Culinary Careers: Beyond the Main Course

Culinary Careers: Beyond the Main Course

By Elise B. Zito

Can't stand the heat? If you're not quite an ace in the kitchen, don't abandon your culinary dreams just yet. Culinary arts enthusiasts and aspiring food industry professionals who don't wish to focus solely on chopping, basting, sautéing and flambéing can choose from a diverse menu of alternative career paths. From registered dietitians and food journalists to research chefs and food stylists, no matter what your career appetite, an educational entrée awaits.

Down to a Science

"Someone at a culinary school isn't necessarily going to learn the science and nutrition behind food preparation," says Jennifer Ebelhar, instructor in nutrition and dietetics for Saint Louis University's (SLU) nutrition and dietetics with a culinary emphasis program. Similarly, someone studying nutrition and dietetics is not likely to learn the art of cooking. "It's amazing the number of dietitians who don't know how to cook," she adds.

I WANT TO BE A...

Research Chef

A Career Taste: Want to combine your love for food and flair for creativity in a rewarding culinary career? Research chefs, also known as product development chefs and food innovation chefs, are responsible for coming up with new products and recipes for restaurants, hotels, local cafés and food manufacturing companies.

Educational Ingredients: Most research chefs earn a culinary arts degree at an American Culinary Federation (ACF) accredited culinary school, with additional classes and/or experience in food science and chemistry.
Salary: $70,000 to $90,000

Food Stylist

A Career Taste: If presentation is your primary interest in food preparation, put your artistic talents to the test as a food stylist. Food stylists prepare food for trade shows, commercials, photo shoots and films, among other things.

Educational lngredients: Food stylists need a bachelor's degree or culinary school degree, along with some training in commercial art, photography and/or filmmaking.
Salary: Depends on location and type of work. There are few full-time food stylists, but those that are earn anywhere from $30,000 to $60,000 a year. Freelancers typically earn $300 to $850 a day.

Programs that provide education and training in both areas prepare aspiring dietitians and culinary professionals to be at the top of their game. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a number of factors have contributed to a rising demand for skilled dietitians. In fact, an 18 to 26 percent growth rate is expected in upcoming years, primarily due to an increasing emphasis on the role of dietary habits in disease prevention (BLS). Such well-rounded programs allow students to be one step ahead of others entering the same field, says Ebelhar. "Not only do students learn the proper techniques of food preparation, but they also learn the reasoning behind it."

Britt Reece, a junior at SLU, is one of several students mixing her passion for food with her affinity for science. Having always been interested in the culinary arts, the decision to choose a major that incorporated some scientific ingredients was a no-brainer for Britt. "I liked knowing I would [be able to] teach my clients how to cook the meals I'm asking them to eat," she says. "I knew it would help me relate to my patients."

With courses in everything from biochemistry and microbiology to food science and meat analysis, as well as cooking experience both in and out of the classroom, the 21-year-old feels confident that she'll be ready to excel in any culinary field upon graduation, which in her case will most likely be sports nutrition.

"My big dream is to work for a college or pro sports team," says Britt, who wants to use her skills to help athletes properly fuel their bodies. "And the best way to learn is to have someone show you rather than just give you a recipe."

Will Write For Food
"Being editor-in-chief of a Web site is a lot different from working at a magazine," admits Tanya Wenman Steel, Editor-in-Chief of Epicurious.com, the top food site on the Web. "Working online is more intense and fast-paced than anything I've done in print." Aside from editing and approving every word that goes on the site, Steel maintains a daily blog, does regular TV appearances, manages her staff, and brainstorms and uses her creative prowess to stay ahead of the competition and on top of what people want to see on the site. With 20+ years of experience in the publishing industry, she is more than capable of handling her many responsibilities with grace and integrity, but it's taken hard work and dedication to get to where she is today.

"I've always loved food, probably since the time I was seven," she shares. "When I was a junior and senior in high school, I would work all year long so I could travel during the summer." To get a taste of other cultures, Steel spent her hard-earned money exploring Europe with friends, which opened her eyes to the vast variety of ways to prepare and serve food. Her European adventures, along with a stint writing for Mademoiselle, led her to the realization that nothing interested her more than food, traveling, culture and history.

"The most important and valuable thing I can pass on is that you just can't work hard enough. There's always someone smarter or more creative than you, and hard work is what makes the difference," she says. According to Steel, who majored in English at New School University (New York, NY), communication and writing skills, coupled with a passion for food and the culinary arts, are what will allow you to be a successful food writer.

"If you want to be a food journalist, it's more important to be able to write, edit and report than anything else," advises Steel. The BLS agrees with Steel, citing a communications background, writing skills and of course, perseverance and self-motivation as the most important elements of success in this particular field. According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, employment for journalists is expected to increase 9 to 17 percent through the year 2014, and opportunities should be best for those with training in a specialized field, such as the culinary arts.
 
Above all, adds Steel, real-world experience is vital to your success, and it will help you determine whether or not you're on the right career path. "Look for a mentor. I've been lucky to find mentors in my life to show me the way and guide me," she says. "The more you can experience, the better off you are."

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