Going to school, you learned the essentials, but it’s almost like you’ve lived in an educational bubble throughout the duration of your culinary schooling. Sure, some schools guide you toward an internship and beyond. But many graduates are left holding their piece of paper and scratching their heads. What’s next? What comes after culinary school? What can you expect?
From Culinary School to The Workplace
In school, you probably were mostly focused on the proper and technical facets of the profession. You still need real-world kitchen experience to understand the difference between the educational aspect and what being a chef encompasses. Once you’re able to combine what you learned in school with what you’ll learn by working in a restaurant, that’s when a chorus of kitchen angels will sing, and you’ll finally be able to put all those skills to good use. Culinary is one of the remaining industries that puts great value on the amount and quality of your experience over your school program’s diploma. But, your culinary diploma will say to the hiring staff that you can safely maneuver around a kitchen, so it definitely can help you in your pursuit of a job.
Chances are, you’ll start at the bottom of the pecking order and work your way up, but that is to be expected. It’s how things work in the industry. There’s a kitchen hierarchy, first established in the 1800s by the renowned French chef, Georges-Auguste Escoffier, known as The Kitchen Brigade. And, there is where you’ll find the path you’ll be expected to take.
The Kitchen Brigade
Ford was to the automobile factory what Escoffier was to the kitchen. The Kitchen Brigade was created to break down the process in commercial kitchens such as restaurants and hotels. Even though it was created over 100 years ago, it’s still used today in most kitchens throughout the world.
Essentially, under the Kitchen Brigade, the order is broken up like this:
- Executive Chef: The executive chef is the kitchen’s head honcho. The big guy who pretty much has to take care of all the daily mundane kitchen tasks such as ordering supplies, creating the menu (not so mundane, actually), and supervising staff. Sometimes, if the executive chef works for a hotel with more than one property, he is heading up two or more kitchens.
- Chef de Cuisine: This is the head kitchen chef, and he reports directly to the executive chef. They are like Kirk and Spock. Or sometimes, the executive chef and the kitchen chef are one and the same, and there’s no Star Trek character to compare that to, so we’ll just leave that alone.
- Sous Chef: The sous chef in next in line in the chain of command. If the head chef and executive chef aren’t in the kitchen, the sous chef will be the one in charge. He is the one that makes sure portioning is proper, preparation is on fleek, and all around standards are being met, if not surpassed.
- Area Chef: There are different stations in a kitchen, such as the fish, meat, salad, side dishes, and etcetera depending on the kitchen. An area chef is in charge of that particular station of his specialized skills. Plus, upper chefs may call him to cover their roles, if need be. A junior chef/line cook will usually work alongside an area chef.
- Expeditor: The expeditor is running around, taking orders from the waitstaff and bringing them to the kitchen. He makes certain things are running smoothly, and the plates are presentable to serve to the diners. Sometimes, he may personally drop off a dish to a patron, but generally, this is done by the waitstaff.
- Apprentice: They work under the area or station chef, learning how that particular station works.
The size of the kitchen you’re going to be working in will determine what this brigade looks like. However, most kitchens have some semblance of order; otherwise, it can become quite chaotic, especially in a bustling restaurant.
Put in the time to climb those career ladder steps, learning all you can along the way, and it will pay off for you in the end!
Prepping for A Position
Here’s some real advice: You need to start out in the industry with baby steps. The more hands-on kitchen experience you gain, the closer to becoming a chef you’ll be. Even if it means that you’re scrubbing dishes and kitchen floors to start. Sometimes, people think they are above the menial work. Not you; you’re willing to put in the blood, sweat, and tears necessary to getting ahead, even if it’s for a lower hourly rate job.
Tips for the aspiring chef:
- Working alongside a distinguished chef, even if it means you’re stocking the pantry and running errands, is the most beneficial experience you’re going to get. This is what you want; it can be more valuable than your degree. But don’t get us wrong, your degree is worth its weight, too.
- Throughout the course of your career, try to develop your palate and have a deep understanding of the ingredients. It will help you in creating your own signature dishes, thus setting you apart from the other aspiring chefs flooding the oversaturated market.
- If cooking is your passion, then you may not even want to be an executive chef, because they are the ones doing all the administration work. The chefs under them are the ones bent over the ovens, creating the culinary masterpieces and wowing the restaurant patrons!
- Don’t settle for just any job! You have a lot to offer; be sure the place you end up at has something to offer you as well. Is it the type of company culture you can feel comfortable working in? Will the job allow you to grow as a chef?
