Interesting Facts About Culinary Arts

By Serena Makofsky
People who work in food preparation know that culinary skills must be practiced and refined, making it more of an art form than a mere hobby or a task. A master chef endeavors to not only stimulate the palate, but also the senses of smell and sight. There are many compelling facts and bits of trivia regarding the study and practice of the culinary arts.

Learning the culinary arts was once the work of apprenticeship, with daughters learning recipes from mothers, and traditional recipes passed on via oral history. It was not until the year 1800 that the first academic program in the culinary arts opened for business. The Boston Cooking School was popular, drawing an international student body. One of its most famous students was Fannie Merrit Farmer, who published the world's first cookbook in 1896. "The Boston Cooking School Cookbook" is still a reference work for students of culinary arts today. The first televised cooking show was presided over by James Beard, airing in 1946. His illustrious work earned him the moniker "dean of American cookery," bestowed upon him by "The New York Times."

People who work in the culinary arts often aspire to positions such as executive chef or sous chef. But there are plenty of other positions in the field, such as the saucier, who oversees sauces and gravies with a chemist-like precision; the garde manager, who may be responsible for all cold foods and often can integrate leftover ingredients into new dishes; pastry chefs, a major responsibility that often entails overseeing a whole pastry staff; and a sommelier, who is paid to professionally wine taste and share expertise with patrons. Less chef-oriented positions include dining room service, food and beverage inventory specialists, restaurant consultants, salespeople, food writers, food critics, food stylists, food photographers and research and development. Others may opt to train other chefs and enter into teaching. Finally, there are those who are entrepreneurs and decide to open their own restaurant or catering service.

The culinary arts are an object of public fascination. Celebrity chefs and foodies such as Rachel Ray and Rick Bayless tour the world's cuisines, while the iron chefs demonstrate their artistry in a live, timed competition. Movies and novels such as "Like Water for Chocolate," "Heartburn," "The Wedding Feast," "Cocolat" and "Babette's Feast" reflect the seductive power of beautifully prepared food. The culinary arts even has its own cable television channel, The Food Network.

A student of culinary arts does not just enter the kitchen chopping. Typical core coursework includes practicing the fundamentals of cooking (yes, chopping), researching theory, learning sanitary practices, preparing simple cold dishes and composing soups and sauces before ever learning how to make an entree. Advanced skills are required for classes such as baking, pastry creation, nutrition, menu planning, international cuisine, catering and the technology of preserving products. This last course inspires some amount of controversy, because both consumers and creators of food have divergent opinions on the incorporation of pre-prepared foods. Two of the more entertaining courses are the art of working with chocolate and sugar and wine appreciation.

Expert Insight
An examination of culinary arts would not be complete without mentioning its patron saint, Julia Child, who first made cooking history with her 1961 book "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." Her radio show and, later, her television program, "The French Chef" were enormously popular and introduced the public to revolutionary approaches in cookery. She had strong opinions about her craft, commenting "Non-cooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet."

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