Culinary Schools Online: Heat Up Your Career
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Culinary Schools Online Offer a Delicious Recipe for Success

Online cooking school? For some, the very notion raises eyebrows. After all, to excel in culinary arts, you need experience with an instructor in a real kitchen, right?

Absolutely. But culinary schools online recognize that a large number of students seeking a culinary education already have experience--whether through work experience as line cooks, caterers, or other food service occupation, or through a degree or diploma. Many of these skilled professionals seek to advance their careers through programs in restaurant or food services management, or courses in finance, food safety, and a host of other topics that a culinary school online can offer.

Culinary Education: A Hot Trend

That's one of the reasons culinary schools online are growing in popularity. Overall, interest in cooking school has grown by leaps and bounds during recent years, fueled, in part, by the explosion of television cooking shows and the wide range of careers available in culinary arts.

According to a February 2010 article in the New York Post, culinary schools across the country are seeking a huge increase in applicants--so much that the Culinary Institute of America added a satellite campus to accommodate the 50 percent growth in applications over the past six years. Brian Aronowitz, admissions director of the Institute for Culinary Education in Chelsea, describes the surge in interest as "staggering."

But Are There Jobs?

The explosion in graduates from culinary schools--online and on campus--could suggest that there is a glut of qualified workers competing for limited jobs. Not so, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While job growth for most culinary professions is projected to be slower than the national average from 2008 through 2018 at 6 percent, job opportunities should still be good--due to job vacancies, population growth, increase in dining establishments, and the demand for the convenience of having others cook.

And as the New York Post article notes, culinary professionals are finding that a wide variety of jobs fall under the culinary umbrella. While some graduates of culinary schools pursue traditional careers as restaurant managers, food service managers, and head chefs, a range of non-restaurant jobs lure graduates. Some of the more interesting--and unusual--include:

  • Food stylists, who specialize in the aesthetics of food and present dishes for cookbooks, advertisements, movies, and other commercial purposes
  • Food writers, who may be paid by a newspaper or magazine to sample local cuisine and write restaurant reviews
  • Food tasters, who--unlike the royal food tasters of medieval times who would ingest poisoned food to spare the king--may work in laboratories, sampling new (poison-free) culinary products

The Nuts and Bolts of Online Culinary School Programs

Culinary school classes online are generally directed toward two distinct audiences: casual cooks seeking to enhance their skills through online culinary school courses and professionals with some level of experience who are seeking a certificate, diploma, or completion degree.

For example, a culinary school online might offer a completion bachelor's degree in restaurant or food services management to associate's degree-holders, building skills in accounting, marketing, financial management, training, and customer relations. These programs can prepare graduates for entry-level jobs as restaurant managers or catering managers, among other options.

Similarly, online culinary schools offering associate's degrees generally accept applicants who already have formal cooking training at a post-secondary level, but want to develop a broader skill base.

Like other online programs, online culinary school courses have the advantage of being flexible and convenient. Students can complete coursework as their schedules allow and can save valuable commuting time by taking classes from home.

Because online culinary schools are a relatively new phenomenon, there isn't much data to assess whether graduates of culinary schools online are equally competitive for jobs. However, if the program is accredited by the American Culinary Federation, then it's assured of meeting the same criteria required of traditional campus programs and should be taken seriously by prospective employers.

What You Can Earn through a Culinary Career

A common concern that is often top-of-mind for graduates is whether they can earn a living after graduation. Earnings within the culinary profession vary greatly, depending on the occupation. Upscale restaurants generally pay chefs well; in 2009, the top 10 percent of chefs and head cooks earned more than $69,560, with the median salary being $40,090. Food service managers, on the other hand, earned a median annual wage of $47,210.

Despite the relative newness of culinary schools online, there's no question that the trend is here to stay, and that accredited online programs are growing in availability. So if the time has come to advance your culinary career, you may need to look no further than your computer screen.