Food provides basic sustenance, but it can accomplish so much more. Mealtime gives us the chance to enjoy a respite from our busy lives as we build powerful connections and treat ourselves to new experiences. Meanwhile, we can broaden our horizons, exploring different cultures and concepts from the comfort of a dining table.
It takes a great deal of inspiration and effort to cultivate memorable culinary experiences. It’s easy, then, to see why culinary artists are so esteemed in modern society. Below, we’ll explain what this concept entails, how it’s evolved, and what it now takes to master the culinary arts.
What Does Culinary Arts Mean?
A true culinary arts meaning can be difficult to convey, in part, because the concept is so vast. This term encompasses everything to do with food: how it’s prepared, plated, and served — and how it’s enjoyed.
At first glance, this process might appear to resemble an elevated take on cooking. However, there is so much more to culinary art. Essential components include nutrition, flavor, and presentation, with the goal of creating an immersive experience that delights not only the palate but all the other senses as well. Done right, this type of culinary experience can prove transformative.
Culinary art is also an intriguing academic and professional pursuit. Chefs and culinarians train for years, developing a deep-seated understanding of food science and an ability to handle a seemingly endless array of tools and techniques. From mixing methods to knife skills and even culinary math, a blend of broad, foundational knowledge and targeted skills underscore today’s most exquisite culinary creations.
Birth of Culinary Arts
Today’s chefs dazzle with exquisite flavors and innovative presentations, but they draw on a long history of culinary excellence. After all, cuisine has long been a key source of connection.
For millennia, communities gathered over delicious meals to converse and celebrate. Long before the concept of the restaurant took over in France, hospitality centered around taverns and inns, where it often took the form of meals shared around a stewpot or hearth.
While these early forms of service arguably qualified as cuisine, the concept took a step up during and immediately following the French Revolution.
Understanding this culinary renaissance is key to understanding how it functions today. To that end, we’ve highlighted a few of the most influential figures who transformed our perception of the culinary arts and brought the refined appeal we expect today.
Marie Antoine Carême
As one of the most iconic chefs of the 1800s, Marie Antoine Carême (better known as Antonin Carême) revolutionized haute cuisine. Considered by many to be the very first celebrity chef, Carême revealed the power of plating. He strongly believed that an elevated dining experience went beyond the mere sense of taste also to incorporate a visual feast.
Another famed French chef from the 1800s, Augustus Escoffier elevated the industry by transforming the kitchen environment. Culinary workspaces had previously been rowdy and disorganized, but Escoffier insisted on cleanliness and order.
Perhaps most notably, Escoffier instated the revolutionary system known as the brigade de cuisine, which was inspired by his previous experience in the military. While chaotic kitchens remain common, there’s no denying that Escoffier’s contribution raised the bar for what we expect from culinary professionals.
France continued to dominate the culinary scene as the memorable Fernand Point took the industry by storm in the early 1900s. He famously opened the Michelin-star restaurant La Pyramide, which was widely regarded as the best restaurant in all of France while he was in charge.
Point’s influence continued to expand after his death with the posthumous publication of Ma Gastronomie. This thought-provoking publication has long been thought of as a must-read for current and aspiring chefs.
History of Culinary Arts in the US
There’s no denying that France paved the way for culinary greatness, but there have also long been signs of greatness across the pond.
It didn’t take long for elevated culinary concepts to reach the US, where they quickly received a distinctively American spin. Key developments that played into our national conception of culinary arts include:
Boston Cooking School
Founded by the Women’s Education Association of Boston, this influential institution was originally modeled after London’s National School of Cookery. The goal was to instruct not only those who hoped to earn a living cooking, but also women looking to benefit from applying high-level culinary techniques in their own homes. Many of the nation’s most notable early chefs were trained there, including the renowned Fannie Farmer.
While written cooking guides have been traced back to multiple ancient societies, these were not commonplace until the invention of the printing press. They also rose in popularity as more people sought a taste of high society.
