Anyone with a love for food and cooking can be a cook, but it takes a significant amount of training and experience to be called a chef. Becoming a professional chef through a cooking school is beneficial to an aspiring student in a few ways. Cooking schools offer organized, detailed explanation of the culinary arts; graduates of culinary art schools have often been exposed to a network of other culinary art professionals; and certification or a degree from a cooking school will prove to potential employers that you know how to do the job.
Smaller cooking schools that offer a degree program will often offer an Associate in Occupational Studies (2-year program) and a Bachelor of Professional Studies (3- to 4- year program) in culinary arts. Students who already have experience as a cook or chef can look to a cooking school that offers a special Associate Degree program for advanced career experience studies. Culinary Universities (such as Le Cordon Bleu) will offer a Masters Degree in Culinary Arts, which is the highest degree level in the United States for this occupation.
Becoming a professional chef can be achieved with any of these degree levels, provided that the student is ready to climb the ranks and network with industry professionals who can help them work through the industry. Culinary arts is a highly competitive career and students holding a masters degree still have to put in their time at the bottom in nearly all cases.
Regardless of the degree or certification program, however, most professional chef level courses will cover many of the same subjects. In early culinary art classes, those taught during certificate programs, students learn the basic principles of food and cooking. This includes learning how to cook with key ingredients such as eggs, sauces, vegetables, meats, fish, pasta, and other ingredients. It also includes spices, seasonings, methods of cooking, and the basics of baking. Finally, students become well-versed in terminology, knife skills, food safety, food preparation, butchering, management, and presentation.
In major level programs (Degree or Professional Chef Programs), cooking schools incorporate specialty cuisines and discuss more about the cultures and modes of cooking that exist around the world. These types of cooking classes might include cultural culinary arts that include French, Italian, American, and Asian cuisine. Some cooking schools teach Nouvelle and Fusion cooking cultures from earlier period in American History.
Beverages are also covered in professional programs, including cocktail mixing, wine selection, tasting, and suggesting, as well as nutritional values of commonly incorporated food items.
There are several types of culinary art school degrees available in the U.S. and around the globe, so choosing a degree may be cumbersome for some students. However, it is important to thoroughly research the options that are available. Many higher education institutions offer Master Culinary Arts Programs and certificate courses that specialize in a type of cuisine, while others offer general culinary degrees.
In some cases, it is just as important to have advanced experience as it is to have an advanced degree, so students should weigh their career goals with their education options before choosing a cooking school.