On-the-job training is the most common method of learning for cooks and food preparation workers; however, restaurant cooks and other cooks who want to take on more advanced cooking duties often attend cooking school. Vocational training programs are available to many high school students and may lead to positions in restaurants. Experience, enthusiasm and a desire to learn are the most common requirements for advancement to higher-skilled cooking jobs or positions in higher-paying restaurants.
A high school diploma is not required for beginning jobs but is recommended for those planning a career in food services. Most fast-food or short-order cooks and food preparation workers learn their skills on the job. Training generally starts with basic sanitation and workplace safety regulations and continues with instruction on food handling, preparation and cooking procedures.
Although most cooks and food preparation workers learn on the job, students with an interest in food service may be able to take high school or vocational school courses in kitchen basics and food safety and handling procedures. Additional training opportunities are also offered by many state employment services agencies and local job counseling centers. For example, many school districts, in cooperation with state departments of education, provide on-the-job training and summer workshops for cafeteria kitchen workers who aspire to become cooks.
When hiring restaurant cooks, employers usually prefer applicants who have training after high school. These training programs range from a few months to two years or more. Vocational or trade-school programs typically offer basic training in food handling and sanitation procedures, nutrition, slicing and dicing methods for various kinds of meats and vegetables, and basic cooking techniques, such as baking, broiling and grilling. Longer certificate or degree granting programs, through independent cooking schools, professional culinary institutes or college degree programs, train cooks who aspire to more responsible positions in fine-dining or upscale restaurants. They offer a wider array of training specialties, such as advanced cooking techniques; cooking for banquets, buffets or parties; and cuisines and cooking styles from around the world. Some large hotels, restaurants and the Armed Forces operate their own training and job-placement programs.
Professional culinary institutes, industry associations and trade unions may also sponsor formal apprenticeship programs for cooks in coordination with the U.S. Department of Labor. The American Culinary Federation accredits more than 200 formal academic training programs and sponsors apprenticeship programs around the country. Typical apprenticeships last two years and combine classroom training and work experience. Accreditation is an indication that a culinary program meets recognized standards regarding course content, facilities and quality of instruction.