What is a culinary specialist?

A culinary specialist, often referred to as a chef or cook, is a trained professional in the culinary arts responsible for food preparation, cooking, and presentation. They typically work in restaurants, hotels, catering companies, or other food service establishments.

They are skilled in various cooking techniques, food safety, menu planning, and creating dishes that are not only delicious but also visually appealing. They may specialize in different cuisines, such as French, Italian, Asian, or others, and can work in various roles, including executive chefs, sous chefs, pastry chefs, or line cooks, depending on their expertise and experience.

A culinary specialist is also a well-defined role within the military. They are responsible for food service and kitchen operations within the armed forces, tasked with preparing and serving meals to military personnel. They make sure the troops are fed, nutritional standards are met, and proper food safety and hygiene protocols are followed.

These specialists undergo training to handle large-scale meal preparation, often serving hundreds or thousands of individuals in various military settings, such as bases, ships, or during deployments. They play a crucial role in maintaining the health and morale of service members by providing well-balanced and nutritious meals.

What does a culinary specialist do?

A culinary specialist, whether in a civilian or military context, is a professional trained in the art and science of food preparation, handling, and presentation. In the military, this position specifically involves managing and executing kitchen operations to feed and nourish service members.

They are responsible for planning menus, sourcing ingredients, preparing meals, and maintaining kitchen and food safety standards. In the military, they work in various settings, including on bases, ships, or even in combat zones, preparing and serving meals to troops. Their duties involve creating menus that cater to nutritional needs and taste preferences while adhering to strict dietary guidelines and portion control.

Culinary specialists manage kitchen logistics, including inventory control, ordering supplies, and maintaining equipment. They often work in diverse environments, adapting their cooking techniques and menu offerings to suit the available resources and meet the demands of the situation. They also enforce rigorous hygiene and food safety practices to prevent foodborne illnesses and maintain the health of the soldiers–or restaurant patrons–they serve.

They are proficient in various cooking techniques, including grilling, baking, sautéing, frying, and more. Their expertise allows them to create a diverse menu while considering seasonality, cost, and customer preferences. Some culinary specialists specialize in specific cuisines, such as French, Italian, Asian, or others, showcasing their expertise in those culinary traditions.

How do you become a culinary specialist?

If you want to become a culinary specialist, you’ll need a combination of education, training, and hands-on experience. You won’t necessarily need a four-year degree, but building a foundation of culinary knowledge and skills will help when it’s time to start getting the practical experience you need.

Consider enrolling in a culinary arts program at a reputable culinary school or institute, where they blend theoretical knowledge and training in various culinary techniques, food safety, nutrition, and kitchen management. While formal education isn’t always mandatory, experience is crucial in the culinary world.

Start by working in entry-level positions in restaurants, hotels, or catering companies to gain hands-on experience. You’ll learn valuable skills in a real kitchen environment, understanding the fast-paced nature of the industry. In many cases, you can get this practical experience while also pursuing a formal education.

With CASA, you get the best of both worlds. Our programs are designed to give you the educational background necessary to become a culinary specialist while simultaneously putting you in the middle of a working kitchen. Guided by your mentor, it all comes together when we place you in real-world situations alongside a professional kitchen staff.

Additional Information

In becoming a culinary specialist, a formal degree is not always a strict requirement, especially in military settings. While a degree in culinary arts or a related field can certainly build a strong foundation of knowledge, skills, and culinary techniques, it’s not always mandatory for pursuing this career path.

Many successful culinary specialists in civilian settings have risen through the ranks based on hands-on experience, training, and skill development in the real world rather than holding a formal degree. Practical experience gained through working in kitchens, learning from seasoned chefs, and participating in on-the-job training can often be equally valuable.

A degree in culinary arts can be beneficial in certain settings, though. Some employers in the civilian culinary industry might prefer candidates with formal education for higher-ranking or specialized positions. But you’ll still need to be able to do the job in a professional setting, and that only comes with experience.

In contrast, military roles, including culinary specialists, often prioritize specialized training and hands-on experience gained through military-specific programs. Candidates undergo rigorous training that covers specific military protocols, food preparation, and large-scale kitchen operations, which serve as the foundation for their roles.

