Cooking shows, made popular by famous chefs, have raised the attention on the culinary arts. Although not everyone can make it as a TV chef or work in elite restaurants, a degree in the field can lead to a successful and rewarding career.
For those thinking about working in the food industry, a pair of Carolina chefs offer the inside scoop about earning a culinary arts degree and picking the right school.
How do I know if a culinary arts degree is the right program for me?
Chef Joseph Bonaparte teaches at The International Culinary Institute at Horry Georgetown Technical College in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Bonaparte said the desire to cook is the most important reason for pursuing a degree in culinary arts.
“It really needs to be something you like to do, you have to have a passion for it. This isn’t the type of career that you do for the money,” Bonaparte said.
He acknowledges that the lifestyle for some of the positions is not ordinary. Late nights and weekends don’t provide for a regular way of life.
Bonaparte recommends that students get exposure to the industry by shadowing a chef or spending a day at a culinary arts school program.
Chef Amy Felder has been the department chair for baking and pastry at Johnson & Wales University in Charlotte for five years. She said, “Go work, even if you are bussing tables somewhere or washing dishes someplace. You are going to get a feel for what it’s like in a professional kitchen, and you are going to see if your passion translates.”
Besides chef positions, what other jobs might culinary arts school prepare me for?
Felder has a wide perspective on the industry. She said, “I think that the whole idea of being a chef has changed over the years.” There are career opportunities in research and development, consulting, senior living centers, hospitals and schools that allow for a more common 40-hour workweek.
Some students continue their education to prepare for a career in food service or business entrepreneurship, or hotel and restaurant management.
Bonaparte has also seen graduates work for a few years in traditional settings and then create their own career path in food writing, photography or food styling.
What should I look for in a program?
Bonaparte recommends that the program be accredited by the American Culinary Federation, a national organization, as well as a regional accrediting body.
Both he and Felder recommend reviewing the faculty who teach the classes. Felder said chefs need to have strong industry skills, along with the ability to teach. She said, “It’s too much money to be just working in a kitchen. You want to be working in a kitchen with an educator.”
Depending on the type of program, tuition in a culinary arts program in the Carolinas can range between $3,800-$31,000 per academic year. Both two- and four-year programs are available.
Felder also recommends looking at the quality of the school’s kitchen and equipment. Ask current students about availability of ingredients.
Find out what opportunities are available for internships, competitions and special events. Felder said, “If students volunteer to do that kind of stuff, they are getting a chance to do something outside the norm of their curriculum, and they’re getting a chance for real world experience.”
Vanessa Infanzon is a freelance writer based in Charlotte. In her former life, she worked in Student Life at Davidson College, UNC Charlotte and Queens University of Charlotte. Follow her on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook @morethanVMI