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Jobs with Flavor.

From executive chefs to food stylists to restaurant critics, jobs in the the culinary arts field are growing at a steady clip. But it takes much more than sharp technical skills to make it in this fast-paced environment, industry experts say. Or as the old adage goes--if you can't stand the heat, get our of the kitchen.

It's hot in the kitchen--and getting hotter.

During the last decade, the need for workers trained in the culinary arts has risen steadily and shows no signs of slackening off. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that, through 2006, 3 million more jobs will be added in food preparation and service than in any other occupational area. One million of those will be directly related to the kitchen--chefs, cooks and food prep personnel, for example.

"We can't produce enough chefs to satisfy the demand," confirms Douglas Thompson, associate vice president for enrollment at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, N.Y. "More people are dining out these days, and more cities are opening fine dining establishments. [Culinary arts] is a great field to be in at this time."

Postsecondary programs offered at places such as CIA and community colleges across the country typically report a placement rate of nearly 100 percent. What's more, those culinary arts graduates are often recruited by employers while still studying for an associate's or bachelor's degree.

The food service industry's need for trained personnel already has surfaced at the secondary level, notes Deborah Trudeau, the culinary instructor at Oakland Technical Center-Northwest in Clarkston, Mich. "The standards have risen for the type of employee they're looking for. Employers want trained people and they're searching us out. We can't even begin to fill the employment opportunities we have available locally. If our students have a car, they're working," she says.

Pay and experience

While the employment outlook is bright, aspiring culinarians shouldn't be swayed by thoughts of easy fame and fast fortune. By all accounts, the hours can be long and the pay low--at least initially. Culinary professionals often put in 12- to 15-hour days in hot kitchens, all for the privilege of bringing home $26,000 annually--the median starting salary for a chef, according to the National Restaurant Association. The pay inches up with the responsibilities: Executive chefs, who run an entire kitchen, make an average of $40,000 to $50,000 per year.

"You don't enter this field to make money. You enter it because you love what you're doing," says Richard Grausman, the author of At Home With the French Classics and founder and president of the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP) in New York City. "Money will follow, if you're good at your craft and enjoy what you're doing."

One piece of advice he offers would-be executive chefs is to build a resume showing one year's experience at one restaurant, two years' experience at another, and so forth. Transience is accepted in the industry--even encouraged, within reason. "We don't like to see people working two or three months here and there because you need time to learn from a chef. And oftentimes a good chef will say, `You've been here two years and learned all you can from me. It's time for you to go elsewhere,'" Grausman says.

In addition to varied work experience, many restaurateurs look for employees with a postsecondary education. One survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association reveals that nearly 60 percent of employers require chefs to have completed some formal education beyond a high school diploma. Some earn a two- or four-year degree, while others complete a culinary arts certification program offered at an institute, academy or community college.

Ricco Renzetti, who coordinates the apprentice chef program at Salt Lake Community College in Utah, emphasizes the close link between education and work experience. His students must work at least 500 hours before they can graduate with an associate's degree.

"This is good because there is a lot of serious practice going on. When they get that experience, students understand what we're hammering on in class. The concepts become more tangible," says Renzetti, who himself has earned the credentials employers look for--Certified Chef in Cuisine (CCC), Certified Culinary Educator (CCE) and Food Service Management Professional (FSMP).

The Culinary Institute of America requires students to have at least six months' experience before applying for admission. "We want that experience to be in a full-service restaurant where meals are prepared to order, not in a school setting," Thompson explains. "We believe students need to have some idea of the realities of the food service industry before they make a commitment to get into it."

CIA's student body represents quite a mix--and that's not unusual for a post-secondary culinary arts program. The average age of students ranges from about 24 to 30, with a good number of career changers and former homemakers often included. "We get doctors, lawyers and bankers who decide that what they really want to do is cook for a living. We also get some people right out of the military and some people who have been in the industry for a number of years and realize they need more training to better set themselves up for success in the profession," Thompson says.

And some students, albeit a small percentage, come right out of high school. To attract those future chefs, CIA recently launched its Cream of the Crop Scholarship program. Aimed at high school seniors with significant culinary experience and excellent academic credentials (the 1998 winners all ranked in the top 10 percent of their classes), the program awards a $5,000 scholarship to each of five finalists entering CIA's bachelor's degree program (which has a total price tag of about $63,000).

Secondary starts

One CIA graduate, Clay Doubleday, is delighted to see such emphasis placed on culinary arts at the high school level. He directs one such program, serving as chef-instructor at the Chantilly Academy for Engineering and Scientific Technology, Health and Human Services in Chantilly, Va.

