Career Info for a Degree in General Cooking & Culinary Arts

Programs in culinary arts typically cover catering, nutrition and sustainable food theory. Find out about the curricula of these programs, and learn about career options, job growth and salary info for culinary arts graduates.

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With a degree in cooking and culinary arts it is possible to pursue a career as a baker, pastry chef, or chef. A head chef will oversee a kitchen to ensure that food is prepared and presented in a timely and professional manner. Pastry chefs create pastries and desserts. Bakers prepare baked goods, such as bread, muffins and desserts.

Essential Information

Cooking can be a fun hobby or a rewarding profession. A degree in general cooking or culinary arts can provide the necessary skills to prepare food in a professional setting, whether working as a cook, pastry chef or baker. Students interested in studying culinary arts have the option of pursuing a certification, associate's degree or bachelor's degree.

Career Chef Pastry Chef Baker
Education Requirements Professional certificates and degrees are available Professional certificates and degrees are available Professional certificates and degrees are available
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 9% for all chefs and head cooks 9% for all chefs and head cooks 7% for all bakers
Median Salary (2015)* $41,500 for all chefs and head cooks $41,500 for all chefs and head cooks $24,170 for all bakers

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

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Career Options

Students may study culinary arts by obtaining a certification, an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree. Career options for culinary arts graduates include chef, pastry chef and baker, among others.


A head chef typically oversees a kitchen at a restaurant or other food service establishment. This can include monitoring ingredient quality, directing others in the kitchen and developing menus. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) stated that the job outlook would increase 9% for all chefs and head cooks from 2014-2024.


Through the American Culinary Federation (ACF), culinary professionals can obtain a number of certifications, including Certified Culinarian, Certified Executive Chef, Certified Master Chef and Personal Certified Chef. Applicants for these certifications must meet education and experience requirements, as well as pass written and practical exams.

Pastry Chef

Pastry chefs create pastries, desserts and related food items. They often must undergo a period of on-the-job training in environments such as pastry shops, bakeries, hotels and restaurants. For job outlook and salary purposes, the BLS groups pastry chefs with chefs and head cooks.


Pastry chefs can achieve professional certification through the ACF at multiple levels, such as Certified Pastry Culinarian, Certified Working Pastry Chef, Certified Executive Pastry Chef and Certified Master Pastry Chef. In some cases, these certifications build on one other.


Bakers make bread, pastries, pies, rolls, croissants, buns, muffins, cakes and other foods. Many bakers work in grocery stores, small-scale bakeries or pastry shops, while others are employed at industrial bread-making facilities. The BLS reported the job outlook for bakers would increase 7% from 2014-2024, and the median salary for bakers was $24,170 in May 2015.


Bakers can earn certification from the Retail Bakers of America at four levels: Certified Journey Baker, Certified Baker, Certified Decorator and Certified Master Baker. Each level requires a different amount of experience and training.

Educational Options

While postsecondary education may not be required to work in this field, some education in culinary arts or a related field may be preferred by employers. Education also could help individuals move into management or head chef positions.

Culinary Arts Programs

Culinary arts can be studied at the certificate, associate's degree and bachelor's degree levels. Required courses commonly include food safety and sanitation, as well as purchasing, international cooking, catering, nutrition and sustainable food theory. Bachelor's programs often move into more advanced subjects, like management, and culinary arts training is sometimes offered as part of a broader program in hospitality or nutrition. Certificate programs may be offered as short overviews of the field or as professional options offering specialization.

Baking and Pastry Programs

These programs typically are offered at the certificate and associate degree levels and often include study in culinary theory and sanitation. Students focus on creating custom desserts and artisan breads, in addition to learning about centerpieces, wedding cakes and custards. These programs also tend to include required practical experience at approved restaurants and hospitality sites.

From 2014-2024, the growth projected for careers in baking is expected to be average when compared to all occupations. During the same time period the job growth for chefs and pastry chefs will be faster than average. A formal degree and professional certification may improve career prospects.

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