By Andy West
If you are interested in a culinary arts career, there are actually many careers in the industry for you to choose from. The variety of options can be overwhelming to many people; however, if you know the differences between the choices available to you, your decision will become a lot easier. Here are six choices for those interested in pursuing this type of career.
Short Order Cooks
Short order cooks are generally found in restaurants that specialize in serving simple meals quickly and affordably. For instance, if you pursue this culinary arts career you will probably be making simple things such as eggs and French toast, sandwiches, and breaded fish: meals that can be made quickly and easily, perhaps even at the same time as one another. Restaurants that hire short order cooks include inexpensive diners and mid-grade restaurants. These restaurants are the kind people eat at for everyday occasions.
Being a short order cook is admittedly not the most prestigious job, but it is an important stepping-stone to getting the experience necessary to break into a more elite culinary arts career.
Chefs and Cooks
Chefs tend to work at nicer restaurants than short order cooks. Rather than focusing on cooking many simpler meals, chefs produce nicer meals at higher prices. The employers for these positions can range from your mid-grade restaurants to the high-end, five-star variety.
Depending on the restaurant, a chef can have a great deal of creative control and specialization. Larger restaurants may hire an army of chefs, each with their own specialty. Also, a large team of chefs will require a head chef, who is often responsible for coming up with new menu items and delegating responsibilities to the other chefs. As far as a culinary arts career goes, a chef position offers more job stability and opportunity for advancement than your basic short order cook or fast food cook position.
Another type of culinary arts career is baking. This can be a very sought-after specialty, such as in the case of exquisitely made wedding cakes. Or, to a lesser degree, specialty pastries such as those found in ethnic bakeries. Bakers are hired both by small bakeries and by larger stores, such as grocery stores, that have bakery departments. Also, some bakers may choose to open their own stores or run catering businesses.
Catering businesses are highly sought after to deliver restaurant-quality meal to parties, weddings, and other events. Likewise, catering is a type of culinary arts career that many chefs dream of following. Caterers enjoy the benefits of being able to choose their own schedules and how much they work. In addition, a caterer's clients are varied and his or her days are therefore always different, creating an interesting and ever-changing work environment that appeals to many people.
Nutritionists and Dietitians
Not every culinary arts career directly involves the preparation of food. Many culinary careers focus on other aspects of food, such as diet and nutrition. Social movements such as fad diets and concerns about obesity, combined with medical findings regarding the importance of proper nutrition in fighting and preventing certain diseases, have given credence to the efforts of dieticians and nutritionists.
There are many reasons people might see a dietitian or a nutritionist. Some people have diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease that require them to learn new dietary habits. Other people may want to consult a nutritionist as part of their quest to lose weight. Athletes may hire a dietitian or nutritionist to coach them, ensuring that they maintain energy and muscle mass during periods of extreme exercise. Dietitians may also be called upon to ensure nutritional balance in children's meals at school, design hospital menus, or even teach the principles of nutrition to others.
As a dietitian or nutritionist, you can either choose one or two specific types of consultation (such as diabetes management or sports nutrition) or maintain a more general focus. Either way, seeing to the public's dietary needs is an excellent, stable culinary arts career.
Another great career in this field is restaurant management. This career requires a very unique person: someone who has knowledge and experience in managing people and a business, as well as in culinary subjects. A restaurant manager who has no culinary knowledge will have difficulty understanding the unique nature of the business; on the other hand, one who has no experience with managing people and/or the business aspects of management will be likely to let the business fall down around his or her ears.
Because of the unique combination of demands on a restaurant manager, if you can fill this position well you may be able to make quite a nice salary -- the nicer the restaurant, the more you can make. This is the perfect career for someone who enjoys both food and business.
As you can see, if you are interested in a culinary arts career, you have many options to choose from. You should choose your career by what you enjoy most and what you feel you are most suited for over the long term. If you make your choice carefully, you will reap the benefits of an enjoyable a career in the culinary field for years to come.
Andy West is a writer for The Culinary Institute of Virginia College.
Modified April 2011
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