What is a Culinary Arts Degree?

Culinary arts are the arts of preparing, cooking, and presenting food. Food that is as pleasing to the eyes as it is to the taste buds is the goal of the culinary artist. Degree programs in the field prepare students for a variety of roles within the food and hospitality arenas. The typical curriculum covers the following:

  • Professional cooking techniques
  • Cuisines from around the world (classic, modern, ethnic)
  • How to balance flavors and tastes
  • Menu planning
  • Catering
  • Food aesthetics, styling, presentation, and plating
  • Food science and components – proteins, carbohydrates, fats, water
  • Food and safety standards
  • Hospitality business management – how to run a kitchen, how to run a restaurant, inventory, budgeting
  • Food media – food branding and marketing, freelance food writing

As the above program components suggest, culinary arts graduates have a fairly broad spectrum of both specializations, workplaces, and career options from which to choose. There is, of course, one element that characterizes every segment of the discipline: a passion for food.

Program Options

Certificate / Diploma in Culinary Arts
Most certificate and diploma programs in culinary arts take less than a year to complete and prepare students for an entry-level position in a commercial kitchen. This credential is often held by grill cooks, ‘sauciers’ (chefs who prepare sauces), and ‘garde mangers’ (pantry chefs who prepare salads, hors d’oeuvres, appetizers, canapés, pâtés, and terrines).

Associate Degree in Culinary Arts
This two-year degree is very common in the culinary field. It combines culinary and customer service training with general education courses in English, communications, writing, and math.

In these programs students learn how to prepare classic meat, poultry, and seafood dishes; as well as how to bake breads and pastries. They are exposed to various cuisines from around the world and are taught about gastronomic (food) pairings.

Knife and other equipment handling, food sanitation, kitchen organization, menu planning and layout, and kitchen staff management are also part of the typical curriculum. An associate degree may be sufficient to secure a chef position with some restaurants.

Bachelor’s Degree in Culinary Arts
In many cases, head chefs, food and beverage directors, and restaurant managers at higher-end establishments hold a bachelor’s degree. At this level, in addition to learning the specifics of the culinary arts (as explained above, under ‘associate degree’) students receive training in budgeting and cost analysis, management, and communication. Examples of other personnel who may hold this level of degree are food and beverage directors with higher-end hotels or hotel chains and cruise lines.

Master’s Degree in Culinary Arts
At the core of master’s degree programs in the culinary arts is intense training with upper tier chefs. The objective of a master’s curriculum is mastery of specific culinary disciplines. Many of these programs also include advanced studies in food science and nutrition. A master’s may be required in advanced corporate administrative positions within the food and hospitality industry.

Non-Traditional Paths to a Degree in Culinary Arts
In addition to mainstream culinary arts programs offered at vocational schools, hospitality and restaurant management schools, and some universities in North America, students may also consider one of more than 4,000 European institutions offering bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral courses in the discipline. Europe has an especially rich cooking school history.

Degrees Similar to Culinary Arts

Baking and Pastry Arts
As the name implies, this diploma program focuses on training students in one specific culinary art: how to create baked goods and desserts. This curriculum covers baking techniques and recipes, as well as how to prepare baked goods for both small and large events.

Nutrition Science
This degree studies the relationship between food, diet, and human health—and also takes an in-depth look into what the body requires in order to achieve and maintain optimal health.

Food Service Management
Degrees in food service management are targeted at individuals who wish to combine their passion for food with an interest in managing a food-related business.

Hospitality Management
With a wider scope than a degree in food service management, the emphasis of this degree program is the principles of providing not only quality food, but accommodation and activities to tourists. From a general perspective, it address how to achieve customer satisfaction in all facets of hospitality.

Skills You’ll Learn

Successfully completing a culinary arts program not only prepares students for a career in the field, but also leaves them with a set of skills useful in and sought after by several other employment sectors:

Every art demands creativity. Cooking and the culinary arts are no exception. They are a blend of science and art. Students who study the discipline are called upon to master certain skills and techniques; and to apply imagination and ideas to their work in the kitchen.

Attention to Detail
Chefs and others who work in the culinary arts must be meticulous in their attention to detail. A steak cooked for a minute too long, a sauce with one too many dashes of salt can ruin an otherwise perfect meal.

Time Management
As important as it is for those in the culinary arts to pay attention to every detail, they must also be able to simultaneously manage their time – because kitchens are environments with tight deadlines.