"I thought cooking was a job--I didn't know about culinary training or education until I was 24," says Doubleday, who earned a bachelor's degree in criminal justice and political science before settling on a career in the kitchen. "My whole life, starting at age 15, all I had were restaurant jobs. And right before I graduated from college, the manager of the restaurant I worked at said, `You should go to culinary school.' I said, `What's that?' I couldn't believe that nobody had clued me in earlier."

Doubleday now oversees a two-year program that offers students a background in classical French cuisine. They master the basics, including how to make stocks, soups, sauces and breads. Working in groups of four, first-year students also prepare a weekly buffet for the faculty. During their second year, students take on baking and table service duties. They offer a la carte table service to faculty members each Friday and, throughout the school year, cater as many as three functions per day.

Doubleday's students split their time between their home schools and the academy, participating in the culinary program three hours a day, five days a week. They also compete in culinary skills competitions. So many students expressed an interest in the nine slots available for the next VICA skills competition that Doubleday plans some internal contests to determine who will represent the academy.

FHA/HERO also sponsors STAR (Students Taking Action with Recognition) competitions for culinary students. (For more on these organizations and other resources see "Shopping List" on page 37.)

Now in her 10th year of teaching at Oakland Technical Center-Northwest, Deborah Trudeau has redefined her curriculum several times. She's in the midst of doing it again (pending feedback from the American Culinary Federation), as the industry has raised its standards and expected level of professionalism. "In days of old, people figured food service was a lowly position, a place to put students when they didn't know where else to put them. Now, we have high expectations of these kids," says Trudeau, who admits guidance counselors still send her students who think "culinary arts" means drawing pretty pictures of food.

Her first-year students start with an intensive "culinary core" of basic courses, then rotate through four sections: bakery, front of the house (operations that deal with customers--in the dining area, for example), hot foods and cold foods. Returning students, who serve as mentors for the first-year students, repeat the rotations but at a higher level of expectations and responsibilities. Most are involved with VICA, and each student also is expected to perform at least 20 hours of community service per school year (although it doesn't have to be related to culinary arts).

Options galore

Trudeau has about 60 students, a number that has grown steadily over the years. "Some just need to find a job. For others, culinary arts is their chosen career. They're dead serious," she says.

At the Chantilly Academy, about half of Doubleday's students julienne and mince their way to culinary school eventually. That's their ticket to employability anywhere, he notes. "Once you know how to saute, it doesn't matter if you're in the United States, Switzerland, Armenia, South Africa or Ecuador. If you have the skills, you can go anywhere and get a job."

That job doesn't have to be as a chef, however. Culinary skills can come in handy in numerous other careers. As Ricco Renzetti points out, "Quite frankly, hospitality suffers from a bad image because people think you'll flip burgers for the rest of your life. They don't realize how multifaceted we are--you can make many career moves and still be in the industry." Renzetti points to graduates who are food and beverage directors, food stylists and entrepreneurs.

Douglas Thompson of CIA ticks off other career options: becoming a food editor, a cookbook author, a restaurant critic, a caterer or an event planner. "Others go into teaching or work in culinary research and development kitchens. And some of our graduates have become TV personalities," he adds.

Of course, not every student is cut out to be the next Paul Prudhomme or Julia Child. And that doesn't bother Trudeau a bit. "Everything students learn in [our program] is a life skill. Nothing is wasted. Knowing how to use a knife, how to cook and so forth, are very usable skills--skills you can use even if you go on to become a doctor, lawyer or fire chief."


Thirty years ago, after earning the Grand Diplume from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, Richard Grausman returned to the United States as the first exclusive representative of the famed cooking school. He wrote articles, recipes and a cookbook; appeared frequently on television; and taught culinary professionals across the United States. But he never thought he'd teach culinary skills to high school family and consumer sciences teachers.

Yet that's exactly what Grausman found himself doing in 1990 as the cornerstone of the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program, Inc. (C-CAP), of which he is founder and president. It all started with Grausman teaching 12 home economics instructors about French cooking; now C-CAP is in place in more than 200 schools and reaches an estimated 10,000 students nationwide. Corporate sponsors such as General Mills, T-Fal and Cuisinart help support the program through donations of food products and equipment.

