The culinary arts is a challenging field that requires knowledge of various techniques, ingredients, and business skills. Graduates with a culinary degree go on to become chefs or cooks who are responsible for developing recipes, planning menus, and maintaining high standards of food and service. They may also be in charge of hiring, training, and supervising kitchen staff. Creativity, attention to detail, and basic knife skills are just a few of the important skills every cook should have.
In addition, those running their own restaurant or catering business will need business acumen and knowledge of global social media research. Despite the impact of COVID-19 on the hospitality and service industries, the demand for cooks is high and the occupation is expected to grow by 10% from 2019 to 2029, faster than the national average of 4%.
This guide will provide information on the requirements, costs, and earning potential for culinary degree programs.
Cooking is an art that requires creativity and mastery. A culinary arts degree prepares you for employment in the food industry by covering food preparation positions (Collin College, 2021). But it is more than just a cooking class where you learn how to efficiently slice, chop, and julienne meats and vegetables.
Aside from food preparation and cooking, the definition of culinary art covers the final presentation and culinary management. Students will get to acquire theoretical knowledge as well as experience practical applications. Along the way, you will learn how to meet the exacting standards of the culinary industry.
As well, during the course of the study, you will gain the skills needed for safety, sanitation, nutrition, and baking. Since being a chef is not all about cooking, you will encounter business management fundamentals, such as purchasing and cost control as well as human resource management (Central Piedmont Community College, 2021).
The food and beverage industry may have been hit hard by COVID-19 but it is still growing. The global food market is anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 7% from 2021 to reach $7527.5 billion by 2023. In such a flourishing sector, a culinary arts graduate has numerous roles to choose from. The first is that of being a cook. And depending on the track a student takes during the course of study, one can become a baker, too.
A culinary arts degree, regardless of education level, is expensive. That is because the tuition can include fees for ingredients and equipment. On top of that, the matriculation cost could be inclusive of the uniform. This is why it is best to be aware of the culinary arts degree tuition early on for a student to be well-prepared.
There are associate and bachelor’s programs for culinary arts, which arm students with basic and advanced skills and knowledge for their work in the kitchen. But at higher levels, such as master’s and doctorate, instruction is focused mainly on nutrition and food science, HR management, cost control, quality improvement, and similar topics. As such, those who want to pursue further studies in culinary arts take MBAs with a focus on culinary leadership and management.
|Public In-State||Public Out-of-State||Private|
|Doctoral Degree||$17000-$25000||$30000 - $40000||$41000 -$60000|
|*Values are estimates.|
The answer to this is—it depends. Culinary school can be beyond the financial capability of many students who wish to take this path. But skills can be learned at home or even on the job. However, if you are interested in becoming a culinarian with formal education, then a culinary degree is worth it.
The value of a culinary arts degree can also depend on your motivation. Students under the age of 21 choose to attend a culinary school because they wanted to be able to cook for their families. Another high motivation factor is their plan to be a restaurant or a hotel chef, Whibbs and Holmes (2019) of George Brown College and University of Guelph, respectively, noted.
The authors, in their study Food Network’s food career frenzy? An examination of students’ motivations to attend culinary school, observed that culinary school registrants were driven by personal and employment goals and interests. Among those are cooking for family and friends, leisure, and fulfilling an emotional attachment to food.
In the same study published in Canadian Food Studies, the researchers observed that “food medias and the Food Network fell into secondary influencer rankings, given that their average scores ranged between 3.0 and 2.7. Food media available online, including YouTube, Facebook, food shows, the Food Network, and culinary celebrity influencers all ranked below our primary influencers of personal and career goals. Yet, as in the case of vocational selection in general, food medias ranked above teachers. Interestingly, in terms of deciding to attend culinary school, kin and fictive kin networks occupied tertiary positions, below 2.5.”
After finishing your culinary arts program, you might want to start looking into culinary arts degree jobs, such as that of a cook or a baker. But there are other roles, too, that will not have you working on food the whole day. Also, you may already be aware, that there are different types of cooks and bakers, each with his or her own functions in the kitchen.
Restaurant industry sales in 2020 reached $659 billion, a huge decline from 2019 figures. Sure, the food and beverage industry suffered due to pandemic restrictions, but it is anticipated to bounce back. After all, people do miss eating out: 83% of adults said they are not eating on the premises of restaurants as often as they want. Before the pandemic, only 45% of adults had that sentiment. Among those people, baby boomers are the ones who really miss going to restaurants for their meals, as 90% of them said that they would like to eat out often (Kelso, 2020).
To meet the demand of these people, restaurants, hotels, and other food and beverage businesses would have to hire more able professionals. Food preparation and serving occupations are anticipated to grow by 7% from 2019 to 2029. During that period, there will be a growth of around 1 million jobs (BLS, 2021).
