Jill of All Chef Trades? Or Master of One Culinary School?

Culinary arts administrators say some chef school graduates are fielding as many as seven kitchen employment offers before the ink on their culinary degrees even dry. Since culinary careers are sellers' markets--with demand to remain high for the foreseeable future, according to the Bureu of Labor Statistics (BLS)--chef school students have the luxury of deciding whether they want to be culinary specialists or generalists.

Basing a Culinary Career on a Signature Cuisine

Whether it's Rocco DiSpirito's signature family-recipe meatballs or Julia Child's famous French cooking, hands-on or televisual chefs often base entire careers on a single cuisine. Often, there's a family or cultural connection so definitive of the chef's personality that he or she expresses the culinary arts in this highly personal and highly individual way. And consumers respond.

The Well-Rounded Chef School Graduate

If your culinary career goal is one day to become the executive that the kitchen brigade calls "Chef," then you'll do well to master as many culinary trades as you can. Make sure your chef school mentors know you've got an interest in both cooking and restaurant management, and choose a chef school that offers a culinary degree with executive chef potential.

Finding the Toque that Fits

The best way to master a cuisine is to train in that cuisine. Former Arizona governor Fife Symington had a passion for Italian desserts that he exercised from his chef school internship, to his chef job, and into his career as chef-restaurateur. Look for a first job in a restaurant with a signature style to discover all the culinary ins and outs of branding and marketing your chef career individuality. If, on the other hand, you want, like chef Gordon Ramsay, to run the whole show in a large-scale culinary enterprise, head for a job that gives you the broadest possible experience. Become a Jill-of-All-Trades, and you'll rise from line cook to sous chef to chef de cuisine, giving you ample opportunity to display your executive potential.

Whether you want to be the superstar master of your signature cuisine or you have your eye on the highest rung of the executive kitchen ladder, your career begins with the choices you make and the job you take in chef school.

  • "Food for Thought," by Michele Orecklin. Time 163.20 (May 17, 2004).
  • Peterson's Culinary Schools, 8th Edition. Thomson, 2005.