Do your original recipes have your family lining up for seconds? If you have a passion for food, love to create and enjoy making others happy, you might consider a career in the culinary arts.
Culinary careers include chefs, cooks and restaurant or catering managers. Many chefs have a specialty, such as seafood or pastries. They may work in an assortment of settings: a restaurant, a hotel, or an institution like a school, hospital or nursing home. Others decide to open their own restaurants or catering businesses.
It is possible to begin a culinary career straight out of high school, starting as a food preparation or line cook and making your way up the career ladder. However, most chefs and head cooks have completed training programs ranging from a few months to two or more years. Upscale establishments and higher-level positions often require two-year culinary arts degrees, which are offered at culinary institutes, vocational schools, some community colleges and the armed forces. These programs provide courses in cooking skills, restaurant management, health and sanitation and menu creation.
Chef Dean Massey earned his associate degree from Clover Park Technical College (www.cptc.edu ) in Lakewood, Wash. After spending 15 years working for Restaurants Unlimited and the Lobstershop Corporation, he joined the faculty at Clover Park. “There are plenty of chefs who have started at the bottom and worked their way up,” says Massey. “But it’s a long process. An associate degree will help you get in the kitchen at a higher level more quickly.” A bachelor’s degree in hospitality is beneficial for those who start their own business. Whether or not you get formal training, it is important to gain real-world cooking experience to find out if the culinary arts is for you. As a high school student, you can take cooking classes or get an internship or summer job at a food service management company or restaurant.
A career in the culinary arts means working in a fast-paced, physically demanding environment. Fitness and physical endurance are important, since these careers involve standing for long hours, lifting heavy pots and kettles and working near hot stoves and ovens. “It’s very pressure-oriented,” Massey says. He adds that while you may have mornings off, you can expect to work evenings, weekends and holidays.
Is it for you?
In addition to being physically fit, cooks and chefs must be quick, efficient and good with their hands. They will be interacting with customers and working as part of a team in the kitchen. Natural cooking talent and a sensitive palette are a must. “You’re going to be working long hours, and you’ll be on your feet 10 to 12 hours a day,” Massey says.
If you can take the heat (literally) you may find a very satisfying career in the culinary arts.
“There’s a lot of creativity in it,” he says.
Salary: Earnings depend on the position and the establishment. On average, chefs and head cooks earn $37,000 per year, according to www.bls.gov.
Education: An associate degree will help you attain a more highly paid position.