In the past, working in food typically meant becoming a restaurant chef. But today, it’s hard to even keep track of the diverse range of opportunities in the culinary industry. From food television to cookbook publishing, owning / operating a restaurant to crafting unique pastry products, there are lots of opportunities for chefs who want to use their skills outside a commercial kitchen environment.
Private and personal chefs
Personal chefs work for multiple clients, preparing meals in private homes or delivering pre-made meals to clients. Private chefs typically work for one client or family, and the range of work might include such responsibilities as cooking for parties/entertaining or for family members with specific dietary restrictions. On the personal chef side, there can be a fair degree of flexibility in terms of the number of clients per chef and the ability to find part-time work. We have often seen that personal chefs find related work teaching cooking classes or working freelance as a recipe tester or food stylist. As a private chef, your schedule is typically less flexible, but may involve perks such as seasonal travel with clients.
On the private chef side, jobs are often sourced thru recruitment agencies. By contrast, personal chefs typically find their work thru “word of mouth” and references.
Catering is one of the largest segments of the food industry. From elaborate seated wedding dinners to prepared lunch sandwich platters, catered food is constantly in demand. Many burgeoning culinary entrepreneurs are interested in the catering field as it can be started with minimal funding, in comparison to full-scale restaurants. Caterers typically work out of an owned or rented industrial kitchen space and deliver their orders to their client directly. Catering operations employee not only cooks but servers, bartenders and even maintenance staff. Hours can vary greatly depending on season and demand. Caterers that provide a unique and individualised dining experience and unique or special themes can demand premium prices for their services.
Events management and special events
For those who enjoy working with food, putting together the details of a party, and providing great client hospitality, a career in event management is likely to cover all these interests and more. Those embarking on this career path thrive on the energy of pulling off a great event and excel at the organisation and attention to detail required to create successful experiences and events. Culinary (and beverage) knowledge will be helpful since virtually all events have a food and beverage component. These types of positions can be found in a range of settings, from catering and event companies to hotels, resorts, museums, universities and restaurant groups.
Corporate and institutional dining
Corporate and institutional dining is the practice of feeding large groups of people at once, often in office buildings, schools or hospitals. Corporate dining covers everything from the company’s employee cafeteria where pizza is served to the private executive dining room where lavish four-course meals are prepared. Institutional dining can be found in hospitals and schools where the goal is often tasty yet efficient and nutritional food for the masses. Corporations like Google have proven that institutional dining doesn’t need to be bland and boring, but rather can be just as fresh and vibrant as smaller scale operations.
Many chefs enjoy the stable hours and weekends off that most corporate and institutional kitchens provide, while others are primarily motivated by bringing healthier or fresher foods to cafeterias everywhere.
Experienced chefs are essential to the great number of cooking schools nationwide that now exist, in part to the enormous rise of celebrity chefs in the UK. Most if not all of these schools employ teachers who have trained and spent timing working at senior levels in commercial kitchens. This is especially true in teaching environments where recognised industry qualifications are being offered / taught.
Research, development and test kitchens
Beyond restaurants, many chefs work in corporate kitchens, developing recipes and products that are consumed by millions of people. All the packaged food products that we purchase in supermarkets have been designed and created in research kitchens by chefs with an eye for analytic detail. From concept to execution, research and development chefs create recipes and then work to bring them to market.
In addition to large food corporations, some ingredient producers and distributors employ test kitchen chefs to help them find new applications and usage concepts for their products. In the food media world, magazines and even TV shows have test kitchen staff to help develop their editorial content.
Food stylists create the eye-popping, mouth-watering dishes that get photographed for magazines, newspapers, books, television and advertisements. It takes an artistic eye as well as an ability to cook to develop a successful career as a food stylist. Many food stylists work independently for photographers, bringing to life the vision of a cookbook writer or advertiser. They may also work in television, or for other visual media outlets. After preparing the food, they “stage” it and get it ready for its media debut. An attention to detail is paramount, and as part of the photographic process, the stylist may use tricks of the trade to make the food appear its most appealing, or may choose to keep it in its most natural state.
