Where do you want to work?
When it comes to life, two things are certain -- death and taxes. But when it comes to careers, another two things are certain -- people are going to get sick and they're going to eat (hopefully the two aren't related).
This is good news for you, the newly-minted chef!
You've an edge on folks who went directly into the kitchen, breaking their backs for minimum wage and hoping to develop the skills in a lifetime that you learned in several years -- skills you learned in a very concise fashion without any frills or shortcuts that they might learn in a professional kitchen.
But now that you feel like you're ready to work in a kitchen, where do you go to find that job?
Well, that's where we come in. We literally created a map, just for Culinary Arts Majors such as yourself, to navigate your way through the choppy waters of recent graduation.
Feel free to focus on the map alone -- it's pretty cool, if we do say so ourselves. But for those of you who prefer step by step navigation on your path, keep reading. We'll give you the rundown on:
First thing's first: what skills you'll need to get started.
Culinary Arts requires a lot of hands-on work to an extent that many other majors don't. You have to be able to handle ingredients (and people's health), while juggling a broad variety of tools that each have different techniques associated with them, and you have to be equipped to deal with a variety of different kinds of people and situations.
Applying these skills to real world learning opportunities yields a more robust and balanced career. Here are some of the common skills that you should have when trying to get a job with Culinary Arts degree.
Ability to multitask. No matter your specialization, as a chef you need to be able to handle interaction with other kitchen staff members while also handling the more practical aspects of the job, like prepping food early in the day or moving quickly during service.
Creativity. A Culinary Arts major has to be creative enough to add personal flair and creativity to a menu at the high and follow instructions when working under a chef. A particular guest's wishes may require deviation from the recipe or typical method, and finding ways to apply your technique and knowledge to a dish that still works for the ingredients' balance demands creativity. This requires a knowledge of aesthetics, as well as an intuitive awareness of the needs of others.
Physical dexterity and endurance. A large part of being a chef is interacting with and utilizing the tools of the trade, such as knives and pans, as well as being on your feet moving at a fast pace for hours on end. This takes both a practical awareness of the tools' capabilities (i.e. knowing what is physically going to occur when you take a knife to an ingredient) as well as the manual dexterity required to use these tools in a creative way repetitively and swiftly.
While there are some internships available for Culinary Arts majors, for the most part, that's not going to be as critical to getting you a job as it would be for many other majors -- it's all about valuable experience.
For one thing, you've got a lot less time in school -- the majority of Culinary Arts-based programs are going to be two-year programs rather than four, so you might find it tough to balance your work life while you're also rushing through your abbreviated school schedule.
Even so, there are at least a few stages (basically unpaid internships) available to you, depending on how serious you are about specializing in a specific aspect or style of Culinary Arts. Here are some common of the most common types you might encounter:
Apprenticeships were once the most common way that cooks learned their trade, but aside from the more informal stage system, it hasn't quite taken root in the United States. Some programs do exist: the American Culinary Federation offers four apprenticeship options: 1,000 hours, 4,000 hours, 6,000 hours, and a hybrid program.
Before you settle on staging, though, you'll want to make sure it's the right fit for you. Ask yourself these questions:
Somewhat unique to Culinary Arts is the fact that internships for students in this field come more often with the expectation that the internship will translate into a real job. As a result, your education as a Culinary Arts major is intertwined with the job itself, which likely has a big effect on the entry level positions available to former Culinary Arts students who are just starting out in the world.
Here are just a few of the most interesting entry-level jobs for recent grads such as yourself:
Prepares and cooks to order foods requiring short and broader preparation time and may produce food and serve customers a la carte. Prepares food in accordance with current applicable federal, state and corporate standards, guidelines and regulations to ensure high-quality food service is provided and reads food order or receives verbal instructions on food required by patron, and prepares and cooks food according to instructions.
Lead, mentor, engage and develop teams to maximize their contributions, including recruiting, assessing, training, coaching and managing performance -- ensuring food services appropriately connects to executional frameworks. You'll also coach employees by creating a shared understanding about what needs to be achieved and how to execute, while ensuring safety and sanitation standards in all operations.
