As students at The Culinary Institute of America, we are being prepared for the rigors of the kitchen; learning to make 20 gallons of stock at a time, to plate 500 desserts within 30 minutes, and bearing the cuts, burns, and bruises in the heat of it all. But what if we never make it to the kitchen? What if our life’s dreams are not to be an executive chef? What if we would prefer food writing, food styling, or research and design? Non-traditional careers for chefs are becoming increasingly popular. It is a way to combine more then one passion and allow your culinary expertise to be displayed in a different light.
In Irena Chalmers’ book, Food Jobs, she looks at several non-traditional career paths for chefs such as food blogging, recipe testers, and futurists. Blogging is a fairly new practice of posting articles, pictures, and opinions onto the internet via social media sites or personal blogs. Culinary blog posts can be anything from a photographed step-by-step tutorial for anything from homemade pie to a review of the best French restaurant in
Large online companies such as Gourmet Connection and Fabulous Food actually
pay culinary experts to write for their websites. Smaller food bloggers can see
advertisement spots on their websites to create revenue. Sasha Foppiano is a CIA
alumnus who now supports herself by blogging. Her food blog globaltableadventure.com explores a
different country’s cuisine every week.
Back in the 80s, recipes were not commonly tested before being published. It took several failed recipes for recipe tasters to come on stream. A recipe tester is someone who receives the recipe from its developer and tries it out. Their job is to make sure that the recipe not only makes the product it promises, but does not include any potentially harmful ingredients or combinations of ingredients. Those in the Culinary Science program here at the CIA would be eligible to work in the food testing field because recipes are like scientific formulas.
A third career that Chalmers describes in her book is known as a futurist. They research former trends and cycles while trying to predict new ones for the future. Futurists also do field research in culinary establishments and publish their own theories of where they think the food world is headed. This kind of theorist is essential in our preparation for the future and in helping agriculturists, businessmen, and chefs alike keep ahead of the curve. Food bloggers, recipe testers, and futurists all need an observant eye, creative mind, and broad knowledge base of a culinary expert. These fields all need chefs.
I know many of you readers are now thinking, “Do these non-traditional careers differ too much from the traditional ones?” “Will chefs still get to express their passion for food?” “How will their culinary knowledge and skills be put to use?”
Most non-traditional culinary careers aren’t as far off as you would think. Firstly, they all include food. Most careers such as recipe developing and cheese-making include direct handling of ingredients and manipulating them in the similar ways that you would in a traditional culinary setting. Also, most of the non-traditional careers allow for the creativity and artistry that chefs usually display. This is highlighted in both food styling and food writing. Additionally, contest judges and product developers would need to utilize the same knowledge and skill base as a chef. They must have the ability to recognize flavors and build complex foods. In comparison, non-traditional jobs include more of the key characteristics of traditional culinary jobs.
It is unfortunate that many chefs who chose non-traditional paths are not recognized or held as highly as traditional chefs. This lack of recognition though is not a reason to avoid these types of careers, but instead to educate those around you about them and the knowledge and skills that they require. Chefs are known for the signature dishes they create, the restaurants they manage, and the concepts they introduce to the field. The reason those in non-traditional careers are not recognized is because they do not necessarily have a chance to do these things.
In his well-known book, The Making of a Chef, Author Michael Ruhlman discusses his experience as a student at the
CIA. He was
considered a writer more than a cook and had to work that much harder to prove
himself as more than just a writer.Finally Ruhlman was given approval as a chef
by his fundamentals instructor, but not until the end of his schooling. This
perception of Ruhlman shows that food writing, along with other non traditional
culinary careers, is not held as highly as culinary careers.
Non-traditional food jobs are all around us. The people in those careers influence the ingredients we buy, recipes we use, and food we see daily. Cooking is a passion. Don’t allow your fears of leaving the conventional kitchen environment hinder you from pursuing your passion. Break the mold!