The art of cooking and preparing pleasing dishes for diners can be a rewarding career, particularly if you have talent and the ambition to succeed in this competitive industry.
Culinary school can propel you to higher-paying positions in kitchens across the country. These include the coveted titles of executive chef, sous chef, dining room manager and food and beverage assistant manager or director.
From top schools to certificate programs, culinary school can be as low as around $10,000 to well above $40,000 a year.
A degree alone doesn’t always mean a coveted position in a wildly popular or high-end eatery. Consider the many schools as well as certificate programs that can help you in achieving your goal of becoming a culinary chef.
Culinary school tuition can run from as little as just under $10,000 to well over $40,000 annually for a four-year bachelor's degree.
Culinary School Tuition
A dedicated culinary school can cost upward of $25,000 a year to complete a four-year degree. This staggering amount is as much as a private college can cost for majors in engineering or nursing, which tend to pay much higher in the first year after graduation. Culinary school graduates tend to start out at less than $20 an hour in their first position upon completing the cooking and management courses.
Top private culinary schools such as Johnson and Wales or the Culinary Institute of America can be quite expensive. The annual tuition is over $40,000 a year at Johnson and Wales. The Culinary Institute of America also costs over $40,000 a year.
Florida Culinary Institute
In West Palm Beach, the Florida Culinary Institute at Lincoln College of Technology is a coveted culinary school. Founded in 1987, it is well regarded among the nation’s top chefs as a premiere school with a wide variety of programs for those aspiring to be a part of the hospitality industry. Tuition can be steep at nearly $25,000 a year.
Aside from the culinary diploma and baking and pastry degree, the college offers extensive management and training courses:
- Food and beverage budgeting
- Alcohol laws
- Inventory management
- Food service law
- Profit and loss review
- Pricing principles
- Restaurant technology
- Labor cost analysis
Affordable Associate Degrees in Culinary Arts
Depending on your needs, culinary school doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. There are a number of affordable community college culinary courses that have created talented chefs and affordable certificate programs to pump up your skill set.
Le Cordon Bleu, which offers bachelor's and associate degrees as well as certificates of completion, is about $17,500 a year depending on the program. They also have classes and certificate programs available for those who want to advance from the current kitchen position they hold.
Culinary Arts in Georgia
The state of Georgia is stuffed with opportunities for future chefs. It has an abundance of two-year associate degrees that cater to the culinary arts and chef training. South Georgia Technical College is the least expensive and has two majors with a focus on culinary arts.
Its programs are approximately $8,000 a year for out-of-state students and $6,000 for in-state students. Gwinnett Technical College has 21 majors with a culinary emphasis. It will cost students nearly $18,000 for out-of-state tuition and about $2,000 less for in-state students.
Small Essentials Add Up
It’s not just the culinary school tuition you pay to be able to attend classes that can be expensive. Culinary school prices include all of the little things that a chef needs to perform the job to perfection. These can include expensive cookbooks and textbooks, cutlery and uniforms among other small but essential items.
Knife sets can run as high as $300 for a starter kit. Individual knives for specialty work like pastry or deboning classes can cost $100 each. A chef’s uniform, which includes a thick coat, pants, non-skid leather shoes, hair nets and hats, typically runs from $50 to $400.
Culinary Scholarships Abound
Entry-level jobs in the culinary industry are notoriously low in pay. Pile on student loan debt from a culinary school, and it is a recipe for financial disaster. Whether or not you have experience, there are quite a few scholarships available to those considering a position in the culinary field.
The American Culinary Federation Education Foundation awards a limited number of scholarships each year with the American Academy of Chefs.
The Careers Through Culinary Arts program offers scholarships to students who participated in the program’s competitions and have a 22 or higher score on the ACT or a combined score of 1030 on the SAT math and reading sections.
Continuing Your Chef Education
If you are currently in the food industry and wish to further your training or advance to a different position in the industry, an associate degree or certificate program may suffice. Scholarships for these types of programs can propel you into a higher tax bracket without having to muddle under money issues while you work.
The National Restaurant Educational Foundation has a two-year career and technical education program, ProStart, that can teach a rising chef the culinary arts and restaurant management skills. The association’s site also lists hundreds of the latest scholarships available, from the management side to the cook line.
A certificate of achievement upon completing the ProStart or other culinary program can propel a novice chef into higher-paying jobs with more growth potential.
Job Descriptions for Culinary School Grads
Whether you take an untraditional route to earn a seasoned culinary education or decide to attend a top culinary arts school, there are plenty of positions to fill in this growing field.
Many kitchen positions are gained after putting in time at all levels of the staff – from the front of the house, such as hosting and bussing, to the prep and garnish stations overseen by the sous or head chef. A culinary arts school graduate may be able to move more quickly up the chain of command or simply be hired to work in a top tier kitchen position.
Top Chefs in the Kitchen
The sous chef job description lists many attributes for this top kitchen position. They are second-in-command in a kitchen and often oversee the preparation of the salads and the cooking of the many side dishes by the assisting staff. They move in and sweep up issues before they can become a problem and affect the running of the kitchen. They often make $40,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Another highly regarded position in a kitchen is the saucier. This chef’s only responsibility is to prepare the sauces needed by the sous and executive chefs. They are a key component of a well-run kitchen staff, and the pay reflects that.
The station chef is another higher-paying kitchen job. They are in charge of soups, salads or a grill and work solely under the sous or executive chef on that one station.
Culinary School Considerations
You don’t necessarily have to attend a culinary school to excel in the food industry. Talent and hard work, as with most any industry, tend to be what truly pays off for someone looking to succeed in the culinary arts.
Many well-paid and highly qualified chefs obtained their status by rising through the ranks of the kitchen, from the hard work of bussing tables to the precise duties of a sous chef to the weighty job of kitchen organizer and head chef.
Kimberley McGee is an award-winning journalist with 20+ years of experience writing about education, jobs, business trends and more for The New York Times, Las Vegas Review-Journal, Today’s Parent and other publications. She graduated with a B.A. in Journalism from UNLV. Her full bio and clips can be seen at www.vegaswriter.com.