Graduating from a recognized culinary school isn't necessarily the only path to landing your dream job as a chef in a posh restaurant. Apprenticeships are another option to help you break into the restaurant industry -- and they don't require spending a lot of cash for an advanced degree. Learn about these opportunities and how they can boost your restaurant career.
What Apprenticeships Entail
Valeria Benner, chef and head butcher at the American Club in Kohler, Wisconsin, says an apprenticeship is a great way to gain experience you won't learn from a book -- as long as you don't mind rolling up your sleeves and working hard. Benner combined an associate's culinary degree with an apprenticeship to get to where she is today.
"Apprentices at the American Club start at the bottom, doing things such as chopping (food), but at the same time they get an opportunity to work with the guests or work at carving stations and get a feeling for all aspects of the front of the house and back of the house," Benner explains.
Apprenticeships in the foodservice industry generally last one to three years and are available for a range of occupations, including pizza baker, bartender and pastry cook, according to the National Restaurant Association in Washington, DC.
Flavors of Apprenticeship
Associations such as the American Culinary Foundation (ACF) offer some of the best apprenticeship opportunities. ACF apprentices spend two to three years training under the direction of a qualified chef and also take technical classes.
State-certified apprenticeships are another way to gain restaurant skills and often only require a high school diploma. The Michael Mina Restaurant at the Westin St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco's Union Square, for example, offers 10 state-certified apprenticeships -- five in two-year and five in three-year programs.
Roberto Lopez is an administrative assistant at the San Francisco Hotel/Restaurant Labor/Management Education Fund, which offers a culinary/pastry apprenticeship program. He says that unlike some apprenticeships, state-certified programs will pay you a modest income and put you on a restaurant's payroll.
"Typically, the hotels hire some apprentices as employees for the length of the program, and [the apprentices] start making 55 percent of a normal restaurant worker's wage…. Every six months, they get a 5 percent raise," Lopez says.
Beyond the Apprenticeship
Although apprenticeships have become critical in today's market, Benner cautions job seekers who think these programs alone will elevate them to an executive chef position at a fine-dining establishment with this: "If you want a job and career with advancement, you need to do a degree and an apprenticeship together."
Learn more about food service careers.