Food has always been everywhere around us, and these days so is cooking! There are no longer just cooking TV shows but whole channels and even networks dedicated to it. Magazines galore while recipe books, and cookbooks are still some of the best selling publications out there. There are food presentation, photography, TV competitions, awesome restaurants…
Chefs are becoming as famous as rock stars! And our appetites for all of that just keep growing.
It is easy to overlook how much actual work goes into all of that. I’m not talking about the production – I meant cooking! And by that, I really mean how long and arduous the road is for a chef who started where you may be right now and how far he or she got.
I am not trying to talk you out of it – I find it inspiring. If this is your passion, please go for it. So what if it’s tough? Nothing worth having in life is gonna be a piece of cake. And that’s not what we’re talking about here anyway.
- Why a Culinary Career?
- A Chef’s Path
- Types of Online Culinary Degrees
- Why Online Culinary Degrees
- Best Online Culinary Schools
Why a Culinary Career?
Whether you’re considering a career in culinary arts because it’s your passion or because you want to have an in-demand profession, you will not be wrong either way.
With the population continuously on the rise, there can only be a shortage of skilled workers in the food industry. Same goes for the fact that the overall economic standards have been rising and at the same time we all have less and less time available for ourselves. Limited time to prepare our own meals and increased desire to get out of the house and enjoy a nice restaurant meal in great company.
Another career advantage is that people move up the ladder all the time so there are always opportunities to fill those newly available positions left open by someone advancing in their own culinary careers. And they may not even be advancing. Maybe they’re shifting to a different field or moving to a different cooking style or expertise. Which means you’ll be able to do that too!
And last but not least, there is a great need for skilled kitchen staff all over the world, in exotic and interesting locations. Most of those positions pay top salaries and can give your career and your finances a boost.
None of this means that you’ll be cooking up a storm for the rest of your life. Having a culinary degree and especially when it’s combined with some real-world experience can set you on the path of moving to a managerial position or some other more fun career such as a consultant or a food critic of some kind. I think that’s fun!
A Chef’s Path
Most chefs start at the bottom of the kitchen “food chain”. Truth be told, there are lower positions but they are not on the path to becoming a chef – those are dishwashers and kitchen-hands. One typically climbs up the ranks from being a junior chef up to a line cook, both of whom tend to specialize in one type of food (fish, grill, frying, pastry…) for some time.
Next up is the sous chef, literally “under chef”, the second in command. The top banana would be the head chef. And in big companies, there are also executive chefs, but those guys don’t do any actual cooking LOL
There are many interesting stations you’ll be manning while working in the kitchen. To be more precise, as a junior chef, you’ll be assisting a line chef who is himself or herself currently specialized and running a particular station.
Here are some of the main kitchen station assignments:
- Sauce chef – Sautéing foods, and making all the sauces and gravies. Typically the one reporting to the sous chef, so a top rank of all the juniors.
- Grill chef – The grill master, grilling both meats and vegetables.
- Fry chef – This chef prepares all the fried foods.
- Pastry chef – The master of the pastry section. This includes all the baked goodies, bread, pastries, and desserts.
- Fish chef – The one preparing fish dishes which usually includes making their sauces. Sometimes they do the fish butchering themselves, or it is done by the…
- Butcher-chef – A person who preps meats and poultry before they are moved to their respective stations. May also prepare fish and seafood.
- Roast chef – In charge of roasted meats and their appropriate sauces.
- Vegetable chef – This chef prepares vegetables, as well as soups, starches, and eggs.
- Pantry chef – Responsible for the preparation of cold dishes, salads, pâtés, and similar.
- Roundsman – A relief cook who fills in as needed on all of the stations.
A culinary career is most definitely an interesting one. Not as easy as taking candy from a baby but you’ll be as busy as popcorn on a skillet 🙂
You could land that junior chef position with no training and with only some experience, but your career upward mobility would be limited. If you are serious about a culinary career, you want to attend a culinary school or a college of culinary arts. The best culinary schools offer everything you need, but there are now many universities with culinary and cooking programs and some of those are available online.
If you’ve been dreaming of going to culinary school, but you are too busy working, you are certainly not alone. Luckily for you and thousands like you, there are some online culinary schools that would solve at least some of your problems.
These culinary schools can’t teach you everything that you would learn in a real kitchen and under real pressure. But they still manage to keep some of the challenges that are required to develop this wonderful craft and help you become a professional chef.
And don’t be fooled – these programs can still be quite intense! And you can learn just as much because they are run by real top chefs and experienced culinary school staff. But you won’t be able to learn all the skills, obviously.
Having a hands-on cooking experience is by definition essential – meat and potatoes if you will. However, there are other parts of culinary degree programs that you may not think of when you’re imagining what it takes to become a professional chef.
It is not all about prepping those meals and following the recipes! There are plenty of business and management topics such as business management (duh!), professional development, hygiene, safety, and more that are just as important.