Cooks and other food and beverage serving and related workers are the most in demand. These occupations are projected to grow by 10% over the said period. Other occupations in the industry have positive outlooks as well, even faster than the national average (BLS, 2021).
Chefs and head cooks have the highest average salary among all food preparation and service occupations. They can earn around $56,920 a year. Famous chefs like Gordon Ramsay, Wolfgang Puck, Heston Blumenthal, Dominique Crenn, and Anne Sophie Pic earn more. After all, these personalities have their own restaurants, if not a chain of restaurants.
Next are cooks, who have an average annual wage of $29,120. In some cases, they can earn as much as $38,101 (Salary.com, 2023). Close to this yearly salary is that of food preparation workers. They take home an average pay of $28,780 (BLS, 2021).
Source: BLS, 2021
There are four culinary arts degree types you can attain. The most accessible is an associate degree, which you can use as a stepping stone for a bachelor’s degree. There are master’s degrees that are focused on culinary arts management and similar, where students learn more about running a restaurant rather than pick up cooking skills. There are also MBAs that major in culinary management. And doctorate degrees in culinary arts are more academic in their approach, as they are more concerned about nutrition, food science, and similar subjects.
Average time to complete: 2 years
Though an associate degree can be typically completed in two years, there are schools whose instructions extend to nearly three years. During this period, students will undergo extensive training to develop the basic skills necessary in the kitchen. These would include basic knife skills and elementary cooking skills.
At the same time, students would learn how to use culinary techniques and develop flavors using those. They will be trained in creating menus and preparing international cuisines.
Lastly, they will undergo an internship. This could be a paid internship through which they will acquire real-world experience and enhance their culinary arts degree skills. This would be a chance as well to observe how real restaurants operate.
Entry-level jobs: line cook, prep cook, grill cook
Average time to complete: 4 years
Baccalaureate programs in culinary arts are delivered on-site because of the intensive instruction required. Those that are delivered online usually focus on non-food preparation topics, such as culinary management. Therefore, students must think carefully about whether they want the convenience of an online program but forego culinary instruction.
In case the student does choose to have on-campus instruction delivery, they will undergo more intensive training in the kitchen. Thus, they will acquire advanced culinary skills. Instructors will also inform students about kitchen theory, culinary foundations, and business skills, such as management, leadership, and accounting.
Students can expect to have a semester or two dedicated to an internship as well.
Entry-level jobs: personal chef, chef manager, executive chef
Average time to complete: 2 years
Master’s degree programs designed for a food business or wine and beverage management looks at the economic factors driving or affecting the industry. Students will be introduced to shifting demographics, changes in customer demands, such as the ongoing clamor for sustainability, and health and wellness. They will also look at technologies that are changing the shape of culinary arts.
This graduate-level education will have the students exploring marketing, product development, and operations management. They will learn about laws and real estate as well, as these have a great impact on food businesses.
High-level positions: nutritionist, food scientist, food safety manager
Average time to complete: 3 years
As previously mentioned, doctoral degree programs related to culinary arts are more academic and scientific in their design. It is rare for culinary chefs to pursue such a high-level education but this is common among those who want to have careers outside of the kitchen.
Students going the post-graduate route of culinary arts or culinary management will encounter food theories. They will have discussions on the implications of food in culture and other settings. Their instruction will encompass food safety and sanitation, mass food production, and nutrition.
They may have to undertake research as well to complete their doctorate program. That could be in any subject related to the culinary world.
High-level positions: food and beverage director, food safety specialist, food production manager
Average time to complete: 3 months
Even certificates in culinary arts can be quite extensive. These can last between two to three months. During this time, students will learn basic food preparation. And when they are ready, they will move to advanced food preparation. They may learn how to bake as well, which will be useful in case they want to become bakers or pastry chefs.
Students will be instructed in food safety and sanitation as well as in nutrition and menu planning.
Entry-level jobs: culinary aide, junior line cook,
Getting into culinary arts degree programs is not difficult. Even if you do not yet have the skills, you do not need to worry because your instructors will teach you those. You only need to prepare the following culinary arts degree prerequisites.
The culinary school or postsecondary institution you wish to enter would require you to show proof of graduation from a secondary school. Typically, that would be a diploma. You can also present your GED credentials in lieu of a high school diploma.
There may be schools that have strict grade requirements. This is why you need to prepare your high school transcripts for consideration. But, generally, a GPA of 2.0 or C is the base requirement for admission.
You do not necessarily need to complete prerequisite coursework in secondary school. However, there could be schools that require students to have a strong grasp of the English language. Foreign languages could work to your advantage, too, as the culinary world is broad and you may encounter people from different corners of the world.
SAT is no longer a requirement but it can work in your favor if you are a foreign student. However, it will be at the discretion of the admissions office how they will consider your application with your SAT score.
