Culinary arts degrees combine food preparation instruction with nutrition, food safety and food service business knowledge to train and prepare chefs, cooks and managers for culinary and hospitality careers. Coursework in sanitation, nutrition and business management can often be taken online.
While experienced professionals in this industry can be promoted even without formal education, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes that most leadership positions and better-paying positions in upscale food establishments require some training, such as the following culinary arts programs:
- Certificate or diploma. These courses may focus on food safety and preparation for workers in professional kitchens. Certificate courses in gourmet cooking are also available for home cooks who want to improve their skills.
- Online Associate degree. The two-year culinary arts degrees, such as Associate of Applied Arts, typically involve hands-on food preparation training, including knife skills, food sanitation, culinary math and accounting, menu planning, and more. Students can sometimes specialize in baking and pastry, international cuisine, or "garde manger" chef skills.
- Online Bachelor's degree. Culinary arts degrees, including Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Professional Studies and Bachelor of Hospitality Services, may offer a slightly different focus, such as nutrition or business. Programs take around four years to complete and include hands-on food preparation training as well as business education.
Certifications, coursework and online degrees in culinary arts
Culinary arts degrees may encompass business management skills that can be studied online. Distance learning also gives culinary students a chance to gain familiarity with computer technology. The Department of Labor's Occupational Information Network, or O*NET, notes that chefs use a variety of software such as recipe and menu applications, table management programs, and logistics and supply chain tools.
Some online cooking certificate courses illustrate techniques by video and offer step-by-step instructions. Online culinary arts courses in sanitation and nutrition have been accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation Accrediting Commission. Professional training in food preparation relies on a qualified instructor to give feedback. Candice Childers, the commission's director of accreditation, confirms that currently no fully online culinary arts programs are accredited by the foundation.
Students who received culinary training through an associate degree program may be able to earn their bachelor's degree online because classes focus on expanding managerial and analytical skills. Professional continuing education courses and chef certifications, such as those from the American Culinary Federation, are also offered online.
Skills for professional culinary careers
Culinary professionals, particularly those who work as chefs, benefit from strong time management and artistic skills, according to the O*NET website. Chef, cook, catering and food service management careers require leadership skills, a high degree of dependability, and the ability to calmly tolerate stressful situations and accept criticism.
Culinary arts careers
In 2010, first-line food prep and service managers outnumbered chefs and head cooks 8 to 1, as reported by the BLS. Around half of all chefs and head cooks work in full-service restaurants and 12 percent work in hotels and other traveler accommodations. Restaurants employ the greatest number of cooks, with fast food establishments coming in second. Of first-line food service managers, nearly half work in limited-service eateries, such as bakeries or cafes, and about a quarter work in full-service restaurants.
The BLS estimates that food service managers earned a mean annual wage of $52,220 in 2010, compared to $44,780 for chefs and head cooks, and $23,260 for other restaurant cooks. Although the BLS projects a growth rate of 6 percent for this field, which is slower than the average growth rate for all U.S. occupations, employment opportunities are still expected due to turnover in the industry.
Culinary arts at a glance
- Careers: chef, cook, baker, caterer, food service manager
- Salary: from $23,260 to $52,220 in 2010 (BLS)
- Growth: 6 percent between 2008 and 2108 (BLS)