A culinary arts career is enticing to a growing number of people, thanks to the popularity of cooking shows on television that showcase chefs as celebrities and feature contestants preparing fun and creative dishes in the kitchen. Becoming a chef isn't just about slicing and dicing; it takes hard work, determination and skill. Before you enroll in culinary school, you should understand the pros and cons associated with a career in the culinary arts.
Pros of the Culinary Arts
A career in the culinary arts can be creative, challenging and fun. You are not cooped up in a cubicle all day or slave to a computer. Shifts are often flexible -- you may be able to work mornings, afternoons and/or evenings. Many people are too tired or inexperienced to cook for themselves and prefer the convenience of dining out, meaning the demand for chefs and cooks is constant and expected to continue growing. Full-time positions usually include benefits such as health insurance and paid vacation.
Cons of the Culinary Arts
People in the culinary arts work long hours with few breaks. They are constantly on their feet and often under pressure to deliver meals quickly. Working conditions can be hazardous -- hot stoves, sharp knives and slippery floors can all lead to injuries. Working hours often include holidays and weekends and may stretch long into the night. Stiff competition makes moving up the career ladder difficult. Work can be monotonous and tedious and benefits nonexistent for part-time employees.
Skills and Experience
To succeed in the culinary arts field, you will need to demonstrate creativity in the kitchen. A basic awareness of food combinations and pairings is essential; success requires coming up with innovative and original recipes that set your restaurant apart from the competition and entice diners to return frequently. Typically you'll start out doing kitchen preparation work or cooking on the line and will have to prove yourself through consistency and quality before working your way up to executive chef.
Education and Training
Some degree of formal training and education usually is necessary to get your foot in the door when pursuing a career in the culinary arts. Options include training programs in community college, vocational school or culinary school. A hospitality degree from a four-year college with a culinary arts program is another possibility. Secondary education can be expensive, whether you choose college or culinary school; it may take awhile to pay off student loans once you graduate.
2016 Salary Information for Chefs and Head Cooks
Chefs and head cooks earned a median annual salary of $43,180 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, chefs and head cooks earned a 25th percentile salary of $32,230, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $59,080, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 146,500 people were employed in the U.S. as chefs and head cooks.