Degrees vs Certificates
In order to understand all your options for a career in the culinary arts, you first need to understand the levels of education. There are a wide variety of schools that offer a number of different options ranging from certificates to degrees and official certifications/licenses. Understanding your career goals will determine the path that is the best for you.
A certificate is merely a certificate of completion from a school (sometimes accredited, sometimes not). This is frequently found in one-year (or less) programs. Students receive a very broad based education on the basics, along with an introduction to different aspects and careers in and around the kitchen. This typically prepares students for entry-level work or continuing education.
An Associate’s degree is a two-year program that includes culinary training more advanced than a certificate, as well as additional general education coursework pertinent to professional work – such as math, English and select business courses. Students receive more hands-on training, and more detailed training such as exposure to wine and cheeses, international foods and principles of management.
Bachelor’s degrees are four-year programs that allow students to become proficient in all aspects of culinary methods and techniques, a wider exposure to international foods and skills and may also include an externship either in a school-run restaurant or an affiliated local restaurant. In addition, students are required to be well rounded with courses in various liberal arts classes that include math, communications, leadership and humanities options. A Bachelor’s degree affords students an introduction to all aspects of potential career options and related training.
Beyond the Bachelor’s degree, there are additional continuing education, licenses and certification options available to students and professionals who wish to maintain their education and expand their level of knowledge (and career options). The American Culinary Foundation offers specific certifications beyond a degree, such as for various levels of profession (catering, sous chef, head chef, educator, etc.).
One career option is in baking, typically referred to as a Pastry Chef or Baker. Pastry Chefs rise early and are typically done their day before lunch. These chefs prepare and make all the desserts, pastries, breads and all baked goods used by the business. Pastry Chefs are also responsible for testing new recipes, all preparation of desserts in advance, and the management (also budgetary constraints) of the desserts menu. In some restaurants, this includes items like cheese platters and dessert wines. Formal training is required as well as experience, and a veteran Pastry Chef can average $30,000 – $50,000, depending on location.
Catering is another venue that affords a wide variety of options for a culinary student. In addition to the traditional brigade of cooks, there are also positions such as directors, sales managers, coordinators, banquet help, event planning and even human resources. Depending on which type of career you are interested in, education varies from certificates to Bachelor’s degrees (or higher).
A general education in Culinary Arts is a popular choice for many students. This affords students exposure to a wide variety of culinary expertise and hands-on training in labs, kitchens and classrooms. Culinary Arts students are given education in many different aspects of culinary techniques and careers. In addition, students are provided with a basic understanding of the business side of culinary arts as well as the general education required to understand the concepts. CA students continue on to many different types of jobs beyond their certificate or degree.
Culinary Management options are available for individuals to expand their education to the leadership and business side of food service management. Skills learned are such things as cost control, purchasing, event management, human resource issues, ethics and even hospitality law.
Where Culinary Managers are involved specifically in food service operations, hospitality managers are primarily involved in lodging, gaming venues, catering, schools, healthcare facilities or even commercial businesses. IN addition to learning to manage costs, purchasing and personnel, hospitality managers also are involved in economics, reservation systems and security.
A degree in Tourism Management provides students with the business acumen and cultural education required to work in venues such as travel agencies, hotel operations, food service businesses, convention centers, resorts, casinos and convention centers. Student learn general business principles as well as specialized training based on their chosen career path. Options may include marketing, community development, sales and even international law or foreign languages.
Tourism management programs are interdisciplinary and prepare students for the principles, tools, processes and systems for managing all aspects of travel away from home.
Wine & Beverage / Sommelier
A Wine & Beverage Steward (or Sommelier in French) normally works in a fine dining establishment. They have very specialized knowledge of wine and other beverages, including aspects of service and pairings. In some restaurants, the Sommelier may be responsible for managing the wine list, training staff and even delivering / serving the wine or making suggestions based on the customers preference and budget. Student who specialize in this very specific training will learn all about wines, how they are made, where they come from, the differences in taste and bottling, and how they are best paired. Professionals frequently work closely with the head chef to pair wines with new menu items and with the general manager to monitor the product, budget and inventory.
Additional Specialized Areas of Training
These are only some of the more frequently pursued culinary options, but there are many more available. Speak with your guidance counselor or mentor and map out the best program options for your career goals. It’s very common for culinary students to continue their education and experience throughout their careers.