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Develop a Taste for Culinary Arts Studies

Food and the act of getting together socially over a great meal is so much a part of our culture. There's a reason why there are so many "celebrity chefs" these days who've earned their own television shows to showcase their culinary arts skills. And as such, culinary arts programs and culinary careers are more popular than ever, especially among people who wish to make a career change into a field that's always inspired them.

And here's another reason: "The food industry moves at a tremendous pace to keep up with the consumer palate," says Erica Beirman, culinary science coordinator at Iowa State University. Because of that, the demand for skilled and talented chefs, restaurant managers, and culinary arts professionals, is resulting in more and more hungry culinary arts students wishing to break into the appetizing field.

Do you aspire to be the next "Top Chef" or "Food Network Star" or the owner of "American's Next Great Restaurant"? If so, take a look at this impressive menu of culinary degree programs and the culinary careers that they inspire.

Culinary Degrees
To get the best paying opportunities and rise to the top in the culinary arts profession, you've got to set yourself apart with quality training and schooling. Even more important, you need to be prepared to work hard, long hours, and pay your dues to rise in the ranks. It's more competitive an industry than ever!

Culinary arts students usually choose from either an associate degree programs, or bachelor's degree programs. Among the best programs are those that are accredited by the American Culinary Federation. There are currently 392 postsecondary accredited programs and 144 secondary certified programs in 351 institutions accredited by the ACFEF Accrediting Commission worldwide.

A high-quality culinary degree program should include courses in not only cooking fundamentals, but also in advanced culinary applications, menu creation, kitchen and food safety, and culinary arts business matters. There should be a healthy mix of classroom instruction as well as hands-on practical skills needed in the kitchen. Speaking of which, many culinary arts schools are designed to emulate working kitchens so that students can get a taste of what it's like to work in a restaurant kitchen environment.

Of course, the only way to actually experience the hustle and bustle of a busy kitchen is to work in one. That's why most culinary arts degrees require students to complete an internship, apprenticeship, or externship program in order to gain real-world experience under the supervision of a professional chef.

Spotlight on Three Culinary Arts Careers

Culinary Science
Culinary arts graduates most often go on to become chefs, but there are many career paths for students. For instance, many go on to be caterers, restaurant managers, food critics, and more.

One innovative field closely related to culinary arts is culinary science. The culinary science program at Iowa State University, for instance, focuses on food science principles with culinary skills development, says Beirman.

"In order to create and produce foods that our nutritious and desirable to consumers, many food companies hire chefs as a part of the product development team," she explains. "Culinary science students are prepared with the culinary skills as well as the food science knowledge required to create new food products."

Last year's inaugural class has the opportunity to design menu items for the ISU dining hall, and students had to complete two internships: one science-focused and one geared toward developing culinary skills.

Restaurant Management
While some people get into restaurant management after working up the "food chain" as a head waiter or chef, many culinary arts schools now offer formal training for those who wish to skip the slicing and dicing, and go run a restaurant. A degree in hospitality, restaurant, or hotel management is often the quickest route to landing restaurant management positions.

Of course, the focus will still be on food, but the restaurant manager also has to be more business-oriented than someone who stays in the kitchen full-time. There are customers to make happy, other chefs and wait staff to manage, and the financial decisions that come with running a restaurant. Also plan to be well-versed in your state's health codes to be sure that health and safety standards are met in your kitchen and restaurant.

Ahh to sip wine for a living! Becoming a wine steward, or sommelier, isn't as glamorous as it sounds, when one considers all of the schooling involved. Wine schools offer certificate and/or degree programs that include such courses as wine tasting (OK, that's a good one!), the art of wine blending, wine pairings, viticulture and vinification training, comprehensive global tasting and theoretical evaluation of major and minor grape varieties, among other areas.

Sommeliers are found at fine restaurant establishments,and are almost regarded as artists of the food and beverage world. Career opportunities are more plentiful outside of the United States, although the wine culture here is slowing gaining in popularity. Beyond a vast knowledge of wines, you also have to have exceptional communication skills, as you'll be working with patrons seeking the perfect bottle.

Fun Culinary Arts Facts
Alma maters of famous chef include:

  • Emeril Lagasse, Johnson & Wales University
  • Michael Chiarello, Culinary Institute of America
  • Giada De Laurentis, baking and pastry, Le Cordon Bleu in Paris
  • Bobby Flay, French Culinary Institute
  • Anthony Bourdain, Culinary Institute of America.

Chefs, head cooks, and food preparation and serving supervisors held 941,600 jobs in 2008, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

The Sommelier Society of America is the nation's oldest wine teaching organization.