This position, typically at the head of a larger organization, involves managing, developing and mentoring staff of full-time, and part-time culinary employees, which includes handling the "employment actions" such as hiring, firing, and disciplining. A chief responsibility, in addition to setting the menu, is ensuring that budgeted food percentages are achieved through effective control measures including portion controls, kitchen timings, inventory rotation measures, receiving and storage procedures, and waste control
The number one tip is to always, always hustle.
Be willing to start at the bottom
Culinary Arts programs saw a spike of almost 100 percent after the introduction of the Food Network -- many people are drawn to the chef on the pedestal.
You absolutely will not start out anywhere from the bottom, performing repetitive food prep for most of your day, for the first few years. This is just how it goes, and you should be willing to accept a position that demands it if you want to work your way up. Because that's how working your way up goes, you do so from the bottom.
Never stop learning, even after graduation
The mentor/kitchen you work in is a form of continuing education. Cooking is a huge, inclusive field, after all, and understanding what interests you about it or where you fit into it as a whole is an essential first step to finding a job -- as is knowing who you wnat to learn it from.
More than many other creative fields, Culinary Arts is often a matter of mutual taste rather than simply personal taste. It's a collaborative process, and so while it's important to showcase your ability to express your creativity in this context, finding your niche in the kitchen and developing best practices and social skills can be just as essential when it comes to landing you a position.
Learn from others, and improve yourself as an artist, not just a student.
Figure out what you want to specialize in
Culinary Arts is one of those fields where practitioners can really benefit from specializing quickly and early. While you'll have a need to get out of the $10 an hour jobs you'll start with by climbing the rungs of the kitchen ladder, you'll also want to pursue what interests you. This will make those long hours more bearable.
Join a Professional Organization
Lastly, a professional organization can provide you with a vast amount of resources when it comes to networking, continuing your education, and ultimately landing a job. The American Culinary Federation is the standard, and a solid source of continuing education and certifications.
Check out a few of the organizations listed at the bottom of this page, then be sure to check out your home state's professional organization. In addition to state level organizations, there are also many organizations dedicated to specific aspects of Culinary Arts. Make sure you pick an association that suits your interest.
Even though you've received your education, new trends and equipment are coming out at a rapid pace and you need to keep educating yourself to stay ahead of them.
New schools focus on tasting, touching, and feeling ingredients, and building students perceptions of seasoning. Some schools of thought focus on teaching students the physiology of food class, and things like why comfort foods have such a profound psychological effect.
You don't need to return to school to learn these things -- read online, talk to other chefs, and keep an open mind. But in the meantime:
Although not required, certification can show competence and lead to advancement and higher pay. The American Culinary Federation certifies personal chefs, in addition to various levels of chefs, such as certified sous chefs or certified executive chefs. Certification standards are based primarily on work-related experience and formal training. Minimum work experience for certification can range from 6 months to 5 years, depending on the level of certification.
That said, a ServSafe certification is required in many states and might give you a leg up in the hiring process -- certain states require that a ServSafe certified individual be on the premises whenever food is being prepared.
Continuing Education in Culinary Arts
Continuing your education in Culinary Arts doesn't mean quite the same thing that it does for other majors. For the most part, there's no real graduate school for Culinary Arts majors, which makes sense, given that two year Culinary Arts programs are pretty much the law of the land.
When people in Culinary Arts refer to continuing their education, what this means is that they're taking courses or moving on to a new kitchen.
There are several sub-fields of the culinary arts, including ethnic cuisine and pastry work. However, programs vary, so if you didn't take any of the below then you should:
If you're still not sure what to do with your degree here are some external sites, to help you with your decision:
The USPCA is a professional organization that provides information about Culinary Arts to those who are interested in becoming personal chefs, a growing industry in food services.
The ACF is a Culinary Arts professional organization which provides continuing education opportunities, competitions, and community service initiatives.
Visit their site to learn more about safe food handling, which will help you when applying for major corporations and catering food services.
Enter "Culinary Arts" into the search bar and you can get a sense of what kind of government jobs are available to Culinary Arts majors. Find a job title you like and come back here to learn more about it.
Bureau Of Labor Statistics
The BLS offers detailed data on pay, location, and availability of different kinds of jobs across the country.
In fact, we draw a lot of our research on the best places for jobs from the information provided on the site.
And if this all seems like a lot - don't worry - the hard part (getting your degree!) is already over.