January 31, 2022

Whoever came up with that old saying, “Those who can’t do, teach” was wildly off base.

Educators—especially those who teach hands-on, technical skills—must be able to “do” something so well that they can demonstrate a technique, explain their steps, and answer questions all at once. Teaching is an extension of one’s culinary skill, not a substitute for it!

At Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, we pride ourselves on the excellence of our Chef Instructors. They come from hotels, bakeries, catering companies, and restaurants of all types. They’re all experts in their craft, as well as being gifted educators.

Find out what it takes to join this type of elite crew of culinary educators, like the Chef Instructor team at Escoffier!

Chef Instructor with white hat talking to students in kitchen

Table of Contents

What Does a Chef Instructor Do?

Chef Instructors are culinary and pastry educators who train future cooks and chefs. They can work in culinary schools, high schools, community colleges, and four-year universities. They may teach in a traditional culinary classroom, through an online medium, or both.

On a daily basis, a Chef Instructor may be responsible for a combination of the following tasks:

  • Explain culinary theory and techniques through lectures and discussions
  • Demonstrate cooking techniques
  • Guide students through cooking assignments
  • Answer questions
  • Review student work and provide feedback
  • Continually work on fresh approaches to instructional delivery to ensure each student is engaged
  • Provide additional one-on-one mentorship to students, helping them to make career decisions and offering advice both during and after school

A great Chef Instructor can be an essential asset to a student’s success during culinary school. This is why attending a dedicated culinary school rather than a community college offering multiple programs can be a smart choice for students. Culinary schools often attract premium teaching talent.

Smiling Escoffier student plates a dish while a chef instructor watches and assists

Roadmap to a Chef Instructor Career

1. To Be an Educator, Begin With an Education

You may have heard that a formal culinary education is not required to become a chef. This is true, although an education can certainly help chefs reach higher levels of success. However, the same does not apply to most Chef Instructors. If you hope to have a future in education, you must first get an education yourself.

For many Chef Instructor jobs—including those at Escoffier—an associate degree in the field you hope to teach is a minimum requirement. This could be culinary arts, baking and pastry, or hospitality and restaurant operations.

Many Chef Instructors have additional educational credentials, including bachelor’s and even master’s degrees in their fields. Some also get secondary education in the teaching field, so they’re better prepared to lead a classroom. Escoffier Chef Instructor Anne Tutuska, for example, has both a diploma in Baking & Pastry Arts and a Bachelors in Hospitality, as well as a Masters of Education, Career & Technical Education.

A culinary school education can give future Chef instructors the technical skills that they’ll need to start their career in food. But it also shows them how a culinary classroom should operate and helps them to recognize great classroom leadership and mentorship. These experiences can stay with graduates throughout their entire careers, and help them become better instructors themselves in the future.

Female Escoffier student mixing and whisking a bowl

2. Become an Expert in Running a Working Kitchen

Culinary school graduates have more work to do before they’re ready to teach. School administrators usually look for at least three to five years of experience in their teaching candidates. At Escoffier, according to Vice President of Academic Affairs Kathleen Vossenberg, a minimum of five years experience as a chef in a management role is required for faculty members. While they may no longer be running a kitchen, they will be running a classroom, so leadership and people skills are necessary.

That means the applicant has been an executive chef or in a similar leadership role. They need to know all of the technical skills required to run a kitchen. And they need the confidence and expertise that can only be learned from leadership.

But as for where exactly that experience comes from? That’s often more flexible.

“The diverse expertise of our faculty is one of our strengths,” says Kathleen Vossenberg. “Just as graduates will not work for one employer for their entire career, students will not learn from just one faculty member. Each faculty member’s work history is one thread that is woven into the fabric of the student experience at Escoffier.”

Get to Know Some of Escoffier’s Chef Instructors

3. Bringing It All Together: The Hiring Process

Once a chef has the education and experience needed to qualify for a Chef Instructor position, what happens next?

“Our process is one that is equally enlightening for both the candidate and the company,” says Kathleen Vossenberg. “Making the transition from being an industry chef to becoming a chef educator can be a challenge. The first can be physically demanding, while the second requires considerable mental stamina and relentlessly engaging students in the education process.”

“My aim in the interview process is to understand how a candidate’s skills will translate to the education environment, to provide a transparent overview of the job requirements, and to help the potential faculty member understand the educational values we hold so dear at Escoffier. Interviews are conducted in the same medium that their teaching will encompass – in-person for ground campus faculty and video videoconferencing for distance learning faculty. Additionally candidates may be asked to submit a video of themselves performing a cooking demonstration, which helps us understand the candidate’s technical culinary or pastry skill set, as well as their classroom presence, ability to be clearly understood, and their ability to talk and cook at the same time!”

