As a chef, you can make the most of your talents and business smarts while others indulge in your tasty creations. An associate degree in culinary arts is the first step to a career in the restaurant and hospitality industry.
Coursework for associate degrees in culinary arts
Associate degrees in culinary arts cover the essentials of a food service career. Programs are typically 18 months to two years, with some core academic instruction as well as applied culinary skills training. Some associate degrees in culinary arts include an internship or student-run restaurant to help you gain experience and develop your culinary service and management skills. Culinary courses may include:
- Baking and pastry
- Dining room operations
- Food safety
- Garde manger
- Menu development
- Purchasing and cost control
- Restaurant cooking
- Restaurant management
- World cuisines, including Mediterranean, Asia, Americas and Europe
If you're interested in continuing your formal training, you could pursue a bachelor's degree in culinary arts, which offers expanded core academics and more practice elective courses. Certain subjects may be available online, while much of the work requires hands-on practice.
Career options, outlook and salary
Chefs can expect job opportunities in the coming years, although the U.S. Department of Labor forecasts a slower than average increase in the food service job market as a whole and for chefs in particular. For the 2010-2020 period, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not expect new job growth for food service managers or for chefs and head cooks. However, high turnover in the field should create openings for culinary school graduates.
Chef salaries vary widely, from about $23,000 to more than $70,000; the median annual wage in 2010 was $40,630, reports the BLS. The highest-earning chefs work at upscale restaurants and hotels or in major metropolitan and resort areas. Food service managers earned a median wage of $48,130 in 2010. In addition to creative talent and good training, business acumen helps culinary graduates score higher-paying jobs.
Associate degrees in culinary arts open several different paths: You could head directly into the workforce, open your own restaurant, apprentice under an established chef at an upscale restaurant, or stay in school to hone your craft. Whether you log into an online program or turn on the burner at a campus kitchen, studies in culinary arts can ignite your career.