Making Money
Doing What You Love: Cooking
Tips for Translating a Passion for Food into the Classroom and a Profitable Career

Meet the Expert

Ernest Miller Read bio

Some people equate working life with being shackled to a job they can’t stand. For them, the idea they can built a career around something they love, like food, seems inconceivable. But this simply isn’t true. There are several ways foodies can find rewarding work doing what they love. For more information on how to pursue a culinary-related career inside and outside of the kitchen, continue reading below.

Cooking: For Love, Money or Both?

The kitchen is a place where beautiful and delicious culinary masterpieces are created, but it’s not for the faint of heart. People who work in the restaurant industry face many challenges, including meager wages and long hours that make a healthy work-life balance impossible. Kitchens are often high-stress environments that can quickly cause burn out. While some people may thrive in the kitchen, there are opportunities for those who love cooking to make a living outside average culinary arts.

Food Photographer

Food photographers create images that can be found in cookbooks, magazines, restaurant menus and promotional materials. These professionals are generally self-employed and must cultivate a pool of regular clients in order to make a living.

  • Excellent customer service skills

  • Artistic ability

  • Detail orientation

  • Time management skills

  • Media technology knowledge

  • Interpersonal skills & the ability to connect and work with a variety of people

Although food photographers can have flexible schedules, they may work long hours. For example, photo shoot days may take 12 or more hours for setup, shooting and breakdown.

Food photographers typically work as independent contractors, taking gigs as they come available. Editorial assignments for magazines or trade publications may get your work seen, but may not pay well. Some photographers enlist the help of hiring agencies to land commercial or advertising gigs, and teach workshops, host speaking events and blog to make extra cash.

Not always required, Photography, Journalism or Art

Food Truck Owner

Food truck owners combine their love of food with business skills in order to sell food to hungry customers on the go. After building a faithful following over time, this can be a lucrative career.

  • A Business background

  • Customer service skills

  • Leadership abilities

  • Strong communication skills

  • Problem solving abilities

These business owners can make their own hours and generally work at least 50 hours per week.

Food truck owners, like restaurant owners, have to consider operating capital and start-up costs—truck cost, licensing and business fees, advertising and signage, employee costs—before to determine whether or not they can be profitable. The U.S. Small Business Association recommends creating a financial cushion to stay afloat while business is new and growing, and the National Restaurant Association suggests planning a menu based on the gross profit the food can bring in rather than simply lowering food cost or quality to maximize profit.

Business or Culinary Arts

Culinary Librarian

Culinary librarians use their love of books and cooking to help educate future workers in the food service industry. They find employment at culinary schools and are responsible for curating the books found in these institutions’ libraries.

  • Interest in books, reading and research

  • Tech-savvy and organization-oriented personalities

  • Good interpersonal skills

  • Problem solving abilities

  • Time management skills

Culinary librarians work 40 hours per week. Depending on where they work, they may be scheduled during day or evening hours, as well as weekends.

Becoming a professional librarian requires an advanced degree, most typically a Master’s in Library Science. Culinary librarians often must work their way up, gaining experience at smaller libraries until a coveted spot at a culinary institute opens up. However, with more and more people interested in cooking, city and county public libraries are expanding their culinary sections—Austin, Texas even added a cooking demonstration area to their new Central Library in Fall 2017.

Library Science or Library and Information Studies

Mycologist

Mycologists study different types of fungi, including mushrooms. They may work for government agencies, pharmaceuticals companies or in academia. Mycologists may also grow or find and sell mushrooms to restaurants, individuals and food distributors.

  • Observation skills

  • Good time management abilities

  • Critical thinking abilities

  • Interest in math, science and problem solving

  • Perseverance

Mycologists work regular business hours and are employed on a full-time basis.

The demand for fungi specialists is small, however there are opportunities in a wide range of industries. An advanced degree is usually required for higher paying positions, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the mean average salary for a mycologist to be around $66,000 per year in 2016, with mycologists in foodie hotspots like Washington, D.C. and California making $90,000 to $113,000 per year.

Microbiology, Environmental Science or Ecology

Food Writer

Foodies who also love to write can combine these interests by working as a professional food writer. Food writers may work as magazine or newspaper journalists, write books or create blogs.