Decision Making
Restaurant kitchens are fast-paced environments in which many decisions must often be made quickly, intelligently, and simultaneously.

Communication and Leadership
A productive kitchen is one in which communication, collaboration, and leadership must be seamless. All individuals working there need to take a team approach to adapt to adjustments in recipes and workflows.

Chefs, sous-chefs, and almost everyone that works in this field must be comfortable with working on multiple tasks at once.

Organization / Cleanliness
Commercial kitchens should be the epitome of organization and cleanliness. These qualities ensure that chaos stays out and productivity and artistry stay in.

As already noted, commercial kitchens are both fast-paced and creative environments. To be genuinely creative, one needs to have confidence in one’s ideas and in implementing those ideas rather quickly.

Closely connected to creativity and confidence is curiosity. Being content with cooking and offering the same dishes over and over again is not the hallmark of an inspired culinary professional. Instead, they are curious and always excited about unexpected combinations of ingredients and flavors.

Capacity to Accept Criticism
The best artists are comfortable with being challenged and criticized. They use criticism to hone their craft and consider new approaches.

Business Sense
While those working in the culinary arts are focused on the artistry of the food, it is important that they are also aware of the need to be cost-effective in buying, preparing and presenting that food.

Stress Management
Pace, deadlines, multitasking, potential criticism, and the consistent demand to be creative translate into need for the ability to manage stress.

Physical Stamina
Busy commercial kitchens demand physical stamina. Standing for long hours is typical.

What Can You Do with a Culinary Arts Degree?

Restaurants and Cafés
For most people, this is the business sector which immediately comes to mind when thinking about employment opportunities for culinary arts graduates. Cooking, baking, bartending, wine consulting, and management roles are among the possible positions.

Opportunities with hotels are similar to those with restaurants. In the case of large hotels or resorts, positions may be responsible for more than one restaurant or café.

Cruise Ships
Growth in the cruise ship industry shows no signs of slowing down. Ships are getting bigger and bigger and often boast 10 or more restaurants on board – presenting opportunities at various levels of food service and food and beverage management; along with the fringe benefit of traveling the globe.

Large Corporate Offices
Some prestigious law firms and other well-established corporations maintain in-house kitchens and dining rooms that serve employees and clients. While this is a small niche sector, it does create some additional jobs in the culinary field, especially in large urban centers that are home to big business and corporate head offices.

Event Venues / Catering Services
Cultural centers and banquet halls sometimes maintain independent food service staff. In some cases, they hire culinary professionals on a contract / per event basis, making this particular option a good choice for freelancers in the field.

Private Yachts
This is another high-end niche sector. While it may first appear as extremely glamorous, it is important to note that positions aboard private yachts are very demanding and typically involve long hours and unexpected requests from the yacht contractor/client.

Private Homes
Yet another niche option, cooking for one major client, often living in their home, being ‘on-call,’ and sometimes traveling with them can be both fulfilling and exhausting.

Food Sourcing and Purchasing / Menu Development
This role is sometime an independent one – especially with large operations – or can be part of the chef or executive chef role.

Specialty Food Retailing / Marketing / Public Relations
Higher-end grocery stores and specialty food retailers sometimes hire culinary professionals to develop and market their brand.

Food Writing, Media, Styling, Photography
Culinary broadcast, print, and digital magazines often seek out professionals with a background in gastronomy and the culinary discipline in general.

Research, Development, and Test Kitchens
Some large companies in the food industry and some restaurant chains operate their own test kitchens, in which they develop new products and craft new recipes. Individuals with a culinary background are among the most sought after hires.

Case Study

Food is Universal
The travel and tourism industry might not be where you would expect to find a graduate of a culinary arts school. But that is exactly where Jacqueline’s love of food, cooking, and travel landed her. For three years after graduation, she worked as a sous-chef for a high-end restaurant in Montreal, Canada. She loved her work and learned a lot about Québecois and international cuisines. But she could never shake the feeling that she was meant to do something more – and something different.

One day, she did just that. She took a bit of a gamble. She quit her job at the restaurant and started to work on launching her own gourmet cuisine travel company. Today, five years later, Jacqueline is leading gourmet food tours in Europe, Mexico, and South America. The universal appeal of food, cooking, and dining led Jacqueline to, in her words, ‘a life I love.’


See which schools are the most and least expensive.

Read about Tuition