Careers in Culinary Arts

Find out about the types of jobs you could pursue in the culinary arts. Read on to learn more about career options along with job duties for head or executive chefs, sommeliers and sous chefs, training requirements and information on employment and salary prospects. Schools offering Baking & Pastry degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Would I Do in a Culinary Arts Career?

Career choices in the culinary arts include executive or head chef; sous chef; and sommelier or wine steward. These professionals can find work in a variety of dining establishments, including restaurants, cafeterias and catering companies. The head chef is in charge of the kitchen; their duties include kitchen staff training and oversight, food ordering and menu planning. The sous chef is next in command. They also have supervisory roles in the kitchen, but they typically play larger roles in daily food preparation than chefs. The sommelier helps patrons with wine selections.

The following chart gives more information about these careers.

Executive Chef Sous Chef Sommelier
Training Required Culinary arts coursework and on-the-job training Culinary arts coursework and on-the-job training Sommelier training classes
Key Responsibilities Assign tasks to sous and other chefs, design menus, train cooks Act as head chef when needed, supervise cooks, prepare food Select wines for the restaurant and help it sell them, make sure wine is properly cared for, help patrons select wines for their meals
Job Growth (2014-24) 9% (faster than average) for all chefs and head cooks* 9% (faster than average) for all chefs and head cooks* Data not available
Median Salary (2017) $63,201** $44,381** $54,236**

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Salary.com

What Careers Exist in the Field of Culinary Arts?

In the world of food, there's something for everyone. This may even be true of careers in culinary arts. You may be able to work your way up to the head chef position in a restaurant. You could combine training in nutrition and food with culinary training and create new menu items for restaurants around the world as a research chef. If you're familiar with wine, with training you could become a sommelier, a person who helps diners choose wines that complement their meals.

In a restaurant setting, the executive or head chef is in charge of the entire kitchen and operations. When the head chef is not available, the sous chef, or second chef, is in charge. The head chef is responsible for meal planning, supervision of meal preparation and staff management.

As a research chef, your original creations might end up in coffee shops and fast food eateries. In this position, you'll create recipes based on consumer feedback, modify existing recipes or even create new recipes through experimentation. Your duties might include testing new products for flavor and nutritional content, monitoring ingredients for quality and nutrition or finding substitutes for additives that could be unhealthy or harmful.

What Training Is Necessary?

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (www.bls.gov) notes that most head chefs have some college training, either a 2-year or 4-year degree, and are trained on the job as well. A bachelor's degree program in culinary arts could prepare you for a career as a chef, with hands-on training available through internships. You'll learn to prepare a variety of foods, plan menus, manage and motivate employees. From food safety and sanitation to inventory control, you'll learn a little bit of everything in culinary art degree programs.

For aspiring sommeliers, some schools offer courses and diploma programs. In prerequisite courses through the International Sommelier Guild (ISG), you focus on the characteristics of grapes, fortified and sparkling wines, wine storage and management, food service and food and wine pairing techniques. The diploma program builds on these two classes and you will learn techniques in cellaring and storing wines, inventory management and strategies for investment.

How Much Could I Earn?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 129,370 chefs or head cooks working in the United States in 2015, and most of those professionals earned between $23,150 and $74,170 annually (www.bls.gov). Salary.com found that the median wage for executive chefs was $63,201 in 2017, and for sous chefs, it was $44,381. Most sommeliers, meanwhile, earned between $41,689 and $66,763, with a median wage of $54,236 in February 2017.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you are looking to play a leadership role at a culinary arts establishment, you could also consider becoming a food services manager. Unlike chefs, these professionals are less involved in the culinary aspects of running a dining establishment; they are more focused on business operations such as staff scheduling, budget management and customer service. The minimum educational requirement is a high school diploma. Another option is a job as a waiter or waitress. Like sommeliers, they may offer ordering advice to diners, but they must be familiar with the entire menu, not just the wine selection. In addition to taking orders, they also carry food to the table and clean up after customers have left. No formal educational credential is required for a job as a waiter or waitress.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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