  • Strong writing and grammatical skills

  • Creativity

  • An eye for editing

  • Persuasive abilities

  • Strong research capabilities

  • Critical thinking skills

Some writers, especially those who work for an employer, keep regular business hours. Those who are self-employed may have more flexibility with their schedule. These professionals may work on a part- or full-time basis.

Get a foot in the door by posting on and writing for food blogs and entering writing and essay contests related to food, like the National Food Writers Symposium. More regular paying and staff writing positions are available for those with good experience and strong reputations. Turn in assignments on time, pitch food-related stories to non-foodie publications and be willing to write outside of the culinary niche if necessary.

Not always required, Journalism, English or Marketing

Food Broker

When consumers find their favorite foods on store shelves, or get introduced to unique new products to try, they have the work of food broker to thank. These professionals may work for many manufacturers at a time, acting as the sales agents to get their client’s products on store shelves.

  • Math and budgeting skills

  • Experience negotiating

  • Critical thinking abilities

  • Active listening skills

  • Analytical and strategic minds

Food brokers work full time during regular business hours.

Food brokers are often paid on commission, meaning a company only pays if the broker performs, but the income has no ceiling. They often start out as assistants or sales representatives to learn the ropes. Strong negotiation and communication skills are just the beginning, it takes strategy and planning to land large commissions. Successful brokers know the sales numbers and margins they need to hit and how much wiggle room they have in negotiations. They also track hours they need to invest to make sure deals are worth their time.

Business, Marketing or Buying and Merchandising

Cooking Instructor

Many people want to add more recipes to their repertoire, and cooking instructors help them do it. They may work at supermarkets, community organizations, private settings and technical schools. Some may even teach classes online.

  • Instructing abilities

  • Public speaking experience

  • Social personalities

  • Service orientation

  • Entertaining personalities

Hours are flexible and these instructors may work part time or full time.

Personality is a big factor, but for anyone wanting to work outside culinary academia a business mindset is helpful. Consider startup costs, including cooking gear, licensing and operating fees, marketing and advertising. Think about what types of topics or areas of cooking people have a lot of questions about. Also consider digital options: video or online cooking class can bring in revenue for an extended period, rather than a live cooking class that is a one-and-done experience.

Not always required, Business or Culinary Arts

Average Salaries for Careers in Cooking, Food and Culinary Arts

*green denotes wages higher than the National Median Wage by occupation

Occupation Median Annual Wage Job Growth States with Highest Annual Wages (mean)
Bakers $25,090 7%
  • California: $28,410
  • Texas: $25,200
  • Florida: $26,170
  • New York: $27,470
  • Pennsylvania: $27,050
Butchers $29,870 5%
  • Washington, D.C.: $44,940
  • Connecticut: $42,850
  • Alaska: $42,560
  • North Dakota: $41,980
  • Massachusetts: $40,070
Chefs and Head Cooks $43,180 9%
  • New Jersey: $61,970
  • Washington, D.C.: $61,800
  • Rhode Island: $56,970
  • Florida: $56,570
  • Massachusetts: $54,96
Cookbook Authors $61,240 2%
  • Washington, D.C.: $97,970
  • California: $95,920
  • New York: $83,060
  • Maryland: $80,110
  • Colorado: $74,660
Culinary Librarians $57,680 2%
  • Washington, D.C.: $83,550
  • California: $74,510
  • Delaware: $70,680
  • Massachusetts: $68,990
  • Maryland: $68,720
Dietitians and Nutritionists $58,920 14%
  • California: $71,430
  • Maryland: $67,440
  • Oregon: $67,040
  • Hawaii: $66,870
  • New Jersey: $66,540
Fast Food Cooks $19,860 4%
  • Washington: $26,040
  • Hawaii: $25,850
  • District of Columbia: $25,130
  • Massachusetts: $25,110
  • North Dakota: $24,530
Food Artists $50,790 2%
  • California: $75,380
  • New York: $74,150
  • Arizona: $63,420
  • Washington: $59,610
  • Minnesota: $58,560
Food Buyers $60,700 2%
  • Washington, D.C.: $94,540
  • New Jersey: $78,870
  • Maryland: $78,420
  • Virginia: $76,460
  • Massachusetts: $73,940
Food Journalist $38,870 -9%
  • Washington, D.C.: $86,270
  • New York: $72,150
  • Georgia: $65,370
  • Maryland: $65,010
  • Alaska: $62,650
Food Industry Lawyers $118,160 6%
  • Washington, D.C.: $182,810
  • California: $162,010
  • New York: $161,260
  • Massachusetts: $158,760
  • Delaware: $157,610
Food Photographers $34,070 3%
  • Washington, D.C.: $63,750
  • New York: $61,530
  • Massachusetts: $60,130
  • California: $51,080
  • Connecticut: $47,100
Food Preparation Workers $21,440 6%
  • Washington: $28,050
  • Washington, D.C.: $27,970
  • Connecticut: $27,510
  • Alaska: $27,260
  • Massachusetts: $26,410
Food Scientists $63,950 5%
  • Massachusetts: $82,170
  • New Jersey: $79,080
  • Arkansas: $79,010
  • Vermont: $78,410
  • Minnesota: $77,250
Food Service Managers $50,820 5%
  • New Jersey: $75,880
  • Florida: $73,070
  • Delaware: $71,910
  • New York: $69,040
  • Nevada: $68,880
Restaurant Cooks $24,140 4%
  • Hawaii: $33,740
  • New Jersey: $31,810
  • Nevada: $30,910
  • Vermont: $29,830
  • Alaska: $29,730
Restaurant Designers $49,810 4%
  • Washington, D.C.: $80,950
  • Rhode Island: $72,130
  • New York: $65,760
  • California: $64,940
  • Massachusetts: $62,780
Restaurant Publicist $58,020 6%
  • Washington, D.C.: $95,750
  • California: $77,870
  • Virginia: $76,110
  • Rhode Island: $75,170
  • Washington: $71,410