There are thousands of people out there who have an associate degree and 5+ years of chef experience. So what differentiates the Chef Instructor from the chef?

Miles says, “[We’re looking for an] engaging [Chef instructor] who is able to inspire, can share their experience in the industry, and who has a sincere desire to help students. The job is about communication and mentorship. That’s really what we need from a faculty member.”

In short: education and experience is what gets an applicant their first interview. From there, they must demonstrate their passion for cooking and their ability to keep students engaged and excited. This propels them through the interview process and may eventually land them the job.

Male chef instructor showing female culinary student how to chop vegetables

Types of Chef Instructors

Online vs. On-Campus Chef Instructors

With Escoffier’s online culinary programs, many Chef Instructors teach from their homes rather than in a physical classroom. But the job itself and the hiring requirements are very similar to on-campus chef instructors.

The main difference between the two is how they interact with students. Clearly, online instructors need a bit more technical knowledge than on-campus instructors, since they’ll be streaming live and recording video feedback for their students.

Escoffier offers extensive faculty training and onboarding to get online Chef Instructors up to speed and ready for the (virtual) classroom.

Online Chef Instructors also approach the process of assessing student work a bit differently. They assess the qualities of food through both visual critique and detailed comparison against industry standards. But as seasoned experts, this doesn’t inhibit Chef Instructors much. Chef Instructor Jesper Jonsson explains, “I’ve seen so many steaks getting grilled that I know what the temperature of a pan sounds like. I can look at a chicken breast and tell you if it’s dry on the inside.”

In fact, this proximity limitation actually comes with its own set of benefits for students. “Our [online] students are probably better at verbalizing what they’re doing and describing tastes,” he says. “If I can’t taste it, you have to verbally be able to tell me: Was it salty? Was it bland? Was it tangy? And we use our flavor wheel for that. I think students being able to verbally describe foods and tastes has proven to be a tremendous asset.”

“Unlike a lot of online schools where you are working with adjunct instructors, our faculty are dedicated to this job full time. And they’re frequently available to answer your questions or speak with you outside of class time.”
Kathleen Vossenberg, Escoffier Vice President of Academic Affairs*

Secondary vs. Post-Secondary Chef Instructors

Chef Instructors work in post-secondary institutions like culinary schools and community colleges, but they also may work in high schools.

At the post-secondary level, the requirements for teaching can vary significantly from institution to institution. Colleges and culinary schools often don’t require specialty teaching credentials for culinary instructor jobs, as long as they have the requisite skills and education.

To teach at the high school level, however, most states require that educators have a bachelor’s degree and some teaching credentials, as well as their culinary skills and experience. The American Culinary Federation offers a Certified Culinary Educator® (CCE®) credential that educators can earn to prove their skills in curriculum planning, teaching methodology, and educational psychology. Applicants may also need a state-level teaching certification to be eligible for secondary school instruction.

Frank Vollkommer, Certified Master Pastry Chef® & Escoffier Director of Culinary Industry Development“I thought that being a good technician equated to being a good teacher. And I learned that education and teaching is in itself its own science, art, and then vocation. It requires the same level of determined and focused practice of your craft that being a good chef does.”
Frank Vollkommer, Escoffier Director of Culinary Industry Development*

Escoffier chef instructor and smiling male culinary student with mixed vegetable plate

Why Become a Chef Instructor?

While some chefs are happy to work in the kitchen throughout their careers, others are looking for a way to mentor and train those interested in hospitality/culinary careers. Stepping into the classroom can be a wonderful opportunity to use the skills you’ve spent years honing, while also getting to work in a new and exciting environment.

Many culinary instructors also find it gratifying to share what they know with the next generation of chefs. It’s rewarding to serve as a mentor to students, whether they’ve just graduated high school or are embarking on a second or third career. Chef Instructors have a more predictable day job schedule that doesn’t typically demand evenings, weekends, and holidays. After years in a fast-paced professional kitchen, some chefs look forward to a more conventional work day.

“What Chef Instructors are really doing is creating community, providing support, providing mentorship and leading discussions inside of our classrooms. Creating engagement and a good learning environment is what’s really important.”
Kathleen Vossenberg, Escoffier Vice President of Academic Affairs

Some people begin their culinary careers knowing that they want to teach one day. Others plan to work in kitchens forever, but find that over time, their goals start to shift.

Fortunately, an associate degree in culinary arts, baking and pastry, or hospitality and restaurant operations management can help open the door to both the kitchen and the classroom. So whether you know you want to teach or simply want to keep the possibility on the table, culinary school is the place to start. Contact our admissions department to get into a culinary classroom—so that one day, you might lead your own!

To learn more about careers in culinary arts or baking and pastry, try these articles next:

*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.