- Do plenty of research before any interview because the more you know, the more impressive you sound. Take a look around the restaurant's website. Use your favorite search engine to learn more about some of the owners, chefs, and other key members of the staff.
Where to Look For Culinary Jobs
When searching for your job, look beyond the conventional restaurants. Chefs and cooks are found in other types of kitchens, and you may have better opportunities aside from the traditional. Resorts, spas, hotels, motels, country clubs, amusement parks, campgrounds, cruise ships have a need for chefs, too. These could provide unexpectedly awesome experiences.
Utilize your social media platforms, that’s sort of what they are there for, along with posting pictures of food and cats. LinkedIn has an excellent job search tool with high-quality leads, and updating your Facebook status to announce your job hunt can produce results, too.
There are online job boards all across the Internet, such as Indeed and Craigslist. Monster and CareerBuilder can also be excellent resources. Or, old school walking into restaurants you’re interested in, seeing if they are hiring, and filling out an application could work just as efficiently.
Culinary Career Specialties
Maybe you have your culinary degree but no desire to work in a restaurant. Don’t worry, your degree won’t go to waste; there are so many other options for graduates of culinary arts where they can still work with food without working in the actual kitchen. Below are six unusual jobs in the food industry:
- Food Stylist: A food stylist does to food what a florist does to flowers. He or she arranges food to optimize its appearance for photo shoots, so it looks its best in the image.
- Food Scientist: Food scientists study the makeup of foods. They use sciences such as biology, biochemistry, and chemical engineering to gain a better understanding of food.
- Food Taster: Food tasters sample foods to explain the ingredients. There are two types; one that does this on a daily basis for a living.
- Culinary Trendologist: This job is heavily research-based. Culinary trendologists help to determine food trends for their clients. They identify the trends and discover what people are going to eat next. That contributes to creating menus that will resonate.
- Forager: Instead of ordering supplies, foragers go to farmer’s markets, fields, or any other place where locally sourced foods are sold. Their days start super early, so that the supplies are given to the chef to begin preparing the food.
- Molecular Gastronomist: This career is a mash-up of science and food. They are food scientists tasked with altering the appearance and taste of foods. This is a growing niche in the culinary world, and there are even certificate programs for it.
Chef Salary Information
The Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that the 2021 average salary for chefs/head chefs was $56,920, with the top 10 percent earning closer to $84,570
Top 10 Cities For Foodies (and Chefs)
People have become more food obsessed thanks to reality TV and YouTube. This is good news for those who work in the food industry because, not only do diners want a great foodie experience, they are spending more money eating out than they have in a long time. Quite a few cities around the United States are seeing a rise in the amount of gastropubs and fine dining establishments opening up, which means the need for people working in the kitchen is increasing along with it. According to Zagat.com, these are some of the top 10 cities for foodies and chefs alike.
- Washington, D.C is the number one foodie city in the country and is rapidly becoming the hot-spot for chefs and diners alike.
- Los Angeles, California falls in at number two. The City of Angels is also the city for delicious dining.
- Denver, Colorado is high on the list for the food obsessed. Pun intended. It’s also allegedly on a variety of lists for singles, millennials, entrepreneurs, and outdoorsy people.
- Boston, Massachusetts is jam-packed with exquisite dining experiences. Beantown has an extensive list of award-winning chefs cooking up works of foodie genius.
- Seattle, Washington is seeing a surge of restaurants opening that are boasting Top Chef names. Experts from L.A have their eyeballs turned toward Jet City, and many are migrating there to get in on the action.
- New Orleans, Louisiana has always been known for its culinary prowess. Nothing new there, except for more fab food joints popping up and creating a culinary frenzy.
- Asheville, North Carolina is giving Raleigh/Durham a run for their dining dollars these days. Its Eastern Carolina-style barbecue is making marks on the map.
- Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is making waves by opening satellite restaurants run by their top chefs throughout the rest of the country. Not to mention, residents from surrounding states are flocking in for the day to check out Philly’s restaurant scene.
- Charlotte, North Carolina is becoming the scene for those with a more adventurous taste in dining. Big city chefs are making a move to Charlotte to jump in on the action.
- Atlanta, Georgia’s real estate is being taken up by a multitude of new restaurants with prominent chefs at their helms. Culinary bucket lists everywhere should have Atlanta up at the top.
Other top foodie cities include Detroit, Chicago, Nashville, Indianapolis, Austin, Houston, and New York City. So, whether you want to find a job at one of the hot spots, or fly under the radar, becoming a chef can be a fulfilling way to pursue your passion.
Sound interesting? Find a culinary arts program near you now.