Alternative Majors & Courses for People Who Love Cooking

Culinary degrees are a great way to prepare for a cooking-related job, but they’re not the only way. Just as there are diverse careers foodies can pursue, cooking lovers can enroll in a variety of degree programs to train for careers in various industries involving food. Take a look at some examples below.

Food Science

Food science majors learn the mechanics of food harvesting, processing, preparation and transportation and ensuring the food that ends up on consumers’ plate is safe.

Example Courses:

  • Food Biotechnology

    Teaches students about the genetic engineering of microorganisms, food safety DNA fingerprinting and microbial genomics.

  • Food Mycology

    Covers the role of fungi in food production, spoilage and storage.

  • Food Processing

    Discusses basics of the processing of different types of foods, including quality control, nutrition and processing technology.

Food Microbiology

Microbiology is the study of the form, physiology, reproduction, structure and identification of microorganisms both in food and used for food production.

Example Courses:

  • Microbial Physiology

    Familiarizes students with the function of foods, including their growth, metabolism and division of cells.

  • Food Biotechnology

    Teaches the various techniques used to produce and engineer specific desired traits from our foods and food sources.

  • Agricultural Immunology

    Covers topics such as food allergies and the autoimmune disorders and immunological mechanisms that trigger them.

Food Business Management

From marketing to human resources, these degrees cover the concepts of business management and the real-world challenges managers face within the food and agriculture industry.

Example Courses:

  • Brand Management

    Covers basics of building and leveraging brands, how to measure branding and manage brand assets.

  • Agribusiness Finance

    Introduces principles of financing and investment strategies for food and agricultural business, addressing common management and financial issues within the agriculture industry.

  • Agricultural Markets and Risk Management

    Teaches about commodities, inputs, marketing and market analysis in the food system.

Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurial majors provide students with the knowledge and skills needed to start and run their own business, including how to assess risk, create a business plan and market effectively.

Example Courses:

  • Creativity and Innovation

    Includes information on how the innovation process works in organizations and how to nurture creativity among workers.

  • Family Business

    Provides details on the development and growth of family businesses, as well as the role of relationship dynamics in these organizations.

  • Social Entrepreneurship

    Discusses the role of social change in organizations and how businesses can adopt a mission-driven mindset.

Photography

Photography degree programs help hopeful shutterbugs hone their skills and knowledge in order to get the perfect shot and build a successful career.

Example Courses:

  • The Business of Photography

    Looks at the nuts and bolts of being a professional photographer including licensing, contract development, pricing structures and branding.

  • Quality of Light

    Includes information on how photographers communicate with light using different photographic tools.

  • History of Photography

    Provides a look at photographic movements and theories, as well as seminal photographers throughout the history of the medium.

