Should I Go To Culinary or Baking School?
For those who love preparing fine cuisines, specialized pastries, unique seasonings, and dishes to die for, culinary school is the first step in turning a passion for food into a well-paying career.
Careers in the food industry are at an all-time high, and a recent study by the National Restaurant Association (NRA) found that Americans spend nearly half of their food dollars in a restaurant setting – a figure that has nearly doubled in the last 50 years. This makes the food industry the nation’s largest private sector employer, second only to the federal government in terms of available jobs.
Admittedly, the most prestigious and best paying jobs in this field do require specialized training at a culinary institute, in addition to hands-on training under a well-known chef. Fortunately, there are still options for those who love culinary arts but can’t afford the tuition or time requirements needed to secure the top tier of education.
Why Culinary School?
A culinary arts degree is usually the preferred course for students who aspire to be top chef or a manager in a well-known restaurant or high-end hotel, especially if students want to start out at a higher level. Most of these positions are highly competitive and typically require formal training and hands-on experience to even be considered for the job.
Most well-known culinary schools provide vigorous training and internships to facilitate the hands-on aspect of the trade. The entire length of these programs can range anywhere between four and six years, while higher learning in the field (including a Master’s or Doctorate degree) is also available for those who would like to teach culinary arts in a university or academic setting.
Additional training options include programs of varying length, ranging from a few weeks to two years. These programs often specialize in teaching introductory skills, one particular cooking style, or a certain type of kitchen technology. While these courses might not grant you immediate access to the job of your dreams, they can help build a resume or give you edge in making networking connections.
Considerations When Choosing a Culinary School
The most important consideration when choosing a culinary school or educational program is how you plan to use your training upon graduation. For example, culinary students who wish to prepare pastries and deserts in a high-end restaurant or hotel will want to find a school that offers specialized training in baking and internships that provide experience along those lines.
Students who aspire to be a head chef or restaurant manager may want to consider enrolling at at a reputable school that offers internships under well-known figures in the industry can be the most important step. Not only do these types of programs provide an established connection in the field, but they also help students to stay above the competition.
However, for students who wish to pursue a more general career in the food industry (such as a lower level chef or a line cook), a cheaper, yet broader program with courses ranging from sanitation to basic food prep may fit best. For example, students wishing to explore the culinary arts to determine if it is a right fit might benefit from a one-week course and building from there. In fact, many successful chefs and cooks start at the bottom and develop a name for themselves by working up through the ranks.
Alternatives to Culinary School
It’s important to remember that despite its advantages, formal training at a culinary institute may not be right for everyone. This is especially the case for those who do not have the time or resources to invest into a four-year program or who only wish to attain entry to mid-level positions in the field.
In these cases, there are still a variety of ways to pursue a career in culinary arts. For those who desire some formal schooling with the hopes of securing a well-paying job, programs at a local community college or technical institute can provide enough specialized training to land a competitive position as a top line cook or specialized chef – and at a fraction of the cost of most four-year programs.
For those who can’t afford formal training of any sort, hands-on experience is clearly the best way to go. And while this may require getting into a restaurant and working from the bottom up, it’s still a great way to earn a steady pay check while pursuing the career you love.
Tuition and Salary Ranges in Culinary Arts
Annual tuition at a culinary institute can range from $8,000- $36,000, while a culinary arts degree at a public or private university can range from $5,000 to $45,000. Similarly, a vocational program at a local community college or technical institute can range from $1,000- $5,000. Many of these prices do not include the cost of textbooks or supplies, and many of them require at least four years of tuition before the degree is attained.
Salaries in the field of culinary arts are equally broad and depend heavily on the career obtained following graduation. Most restaurant or hotel employees can expect to earn the following:
- $55,000 to $85,000 for Executive Chefs
- $45,000 to $68,000 for Executive Pastry Chefs
- $30,000 to $50,000 for Sous Chefs
- $27,000 to $50,000 for Line Cook Supervisors
- $25,000 to $33,000 for Senior Cooks/Lead Line Cooks
- $23,000 to $29,000 for Cooking Assistants
- $19,000 to $25,000 for Basic Line Cooks.
In addition to these salaries in the kitchen, restaurant managers typically earn between $36,000 and $54,000, while managers in fine-dining establishments earn between $41,000 and $60,000.
Getting Started in the Field of Culinary Arts
Getting started in the field of culinary arts depends on your personal goals and career aspirations in the food industry. Do you desire fame and fortune as a world-renowned chef or TV personality? Do you desire a steady paycheck pursing your love of cooking or food preparation? Would you like to open your own restaurant someday?
By taking the time to be honest with yourself and your goals ahead of time, you should be able to choose from a variety of culinary arts programs and entry-level jobs – all of which eventually lead to the career of your dreams.