Getting the skills — with good taste

The rise of the Food Network from an obscure channel to cultural phenomenon and the explosion of celebrity chefs changed people’s perceptions about the culinary industry.

Today, cooking and the culinary arts have become hip and sexy. The explosion in popularity has reached beyond television. Today, more and more people are seeking careers in the culinary arts.

“Over the past three or so years, the number of people enrolling in culinary training programs grown tremendously,” said Shelly Ford, director of communication for The International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Washington, located in Arlington, Va.

The Art Institute launched its culinary program back in 2001. Today, the school has 300 culinary students and is planning an expansion in the near future.

“The people who come here want to learn the fundamentals of cooking,” Ford said.

Our students could go to a kitchen and learn to cook one way, under the supervision of one person. Our education, however, allows people to learn the basic techniques in various cooking styles that will allow them to be more marketable, she said.

While the institute still primarily fills its classes with recent high school graduates, many people in the Washington area are going to the Art Institute to train for second careers.

“People who started in the government in their early-, early-20s and are now in their 40s and retiring from the government, but are too old to retire and are coming to us to learn a new set of skills,” said Kristen Wright, director of career services at the Art Institute.

The school offers a number of degrees in the culinary arts. It offers a B.S. in Culinary Arts Management as well as Associate of Arts in Culinary Arts. It also offers a B.S. in Food & Beverage Management and an A.A. in Wine, Spirits & Beverage Management.

The Art Institute’s training provides graduates with the skills necessary for entry-level jobs in the profession.

But not everyone is taking degrees into a restaurant kitchen. A graduate with a degree in the culinary arts has a wide range of options beyond the standard restaurant kitchen, Wright said. A degree from the Institute will provide students with the skills necessary to transition into a work catering company, nursing home or craft services firm after graduation.

Many students come to the school drawn by the glamour, not realizing the hard work and grueling hours a career in the culinary arts requires, Wright said.

The fortune and fame reaped by Food Network personalities doesn’t translate down to the average graduate. A quick search on PayScale reveals that a line cook with one year of experience in D.C. can expect to make about $22,000 a year.