March 6, 2022

Did you know that more Americans than ever before are following a plant-based diet? A full 7% of the US population is either vegan or vegetarian, which puts them in plant-based territory.1 And nearly half of Americans would agree that they’re “flexitarians”—partial vegetarians who sometimes eat meat.2

So if you’re considering a future in plant-based cuisine, there’s never been a better time to start than now. Here’s what you need to know about the credentials and certifications necessary to work as a plant-based chef.

There Are Many Paths to the Plant-Based Kitchen

No matter what kind of chef you hope to become, there is no single credential that earns you that title. You become a chef when you get your first chef position, often as a sous chef. Even then, when people refer to “the chef,” they usually mean the executive chef. And there are many roads to that coveted role!

The Difference Between a Chef and a Cook

  • A chef is a highly-skilled culinary professional. Chefs usually have years of training and job experience, and exert considerable control over the menu, recipes, and the way the kitchen is run. They manage the entire kitchen, from line cooks to prep cooks to dishwashers and possibly expeditors.
  • A cook is a valuable kitchen employee who is usually more task-focused. They do food prep and execute dishes for guests under the direction of chefs, but they don’t necessarily contribute to recipe development. Some cooks are on the path to becoming chefs, but others prefer to stay cooks throughout their careers.

Some cooks attend plant-based culinary school to get started in their careers. They may pursue a diploma, an associate degree, or a bachelor’s degree. Others will study general culinary arts, including meat-based cooking, and transition to plant-based later. And others won’t attend culinary school at all, getting all of their training on the job.

If your goal is to become a chef, you may have to master technical skills (like knife handling, seasoning, and plating); business skills (like cost control and inventory management); and professional skills (like efficiency and teamwork). As an aspiring plant-based chef, the required mastery is very similar. But instead of learning how to cook various meat-based proteins in your technical skills, you can learn about the wonderful versatility of nature’s bounty—plants.

In a plant-based culinary school, you can begin to do just that.

chef pouring a red sauce on vegetable and berry appetizer

Education Gives You a Start

To become a plant-based chef, just like any other chef, an education can give you a leg up. By dedicating some time to focusing on your education in a plant-based culinary school, you can access a huge range of skills and concepts that could take many years to learn on your own or on the job.

Plus, some chefs may prefer to hire cooks that have a culinary school credential. It can show that they have some basic skills and that they’ve made an investment in their careers. A culinary degree or diploma will never close doors throughout your career, but it could open them!

Escoffier’s plant-based programs are offered online and at our Boulder campus. These programs focus on using vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, whole grains, and plant proteins to create delicious and healthful dishes. Students explore ingredient substitutions, so they can recreate a huge variety of dishes with plant-based ingredients. They discuss business topics like cost control and entrepreneurship. And they dig into the professional side, with coursework on management and training.

At the end of the program, Escoffier’s plant-based culinary arts graduates are ready for their first entry-level cooking jobs, with the education they need to become an asset to their teams right away.

“In [Escoffier’s plant-based programs], you are able to learn a lot of skills you’re going to need in the future. You are not only learning your recipes—you’re learning the skills you are going to use in life. For me, it was the best option to follow my dream of being a private chef along with what I already do [as a health coach]. All the skills that I’ve learned at Escoffier… provide a path for me. All the skills I’ve learned will help me become a private chef.”
Maria Rodriguez, Escoffier Online Plant-Based Culinary Arts Student*

Escoffier culinary student cutting eggplants and other vegetables

Experience Builds on Your Education

Once the plant-based cook is out of school and into the workplace, they can start climbing the ladder towards becoming a chef.

Often, the first job out of culinary school is as a prep cook. Cooks work on perfecting their technical skills and continue learning from their managers and more experienced peers. Once they prove themselves in prep, cooks may move on to become line cooks before earning their first supervisory positions.

A chef has to provide mentorship and leadership to their cooks. They will ideally be able to balance great food with a profitable menu. And they’re often expected to know more than anyone else in the room. That kind of confidence and know-how comes with time. That’s why a culinary degree isn’t all it takes to become a chef. It’s a title that must be earned, whether you’re in a Michelin star restaurant or the little plant-based bistro down the street.

An artfully plated beet salad dish on a white square plate

Optional Plant-Based Certifications

There are lots of optional certifications for cooks and chefs from industry groups like the American Culinary Federation. These help to prove that you’ve attained a certain level of cooking mastery and experience.

Unfortunately, there aren’t many certifications specific to plant-based cuisine available yet. But with so many cooks and consumers expressing interest in this lifestyle, it’s only a matter of time until these become more established. And if you’ve already received your degree or diploma from a plant-based culinary school, it can be that much easier to earn an extra certification when one becomes available.

Start Your Journey with an Education

The only “credential” a plant-based chef truly needs is the education and experience to lead a kitchen. For many, that path begins in culinary school.

To discover what you could learn in Escoffier’s plant-based culinary arts programs, get in touch with our Admissions Department. They’ll help answer all your questions about curriculum, financial aid, and more!

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