Becoming a successful culinary specialist, whether in the military or civilian sector, requires a well-rounded set of skills to take control of the demanding nature of the profession. For starters, you’ll need proficiency in cooking techniques–such as grilling, sautéing, baking, butchery, and so on.

Using those base skills, you’ll develop the ability to innovate and create new dishes or add personal touches to existing recipes. Creativity in presentation and flavor combinations enhances the dining experience (unless you happen to be on a ship hundreds of miles from any shoreline).

Whether you’re feeding a hungry battalion or a dining room full of customers, a kitchen environment is fast-paced. Efficient time management makes sure meals are served on time without compromising quality. Circumstances can change without notice, however, so adaptability is crucial. Being flexible and adjusting to varying situations is vital in the culinary world.

Interpersonal skills and building a team atmosphere are essential, in both military and civilian settings. The ability to stay calm under pressure and effectively handle stress is crucial for maintaining quality in food preparation and service. Clear communication is necessary, whether it’s with kitchen staff, superiors, or even customers. These skills, combined with a passion for food and a willingness to learn and adapt, are vital for anyone aspiring to become a successful culinary specialist.

There are various pathways to becoming a culinary specialist, offering different approaches and educational routes to acquire the necessary skills. Each path offers its own advantages, and individuals often combine these methods to gain a well-rounded culinary education.

Whether through formal education, hands-on experience, specialized training, or a blend of these approaches, the journey to becoming a culinary specialist involves dedication, continuous learning, and a passion for the culinary arts.

Enrolling in a culinary arts program at a vocational school, community college, or culinary institute provides a structured curriculum covering culinary techniques, kitchen management, food safety, and nutrition. However, you may not get the practical experience needed to reach the level of a culinary specialist. Learning through apprenticeship provides a hands-on approach, real-world experience, and practical skills.

Opting for a career as a culinary specialist in the military involves specialized training offered by different branches. Enlistment, followed by basic training and specific culinary training within the military, provides a structured path to becoming a culinary specialist while serving in the armed forces. There is also an abundance of online resources, cooking tutorials, and culinary literature available. While not a direct replacement for hands-on experience, trustworthy resources can supplement learning and provide valuable insights.

The time it takes to become a culinary specialist can vary based on your individual circumstances/choices. While there are set timelines to earn degrees or certifications, your drive, determination, and chosen route for the destination will all play a part in how fast you become a culinary specialist.

Pursuing a culinary arts degree or certificate typically takes 1 to 4 years, depending on the program’s length and level. This educational phase provides fundamental knowledge and skills in culinary techniques, food safety, and kitchen management. However, gaining hands-on experience in kitchens is a critical component that can range from a few months to several years.

If opting for a culinary specialist role in the military, the timeline can involve basic training followed by specialized culinary training. This could range from a few months to a year or more, depending on the branch of the military and the specific training requirements. Advancing to higher positions within the culinary field might take several years and requires gaining experience, proving skills, and potentially obtaining additional certifications or training.

Becoming a culinary specialist can take anywhere from a few years to over a decade, depending on your educational choices, the level of experience you seek, and the specific path you take within the culinary industry. The military path might offer a more structured and accelerated route but can vary within the military branches.

A culinary specialist and a sous chef both need to know their way around a kitchen and have years of experience in the culinary world to reach their positions. But there are times when their skills and job descriptions differ. A culinary specialist is a more general term often associated with various positions in the culinary field, including chefs, cooks, or kitchen staff.

It’s a broad designation encompassing those skilled in food preparation, cooking, and presentation, whether in civilian or military settings. Culinary specialists can work in different roles within the kitchen, and their duties can range from basic food preparation to leading kitchen operations, depending on their experience and the specific environment they work in.

The sous chef, on the other hand, holds a specific and higher-ranking position within the kitchen brigade system. In a professional kitchen, the sous chef is the second-in-command, directly below the executive chef. They supervise the kitchen staff, coordinate food preparation, ensure quality and consistency in dishes, and often manage the kitchen in the absence of the head chef.

The sous chef is responsible for overseeing various kitchen sections, managing inventory, assisting in menu planning, and maintaining high standards of food quality and presentation. The term “culinary specialist” is more encompassing and can refer to various positions involved in food preparation, whereas a sous chef’s duties are more focused on management, leadership, and maintaining kitchen operations at a senior level.