Every good cooking curriculum worth its salt will absolutely include these softer skills. It is thanks to these other classes required to earn your degree or culinary certificate, that you can attend some of the school’s requirements online.
Types of Online Culinary Degrees
Online Culinary Certificate
A culinary certificate is designed to prepare students for an entry-level position that is typically the aforementioned junior chef. As line cook’s assistants, they also specialize in a particular kitchen station or type of cuisine. The courses often cover topics such as soups and teach math used for recipe measurements.
These are short programs, less than a year-long, and they focus on basic skills such as knife handling as well as some cooking theory. While this section is called “degrees”, this one does not earn you one, but a certificate instead.
Online Culinary Diplomas
This is similar to a certificate but way better. The credits you complete in a diploma program can be transferred to an associate or bachelor’s degree program! The number of credits you’ll need to earn it varies from 30 to roughly 60.
Like certificates, there are still lots of basics to cover with diplomas. You’ll probably learn about pastries and baking and get deeper knowledge about the main ingredients, the foods that are used in cooking. Finally, there are bound to be some restaurant specific skills and techniques.
Online Culinary Associate Degrees
An associate culinary degree goes deeper in theory as well as hands-on expertise than the previous two. It covers more management and operations and further professional skills. The curriculum is much more comprehensive and is usually two years long. You can expect to need 60-70 credits for it.
While it still prepares a student for an entry kitchen position, you can probably already see how much more advantage a budding cook with an associate degree will have over one with a diploma, certificate, or just experience.
Associate degree students will not only learn about food science and safety but also how to prepare meat, seafood, and dishes from various ethnic cuisines.
Online Bachelor’s Culinary Degrees
The further we go down this list, the deeper these degrees will take you down the road to becoming a chef and the more knowledge and experience you’ll gain on the way there. But as we’re trying to cover online culinary degrees, those options are getting much more limited.
A bachelor’s culinary degree offers less to a chef wannabee and much more to someone who would like to become a kitchen or restaurant manager. It is a great starting point for those interested in related careers outside of a kitchen – consultants, menu developers, or even food designers.
Don’t forget that many chefs open their own restaurants, so there’s nothing wrong with understanding how the front-of-the-house runs and the whole business side of it such as purchasing, cost control, personnel management, and customer service.
Clearly, these are all crucial elements of running a business, but may not be exactly what a future chef would be interested in. In addition, a bachelor’s degree is a four-year program that will take at least 120 credits and may even require an associate degree or some experience in order to get accepted.
Online Culinary Master’s Degrees
There are only a handful of master’s degrees for culinary arts that are even mentioned as being available online, and I will finish my list with the one that I know is reputable. I must say that I find it ironic that the highest form of culinary education is hardly about cooking LOL This degree is normally reserved for either entrepreneurs, managerial positions, or those who’d like to become the most qualified culinary instructors.
Why Online Culinary Degrees?
Many institutions are swapping their classrooms for the internet, and culinary schools are no different. They offer all the training you would normally receive if you were to practice at a physical location, but certainly with less stress. And as mentioned before, taking your classes online would allow you to keep your current job to pay your bills while you earn the culinary degree that will lead you to a solid career.
Obviously, because traditional culinary schools are hands-on programs, getting your degree online will take an alternative approach. Most schools will organize their program into two separate aspects.
Theoretical courses are easily taught online. For a culinary school, this will be focused on subjects such as hygiene, safety, and food science.
Demonstration and practical experience are absolutely essential for perfecting your cooking skills. Some of the courses will provide live demonstrations using a video stream. Others will have organized programs in your area that would allow you to combine your online work with an in-person instructor. All schools advise you to find an internship in a kitchen that will let you practice under the guidance of an experienced chef.
Culinary programs that are accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation are among the best and will provide you with the greatest opportunities after you graduate. For a school to qualify for this recognition, they have to demonstrate high quality in their curriculum, resources, faculty, staff, and the organizational structure.
Students of accredited schools are eligible for an ACF certification for up to one year after graduation. This is done by completing all the necessary requirements specific to your study. And if your degree gets a future employer interested and the school can get you the interview, your ACF certification is likely to land you your dream job.
You can check the list of accredited postsecondary programs on the ACF website.
Hey, that degree will finally bear fruit and stop being just a pie in the sky 🙂
Best Online Culinary Schools
This community college in Melbourne, Arkansas offers certificates and associate degrees in a wide range of programs. Its culinary program is for an Associate of Applied Science in Culinary Arts.
This is a two-year program that provides specialized study through academic education, their cooking labs, as well as real-life field experience. Students are required to participate in labs on campus and gain practical experience at one of their approved local businesses. All campus classes for their adult learning programs are at nights and on weekends. And although there are on-campus requirements, most of the general courses and classes in culinary theory can be taken online.