The impetus for C-CAP started with a speech Grausman heard at a convention of culinary arts professionals. "The speaker talked about the forecast of food and eating in America--microwaves in automobiles, cookless kitchens and no one sitting down together to eat. It was rather discouraging and depressing," he recalls. Not long after, he continues, "A light bulb went off. I thought, `I'm 52. If there was anything 1 could do with the rest of my life to alter that forecast, what would it be?'" His answer was to approach the New York Board of Education and offer training to teachers of embattled FACS programs, which were about to be dropped in many schools.

Through teacher training, a mentoring program and internships and apprenticeships, C-CAP provides students with skills that make them employable. "We prepare students for success in the industry," Grausman explains. "We tell industry that a C-CAP student will show up to work on time, will want to work, will want to learn and will have basic safety, sanitation and knife skills and he or she won't be afraid to use a mop."

For those students wishing to pursue postsecondary training in the culinary arts, C-CAP sponsors regional competitions where the winners often walk away with a scholarship to schools such as Johnson & Wales University, the Culinary institute of America and the California Culinary Academy. More than $3.2 million in scholarships have been awarded to C-CAP students since the program's inception.

Eventually Grausman would like to expand his program into the middle and elementary schools. "That's the proper place to teach sensory perception and expose kids to many varieties of foods, different tastes and nutrition," he says. But for now this winner of a 1997 President's Service Award is focused on strengthening the C-CAP programs already in existence (in New York. Philadelphia, Washington, D.C., Norfolk/Virginia Beach, Phoenix, Chicago and Los Angeles) and introducing it in other areas where teachers have expressed interest and enthusiasm.

Grausman simply says, "I'm interested in the kids, I look at training high school students as a contribution to the education of all Americans." --S.S


Several organizations have developed curriculum and training materials specifically for culinary arts programs at the secondary level. For additional information on program fees, features and requirements, please contact the sponsoring organization.

ACCESS ACF--The American Culinary Federation (ACF) has just introduced ACCESS ACF to validate programs that provide culinary training. To aid in the validation process, ACF has developed videos, brochures and other educational materials.

"There are strict guidelines the schools will have to meet. Then we'll have a team of educators, chef-instructors and associate deans at universities review their curriculum," explains Laird Livingston, a certified executive chef and certified culinary educator who serves as the program's coordinator.

ACF also will designate as "Certified Junior Culinarians" those students who complete their training in a validated program and who pass a written test. "Johnson & Wales University has already said it will give advanced standing, in terms of admissions, to anyone graduating from a validated high school culinary program. Other schools will undoubtedly follow suit," says Livingston.

Contact Laird Livingston, program coordinator, ACCESS ACF, American Culinary Federation, 10 San Bartola Drive, St. Augustine, FL 32086; (904) 824-4468.

Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP)--Launched in 1990, C-CAP teachers basic culinary skills to high school students with the aim of preparing them for immediate employment or, through scholarship opportunities, for more education in the field. The program is typically implemented at the district or citywide level and has four components: teacher training, a mentoring program that pairs teachers and their students with industry professionals, internships and apprenticeships in local foodservice establishments and regional culinary competitions.

Contact Richard Grausman, president, C-CAP, 155 West 68th St., New York, NY 10023; (212) 873-2434.

ProStart--The National Restaurant Association and the American Hotel & Motel Association have teamed up to create the Hospitality Business Alliance (HBA). Its goal is to develop a national system of hospitality-oriented school-to-careers programs within high schools.

The ProStart curriculum pairs academic courses in the culinary arts with work site experience (at least 10 hours per week). Employers also are required to designate experienced employees to serve as mentors. Students who successfully complete the two-year program receive a certificate.

Contact Hospitality Business Alliance, 250 S. Wacker Drive, Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60606-5834; (800) 765-2122, ext. 340 or (312) 715-1010, ext. 340.

The National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation administers a scholarship program for the restaurant and hospitality industry. It will award more than $1.6 million in scholarships over the next two years to high school seniors, postsecondary students, educators and industry professionals. For more information, contact Caitlin Storhaug at (312) 715-6765.

STAR Events--FHA/HERO sponsors annual competitions in food service as well as entrepreneurship, applied technology, interpersonal communications and other categories. Participants must be FHA/HERO members. Applications are due to the national headquarters May 1. FHA/HERO also sponsors a career program called "Leaders at Work in Food Service." Contact FHA/HERO, National Headquarters, 1910 Association Drive, Reston, VA 20191-1584; (703) 476-4900.--S.S.

Sandra Sabo is a freelance writer and editor based in Mendota Heights, Minn.
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Author:Sabo, Sandra R.
Date:Feb 1, 1999
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