Need Culinary Education Money? You May Win It!

Whether you're looking for a scholarship to cover the costs of your chef education, or looking for a chef career boost, if you're competitive, a cook off offers you the chance to shine. Either way, it's never too early to start making your name as a chef - and get paid in the bargain.

Anatomy of a Cook-Off:

If you already have your chef degree, a cook-off might ask you to create a menu from challenging ingredients. If you're hoping to get a chef degree, a cook-off will test your basic kitchen skills. Pro or am, a chef competition always has these ingredients:

The Challenge:

Each competition begins with a challenge, in which the competing chefs must perform under a high pressure deadline. Here are three actual cook-off challenges.

  • Poach a guinea hen in chive sauce and whip up some creme patissiere crepes - while the clock is ticking.
  • Prepare two plates of hunter's chicken with turned, sauteed potatoes, and dessert crepes with pastry cream and chocolate sauce from memory.
  • Create a three-course meal for four using all of these ingredients: two lobsters, four ostrich filets, four whole pompanos, goat cheese, caviar, acorn squash, smoked salmon and fine chocolate - in just three hours.

The Strategy:

Competitive chefs draw on their education, formal or otherwise, and on their instincts as well. "It's all about organizing, focusing, and doing what you know," advises Jean-Pierre Vincent, chef at the Palm Beach Ritz-Carlton.

The Judging:

Whether they have a chef degree or not, cook-off competitors are judged on originality, cleanliness, and presentation.

The Awards:

Whether they're funded by nonprofits like C-CAP (Careers Through Culinary Arts Program), through national or local cooking societies, by cities or by restaurants, cook-offs award big money. High school senior Matthew Griffin won an $80,000 full scholarship to culinary school for winning a New York cook-off. Local winners who already have chef degrees go on to national competitions and recognition. Whether you win money or recognition, winning a cook-off turns up the heat on your chef career.


  • Career Internship Network "Cooking up success," by Dorian Friedman. U.S. News & World Report 124.25 (Jun 29, 1998).
  • "Nine Chefs Compete in Florida International University's High-End Competition," by Jennifer Peltz. Ft. Lauderdale, FL Sun-Sentinal (Feb 24, 2003).
  • "Young Chefs Taste the Fruits of Victory," by Carrie Donovan. The Washington Post (May 26, 2005).