Is Culinary School Necessary to Be a Chef?

Is the best way to become a chef to go to culinary school? Or should you aim to get a job without prior training? Learn the truth about culinary education.

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November 10, 2021 8 min read

Embarking on a new career in the culinary arts is bound to be rife with questions.

What’s the best way to get started?

Should you specialize?

Do you need culinary school to achieve your goal of becoming a chef?

As to the last question, the short answer is: no. Culinary school is not an industry-wide requirement to become a chef. But for many reasons (as we’ll discuss), it is a wise investment in your future. And if you’re serious about your career in the culinary or pastry arts, you should consider the benefits of attending culinary school.

Why Is Culinary School a Wise Investment for Future Chefs?

There is no “one size fits all” path to becoming a chef. Many successful chefs have earned their titles through their own unique combinations of education, experience, mentorship, apprenticeship, and certification.

According to a study conducted by Harvard Business School, most employers do prefer to hire candidates who have related education featured on their resumes. And some will even make it a hiring requirement. Put another way: not having a degree or diploma could potentially close some doors to you. But having a degree or diploma seldom will.

Looking for more reasons why culinary school is a smart choice?

Prove Your Dedication to Your Craft

When people are passionate about something, they want to learn all they can. Going to culinary school proves that you have that kind of passion.

It also shows potential employers that you’ve invested both time and money in your career. In short, you see it as more than just a job. Turnover is expensive, so hiring managers and chefs want long-term, stable, and committed employees. A potential new hire who has dedicated months or years to their craft is naturally going to be an attractive candidate!

Escoffier students explore many different types of cuisines.

Improve Your Employment and Salary Prospects

A culinary school education can make it easier to find employment. It may even boost your salary at various stages throughout your career. According to a Oliver Wyman Culinary Survey and Analysis from March 2017, certified new hires tend to earn about 15% more in the culinary arts and 29% more in the pastry arts, compared to their peers without certification. Over a decades-long career, that kind of salary difference can add up to big dollars!

Get a Credential You Can Take With You

No matter where your culinary career takes you, your educational credentials will remain valid. A culinary or pastry degree or diploma never expires.

Plus, a certification from organizations like the American Culinary Federation and Retail Bakers of America, which require education from an accredited culinary institute for many of their designations, can help you in getting future advanced credentials. These titles, like Certified Master Pastry Chef® and Certified Master Chef®, are highly respected throughout the industry and can prove that you’re at the top of your field.

Meet a Demand for Educated Culinarians

There is currently a large skilled labor shortage in kitchens across the country, according to the National Restaurant Association. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 25% increase in the need for chefs and head cooks by 2030.1

After a 30- to 60-week culinary school program, you could have a wide-ranging choice of entry-level positions in restaurants, hotels, catering kitchens—there are so many options and opportunities! And with the anticipated increase in chef positions over the next decade, you may be perfectly placed to earn that title just when the industry needs you most.

Mary Ann Mathieu, Senior Recruiter, Sodexo“[Escoffier graduates’] self-initiative—and their and their passion for providing quality food to our customers—allows us to put them into a leadership role very quickly.”
Mary Ann Mathieu, Senior Recruiter, Sodexo

Male chef standing in commercial kitchen with pots and pans

What Do We Mean By “Culinary School”?

Culinary education comes in many forms, and they’re not all the same. If you’re going to invest time, effort, and money into your education, it’s important to carefully weigh the type of institution that you’re trusting with your future.

Accredited Culinary School Programs

To receive accreditation, a culinary school must prove that its programs meet certain industry and academic standards. It’s a complex process designed to verify the quality of a school’s curriculum and administration. This helps students to assess the merit of each program.

Accredited programs may offer degree or diploma tracks. The most common degrees in culinary and pastry arts are associate degrees, but there are some schools that offer bachelor’s degrees as well.

Accredited programs can also qualify for federal student aid, like loans and grants, for eligible students. So students in these programs may have additional funding options that those in non-accredited programs won’t have.

To check a school’s accreditation status, search the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation websites.

Escoffier’s Austin and Boulder campuses (including the online programs) each have national accreditation, as well as memberships in the National Restaurant Association, ServSafe®, and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. Escoffier has also received the Recognition of Quality Culinary Education Award from the World Association of Chefs Societies.

Escoffier Culinary Arts students preparing food in the professional classroom kitchen

Community College or University Culinary Programs

Some community colleges and universities offer culinary and pastry arts programs as well. These programs range from individual adult learning classes to associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, or even master’s degrees.

These schools can offer a quality culinary education to their students. But they tend to be much larger than culinary schools, and are also very broad in the subjects they teach. Some students find that a school that specializes in culinary arts provides a more focused education than those that teach culinary arts, English literature, kinesiology, computer science, biology, nursing, and dozens of other topics!

Non-Accredited Culinary School Programs

Non-accredited culinary programs may offer certificates and degrees, but they may be considered less valuable by employers than those offered by accredited programs. Because they don’t go through the same accreditation process, it can be difficult for prospective students to anticipate the quality of the education they’ll receive.

Degrees vs. Diplomas: Which Can Help You Most?

Both culinary degrees and diplomas can help you achieve your career goals.

At Escoffier, both programs include much of the same foundational coursework. For example, all culinary arts students may cover techniques like seasoning, cooking methods, knife skills, mise en place, and food safety and sanitation. They can cover purchasing and cost control, entrepreneurship, and menu design. Associate degree students, however, will take additional courses in communications, foodservice accounting, and nutrition, which can help with other facets of a culinary career.

When assessing degree vs. diploma programs, students must take the costs, time requirements, and complete curriculum into account.

“In January of 2016, I decided I wanted to become a chef on a Disney cruise line. I came to the realization that you have to have a degree in culinary arts to achieve that.”Janie Dodson, Escoffier Culinary Arts Graduate

Online Culinary School Lets Students Learn From Home

The “traditional” barrier to culinary education has often been accessibility. Most working adults don’t have the option to quit their jobs and go back to school full-time when they have bills to pay.

Escoffier has created the first entirely online culinary school education program, with hands-on industry externships. These groundbreaking programs let students work on their own schedule as long as they meet program deadlines. Students can work the day shift at a restaurant and attend school in the evenings. Or night owls can work the evening shift, and then complete their schoolwork in the wee hours of the morning!

Online programs feature a multi-platform approach that combines reading, interactive elements, video training, and assignments. Students can attend culinary school from their own homes, while getting the same fundamental education as on-campus students.

Online culinary student watching a video on wrapping dough

Put Yourself in the Hiring Manager’s Shoes

Let’s imagine you’re a hiring manager, and you have four applicants for a single entry-level position.

One has no experience and no education. One has a year of experience as a prep cook. One has three years of kitchen experience, but they’ve never spent more than eight months at a single company. And one has a degree from a reputable culinary school, along with a strong recommendation from their culinary externship.

As a manager, you’re not just thinking about the job you need to fill today. You’re also looking two to five years into the future. Which candidate is more likely to stay at your restaurant long-term? Is it someone who is just looking for a job? Or is it someone who has invested time, energy, and money into building a career in the industry?

Prove your commitment to the culinary industry with accredited, skills-based training from Escoffier. Contact us to discuss the right program to help you become a chef.

To learn more about culinary education, try these articles next:

1 Bureau of Labor Statistics

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