If you're interested in the culinary arts as a profession, you have a lot of options. For starters, what type of cooking appeals to you? Would you prefer to prepare main dishes or are you more interested in preparing the ingredients for the night’s service? When completing a Culinary Arts Certification program, you have options.
What Does a Line Cook Do?
The term line cook might sound daunting to beginners, but it's a straightforward role. In essence, a line cook is a member of the kitchen staff who's responsible for preparing food.
Line cooks are usually assigned to a dedicated area. For example, one might work the grill while another covers the salad station. In high-end kitchens, the executive chef will often expedite orders while the line cooks handle the actual preparation.
The "line" of a commercial kitchen is a group of cooks who work together to craft meals according to the chef's specifications. When you're a line cook, you can find work in restaurants, corporate cafeterias, or hotels (to name just a few).
Here are some of the responsibilities you can expect to take on as a line cook:
- Preparing assigned menu items during meal service
- Keeping the stations organized and sanitized
- Keeping up with food safety standards and regulation
What Does a Prep Cook Do?
What's the difference between a line cook and a prep cook? While the line cook is tasked with preparing menu items, a prep cook works behind the scenes. These individuals are responsible for preparing the ingredients that the cooks will need during meal service. These include, but are by no means limited to, vegetables, meat products, salad dressings, sauces, and homemade pasta.
Prep cooks often work during the day, ensuring that the team will have everything they need by the time meal service begins. If you enjoy cooking but don't want the stress of working the line, a position as a prep cook might appeal to you.
How Do You Become a Line or Prep Cook?
Some folks just jump right in and apply for jobs in commercial kitchens without any formal training. However, if you want to stand out from the other applicants, obtaining a culinary arts certificate is a good option.
When you enroll in a Culinary Arts Certificate program, you'll be introduced to the key aspects of the food service industry. The program takes a learner-focused approach rather than emphasizing on lecturing, so you'll get plenty of hands-on experience before you enter the field.
Some of the courses you can expect to take include:
- Menu and Recipe Costing
- Sanitation and Safety
- Environmental Sustainability
As you can see, it's not all about the food preparation, although you'll learn plenty of those skills as well. The program is geared toward ensuring that its graduates are ready to become real assets to the teams that they join.
What You'll Learn in a Culinary Arts Program
By the time you receive your culinary arts certificate, you should be proficient in the following areas. This will give you a significant advantage over jobseekers who have never received formal training.
Commercial kitchens use many tools and utensils, many of which you may not have seen before. Even if you're able to identify the equipment, you'll still need to learn how to use it properly. The courses will cover safety, handling, cleaning, and care practices as well.
You might be wondering how hard it can be to wield a spatula or sharpen a knife, but the knowledge you'll gain goes deeper than that. In addition to learning about hand tools and basic appliances, you'll study refrigeration equipment, fixed equipment such as ovens and grills, and much more.
You can't be a good cook unless you understand the relationship of one ingredient to another. That's why so many people, even intelligent and accomplished ones, fail spectacularly when asked to put a simple meal together.
Once you've finished this program, you'll have a renewed appreciation for basic ingredients and what they can bring to a dish. The coursework will also introduce more complex ingredients and cooking theories to help you become a more well-rounded cook.
Stocks and Sauces
You can identify a great restaurant by the quality of its sauces. Stocks and broths that are poured out of a jar just don't have the same depth and complexity as homemade ones. If you know how to make a great stock, you'll be worth your weight in gold as a prep or line cook.
Once you know how to create the stock, you can graduate to crafting soups, stews, and sauces. The course emphasizes the importance of the five "mother sauces": béchamel, hollandaise, velouté, espagnole, and classic tomate. You'll also learn how to use the proper thickening agents to give each of these unique sauces the consistency you're looking for.
Cooking can be a messy enterprise, especially when you're working in a busy line. But if your space is well-organized, cleanup will be that much easier. Some of the demonstrations and lectures you'll attend will focus on organizational skills and how to coordinate when you're on the line. Your future co-workers will thank you.
You might think you already know how to handle a knife. Maybe you do, but there's always room for improvement. Slicing, bias slicing, mincing, dicing, you'll know how to pull off all these tasks and more by the time you're finished.
Even if you're not interested in a management position yourself, it will be useful if you understand how the back of the house operates. While every business is different, the management perspective is similar when it comes to restaurant operations. The better you understand these thought processes, the more valuable you'll be as a member of the team.
How Do I Pursue a Culinary Arts Certificate?
To get a culinary arts certificate, you'll need to enroll in a cooking school. This differs from traditional higher education in several important respects.
A Quick Start
Did you know that full-time students can complete the Culinary Arts program in as little as 6 months? No need to spend 2- or 4- years in college to gain culinary skills.
You should be able to fit a cooking school education into your regular schedule. While the coursework is comprehensive, it won't take over your life.
Finally, the training you'll receive will be largely hands-on. You'll attend a few lectures and demonstrations, but the emphasis is on practical education. For most students, this type of learning allows them to retain the information better, thereby preparing them for the actual workforce.
Whether your goal is to become a line cook or a prep cook, a cooking school education can provide you with the tools you need to get ahead. It is time to jump out of your comfort zone and jump into the frying pan.
Want to Learn More?
The objective of the Culinary Arts program is to provide market-driven
competency-based education delivered by faculty with appropriate credentials and industry experience. This program prepares graduates for entry-level culinary employment with opportunities for advancement in the food service industry.
Contact us now to learn more.