Dawning a chef’s hat and apron may make you look like a chef, but what must you do to become a chef? The culinary arts are an exciting and expanding field that can lead to an exciting career. There are many world-class diploma programs to choose from, offered by culinary schools, trade schools, and community colleges.
Celebrity chefs and food TV have amplified the visibility of the culinary arts in popular culture. Through shows like Hell’s Kitchen and Top Chef, audiences have got a bird’s eye view into the foodservice industry. This visibility has influenced the popularity of culinary arts degree programs and the expansion of available programs across the country.
When starting your research about culinary arts degrees, you will find there are many different levels to choose from. It’s important to know that though each degree will give you different levels of expertise, they will all give you the cooking techniques you need to get started in the kitchen.
To make sure you’re not overwhelmed, let’s break down all of the different options, starting with the least time-intensive and working our way to the most advanced programs.
Culinary Arts Diploma or Certificate Program
The certificate or diploma is the shortest program you can complete if you’re looking to get started in the field. It’s a great option for those already working in the foodservice industry who cannot take time off to go back to school full time.
Diploma and certification programs are short-duration programs that take about one year to complete. These programs focus on real-world industry best-practices to make sure graduates are prepared with the skills they need to work in a fast-paced, professional kitchen. The courses won’t focus on classical culinary technique the way some more advanced programs will, but it is the fastest credential you can get in the culinary arts.
Typical coursework includes:
- Culinary Fundamentals
- Cooking Methods
- Food safety and sanitation
- Restaurant Operations
- Food Purchasing and Orders
What Can You Do With a Culinary Arts Diploma or Certificate?
These certificate programs help students get started in entry-level restaurant or foodservice positions. Graduates may get jobs in restaurants or a wide variety of other foodservice settings, like hotels, catering companies, and other hospitality settings.
These programs make sense if your priority is to get started in a commercial kitchen as soon as possible. However, if you know you want to eventually advance to leadership positions in the kitchen, it’s important to note you will need at least an associate degree in the culinary arts.
Associate Degree in Culinary Arts
The associate degree is the most basic degree students can earn in the culinary arts. This is the most common degree option for students who want to become chefs and who are interested in having a more in-depth culinary education than what a certificate program can offer. Many students who enter an associate degree program already have some basic kitchen experience.
These programs typically require 60 to 70 credits and can be completed in two years. Associate degree programs are markedly different from certificate programs in that they include general education requirements in addition to culinary arts core courses. This means students must take classes in core areas like math and science before they can graduate.
The focus of an Associate Degree in Culinary Arts is obviously still in the kitchen. Culinary course requirements are very similar to those in a certificate program, including:
- Culinary Math
- Baking and Pastry Skill Development
- Introduction to Gastronomy
- Restaurant Operations
- Introduction to Hospitality
What Can You Do With an Associate Degree in Culinary Arts?
Graduates of associate degree programs in culinary arts usually have more experience than graduates of certificate programs. These experiences, like internships or on-campus practicums, give associate degree holders more opportunities to advance quickly.
Though students do not tend to specialize in an associate program, they can strategically do an internship in an area of interest, like at a bakery or hotel restaurant. Graduates from associate degree programs can jump straight into assistant chef, cook, and foodservice manager roles.
Bachelor’s Degree in Culinary Arts
Most chefs complete associate degrees to gain the skills they need to have successful careers in the kitchen. Chefs with greater ambitions to manage or open their own restaurants may want to consider pursuing a bachelor’s degree.
Bachelor’s degree programs are 120-credits and typically take four years to complete. Because a bachelor’s degree is a more expansive program that also includes general education requirements, students have more time to specialize. Most bachelor’s degree programs in the culinary arts require students to choose a speciality like pastry or a specific regional cuisine.
This degree also makes sense if you want to side-step an entry-level kitchen job and go straight into a management role. Bachelor’s degree programs will include some management and business courses to make sure you are prepared to step into leadership positions.
Coursework will include the same courses listed in the associate degree program plus some more specific coursework depending on the specialization you choose.
What Can You Do With a Bachelor’s Degree in Culinary Arts?
A Bachelor of Arts in Culinary Arts will give you access to management positions in hospitality. It’s a good idea to pursue a bachelor’s degree if you want to work your way up in the kitchen and work as a head chef, menu developer, or in other administrative, leadership roles.
Master’s Degree in Culinary Arts
A master’s degree is the highest degree you can get in culinary arts. You might be asking if a master’s degree is worth it. The master’s program is for students who know they want to reach the highest echelons of the culinary world.
It makes sense if you are interested in starting your own catering business or restaurant or becoming a top-notch executive chef or restaurant manager. Though a master’s degree is a great credential to access some of the higher leadership positions in the culinary world, there is no replacement for solid, real-world kitchen experience.
Master’s degree coursework includes:
- Classical techniques
- Food Science
- Menu Planning
Most master’s degree programs also have specialization or concentration options. Some concentrations include:
- International Cuisine
- Food and Beverage Pairing
- Baking and Pastry Arts
- Advanced Classical Techniques
What Can You Do With a Master’s Degree in Culinary Arts?
Graduates of master’s degree programs in the culinary arts are primed for success. With the highest possible credential in the field, you can go far. You can become an executive chef of a top restaurant or hone your writing skills and pursue food criticism. A master’s degree will give you the best credential you can get in the business.
Career Prospects With a Culinary Arts Degree
Jobs in the restaurant industry are projected to grow 11 percent by 2028, which is much faster than average. According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics, the average annual salary of a chef or head cook is $51,530.
The culinary profession is an extremely demanding one. Consider that you may be asked to work long shifts at all hours. For many who thrive in the industry, this kind of fast-paced work environment is infectious. It’s what keeps them going.
If you have always wanted to take your skills in your home kitchen to the next level, a culinary arts degree might be the best way to do that. Consider all of your options, from certificates to associate or bachelor’s degree programs. If you already have a bachelor’s degree, check out our summary of master’s degree programs and consider whether or not it is the next step for you.
You can specialize in menu pairings, pastry, or restaurant management, just to name a few of the possibilities. Running a restaurant takes many different people with different skill sets. Luckily an associate degree will give you a solid overview of the industry and help you get started to gain professional experience in the kitchen. Then, if you know you want to move forward in your career, you might consider your bachelor’s and then possibly even your master’s degree.
Career Karma is here to help you get started as you research the different kinds of culinary arts degrees available. Use this as a resource as you work to match your interests with the kinds of degree options out there.