Culinary specialists don’t really have equipment that’s specific to the position, other than the general gear any chef needs in the kitchen. However, they may have equipment that is specific to them, such as a personalized set of high-quality knives they use for food preparation. As they say, a chef is nothing with their knives.

Beyond that, Specialized pots, pans, and skillets for different cooking methods and utensils like spatulas, tongs, whisks, and more are used for creating and serving dishes. If they specialize in baking, they’ll need piping bags, rolling pins, pastry cutters, and other equipment made specifically for the baking aspects of the culinary arts.

Beyond that, you can expect the usual appliances found in most professional kitchens: mixers, blenders, food processors, etc. Commercial-grade ovens and stoves for baking, roasting, and cooking on the stovetop are necessary of course, as are cooling units for food storage. Whenever sharp instruments and flames are present, there should also be fire extinguishers, first aid kits, and protective gear for a safe kitchen environment.

Culinary specialists rely on a combination of specialized tools and general kitchen equipment to efficiently create and serve a wide array of dishes while maintaining high standards of food safety and quality.

The salary range for culinary specialists varies widely generally speaking. Entry-level positions or line cooks may start at around $25,000 to $35,000 annually. However, as you gain experience and move up the ranks to sous chefs or head chefs, salaries can range between $40,000 to $80,000 or more. Salaries for culinary specialists in the military–if you choose that route–can vary as well, depending on which branch you serve.

There are multiple factors that come into play when looking at what you can make. Culinary specialists with extensive experience, advanced skills, and a proven track record in the culinary field often command higher salaries. The type of restaurant or food establishment can impact earning potential. Fine dining restaurants or luxury resorts tend to offer higher wages compared to small diners or cafeterias.

Culinary specialist salaries can significantly differ based on the geographical location, too. Urban areas or cities with a higher cost of living may offer higher wages to compensate for the increased expenses. A degree in culinary arts or other credentials may play a part, too, if an employer is looking for that kind of thing.

The demand for specific cuisines, culinary styles, or trends can impact earning potential–culinary specialists with expertise in popular or niche food trends might earn higher salaries due to the market demand for their skills.

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Working in the culinary arts offers the joy of creativity, allowing you to express yourself through food, experiment with flavors, and continuously innovate.

CASA Culinary School Reviews

Learning how restaurant kitchen works is sometimes good but can be busy, like super busy. I’ve learned as much as I could from my mentor and working in the kitchen of Carnivale Chicago, even though I actually do not work there because I was a CASA student. Working with my academic facilitator is very good and very helpful when it comes to tutoring sessions. It is a shame though that CASA Chicago school is not here anymore.

~ Vince Morales

I chose CASA because of the teachers. I felt like I could learn a lot from them, about their careers and their different techniques, and it would bring out the best in me. Also, CASA’s program is accelerated, so you’re learning at a quicker rate, and able to start your cooking career sooner. Location-wise, the restaurant that CASA placed me in was ideal—not only was it a great learning environment, but it was also near my home.

~ Brian Patterson

A gourmet meal

I truly feel that I made the best choice by attending CASA. Because of the program’s ties to the best dining establishments, I have been able to learn from the best in the business. From the program, I was able to apprentice at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Because of the opportunity, I was also offered a job at this Michelin-starred restaurant soon after. None of this would have been possible without CASA. This revolutionary program gave me a solid foundation that is already leading to a very bright culinary future.

~ Ashley Torrijos

Braised lamb

CASA has allowed me to learn more about restaurant operations by connecting me with Melisse, one of the best restaurants in Southern California. The time I spent there has allowed me to grow as a chef, and the experience is invaluable for my future culinary career.

~ Frank Ahn

Raw steak and shrimp on plate prepped for cooking

CASA is more than helping me live out my dreams. You’re doing the actual work and the transition right into the restaurant business is so smooth. There are no shocks when you go out into the real world.

