Before chefs can command their kitchens,
someone’s got to show them how it’s done
hef educators, often called culinary instructors or culinary professors, have a crucial role: training the chefs of the future. If you’re thinking about going the teaching route, here are the things to know.
The role of a chef educator can vary greatly. One can find chef educators at the post-secondary level as culinary school professors, or they may teach college prep programs for high schoolers.
They often teach in different settings as well. For Chef Chris Bugher of A-B Tech Community College in Asheville, North Carolina, most of his week is filled with lectures, labs, demonstrations and production.
Chef Paul Carrier, who teaches high school students at Milwaukee Area Technical College, spends most of his time hands on with his students. The type of classes varies from sanitation to knife skills, global cooking to soups and sauces.
Chef educators often work full schedules (unless they are part-time or adjunct professors) but the hours are different from the those in a restaurant kitchen. The role also comes along with administrative tasks like grading students’ work and requisitioning supplies.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2017 the average salary for postsecondary vocational education teachers was $49,470 per year.
What Makes a Good Chef Educator
Not every great chef makes a great chef educator, even if they may have phenomenal skills in the kitchen. One needs a ton of patience, says Chef Brandon Harpster, Chef-Instructor and Program Chair of the Foodservice and Hospitality program at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska.
“You need to be able to articulate your skills very clearly and explain the intricacies of what you are doing,” he says. “[You need to be] a good communicator and [have] experience under your belt.”
It is also imperative to get work experience before taking on the role. Requirements vary from school to school, but most agree that 7-10 years of experience in various kitchen settings — restaurant, catering, hotels — is crucial.
Most schools also require their educators to have at least an associate or bachelor’s degree to accompany the experience. Many also expect their educators to be certified.
The American Culinary Federation offers a Certified Culinary Educator (CCE) certification, which requires chefs to complete 120 hours of educational development in topics like curriculum planning and development and educational psychology on top of their degree and work experience.
Three 30-hour courses in each of the following: Nutrition, Food Safety and Sanitation and Supervisory Management are also required along with 1,200 hours of postsecondary teaching hours.
Projected job growth for all postsecondary vocational education teachers through 2024 is 7%.
Why It’s A Desirable Career Path
As a chef educator, you focus on teaching skills to students, not necessarily honing your own. Instead of heavy labor, you focus more on intricate details, so it’s often more mentally challenging than working in a kitchen.
Many chefs, especially those who are married or have young children, appreciate the hours. That’s what inspired Chef Bugher to take the job — along with the fact that he really enjoyed teaching. Although they work a lot, they are no longer committed to every restaurant holiday (like Valentine’s Day, Christmas Eve) and they can have more flexibility on the weekends as well.
Chef Harpster also really appreciates having a benefits package in addition to his salary. Many culinary students don’t always consider that smaller restaurants aren’t always able to provide things like health insurance and vacation time to their employees.
Salaries start at around $45,000 per year, and can even go up to six figures at some schools. One thing potential chef educators need to be cognizant of is, as an instructor, one can find oneself out of touch with what’s happening in the industry.
Many chefs try to keep their connections with the culinary world by owning restaurants themselves, catering or even working part-time in a foodservice space.
As for the future of chef educators as a promising career? Thoughts are mixed. “I think the future of teaching will be more a la carte. You’ll see more part-time and adjunct professors,” Carrier says. “I think culinary instructors will become more mobile, going into restaurants, creating tailored and hands-on instruction.”
Others disagree. Chef Harpster has seen an uptick in enrollment at his school and positions remain desirable, while Chef Bugher thinks that a large chunk of culinary education will move to the high school level and students will move toward technical programs — often a more affordable solution to full-scale culinary school.
Chefs will always need to learn so even if the chef educator of the future may not teach in a traditional culinary school setting, there will always be a need to pass on key skills — inside or outside of the classroom.