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How far do you want to go in the food service industry? It’s an important question to ask yourself since your goals should dictate the type of culinary degree you pursue. Food service, cooking, and management programs run the gamut from certificate programs to doctoral degrees. Whether you want to manage a local coffee bar or oversee the dietary needs of a nursing home population, the education you need is out there.

Attending culinary arts school improves your skills

If you love to slice, dice, and sauté, the best way to get started on the chef route is by attending a culinary school. Though it may be true that some top chefs never went to cooking school, don’t count on getting to the top without it. There are lots of good cooks, just as there are lots of talented musicians, but not everybody gets to be Emeril or the Rolling Stones.

The more training you have under your belt, the more likely you are to get a better job and establish a solid reputation as a chef.

Culinary schools offer variety of degrees and programs

Culinary programs usually average between one to two years for a certificate or associate degree. You can choose to specialize in a particular area, such as Italian cuisine or pastries and baking, but regardless of where your interests lie, most culinary programs will school you in a variety of cooking techniques, nutrition, and cuisines.

Some schools offer a diverse selection of diplomas ranging from a general culinary arts degree to one with a focus in areas such as catering and banquet management. Almost every program culminates in some sort of internship or externship in an approved location where your skills and knowledge can be put to practical use and evaluated.

There are also cooking schools that carry a bit more prestige than others. Several North American culinary schools are certified educational partners with the highly regarded Le Cordon Bleu and offer top-of the-line degrees in culinary arts, patisserie and baking, and hospitality and restaurant management.

Le Cordon Bleu schools are internationally recognized for their expertise, with campuses around the world. You can see a list of these and other fine culinary schools at www.culinaryschools.com.

Tuition and fees vary, but in general, the more private and exclusive the culinary arts school, the more expensive it is.

Culinary training also available at vocational schools

Vocational schools also offer a variety of programs in the culinary arts and food service or management arena. Unlike culinary schools and colleges, vocational schools are often a menagerie of different types of career training, so you may be waltzing to the kitchen classroom in your cook’s hat right next to the guy with the plumber’s belt on his way to shop. Vocational schools will expose you to a more diverse student population, while still offering a quality education in a specialized field.

Management degrees for the food service industry

An institution classified as a culinary college or culinary school will likely teach only culinary arts. If you wish to pursue an education with a little more academia behind it, there are many traditional universities that can meet your needs.

Employers frequently recruit management material fresh out of college with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality and/or restaurant management (or similar type of degree), and many of the colleges providing such programs also offer career assistance to help you get started in the right direction. With its additional focus on business concepts such as management, leadership, and marketing, a four-year degree in food service management will make you quite marketable.

Advanced food service and culinary arts degrees

If your career and education goals are even loftier, there are master’s and doctoral programs pertaining to food service and culinary arts that can boost your career even further. An advanced degree in public health and nutrition, dietetics, food studies, or restaurant management will be quite appealing to a variety of different employers and may put you on a fast track to corporate management, teaching, or consulting — or make you a very well-educated manager!

Perhaps you have visions of owning and managing a luxury weight-loss clinic or devising approved school menus for the USDA. Advanced degrees will not just give you the management skills you’ll need, but will also give you the nutritional science background that you will undoubtedly require.

Multitude of options for cooking school and culinary degree

With food being not just a necessity but also the center of many cultural traditions, is it any wonder that you have so many choices when it comes to pursuing a culinary education? Regardless of where you go, you can expect that somewhere along the line, you’ll be getting hands-on experience.

Some cooking schools have their own on-site restaurants, hotels, and conference facilities in which students conduct their internships. Culinary schools may be paired with restaurants where you can cut your teeth on all the details of fine dining. When you start looking into culinary arts school, make sure you find out what sort of hands-on training is available — it may make all the difference between a roadside diner and La Grenouille.