You’re thinking of becoming a chef because you really enjoy cooking and eating delicious food. But are you able to cope with hot kitchen temperatures and a physically-demanding work environment? Do you have the creativity and courage to adapt and develop recipes? Good. Then you are an excellent candidate for attending a culinary arts program and starting your career as a chef.
Having formal education or training is not a requirement to start working as a cook at most neighborhood restaurants, particularly at franchise restaurants with fixed menus. However, if you are interested in creating your own recipes and menus, or perhaps owning your own restaurant some day, then attending a quality culinary school is a must.
Within the culinary world, there are several positions you might look for depending on your skills and interests.
Chef De Partie is the general term for chefs who are in charge of a specific section of the kitchen. They are also called station chefs. In large kitchens, they work as managers of their section of the kitchen, managing other cooks or assistants. Examples of Chef De Partie include Pastry Chefs, Saute Chefs, Fry Chefs, and Vegetable Chefs.
Pastry Chefs, also called Pâtissier, focus on creating desserts, breads and breakfast pastries. As a pastry chef, you will be responsible for baking, creating fillings and frostings, decorating, and possibly also managing and supervising the work of others. You might work in a bakery, a cafe, the bakery portion of a grocery store, or in a restaurant. If you are the head pastry chef at an independent restaurant, you will also help in developing the dessert menu and in the purchasing of dessert ingredients.
Executive Chefs, also called Chef de Cuisine, are the top supervisors in a kitchen. This is a position more common in formal work environments such as in hotels or fine dining restaurants.
Sous Chefs work just under the executive chef. Sous Chefs take over many of the responsibilities of the executive chef when the executive chef is not working. In addition, sous chefs may take over a larger share of the unusual shifts such as night shifts or holidays.
In addition to dealing with food, some chef positions like the executive chef position also require business management skills. Chefs have to anticipate menu popularity so they can make lists to assign work for the prep cooks, and so they can place appropriate food and ingredient orders. Chefs may also have to hire, train and supervise all other staff in their kitchen to make sure the food is being prepared in a sanitary environment, on-time for customers, and of course, following the recipe.
What You Learn in a Culinary Arts Program
Culinary programs at schools in Texas include certificate programs, Associate degrees and Bachelor degrees. A Bachelor of Arts in Culinary Arts will provide you with the most well-rounded curriculum including classes in: prep cutting, food presentation and design, basic cooking techniques and recipes, and management. Some schools such as Remington College and The Art Institute, also offer classes such as food service nutrition, menu management, and wine pairing.
Make sure to look at the program curriculum when choosing your culinary arts program. While a Bachelors degree may have more business elements to it than an Associates degree, the same may not be true of an Associates degree compared to a certificate program. Some certificate programs are so complete that the only difference they have to an Associates degree is that they don’t include general education classes. Some culinary programs also differentiate themselves by including an externship requirement where students get to practice the skills from the classroom in the real world. Having this little bit of real life experience in a kitchen is extremely valuable when you are looking for a job.
Additional Culinary Certifications and Memberships
There are memberships that you can pay for to help advance your resume, as well as a sanitation certification offered by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation. Some employers prefer to hire chefs who have this Servsafe certification. The certification is obtained by taking an online assessment when you’re ready. The site also provides a course you can use before taking the test. The course takes between 60 and 90 minutes to complete, but has no set time limit. There are 40 questions regarding sanitation, food temperatures, allergens and personal hygiene. The course and the test are also offered in Spanish.
The Texas Chefs Association/American Culinary Federation also offer a membership that you can use to network with other professionals. Having this membership also entitles you to discounts on the association’s training seminars and conferences. Depending on your position in the food industry, and if you are a student, prices range from $71 to $300 for a year-long membership.