Some stylists work part time for different photographers and can put together an independent, active career, while others are employed full time by TV stations or magazines. Typically, externships or apprenticeships with seasoned food stylists are the best way to begin a career in this creative sector of the food world.
Speciality food retailing
Today’s increasingly food savvy public seem eager to bypass the supermarket for specialty retailers, which means that there are plenty of career opportunities in this area of the food industry. If you have a keen sense of curiosity about products and ingredients, you might consider for example a career as a butcher, purveyor of specialty pastry and baking items or even cheesemonger!
While opening a small business is one way to find work, many major national companies also hire professionals with a true passion for ingredients to help them source, buy and merchandise culinary products.
Product sourcing and purchasing
A vital role in any food and beverage team is the purchasing manager. The purchasing department works closely with the chef and general manager to source all ingredients and supplies, negotiate good prices, maintain inventory levels, and ensure that received items are accurate and of high quality. Successful purchasers count on a diverse skill set of organisational ability, accounting acumen, and excellent product knowledge in the areas in which they are purchasing. These roles are typically found in higher volume operations, such as hotels, full-service catering companies, and larger or multi-unit restaurant settings.
Wine, beverage and mixology
Wine, beverages and mixology are a growing segment of the broader culinary landscape. The idea of “pairing” beverages with food has long been the norm in restaurants and hospitality, but the artisanal production of beverages and wine has significantly increased in recent years, providing a more interesting range of products for professional and home use. No matter how you pour it, beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) are a multi-billion pound sector of the overall hospitality market. To underscore the diversity this sector represents, job titles in this area include Beverage Director, Sommelier, Mixologist, Wine Buyer, and Beverage Chef.
Even in this digital age the number of printed food publications continues to grow. The responsibilities of food journalists vary widely and certain roles involve significant domestic and international travel, while others may predominantly require recipe development work in a test kitchen. Relationships with publications also vary, as in certain cases freelance writers provide the majority of content, whereas other publications may work exclusively with full- or part-time staff.
Many professional food writers also find the opportunity to teach classes, write or ghost-write cookbooks, or even work in television or online food content channels. There is no one stereotypical career path, but getting your “foot in the door” through internships, personal references or networking is the primary way in which to find opportunities in food media.
Writing and getting your own cookbook published is a lofty goal, but by no means impossible. In today’s world, lower printing and production costs, and digital technology, make it easier to publish books with lower press runs. Another scenario is that you could be a contributor or co-author to your employer’s book. Particularly in the case of working restaurant chefs who may need staff help to get their book ready to publish.
TV and digital food shows
The number of cooking programs available to view on TV today continues to grow. Opportunities are also abound in the world of digital food media, due to the popularity of video content on such sites as YouTube and other dedicated digital channels. Food photography and styling are also also in high demand, as the market for visual food content has grown with the popularity of such sites as Instagram and Pinterest.
Well-informed sales people help chefs determine how best to meet their needs for food and produce, introduce them to new products, and demonstrate the proper use of new equipment. Having a chef / commercial kitchen background helps sales people be much more effective within the industry, so its not surprising that many opportunities exist in this field.
Marketing and PR
There are many ways that a person with both marketing and culinary knowledge can combine that experience for an exciting career. As virtually every culinary enterprise is a business that needs and wants customers, marketing and public relations is an important part of the mix.
Every market sector has a range of PR company’s that specialise in chefs, restaurants and food. Potential employees who have been to culinary school and/or worked in restaurants provide additional insights about the business that are often considered quite valuable. In fact, since most journalists who cover food and restaurants have this knowledge, they expect their PR counterparts to have similar expertise. Once a chef or restaurant group gets to a certain scale (or fame), they are more likely to have marketing and public relations staff in-house, vs. using an agency. Besides restaurants, companies from supermarket to wine and beverage producers also need culinary savvy, marketing staff.
Food policy, non-profit and association work
Positions in food policy and non-profit work are important aspects of the industry as they provide valuable educational services and help to produce and provide access to better food for all. If you’re looking for a career that will combine your love of food with your interests in making the world a better place, there are a multitude of paths you might take. Local food banks and other non-profits tackle issues of hunger relief and healthful food access for the needy, while other organisations may focus on children’s school food policy or advocacy for small food businesses.