Cookbooks were prominent for quite some time in Britain and the Netherlands before they made their mark across the pond. Following the American Revolution, the first known cookbook was released by Amelia Simmons. Known as American Cookery, this differed from British publications in that it used local vernacular and focused on ingredients readily available in the US. Hence, its distinction by the Library of Congress as one of the Books That Shaped America.
Later on, cookbooks would become a chief means of allowing household cooks to experiment with elevated ingredients and techniques. American cookbooks were also largely responsible for bringing food science to the forefront. Fannie Farmer’s famed 1896 Boston Cooking-School Cook Book, for example, was intended to function not only as a compilation of beloved recipes but also as a source of ‘condensed scientific knowledge’ to promote ‘deeper thought and broader study of what to eat.’
American Culinary Federation
As the culinary arts continued to gain prestige in America, there was a stronger need for influential organizations that would advance the field. In 1929, this was accomplished as three important groups (the Vatel Club, the Société Culinaire Philanthropique, and the Chefs de Cuisine Association of America) joined forces.
From the beginning, the main goal of the American Culinary Federation (ACF) has been to cultivate a professional image of chefs throughout the nation. One of the ACF’s greatest accomplishments to date was obtaining an important boost for the executive chef position, which, until the 1970s, had been regarded as ‘service status.’
Cooking has long been covered in the media, but it took on a new level of public fascination with the advent of the cooking show. This became an early staple of daytime TV, in part because cooking programs cost so little to produce. Not only were these extremely helpful for home cooks, but they also inspired a new generation of chefs to pursue the culinary arts.
The most iconic name in this space, of course, was the beloved Julia Child, who became a household name with The French Chef. She was followed by many celebrity chefs who have captured the public’s fascination, including Lidia Bastianich and Anthony Bourdain.
Present-Day Culinary Arts
Today, culinary art continues to be an especially admired profession in the nation and across the globe. People from all walks of life have a deep appreciation for all that today’s culinarian can accomplish. The concept of modern cuisine is increasingly associated with innovative and often avant-garde concepts, but there is also a renewed focus on nutrition, sustainability, and culture.
These days, it takes extensive training to succeed as a culinary artist, but the rewards can be numerous: prestigious career paths, the pursuit of passion, and, most importantly, the ability to build connections and evoke a strong emotional response through the artful presentation of food.
Is a Culinary Arts Degree Worth It?
Cookbooks, cooking shows, and other resources may be valuable, but nothing compares to the targeted insight that can be gained through instruction from the culinary industry’s finest professionals.
A culinary arts degree provides valuable insight into the most impactful tools and techniques, as well as an essential overview of management — and even insight into how the latest trends and technologies can successfully be applied.
Culinary Arts Skills
Culinary arts degree programs provide a strong foundation, complete with the vast range of skills needed to prepare just about any dish imaginable. Coursework covers all the critical techniques and concepts used in the modern kitchen, such as:
- Stocks and sauces. Sometimes referred to as the kitchen’s lifeblood, stocks and sauces are integral to achieving rich flavors. Used in a myriad of kitchen applications, they form the basis of today’s most beloved dishes.
- Food preparation. From precise measurements to portion control and even recipe costing, a variety of concepts play into successful food preparation in the hospitality industry. Grilling, poaching, sauteing, and advanced baking methods are all essential.
- Presentation and plating. There’s more to food than flavor. Strong presentation and plating can have a huge impact on the overall experience. Culinary artists know how to make dishes look as spectacular as they taste.
- Food pairing and trends. Success in the culinary arts depends on preparing the finest dishes and knowing how they pair with other foods or beverages. Aspiring culinary artists must also keep abreast of industry trends, learning when and how to incorporate them without compromising the quality of their creations.
Pursue Your Passion With a Culinary Arts Degree
If you’d like to join the long legacy of passionate chefs and culinarians, you’ll recognize the value of a targeted degree. At JWU, we offer multiple options to help you make an impression in this vibrant industry. The Bachelor of Science in Culinary Arts and Food Service Management is an excellent option if you’re determined to advance your skills and pursue an exciting career.