If you are thinking of studying culinary arts (or already are) and you wonder exactly what types of jobs or career paths are open to you, this list will give you an idea of where you could end up. It’s a list of known career paths, but many culinary arts graduates will tell you they’ve ended up in places they never imagined, so let this be your jumping-off point as you look to your possible future.
Executive Chef & Sous Chef (or Head Cook & Cook)
When most people consider a culinary career, this is where they envision themselves. The Executive Chef is the head boss of the kitchen, whether that is at a free-standing restaurant, at a hotel restaurant, on a cruise ship, in a large corporation’s kitchen/cafeteria, or wherever else you might have a sit-down meal. Unless you decide to open a restaurant as your first culinary job (usually not advised), you’re not going to start out as the boss. So this job is down the road.
The Sous Chef is essentially the second-in-command in a kitchen, and this position is the last stop before becoming an Executive Chef in most instances. While the Sous Chef does not have final say, s/he is almost like the kitchen’s operations manager, involved in opening and closing the kitchen each day, overseeing the staff, and doing whatever jobs need done at a particular time. Executive Chefs get the glory, but Sous Chefs usually do more of the grunt work that makes a kitchen go. Their command of every facet of the kitchen is excellent training for when they become an Executive Chef. (Those glory-hogging Executive Chefs have generally already paid their dues as Sous Chefs, so they’ve earned their place at the top.)
At smaller or less-fancy joints, the Executive Chef has a more workaday title: Head Cook. He or she will then have one or more Cooks or Assistant Cooks as a staff.
Chef de Partie
In some kitchens, you will have chefs responsible for well-defined areas such as saute chef, fish chef, roast chef, etc. A chef de partie is any of these chefs responsible for a very specific function within the kitchen.
* Below the positions described above may be a variety of entry-level or lower level cooks or preparers with titles like prep cook, line cook, etc.
Chef that specializes in pastries, breads, desserts, etc. for a restaurant or foodservice operation.
Head management position at a restaurant, private club, or other foodservice operation. Responsible for overseeing everything that ultimately affects the experience for customers and the profitability of the operation, from food quality to personnel decisions to inventory to anything else you can imagine.
Food and Beverage Director
This position can mean different things at different places, but it’s more of a management role in making sure that a food and beverage operation is well-run and meeting the needs of clients/customers. Duties may include menu development, inventory management, wait staff direction (if applicable), and more. Generally a food and beverage director is a title at a larger foodservice operation than a single restaurant, such as a hotel, hospital, school, etc.
Manages the planning and execution of large-party food events either on-site or off-site, from client contact to menu planning to overseeing staff before and during the event.
An important position in any restaurant or foodservice operation, this job involves deciding on which foods to acquire and who to buy them from and at what quantity/price. The larger the operation, the more crucial this position is to its success and profitability.
Some restaurants and/or catering operations may have a position dedicated to bringing in large groups or events.
Some people’s culinary aspirations will include running the whole show. Oftentimes you will have had a variety of other culinary jobs both in the kitchen and in restaurant management before becoming an owner, but everyone’s path is different.
Food Truck Owner
Not so different than being a restaurant owner except perhaps less overhead to worry about and maybe a smaller menu of items to create, making the financial side of the business easier to understand and manage.
While many people wait tables as a side job or as a stepping stone to something else, at some higher-end restaurants in particular you can make a fine living as a waiter or waitress.
Like waiters and waitresses, some bartenders may treat their job as a shorter-term gig, but it is possible to have a fairly lucrative career as a bartender in certain high-end or high-volume establishments.
There is only so much demand out there for dedicated chefs to a particular person or family, but some chefs may desire this type of culinary path in order to prepare a variety of foods while having a more stable lifestyle than a restaurant career.
Someone has to train those future chefs and cooks for their culinary careers. After some years in the industry, you might choose to teach others and start them on their career paths.
Wine expert, usually employed at upscale restaurants where people are more apt to pay more for a good glass of wine.
Expert on the meats, including which cuts are best for different recipe goals as well as how to cut those meats.
Cheesemaker / Cheesemonger
Expert on the cheeses, both in the making of the cheeses and how each cheese pairs with other foods.
Expert on the beers, including the manufacturing process and the differences between types.
Whether situated on a huge winery in Napa Valley or a local winery in a smaller wine region, this job is for those who want to actually make and bottle wine.
As the name suggests, a person who does small-scale farming in an urban area, usually with an eye toward supplying local restaurants or specialty food stores with their fruits, vegetables, eggs, meats, or other products. With “farm-to-table” being a popular trend these days (using locally-sourced foods versus having them trucked in from far away), urban farming has become a more viable career (or hobby) than in the past.
Restaurant Equipment/Supply Sales
If you have some experience under your belt in the kitchen, you might eventually use your culinary expertise to sell the equipment and supplies used in restaurants and foodservice operations. A knowledge of how a kitchen is run is obviously helpful in this career, and being able to demonstrate new equipment and talk the language of your buyers is important to being successful.
Whether this counts as a culinary career may be up for debate, but it definitely involves food. In this case, though, it is understanding the nutritional value of different foods and how to combine them in a diet to maximize health. This career usually involves working in some sort of health care facility, from hospitals to long-term care facilities to private medical practices.
Food Scientist/Food Technologist
This position is also less of a culinary career than a science career. A food scientist is involved in research, development, and safety of foods, which can mean very different things depending on where you are employed. For example, a food scientist might be involved in developing recipes for packaged foods in order to maximize taste, nutrition, and safety. Or a food scientist might work closer to the agricultural end in terms of maximizing crops. Other duties or job descriptions may fall under this title as well.
Quality Assurance/Food Safety Manager
As the name suggests, this person is involved in making sure that food is safe and of good quality, usually in a large foodservice operation or perhaps a food manufacturing facility versus in a restaurant environment.