Culinary Arts Degree Program Information by Level

Cooking schools, vocational and community colleges offer formal degree programs in the culinary arts at the certificate, associate's or bachelor's degree levels. Courses include training in culinary skills, kitchen operations and food science.

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Essential Information

There are several levels of training for jobs in the culinary arts. Certificate programs prepare graduates for entry-level positions and can be completed in about a year. Associate's degree programs take two years to complete and require general education courses in addition to culinary arts classes. In a four-year bachelor's program, students get advanced knowledge through specialized courses such as food and beverage management and hospitality service management. Most programs require that students gain hands-on experience, either through regular employment, apprenticeships, or school-operated restaurants.

Usually there are no prerequisites for certificate programs. Associate's and bachelor's degree programs require a high school diploma or GED.


Certificate in Culinary Arts

In addition to developing cooking skills, certificate-level students receive instruction in sanitation, nutrition, purchasing, cost control, and kitchen supervision. Coursework for a certificate in culinary arts combines both laboratory and classroom instruction to provide students with a well-rounded culinary arts education. Students gain valuable hands-on experience through skill-building exercises in ingredient identification, knife skills, food service safety, and a variety of cooking methods. Courses often includes the following topics:

  • Sanitation and food safety
  • Food preparation
  • Culinary nutrition
  • Baking arts
  • Planning menus

Associate's Degree in Culinary Arts

Classes incorporate both practical and theoretical aspects of the food service industry, including kitchen skills, nutrition, and essential culinary operations. In order to provide culinary students with real-world experience, hands-on training in state-of-the-art commercial kitchens and on-campus kitchen labs is provided. Many schools even operate their own restaurant or dining service. Coursework may include:

  • Culinary operations
  • Cost control and purchasing
  • Fundamentals of wine
  • National and international cuisine

Bachelor's Degree in Culinary Arts

Students in bachelor's degree programs become proficient in culinary techniques and cooking methods through a combination of theoretical classroom instruction and hands-on laboratory work. They also learn how to use leadership and communication skills to effectively work in a team-oriented kitchen environment. Culinary arts programs at this level may require students to participate in an externship to gain valuable experiences and expand their skills in real-world kitchens. Courses may include the following topics:

  • Culinary techniques
  • Wine and beverage management
  • Banquets and catering food preparation
  • Restaurant operations
  • Hospitality systems management

Popular Career Options

Career advancement within the culinary arts industry depends heavily on a combination of an individual's education and experience level. With a working knowledge of culinary theory, vocabulary, and kitchen skills, certificate holders can pursue entry-level employment with a variety of food preparation facilities. Common entry-level positions include:

  • Line cook
  • Prep cook
  • Pastry cook

Graduates of a bachelor's degree program qualify for a variety of job opportunities with restaurants, hotels, resorts, and food management companies. Common career options include:

  • Kitchen manager
  • Sous chef
  • Food service director
  • Research and development chef
  • Personal chef
  • Head chef

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Restaurants, hotels, and hospitals, among other facilities, offer entry-level jobs to cooks and food preparation workers. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expected a 4% increase in employment for cooks and a 6% increase for food preparation workers between 2014 and 2024 (www.bls.gov). In May of 2015, the BLS reported that restaurant cooks earned a median annual wage of $23,100, while food preparation workers earned $20,180.

Continuing Education and Certification

The American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers apprenticeships to provide the hands-on experience needed to become skilled culinary arts professionals (www.acfchefs.org). Apprenticeship programs combine technical classroom instruction with on-the job training and take two to three years to complete. Participants receive mentoring from an ACF-certified executive chef and are able to earn money while continuing to develop their skills. Culinary professionals may also pursue certifications administered by the ACF. Certification credentials last for five years and require a minimum of 80 continuing education hours for renewal. In addition to its apprenticeship programs and certifications, the ACF also offers many other continuing education opportunities through ACF-approved workshops, online courses, and conferences.

There are several degree programs in the culinary arts for aspiring chefs to chose from at the are associate's, bachelor's and master's levels. Additional certifications and apprenticeships are available after graduation to enrich career opportunities for aspiring chefs and culinary arts professionals.

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