11 Culinary Careers Outside the Kitchen
You love food and drink and the joy and camaraderie of a good meal. You enjoy it enough that you are thinking about a culinary career, but you’re not sure you want to spend your life behind the stove or in a restaurant dining room. You’re in luck, because there are many types of culinary careers available and they are more diverse and exciting than ever before. They don’t all require cooking (or even being near a restaurant!)—and many are at the forefront of technology and innovation.
Did you ever wonder how that new coffee from Ecuador winds up at your local hangout? Or how those cool-looking fruits and vegetables end up at your grocery store? And just how do Ben and Jerry come up with their new flavors? Well, people actually get paid to sip, savor, concoct, and analyze all things food.
So, if you want to know about culinary careers outside the kitchen, here are a few of the coolest unique jobs in food that CIA graduates hold and you may not have even known exist.
An apiarist farms bees and harvests honey. As long as you don’t have life-threatening allergies it is not a dangerous job. Being a beekeeper can be a profitable career if done on a large scale. Some apiarists manage millions of bees at a time and harvest more honey than you can imagine. The primary responsibility is to keep the bees healthy. In fact, as a CIA student, you can get practice tending bees at the on-campus apiary as part of the Applied Food Studies major.
American artisanal cheesemaking is gaining in popularity, and CIA grad Samuel Kennedy ’06 is the award–winning cheesemaker for The Farm at Doe Run in Pennsylvania. When you think of an artisan cheesemaker’s life you might imagine bleating goats, calm country days, homemade wine, and an enviable supply of chèvre. The reality can be more like a scientific laboratory, though the connection between conscientious farming, healthy milk, and excellent cheese is inspiring.
Being a brewmaster requires a vast knowledge of everything beer related, and in the CIA’s Art and Science of Brewing class, students work in a real brewery right on campus! As a brewmaster, you will be in charge of tailoring the ideas behind every beer a brewery creates. You will start with an enormous foundational knowledge from which you’ll innovate, experiment, and track trends. CIA grad Jared Rouben ’06 found his calling at Chicago’s Moody Tongue Brewing. And with microbreweries popping up all over the country, there are many positions available at breweries of all sizes, and you’ll be getting paid to sip beer all day!
Coffee and Cacao Buyer/Explorer
Elite coffee and cacao beans grow in some of the remotest parts of the world, in tropical climates. Finding the best coffee and cacao, and making deals with the companies who grow it, can be a seriously exciting career. You’ll visit farms, examine the protocols at work, test the products, and report back to the States. As you become an expert on growing, harvesting, and processing coffee and cacao, your efforts will be rewarded with a life of tasting and globetrotting to exotic locations.
The responsibilities of this career track include assuring that a company delivers the best possible product to the marketplace. This job is literally a cool one, if you are doing it for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, like CIA grad John Shaffer ’78, whose official title is Euphoria Developer. And the CIA’s Culinary Science major can put you in the perfect position to pursue flavor development as career.
With the local food movement growing at a rapid pace, a new job category has opened up. CIA grad Jeremy Faber ’96 is a professional forager. He wanders the woods, finding numerous varieties of edible mushrooms and other fresh ingredients that grow in the wild and sells them to client restaurants and farmers’ markets. It’s no office job; he spends his time out in the field—and forest.
Gourmet Food Buyer/Distributor
A food buyer studies what comes off the shelf as much as what goes onto it. Eighty percent of the job requires evaluation of current product mix. You determine what should be discontinued to create room to add the latest and greatest eats. Although heavily influenced by trends and consumer demand, you are the ultimate decision makers in choosing what will be on store shelves around the country.
Yes, that’s a thing. And CIA grad Brandon Collins ’01 is the official North American Mustard Sommelier for a French mustard company. His job includes educating both chefs and consumers about various kinds of mustard and which foods pair best with which product. My compliments to the condiment!
Perhaps an even better description is “recipe tester.” The recipe developer is responsible for perfecting recipes and drafting the precise directions you find in cookbooks and online. Part of the job requires innovation—you will produce some original recipes—and the rest is refining others’ recipes. You need a strong knowledge of food theory and an excellent palate to be a recipe developer, as it requires flavor balance and knowledge of the many cooking and preparation techniques that you will learn at the CIA. Just ask CIA grad, Kathryn Conrad ’99! If you love flipping through cookbooks, magazines, watching food shows and, making and tasting your own concoctions, then a career in recipe development could be for you.
Now that social media is here to stay, any respectable restaurant needs a good publicist. Are you the kind of person who can manage 15 social media platforms with one hand while pitching story ideas to magazines and newspapers with the other? If so, this could be your calling. You might also be tasked with running the restaurant’s website, planning events, marketing, advertising, promotion, and wining-and-dining top food editors and journalists. As a bonus, you’ll find yourself at parties where top chefs will flock and good food and drink will be unlimited.
As a trendologist, you will spend most of your time performing market research: reading blogs, watching food shows, reading food magazines, and, of course, eating a lot of delicious food. You will become the expert on what people want, what’s trending, and what the next hot food craze will be. You’ll advise clients on how to structure their menu and which items to feature.
The above list just scratches the surface. Think about beverage director, chocolatier, culinary educator, food stylist, food writer, research and development specialist, winery manager/director, and literally hundreds of different culinary career job titles. So even if you don’t want to be a chef, this is a great time to enter the food world armed with the culinary skills and food and cultural knowledge that comes with a CIA degree.