The cooking classes include baking, meats, seafood, and pantry chef training. The program also covers modern and international cuisine, food production, nutrition, purchasing, safety, and sanitation. It also introduces some background of the managerial aspects. This degree would make you a Certified Culinarian through the American Culinary Federation. You would then be eligible to take entry-level positions in the restaurant industry.
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh is a nonprofit educational institution, and like its name, it is centered mostly around creative careers. The Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania location is the flagship school from which a whole chain of art institutes has spawned across the US. They offer both non-degree courses as well as degree programs leading to both levels of undergraduate degrees.
The Art Institute of Pittsburgh offers four different degree options in the culinary field: Baking & Pastry, Culinary Arts, Culinary Management, and Hospitality Food & Beverage Management. However, its Online Division has only Hotel and Restaurant Management on offer. There are three degrees you can choose from: Bachelor of Science in Hotel & Restaurant Management, Certificate in Event Management, and Certificate in Food & Beverage Operations.
Both certificate programs consist of 5 quarters, while the online bachelor’s program has 15. The traditional culinary programs do offer students the option to take parts of them online. However, for the majority of programs, you will need to attend classes at one of the national campuses. Verify program availability for each location as their offers do differ slightly.
The AI culinary programs are ACF accredited.
The nonprofit structure of the school tries to keep costs down for students while giving them a strong curriculum delivered by stimulating faculty. Visit the Tuition & Aid section for details.
The New England Culinary Institute
NECI is a for-profit culinary college in Montpelier, Vermont. They offer three certification programs, four associate’s degree programs, and three bachelor’s degree programs.
The programs available at NECI include baking & pastry, cooking, and culinary arts, as well as a business management program. All applicants are individually screened to determine whether they are a good fit for the school or not.
There are three bachelor’s degree programs available online: Food and Beverage Business Management, Culinary Arts, and Baking and Pastry Arts. All three are presented entirely online asynchronously and can be completed in 32 months. Check their online programs page for the latest tuition fees.
The Penn Foster Career School
This is a for-profit online career school with almost 150,000 students and over 80 different career diploma and certificate programs. You can earn both associate’s and bachelor’s degrees at Penn Foster. They also offer individual courses you can take to complete a degree or to improve your professional skills.
Penn Foster has two online culinary programs to choose from. Both programs are available online and nationally recognized because of its dual accreditation.
The first program is the Caterer Career Diploma program. It covers basic culinary training that teaches you how to prepare a ten-course meal. This includes appetizer, side dishes, salads, main meat and seafood dishes, baking and pastry arts, and even breakfast.
The caterer program’s curriculum is expertly created for the busy person. This way you can work on your own time, and still get the essential hands-on experience you’d get at other schools. This is thanks to the videos and cooking labs that are included as part of this course.
The second online program is the Gourmet Cooking Certificate. This program can be completed in as little as three months. The overall curriculum is similar to the Caterer course in that it covers the same full range of types of foods. The main difference is that its focus is solely on cooking.
After graduating either of these two programs, you will have an option to take the National Restaurant Association (NRA) ServSafe Food Handler online training course and certification exam. This will be available to you at no additional cost. This certification is required for anyone working in an environment that involves food handling.
Both of these programs are affordable and there is a choice to pay them monthly using your credit or debit card, PayPal, or bank account. Check the website for the latest tuition costs.
The Culinary Institute of America
The CIA (a different CIA) is a prestigious culinary college. They are the only institution that offers an online master’s degree in the US. Their program is called the Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in Food Business. It’s a two-year program that is almost completely done online. Out of 30 required credits, three must be earned during three separate residencies, one at Hyde Park, New York and two at their Napa, California campus.
There are many colleges that have ACF accredited culinary programs. I found information about some that supposedly offer some of the courses or parts of the program online. However, I wasn’t able to verify those details for you. If you want to investigate further, here are the links:
Once you see some of these tuition fees, sheesh… you may find yourself suffering from sticker shock! Look, there is no such thing as a free lunch, not even in the culinary world LOL But if you want to bring home the bacon… OK, enough food puns! The bottom line is that there are no cheap online culinary schools.
What else can I tell you? You’ll probably need to do some more research and find the right balance between your available time and your finances as well as take into consideration your location and your career goals. Only you can make these decisions. I simply gave you a starting point.
I’d like to leave you on a high note, with a super cool, successful, and world-renowned online school called Rouxbe. They offer two affordable professional certifications: Professional Cook Certification and Plant-Based Professional Certification. Both of these 6-month long courses consist of dozens of lessons, hundreds of tasks, and around two hundred videos each. Both certifications can be paid in full or on a 6-month interest-free payment plan.
You may also notice on Rouxbe’s website that they are endorsed by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation. This is not an accreditation, but it is still a prestigious nod by the ACF that recognizes Rouxbe as a quality institution. And they certainly are. They have individual and group training, both for regular folks and large corporations, and they now have well over half a million students all over the world!
Finally, as sweet as honey, Rouxbe also has an inexpensive monthly membership that includes 75 lessons, hundreds of recipes, and 13 courses!