Making Money Doing What You Love: Cooking

Tips for Translating a Passion for Food into the Classroom and a Profitable Career

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.


  • Food Photography would be a good fit for those with...

    • 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


  • Typical Hours or Schedule

    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.


  • How to Make Money as a Food Photographer

    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.


  • Degree needed

    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 Food Truck would be a good fit for those with...

    • A Business background

    • Customer service skills

    • Leadership abilities

    • Strong communication skills

    • Problem solving abilities


  • Typical Hours or Schedule

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


  • How to Make Money as a Food Truck Owner

    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.


  • Degree needed

    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.


  • A Culinary Librarian career would be a good fit for those with...

    • Interest in books, reading and research

    • Tech-savvy and organization-oriented personalities

    • Good interpersonal skills

    • Problem solving abilities

    • Time management skills


  • Typical Hours or Schedule

    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.


  • How to Make Money as a Culinary Librarian

    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.


  • Degree needed

    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.


  • A Mycologist career would be a good fit for those with...

    • Observation skills

    • Good time management abilities

    • Critical thinking abilities

    • Interest in math, science and problem solving

    • Perseverance


  • Typical Hours or Schedule

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


  • How to Make Money as a Mycologist

    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.


  • Degree needed

    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.


  • Food Writing would be a good fit for those with...

    • Strong writing and grammatical skills

    • Creativity

    • An eye for editing

    • Persuasive abilities

    • Strong research capabilities

    • Critical thinking skills


  • Typical Hours or Schedule

    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.


  • How to Make Money as a Food Writer

    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.


  • Degree needed

    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.


  • Food Brokering would be a good fit for those with...

    • Math and budgeting skills

    • Experience negotiating

    • Critical thinking abilities

    • Active listening skills

    • Analytical and strategic minds


  • Typical Hours or Schedule

    Food brokers work full time during regular business hours.


  • How to Make Money as a Food Broker

    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.


  • Degree needed

    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.


  • Cooking Instruction would be a good fit for those with...

    • Instructing abilities

    • Public speaking experience

    • Social personalities

    • Service orientation

    • Entertaining personalities


  • Typical Hours or Schedule

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


  • How to Make Money as a Cooking Instructor

    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.


  • Degree needed

    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

OccupationMedian Annual WageJob GrowthStates with Highest Annual Wages (mean)
Bakers$25,0907%California: $28,410 Texas: $25,200 Florida: $26,170 New York: $27,470 Pennsylvania: $27,050
Butchers$29,8705%Washington, D.C.: $44,940 Connecticut: $42,850 Alaska: $42,560 North Dakota: $41,980 Massachusetts: $40,070
Chefs and Head Cooks$43,1809%New Jersey: $61,970 Washington, D.C.: $61,800 Rhode Island: $56,970 Florida: $56,570 Massachusetts: $54,96
Cookbook Authors$61,2402%Washington, D.C.: $97,970 California: $95,920 New York: $83,060 Maryland: $80,110 Colorado: $74,660
Culinary Librarians$57,6802%Washington, D.C.: $83,550 California: $74,510 Delaware: $70,680 Massachusetts: $68,990 Maryland: $68,720
Dietitians and Nutritionists$58,92014%California: $71,430 Maryland: $67,440 Oregon: $67,040 Hawaii: $66,870 New Jersey: $66,540
Fast Food Cooks$19,8604%Washington: $26,040 Hawaii: $25,850 District of Columbia: $25,130 Massachusetts: $25,110 North Dakota: $24,530
Food Artists$50,7902%California: $75,380 New York: $74,150 Arizona: $63,420 Washington: $59,610 Minnesota: $58,560
Food Buyers$60,7002%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$118,1606%Washington, D.C.: $182,810 California: $162,010 New York: $161,260 Massachusetts: $158,760 Delaware: $157,610
Food Photographers$34,0703%Washington, D.C.: $63,750 New York: $61,530 Massachusetts: $60,130 California: $51,080 Connecticut: $47,100
Food Preparation Workers$21,4406%Washington: $28,050 Washington, D.C.: $27,970 Connecticut: $27,510 Alaska: $27,260 Massachusetts: $26,410
Food Scientists$63,9505%Massachusetts: $82,170 New Jersey: $79,080 Arkansas: $79,010 Vermont: $78,410 Minnesota: $77,250
Food Service Managers$50,8205%New Jersey: $75,880 Florida: $73,070 Delaware: $71,910 New York: $69,040 Nevada: $68,880
Restaurant Cooks$24,1404%Hawaii: $33,740 New Jersey: $31,810 Nevada: $30,910 Vermont: $29,830 Alaska: $29,730
Restaurant Designers$49,8104%Washington, D.C.: $80,950 Rhode Island: $72,130 New York: $65,760 California: $64,940 Massachusetts: $62,780
Restaurant Publicist$58,0206%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.


  • Science Degrees and Majors

    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.

    • 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.

    • 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.


  • Business Degrees and Majors

    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.


  • Liberal Arts Degrees and Majors

    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.

    • 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.


  • Teaching Degrees and Majors

    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.


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