Career Snapshots: Culinary
- Food Service or Retail: chef, manager, caterer, baker or pastry chef, line cook, butcher, barista, server, cafeteria staff
- Food Service Administration: child nutrition director, food service manager, purchasing manager, dietary manager, restaurant owner, hotel management, sales
As a chef, you have the power to contribute to the identity of a region or culture through food. Chefs can also use their expertise to teach others good cooking habits, healthy food choices, and how to support local food producers. Chefs fill a vital role in society that extends beyond cooking. Many chefs research and investigate the origin of recipes and adapt them to fit the community, while also selecting ingredients grown and raised locally to support local businesses.
Chefs oversee a restaurant’s kitchen or cafeteria by managing other members of the food preparation team, deciding which dishes to serve, and adjusting orders to meet guests’ requests. Chefs may assist in prep work such as chopping vegetables; however, they are mainly involved in cooking specialty dishes. Chefs are knowledgeable about choosing ingredients and designing menus based on the seasonal availability of food items. They create unique dishes that inspire guests to come back again and again to see what is new.
There are many types of professional chefs, such as an executive chef, sous chef, saucier, and private household chef. Some chefs specialize in one area like sauces or fish or roasting. Executive and sous chefs focus more on managing kitchen staff, planning menus, creating innovative dishes, monitoring inventory, and sourcing fresh ingredients. Whichever position you’re in, a professional chef relies on teamwork in this exciting and fast-paced field.
Education and Training
Chefs work in kitchens to learn cooking skills from other chefs for many years to gain the experience necessary for promotion. They may start in other positions, such as line cook or prep cook. Others may train in mentorship programs, working under an experienced chef.
Formal education is not required; however, many aspiring chefs attend programs through community colleges, technical schools, culinary arts schools, or four-year colleges. There are also opportunities to learn through apprenticeship programs or in the Armed Forces. Programs cover all aspects of kitchen work, including menu planning, food sanitation procedures, and purchasing and inventory methods. Most training programs also require students to gain experience in a commercial kitchen through an internship or apprenticeship program.
The American Culinary Federation accredits more than 200 academic training programs at postsecondary schools and sponsors apprenticeships around the country. A minimum age of 17 and a high school education or equivalent are the basic qualifications required for entering an apprenticeship program.
Check out the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute at Nicholls State University and the culinary arts, baking and pastry, or hospitality and culinary management tracks at Louisiana Culinary Institute.
Food Service Manager
As a food service manager, you are responsible for the entire dining experience and daily operation of establishments that prepare and serve food and beverages. You will hire staff and oversee kitchen operations to make sure the employees give great customer service, whether you work at a restaurant or school cafeteria. One of your most important tasks is developing a menu and selecting successful recipes. Managers analyze all recipes to determine food, labor and overhead costs, and to assign prices to various dishes. Menus must be developed far enough in advance so that supplies can be ordered and received in time.
Food service managers can be found in restaurants, hotels, school cafeterias, hospitals and other in-patient care settings, entertainment venues, and anywhere else food is prepared and served. Food service managers lead their team with the goal of ensuring the food looks good and is cooked properly and safely, the proportions are correct, and the food is cooked and served quickly by friendly and courteous staff.
Food service managers must have initiative, be self-disciplined, and be strong leaders. They need to have communications skills so they can solve problems with suppliers, employees, and customers.
Education and Training
Although a bachelor’s degree is not required, a degree in food service management or restaurant and hospitality management is valuable to employers. Many restaurant chains have training programs for managers that combine classroom and real kitchen experience. Years of kitchen or food industry-related experience will also aid in getting a promotion to food service manager.
Check out the Food Industry Management concentration at Louisiana State University.