Exploring this Job
Learn as much as you can about cooking by reading books about the culinary arts, visiting cooking-related Web sites, and preparing recipes of all types. Take cooking classes at your local community center to watch instructors in action. Talk to instructors about their careers.
Teach one of your younger brothers or sisters—or a family friend—how to prepare a basic dish such as spaghetti and meatballs, chocolate chip pancakes, or pizza. After they prepare the dish, ask them for feedback on your teaching ability.
While many food enthusiasts practice the art of cooking at home, nothing can compare with the education and expert training they receive from attending an accredited culinary school or participating in a cooking class. Cooking instructors are an integral part of this education.
Cooking instructors employed by a college-level culinary arts program teach students a variety of skills—from food preparation to cooking techniques. Many classes start with the basics, such as proper use and handling of knives and utensils or perhaps identifying the best pan or stock pot. Cooking instructors often teach and demonstrate the various cooking techniques—fry, sauté, braise, boil, parboil, or roast. They also teach and demonstrate different knife skills and cuts. Instructors assign students to practice these methods, sometimes over and over, until they can do them with ease. Cooking instructors also teach basic recipes such as stocks, sauces, and broths, which become the foundation for more complicated dishes.
Much time is spent on food preparation, familiarizing students with different meats, fish, produce, grains, spices, and oils. Depending on the depth of the program, the series of classes, or perhaps even the entire semester, is spent focused on a particular topic, such as types of chicken dishes or the types and uses of different grains.
Cooking instructors usually start class by giving a lecture and demonstration, while students observe and take notes. Afterward, the students themselves replicate and perfect the recipe in a laboratory setting—the school kitchen, under the supervision of the cooking instructor. Students’ work in the kitchen is observed and critiqued by the cooking instructor, and later given a grade for the class.
Cooking instructors also teach students various techniques to use when plating a dish. Fancy garnishes, molds, stacking, and designs are often incorporated to make food on a plate look more appetizing and appealing to the diner.
Most cooking instructors teach a variety of cuisines, though some specialize in a particular type of cuisine or course, such as desserts and pastry.
Besides teaching food preparation, cooking instructors also have other academic responsibilities. They advise and guide students in achieving all course objectives as required by the college or cooking school. Cooking instructors monitor their students’ progress, evaluate them, and assign each a final grade for the class. They also serve as an adviser to counsel students regarding future career opportunities. They hold regular office hours to meet with students.
As a member of the culinary arts department, cooking instructors give their opinions and suggestions on possible new courses offered by the school and other department issues. They help create new programs, courses, or promotional materials for the department.
Cooking instructors are expected to assist in promoting the school’s culinary arts program by participating in events and seminars. For example, cooking instructors are often invited to appear at school open houses or cooking demonstrations. They supervise culinary students as they prepare special meals or tasting menus served at special school functions or meetings. School-affiliated restaurants for example, such as the American Bounty Restaurant, which is located at the Culinary Institute of America’s campus in Hyde Park, New York, are staffed by cooking instructors and students. Such venues are a great way to promote the school and develop the cooking skills of students.
Cooking instructors also spend a great deal of time keeping abreast of new developments, cooking techniques, and trends in the culinary industry. They read industry publications, attend trade shows and conferences, and pursue other types of continuing education opportunities.
Some cooking instructors are employed at middle or high schools. The curriculum, while not as in-depth as what is taught at culinary schools, covers basic cooking techniques and food preparation. Cooking instructors also spend a good deal of time teaching students about healthy food options, food safety, and general nutrition.
Cooking instructors also teach at park districts, private cooking schools, and retail outlets, such as Williams-Sonoma, that offer cooking classes. In these settings, cooking instructors teach a group of food enthusiasts with the goal of accomplishing a particular technique or recipe. Classes may last a single day or for several weeks or more.