Though it is uncommon, there may be schools that require prospective students to have experience in the foodservice industry. Depending on the institution, there could be a minimum number of hours. It could be paid or unpaid (Culinary Career Now, 2021).
There are three suggested categories of skills or competencies in the culinary field. These are operational, administrative, and leadership, as related by Marinakou and Giousmpasoglou (2020) of Bournemouth University Business School. However, the authors’ study titled Chef’s competencies: A stakeholder’s perspective identified four: management/leadership, technical, strategic, and operational.
The researchers observed that “Factor 1 was labeled management/leadership competencies comprised of 12 items that explained 46.58% of the variance. Factor 2 was labelled technical competencies comprised of eight items that explained 4.43% of the variance. Factor 3 was labelled strategic competencies comprised of five items that explained 3.75% of the variance. Finally, Factor 4 was labeled operational competencies comprised of five items that explained 2.79% of the variance. Interestingly, the operational competencies category included verbal communication and writing, computer skills, knowledge of cultures, ethics/responsibility and emotional intelligence (EI).”
In the same study published in the Journal of Hospitality and Tourism Insights, the researchers found that the three groups involved in the study (professionals, educators, and students) considered management/leadership competencies as the most important. These are followed by technical competencies.
When you have risen to a point where you need to lead a team, you will need solid management and leadership skills. This means you need to understand the strengths and weaknesses of each team member and ensure that everyone does their job well in the kitchen. Leadership also means motivating the people under your management and making the best decisions.
To succeed in the culinary world you need to have excellent technical skills. These include being skilled in food preparation and food safety. You have to show an aptitude for menu creation, recipe development, and waste management. On top of it all, you have to show your creativity when it comes to food and food presentation.
For you to be truly competent in the strategic area, you have to know how to control costs. You also need to balance the cost of labor and the overall budget for the restaurant or foodservice business you are handling.
Among the operational skills you need to have in the culinary world are computer skills. You need to be well-versed in verbal and written communication as well. Moreover, you need to be ethical or responsible and to have high emotional intelligence.
|Human skills||Food preparation||Strategic planning|| Verbal communication and writing
|Managerial skills||Food safety||Labor cost control||Computer skills|
|Ability to motivate||Recipe and menu development||Cost management||Knowledge of cultures|
|Time management||Knowledge of flavor||Budgeting||Ethics / responsibility|
|Professionalism||Artistic creativity||Innovate||Emotional intelligence|
|Handle staff complaints||Sustainability / waste|
|Adaptation to difficulty||Knowledge of food|
|Emotional control / stability|
As mentioned previously, culinary arts programs can vary on whether they are focusing on technical skills acquisition or on culinary management instruction. You need to be aware of the differences in the various degree programs related to culinary arts to make an informed decision before enrollment.
When you study culinary arts, you are not just preparing to be a cook or a chef. You also learn the fundamentals of baking, bartending or mixing drinks, catering, and managing a whole restaurant. At some point, you learn about wines and what kinds of foods they go best with, too. If you want to diverge from just cooking, then you need to check if the school you favor offers courses on the track that you want.
First, you need to ensure that the school you wish to enroll in is recognized by the United States Higher Education Commission. Second, check if the culinary arts program is accredited by the American Culinary Federation (ACF). The organization has a list of accredited postsecondary institutions accessible on its website (ACF, 2021).
Even if the school does not publish its student-to-faculty ratio, you can still get an idea by asking how many students they have in a class. You need to select an institution that has a low enough student-teacher ratio that makes individual mentoring possible (The Culinary Institute of America, 2021). To give you an idea, the national average student-to-faculty ratio is 15-to-1 (Univstats, 2021).
Culinary school is very costly and most students would need financial aid to get through it. One funding option is scholarships. This could be granted by the school itself if you meet the criteria of eligibility. There are different organizations as well that provide scholarships, such as the National Restaurant Association, the American Culinary Federation, and the American Institute of Wine & Food that offer assistance to promising students (Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, 2021).
Federal and private loans would be other options as well.
Food is life. There are countless people who make that declaration, especially the ones who really enjoy food and the culinary arts. If you find satisfaction in seeing people enjoy the food you prepare, then the culinary arts track is for you. If you do not yet have the skills, fret not—even if you just enroll in a certificate program, you will come out brandishing top-notch cooking skills.
However, if later on in your career, you decide to get out of the kitchen, you can still use your culinary background for management purposes. You might even consider taking a master’s in culinary management, too, to augment your knowledge in running a food business. Likewise, you can pursue an online hospitality management program to open up more career opportunities.
There are diverse paths available in the culinary world. These are things that you will learn more about through your course of study. You will discover plenty of opportunities when you do your internship or practicum, too.
As you go through your student life, you may encounter plenty of challenges, especially when it comes to finances. You can apply for financial aid to help you pay for culinary school. You can save money, too, by going to stores that offer student discounts. Because every dime you save helps.