manager and work your way up. Postsecondary education, however, is becoming a more commonplace requirement in the industry than it once was. You'll often need to earn an associate's degree or vocational certificate in culinary arts, hospitality or a related discipline.

In October of 2012, the following positions were available for food service managers:

  • A candidate with an associate's degree, experience in dining supervision and experience working in senior facilities was required for a Chicago-area job with a company that specializes in providing food to the elderly.
  • A family-owned dairy company in central New York was seeking someone with at least two years experience in food service and some background as a supervisor.
  • A Department of Corrections facility in Wisconsin was looking for a food service manager to assist the food service administrator in supervising the state's food program for prisons.

Standing Out

In what's likely to be a shrinking job market over the next several years, distinguishing oneself from other food service management job applicants can be crucial. One way to do this is earning certification and credentials in areas that other may not. For example, there are four steps to earning a Foodservice Management Professional (FMP) credential from the National Restaurant Association. Once you're deemed professionally eligible, you'll apply for, study for and take the FMP exam. You could also become a Certified Dietary Manager (CDM), become ServSafe Certified as a manager by the National Restaurant Education Foundation or earn a ProStart National Certificate of Achievement (COA).

Head Cook or Chef

Head cooks and chefs typically oversee and are in charge of food preparation and the daily activities of a kitchen. As a head cook, you'll be able to work in a many different settings and industries besides standard restaurant fare. Jobs range from being a head cook in a personal household to being in charge of the kitchen staff of a tourist resort. You can expect to work full time in a fast paced and sometimes hot or high-stress environment.

Requirements

Although in certain cases you may be able to work your way up to the position of head chef through job experience, an associate's or bachelor's degree is required for many jobs. You'll often need to gain experience as an assistant chef, sometimes called a sous chef, before running your own kitchen.

According to actual job listings found in October of 2012, some real employers were looking for these qualities when hiring head cooks in October 2012:

  • An executive chef was needed to oversee the 7-day-a-week operations of coffee bar, restaurant and catering sections for a retail area located near New York City.
  • A Cincinnati brewery with a full restaurant was looking for a head cook with a culinary arts degree, at least one year of experience as a sous chef and knowledge of performance appraisal methods like One-Minute Management.
  • A large hotel chain offering relocation possibilities was looking for a head cook with an associate's degree and four years of experience or a candidate with eight years of experience to work in the New York City area.

Standing Out

As is the case for food service managers, the BLS predicts that the number of positions for head cooks is likely to shrink rather than grow. The American Culinary Foundation (ACF) offers sthat you can gain experience and earn credentials. You can earn your ACF certification as master chef, for example. The ACF also offers apprenticeships whether or not you have any previous experience in the culinary arts.

Staying abreast of the latest technological developments in cooking can also be useful whether you're a cook, a food service manager or a head chef. Computer literacy is often not only a bonus, but a requirement in the modern job market. Proficiency with software such as Microsoft Excel, Word and Powerpoint can be a solid boost when seeking employment in the field.

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