Finishing culinary school is a great accomplishment – and just the beginning of a long career in the field of culinary arts and sciences. Deciding where to begin can be a daunting and bewildering task. The education you receive while in school prepares you for a great number of jobs, in a wide variety of venues. A vast majority of positions require experience in the field, so it’s important to plan on working your way up through the ranks. In order to be an effective and respected executive chef, you’ll need to have years of experience performing all the jobs in the kitchen.
Some of the typical career options for a new graduate might include working in a cafeteria as a line cook or chef, or even as an attendant. There are catering operations, working in a bakery or cake shop. Perhaps you have in interest in charcuterie and want to work with or as a butcher. There is always a market for artisan breads and cheeses, especially farm-to-table operations that supply local restaurants and consumers. Perhaps you might even be interested in specialized positions such as a bar manager or wine steward, and learning and understanding everything there is to know about wine regions, grapes, vintages, storage and service. Then there are the standard positions available in most restaurants – such as dishwasher, prep cook, line cook, pastry chef, sous chef and executive chef – even an owner or manager, with the right experience, education and funding.
If you are looking for a culinary career that’s off the beaten path – something a little more unique and nontraditional, there are many options. If you have the financing you can look into starting your own business as a private chef or caterer, or even as a specialized food truck vendor. Some of the newest and most successful graduates are defining their own niches!
One such option is a culinary trendologist – someone who researches and analyzes consumer food trends and advises restaurants. Another is a forager, a kind of personal shopper for specific ingredients, new suppliers, vendors and farmers. Perhaps you have an interest in becoming a flavor guru and taste testing and developing new flavors for companies across the globe or maybe a brew master, helping to develop new varieties and flavor combinations of beer. If you are more interested in the behind the scenes work, there are continuing and growing opportunities such as a food stylist, food photographer, restaurant publicist, food blogger, cookbook writer and a food/restaurant critic.
According to the United States Department of Labor, the job outlook for culinary graduates is high due to employee turnover and an increase in eating establishments. Forecasts vary great depending on career path, but most culinary fields have a better-than-average outlook for the next ten years. Graduates who aspire to higher end positions need to remember that there is a significant time investment involved – executive chefs have significant experience in the workforce working long days, nights, weekends and holidays.
Many current cooks are reaching retirement age or are leaving the workforce, causing a need for skilled and experienced employees. In addition to needing new chefs and cooks to replace retiring workers, employment in the food service industry is expected to expand, as more Americans spend their time dining out and traveling.
A new trend in the United States is for healthy, family meals for pickup or delivery. This trend will generate new opportunities for recent culinary school graduates across a wide variety of platforms and venues. Farm-to-table movements are generating a large setting for new and exciting options as well, in restaurants, farms and schools alike.
The largest demand for talented cooks and chefs is still in sit-down restaurants that offer a wide variety of menu options. As the population gets older, people are less willing to ingest ‘fast food’ options, and are in search of healthier, fresher gourmet experiences that provide a personal touch.
Because of this increase in demand for more custom service options, the number of employment opportunities for fast food cooks and short order cooks is expected to decline over the next ten years. In addition, many institutions such as hospitals, schools and colleges, prisons and inpatient facilities are outsourcing their cooking and service roles to third party vendors. While this results in more attractive and cost effective menu options, it will result in far fewer institutional and cafeteria chefs and cooks.
As evidenced by the wide variety of potential employment positions across an extensive list of venues, the possibilities are limitless. For a culinary arts graduate, a position can always be found for someone with a passion for food, and the education and experience as a foundation. If you cannot find a good fit in an existing arena, you may find success in formulating your own niche market.