~ Ron Dettman


When I decided to switch careers, I spoke with CASA’s Chef Gilligan who asked me what kind of cooking I wanted to do and the direction I wanted to go. He paired me up with two different chefs who helped me achieve success. I want to create something that other people will enjoy, and when I look out of the kitchen doors and see people smiling and eating the food that I’ve made, that makes me really happy. Also, the chefs I worked with gave me a lot of flexibility with my work schedule.

~ Jayson Larson

Thai food restaurant kitchen in action

I love my job and my career path I chose and I want to give a BIG THANKS to you and the whole school for changing my life and letting me achieve what I want to do at a young age. It has been a great time with Walter and I have a great relationship with him. I think he will be someone I will stay in contact with my whole life! He has taught me so much from basic skills to working on the line and how to manage my time and even insight on things to think about when opening a restaurant. The only thing I can think to say is I LOVE CASA!

~ Joey Mendes

What is good about CASA is that you get practical experience. I have enjoyed my time at Scratch Bar + Restaurant because Chef DJ is supportive, encouraging, and always there to answer a question. You learn the flow and protocol of a restaurant environment so that you’re prepared to work as soon as you graduate.

~ Mouhssine Elguerch

Tomato salad

My name is Jaylen Jones and my mentor was Colin. He was a great mentor because of his talent. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with him. Being in the restaurant and learning how it works, is an experience that no classroom can give you. It opened up my eyes to a lot of different recipes and discovering flavors that I never knew existed. That is what I’m most grateful for. You opened my eyes to a bigger world of food.

Learn how to become a professional Chef in Illinois.

~ Jaylen Jones

Flame roasting vegetables on a grill

My experience with CASA has been absolutely amazing! My mentor has been extremely helpful and has helped me stay on track with my courses and further pursue my culinary dreams! They placed me with an outstanding mentor Chef Jordan Chen at Bistro VG in Roswell, Georgia. I have learned so many things since being there, I truly believe it is all due to me being able to actually have hands-on experience. I would recommend this school to everyone. My career expectations have never been more hopeful!

~ Spencer Patton

Pexels Elevate plating on cuts of logs with wild mushrooms

Training at Scratch Bar and Kitchen has been a great experience for me because of the way the restaurant is so unique in creating every item from scratch. I was able to learn to create foods from sauces and salads to proteins and starches all from the beginning of the process. The chefs were all extremely knowledgeable and willing to teach me about their skills and experiences. I would recommend future students to learn at this restaurant!

~ Rachel Ulansey

Chef instructing a student on plating

This program is outlining a good foundation of understanding what a culinary career fully entails and providing me with information that will make me familiar once I start my culinary career.

~ Crobin McWhirt – Spotsylvania, Virginia

I just graduated CASA yesterday, and am now a bona fide Gourmet Chef. CASA provided the best culinary education imaginable, safely, even during a pandemic. I am ever so grateful to have been mentored by elite chefs in Los Angeles before the Government shut down all restaurant activity. The best part was the interactions I had with my education facilitator Joslyn who was sure to gently push me to keep going forward, even when I wanted to hold back, she was always there to lend encouragement. The price was absolutely perfect for our family, and we were able to pay off tuition before my graduation, and now I am ready to start my new career as a Chef. I would recommend this school to anyone who is looking to become a Chef.

~ Karen Shaver

Two steaks in a cast iron pan

CASA was very amazing to me, they paired me up with a great mentor during these hard covid times, and eventually got a job at Pez Cantina. I’m very excited for the next chapter in my life.

~ Jessica Vega

Chef prepping a meat and vegetables

“Everything is going great! I got offered a job at The Ellington where I got my class hours. I’ll be working weekends there. I’m so excited! I love Kristin. She’s such a wonderful person. I’m so glad she took me on and offered me a job. I never knew how fast things could change. It seems like everything is coming together so nicely. I’m so happy I found this program. You guys are awesome thank you so much for this opportunity.

~ Paula Russell

Chef teaching his students on final prep for deserts

“I believe highly in apprenticeship (or externship) and mentorship as I am a result of this teaching environment. I understand a strong theoretical education works for a lot of students, but experience and doing these tasks in a professional kitchen teaches involvement. This style builds confidence in the apprentice to rise from cook status, to sous chef and beyond, through hard work and smart working techniques designed to empower the student to create their own success.”

~ Robert W. Phillips

Culinary student in the kitchen

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