In the States food is the second largest employer after the Federal Government. It’s a growing sector that offers different job opportunities: so which are the most innovative food careers nowadays? We’ve asked Irena Chalmers, Professor at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, considered being the Harvard of cooking schools, and author of the double volumes Food jobs.
“There are five areas of food job growth. The main ones are the health sector; research and development and the personal chef career. More than that, there are many employment opportunities in various private and public institutions: from inspectors to the military food service, and even lobbying on behalf of organizations such as The National Restaurant Association.
Finally, there has been an explosive growth in the number of professional culinary schools. This means that former bankers, accountants, economists and financial services specialists can transfer their skills into teaching opportunities. Lawyers can teach hospitality law. Union leaders and arbitrators can organize restaurant and hotel workers. In fact there is work for every specialty for everyone who has been laid off from almost any other industry or profession in culinary schools”.
Let's look at a growing macro area, which is health. “Health and wellness are now and will continue to be the buzz words of the future. Fine examples to prove this point are Chipotle and Panera” explains the author.
The keyword here is: healthy food. What does it mean exactly? “By this, I don’t mean low calorie, low cholesterol, low salt etc. as these processed foods inevitably result in low taste. Instead I think we will be placing greater focus on locally grown, minimally processed foods. Job opportunities are expanding in preparing food for immediate consumption first in ‘farm to table’.”
Farm-to-table companies are pushing forward, farms are very specialized – sometime with unique products and the trend is growing outside the box. Along with professionals like chefs David Kinch and Bowman Brown that grow their own ingredients at Manresa and Forage restaurant, there are those who decided to turn a personal liking – foraging wild herbs - into a job, see ex-lawyer Tama Matsuoka Wong.
Other than restaurants, what are the food service areas in which you can introduce healthy foods? “All of them, including: schools, from kindergarten to college. Alice Waters’ daughter Fanny pioneered the concept of serving good; many others have now embraced nourishing food at Yale and this idea. Shelf space in supermarkets where chefs/cooks prepare meals ready to be cooked at home. Company cafeterias, Country clubs, museums, airports and even after religious services! And then hospitals, sports stadiums and dozens and dozens of commercial and recreational institutions”.
What is key in the exploration of the food jobs universe, in order to pick the right one? “It is essential to become a giraffe so you stand out from the herd...rather than relegating yourself to a lifetime as an ant in an ant hill”.
Is the American scenario very different from the European one, and the rest of the world? “No. It’s a small, small world”, says Irena, and finally reveals how to find your own job in it: combining your skills, any skill including painting or rowing, with your love for food.