Journalism

The journalism field and the role of journalists are constantly changing as the way people consume news evolves. These degree programs teach prospective journalists their place in the profession and include information on the theories, mechanics, and ethical and legal concerns that modern-day journalists should know.

Example Courses:

  • Media Writing

    Instructs students on how to gather information and write news pieces for print and broadcast news organizations.

  • Photojournalism

    Shows how photography can be used to tell a news story.

  • Investigative Reporting

    Includes information on the theory and practice of investigative journalism.

Library Science

Learn the fundamentals of library science, helping students understand how information is organized and classified in libraries, as well as the technology used by library professionals.

Example Courses:

  • Information Communities

    Explores how information access and use is shaped through economic, social, political and technological influences.

  • History of Libraries and Librarianship

    Examines the types of libraries and their historical origins, the role of librarians and the development of the librarian profession.

  • Government Publications

    Introduces students to types of U.S. government publications and how librarians acquire, use and organize them.

Adult Education

Teaching adult learners is much different from those of other age groups; programs help students gain expertise on how to teach adults in vocational, employee training and community program settings.

Example Courses:

  • Adult Learning Theories

    Covers areas including motivation, social context and the frameworks of adult learning.

  • Adult Learning Assessments

    Provides information on types of assessments used for adult learners and strategies for administering and evaluating them.

  • Adult Literacy

    Introduces students to literacy theory, instruction and programming for adult learners.

Advice from a Cooking Enthusiast turned Industry Expert

Ernest Miller is the Corporate Chef of Research & Development for Coast Packing Co., the largest western supplier of animal fat shortenings, such as lard and beef tallow, in the United States. Miller, who has been called “the Huell Howser of California food,” is a chef, historian, educator, consultant and speaker—a familiar presence in museums, schools and kitchens throughout Southern California. He is the co-leader of Slow Food Los Angeles, a member of the speakers’ bureau for the Culinary Historians of Southern California, lecturer for the National Food and Beverage Foundation, director of Slow Food Preservers of Los Angeles County and founder of Rancho La Merced Provisions LLC, a manufacturer of fermentation kits. Miller, formerly a chef instructor for Le Cordon Bleu Los Angeles, was educated at the United States Naval Academy and Yale Law School.

What is the best way for students to prepare for a job in the culinary industry?

First, you need to have a passion for cooking. Are you cooking at home as often as possible? If not, why not? If you like to watch a lot of food television, great, but get off the couch and actually try cooking. Doesn’t have to be fancy or complicated, just do it. If cooking isn’t your passion, you’ll find the culinary industry very rough. Passion isn’t everything, but you’re going to need some to survive.

Second, try working in a restaurant. Cooking in a restaurant is much different than cooking at home. It is not a career for everyone. You’re on your feet the entire shift, usually in a close-spaced, fast-paced, hot and humid environment. It is physically, mentally and emotionally demanding. You won’t know if it’s for you until you actually try it.

Third, some formal culinary education will be of great assistance. Take some professional-oriented classes, if possible. Culinary school can provide an excellent foundation, but be sure that’s what you want to do. Culinary school is generally expensive and a significant commitment, so don’t take on that debt unless you know that’s where you need to be.

How can people who are interested in cooking break into the food industry?

If you do have some experience, then take any beginning position that is offered. There are always opportunities to learn if you keep your eyes open. I started in quick service—flipping burgers, making quesadillas and learning all about deep frying. Basic, but I watched and I learned and moved up the ranks. After all, in the culinary field, there are almost always opportunities for advancement as turnover is frequently quite high.

What are some of the benefits of professions that revolve around cooking?

You can work nearly anywhere. Wherever there are people, someone is going to have to feed them. Your career can incorporate fine dining or fast casual, institutional or private catering. The possibilities are endless. It can be whatever you make of it. More importantly, food is never just food. Food is culture, history, science and art, among other things. We feed mind, body, and soul. The satisfaction of giving pleasure to your customers can be immense. The fulfillment of plating a creative, edible work of art can make all the sacrifices worthwhile.

Everyone has to eat and everyone has a personal relationship to their food. When you prepare that food, you become part of that relationship. Consequently, cooking can be one of the most rewarding careers to choose. I went to Yale Law School, but I don’t practice law. I choose to follow my passion for food instead. I’m glad I did.