Chef Instructor Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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What are the pros and cons of a chef instructor career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a chef instructor is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Chef Instructor Career

Chef instructors prepare aspiring chefs for careers in the food service industry by teaching them how to conceptualize and execute dishes. Read on for pros and cons of working as a chef instructor to help you decide if it's the right career path for you.

Pros of a Chef Instructor Career
Above average salary ($57,000 average annual salary for secondary career and technical education teachers)*
Job growth expected for postsecondary teachers (19% from 2012-2022)*
Low unemployment in the culinary field (three percent unemployment rate in 2011)**
Opportunities for advancement (certification may lead to a higher salary)**

Cons of a Chef Instructor Career
Limited job opportunities in secondary schools (due to an increased focus on more traditional school subjects)*
May need to work several years as a chef to qualify for teaching positions*
Work hours often include evenings and weekends to prepare lessons and grade assignments*
Some jobs may have additional requirements (e.g. state licensure to teach in public schools; advanced degree for 4-year universities)*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Culinary Federation.

Career Information for Chef Instructors

Job Description

Chef instructors, also called culinary arts teachers, teach the skills that are necessary for success as a chef in the culinary field. This can include everything from how to select the best ingredients and develop flavorful, innovative recipes to teaching food safety standards and regulations. Chef instructors are commonly in charge of developing, implementing and evaluating culinary arts curriculum. They must also ensure their lesson plans are in line with the industry's needs, trends and requirements. These professionals often work at public and private schools, technical schools, community colleges, culinary arts institutes and 4-year universities.

Career Outlook and Salary Information

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment for career and technical education teachers, which generally includes culinary arts teachers, is expected to increase at a slower-than-average rate of 5% over the period from 2012-2022. Sluggish job growth was expected due to a focus on more traditional academic subjects in middle and high schools, according to the BLS. However, the BLS reported that jobs for postsecondary teachers were projected to grow at a rate of 19% during this same 10-year period due to increasing enrollments at postsecondary institutions. As of May 2014, the BLS reported that the average annual salary for career and technical education teachers at the secondary level was about $57,000, and for postsecondary teachers it was roughly $74,000.

Education and Training Requirements

While there are different ways to become a chef instructor, you'll likely need a combination of education and work experience in the culinary field to qualify for most positions. Some aspiring chef instructors pursue bachelor's degrees in culinary arts while also taking education courses to learn how to teach professionally. However, others may qualify for these jobs with high school diplomas and substantial work experience as chefs or cooks. Working as a culinary arts professor in a 4-year university or college often requires an advanced degree. Regardless of education, most chef instructors have several years of experience working as a chef or cook before becoming instructors.

Licensure Requirements

To teach culinary arts at a public school, you'll need to obtain state licensure. While state requirements vary, obtaining licensure is often achieved by completing a teacher-training program at a college or university. You'll then need to pass a general teaching test as well as an exam specific to your subject matter. If you have a bachelor's degree in another field or have sufficient culinary work experience, however, you may be able to pursue an alternative certification program that provides the requisite teacher training needed to obtain a state license.

Useful Skills

As an aspiring chef instructor, you should have a strong culinary aptitude combined with good teaching skills. For instance, chef instructors must possess a strong sense for taste, smell and texture to teach others how to prepare flavorful dishes, as well as good teaching abilities to lead effective culinary classes. Among the most essential skills that chef instructors need are:

  • A good understanding of ingredients and how they work together
  • Creative culinary vision to inspire and lead future chefs
  • Strong interpersonal skills to build a good rapport with students
  • Ability to communicate clearly and effectively
  • Strong cooking skills and techniques

What Real Employers Look for

In addition to the skills useful in the culinary education field, many employers prefer to hire candidates with professional credentials appropriate for their level of experience and training. While not a complete picture of the job market, the following are job postings that were active in May 2012 to help give you a better idea of the requirements for chef instructor positions:

  • A career education company in Chicago advertised for a part-time chef instructor to provide course and lab instruction to culinary students. Qualifications included a bachelor's degree, demonstrated teaching abilities, at least seven years experience as a chef and at least one year of experience in a teaching capacity.
  • A Colorado school was hiring a full-time chef instructor with strong time management and communication skills to teach kitchen and classroom courses. Candidates needed an associate's degree in culinary arts, at least five years experience in the food service or teaching industry and ServSafe certification. American Culinary Federation (ACF) certification was also preferred.
  • An educational institution in Los Angeles was seeking a pastry chef instructor to teach courses and assist with student retention rates. They were looking for someone with a set of credentials matching their professional level; they preferred someone with at least five years experience as a pastry manager or executive chef, a minimum of one year of teaching experience and an associate's degree.
  • An institute in Cincinnati was seeking a culinary chef instructor with a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, though a master's degree was preferred. They also wanted someone with at least five years experience in the industry, ServSafe certification, ACF certification at the sous chef level or above and membership in a professional association.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Get Certified

According to the ACF, certification can help demonstrate your professional abilities in the competitive culinary field, and it may lead to a higher earning potential. The ACF offers the Certified Secondary Culinary Educator (CSCE) credential to those working as educators in accredited secondary or vocational institutions, and the Certified Culinary Educator (CCE) credential designed for those working in accredited postsecondary institutions or military training facilities. Certification as a CSCE or CCE requires holding an associate's or bachelor's degree, which must include education development coursework, meeting a certain number of hours of teaching experience and passing an examination, according to the ACF.

In addition, consider earning the ServSafe certification administered through the National Restaurant Association (NRA), which is a widely accepted certification in the culinary industry. There are no prerequisites for completing the course and examination, but the NRA states that certification must be renewed every three years.

Alternative Careers to Consider

Executive or Sous Chef

If you have a combined passion for cooking and leading others, additional career options exist in the culinary field. Consider working as an executive or sous chef. Executive chefs often lead all the culinary units or departments within large eating or service establishments, such as restaurants, hotels, clubs, hospitals or schools. Similarly, sous chefs supervise a team of cooks, prepare menus and work with head chefs to run the kitchen. Most executive and sous chefs have years of prior kitchen experience. While not mandatory, the BLS reports that a growing number of chefs pursue some formal training, most commonly through colleges, culinary institutes or apprenticeship programs.

While jobs for chefs and head cooks aren't expected to change very much between 2010 and 2020, the BLS expected that those with several years of work experience may see better job opportunities. The BLS also reported that the average annual salary for chefs and head cooks was nearly $47,000 as of May 2011.

Food Service Manager

If you'd like to stay in the culinary world, but not as a teacher, consider becoming a food service manager. These professionals run the day-to-day operations of restaurants and other places serving food and beverages. Food service managers make sure their establishments are in compliance with food and safety standards, monitor the preparation and presentation of food, ensure customer satisfaction and hire new staff. While the BLS expected employment of these professionals to decline slightly between 2010 and 2020 (by three percent), new job opportunities were expected in places with quick food service, such as grocery stores.

In addition, those with degrees in hospitality, restaurant management or a similar field may have better job prospects, according to the BLS. Like chefs, food service managers typically qualify for jobs after gaining experience as cooks or servers, though postsecondary training is becoming more common. The BLS reported that the average annual salary as of May 2011 for food service managers was about $53,000.

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