Consider an Alternative Culinary Arts Career

You don’t necessarily need to be confined to the kitchen with a culinary arts degree. Here are some options that you may not have considered.

Choose a Different Culinary Arts Career Path

It takes more than just a chef to make the food industry go ’round. Foodies looking for an alternative culinary career may find luck in a variety of places, from the woods (more on that later) to grocery stores. Here are four culinary careers that veer off the beaten path.

Recipe Tester and Developer

After complimenting a home cook on their meal, you might hear them say, “If you can read, you can cook.” Perhaps it’s an attempt at modesty, but there’s some truth to the phrase. Essentially, if you can read a recipe and follow it, you can cook like the best of them.

Before a recipe ever makes it to the pages of cookbook, TV show or blog, there’s a recipe developer working behind the scenes. Someone has to make sure the ingredients, technique and measurements are accurate. Recipe developers have the job of devising the most delicious recipes and writing down exact instructions. It’s an alternative culinary job that overlaps art and science.

Once a recipe is created, testers taste the food and ensure it meets necessary standards. If it doesn’t, the recipe is sent back to be refined. The job of a recipe tester and developer has its advantages, but it also involves a lot of patience and time. Sometimes recipes don’t go as planned or fail entirely. In addition to this, shopping for food can be time-consuming.

Even if you don’t intend to work as a chef, earning a culinary arts degree can give you an advantage. You’ll learn necessary cooking techniques and other tips from professionals. Holding a nutrition degree may also be helpful if you work for a health-conscious employer.

Forager

While it may sound like something straight out of the caveman era, foraging has become a solid career path for those looking for an alternative culinary role. Restaurants across the country, in some of the chicest cities, employ foragers to go on the hunt for the freshest and most unique ingredients. The reason? More diners are looking for farm-to-table meals and the organic food movement continues to thrive.

The job of a forager has many levels and it’s not just about pulling weeds out of the dirt. Some foragers spend their time at farmer’s markets or working with farmers directly. Some incorporate both wild ingredients and farm products. The end result is still local, organic and sustainable food.

A forager typically has a plan before heading out to harvest. For instance, if a chef uses some of the same ingredients week to week, the forager may return to the same source, whether that’s a farm or out in the wild. When a forager comes across something new, they will ask the chef if it’s an ingredient they’d like to incorporate into their dishes and bring it back to the kitchen.

While there’s no degree in foraging, you still need to be educated on a variety of issues, such as sustainability, so earning a culinary degree is essential. Not every wild plant can be picked, or even consumed. Knowing what’s edible and sustainable is an important part of this culinary career. Some culinary schools offer farm-to-table programs with training to prepare you for a job as a forager.

Restaurant Publicist

The restaurant industry is incredibly competitive so even the best chefs need help promoting their restaurant. You may not be working in a hot, fast-paced kitchen as a restaurant publicist but you’ll need to thoroughly understand the restaurant industry and have a deep respect for the job chefs do.

The crux of a restaurant publicist’s job is to market their client’s brand, restaurants—and even the chef’s persona. Pitching story ideas to food editors and TV producers and sending press releases are two of the main ways they get the word out. You need to be a great multi-tasker since you’ll often go through several press release drafts with the chef, while also meeting with journalists in the same day.

Setting up and attending media events and food tastings is another part of the job which takes time.

While working with a well-known chef can make the job a little easier, editors and producers have limited page space and air time, so it’s the job of the publicist to find a great hook and pitch it. To do so, you might work with the restaurant or chef to come up with a special event or unique offering.

Specialty Food Buyer

Specialty food buyers work with all types of companies including gourmet markets, restaurants and even home goods stores. In a sense, the job is similar to foraging since you’ll spend much of your time on the hunt. However, you won’t be trudging through streams or wooded areas. Instead, you’ll be working with purveyors of items like artisanal cheeses and gourmet chocolates.

Buyers need to be strategic in their role. You’ll need to work within a budget and be cognizant of how much physical space you have in a store. Understanding what customers want and knowing the latest food trends is crucial as well. You’ll spend a decent amount of your time determining what stays and what goes. Certain items may need to be discontinued to make room for something new.

In addition to a culinary degree, courses in business and accounting can help you in this line of work. Without a lot of experience, you may start out as an assistant gourmet food buyer. Use this on-the-job experience to learn as much as possible and beef up your resume.

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