Culinary Career by Josh Stone

The US Department of Labor reports that there should be plenty of job openings for chefs, cooks, and food preparation workers through 2010. Many current cooks are reaching retirement age or are leaving the workforce, causing a great need for talented employees.

In addition to needing new chefs and cooks to replace retiring workers, employment in the food service industry is expected to expand, as more Americans spend their leisure time in restaurants rather then cooking themselves, and travel more, staying more nights in hotels.

The largest demand for skilled cooks and chefs is expected in sit-down restaurants, which offer more varied menus. As the population ages, people are less willing to put up with fast food restaurants, and seek a more personal experience.

In addition, as hospitals and schools attempt to make their menus and service more attractive, they are outsourcing cooking and serving in their cafeterias to third parties, resulting in fewer institutional and cafeteria chefs and cooks.

If you enjoy meeting people, relish daily challenges, and have the energy to succeed, a culinary career could be good for you. The popularity of cooking shows on television, and the perception that chefs are artists has caused applications at culinary schools to rise.

While it's certainly possible to begin your culinary career by starting at a low level job and working your way 'up the ladder', most studies agree that with formal training at a good culinary school, you'll get paid more, and reach the top faster.

Students at culinary certificate or degree programs spend most of their time learning how to prepare food, including baking, broiling, and pastry making. Time is also spent on the use and care of kitchen equipment. In addition to learning about food preparation, students study health and sanitation requirements, portion control, cost management, food purchasing, selection and storage, and menu planning.

Many schools also teach general management skills, including accounting, employee relations, and other topics. It can take from a few months to up to two years to complete a degree or certificate courses. A degree from a culinary school trains you for a variety of careers, including restaurant management, hotel management, pastry chef, and other related positions.

For someone still in high school and contemplating a career as a cook or chef, the best advice is to complete high school, making sure to select, if possible, courses in mathematics and business. If a school offers internships or training programs in food preparation, they should be taken, as they provide a sense of what a culinary career could provide.

Particularly when seeking a career as an executive chef or other managerial job, a further education at a college offering culinary degrees or at a culinary institute will provide more career opportunities with less on the job training. You may need to spend between eight and fifteen years as a cook before becoming a chef.

While chefs and cooks share similar duties, chefs typically have more training than cooks, including culinary degrees. The exact duties performed by a chef, cook, or food preparation worker often depend on the type of establishment that employs them.

In addition to being divided by food specialty, chef and cook job titles are sometimes determined by the type of institution that employs them.

Institutional cooks work in hospitals, cafeterias, and other establishments that typically serve a regular clientele. Short order cooks work in restaurants that emphasize fast service, and are trained to prepare a wide variety of items quickly. There is a small market for household cooks, who have the entire kitchen responsibility, including cooking, cleaning, and menu planning, for a family.

The wages of chefs, cooks, and other food service and preparation workers may vary depending on geographic location, but one thing is clear: working in an elegant restaurant or hotel generally produces a higher salary. This is partially because these types of establishments are likely to have executive chefs, and other highly trained workers.

The reputation of a fine restaurant may rely on the head chef, but the food service manager is often responsible for many of the behind the scenes activities that keep the establishment going. Food service managers have responsibilities ranging from ordering food and supplies, selecting menu items and determining their prices, and ensuring the high quality of food preparation and service. They are frequently responsible for administrative tasks, including human resources.

A major part of the food service manager's job is selecting each day's menu items. Factors influencing menu selection include the past popularity of the item, the availability of ingredients, the number of customers likely to order the item, and creating a variety among the menu offerings. After selecting a menu item, the manager must determine the food and labor cost, and then establish the price the customer will pay.

After determining the menu, the manager is responsible for estimating the number of customers for a given day, and ordering the food necessary to prepare the meals for them. In addition to food, the manager must plan for and order needed supplies, including table and glassware, cleaning supplies, kitchen tools and supplies, and other items.

The manager also coordinates outside services, including trash removal, pest control, and maintenance and repairs needed. Managers frequently meet with sales and service representatives of suppliers to learn about new offerings, and to check the quality of items received, particularly fresh food.

In order to advance in their career, food service and restaurant managers may need to relocate. Sometimes, more senior positions open up as new restaurants are created within a chain. Other more senior positions may be located at the firm's regional or national headquarters.

Some managers will start their career at restaurants, and then move to a hotel or resort, where they can use their experience to gain a more senior position. There are a number of certification programs that managers can complete to further indicate their skills. For example, the Certified Foodservice Management Professional designation is given by the Educational Foundation of the National Restaurant Association following completion of a series of courses and a written examination.

Josh Stone has been a freelance writer for over eleven years. Chef Aprons.