If you excel at cooking and experimenting in the kitchen, becoming a professional chef can help you turn your interest into a full-time job. However, even if you're a natural in the kitchen, you still need professional training to be competitive. The number of years you spend in college pursuing your culinary arts training depends on your desired career path after graduation.

Two-Year Program

A standard culinary arts degree program runs about two years, and you earn an associate degree when you graduate. American Culinary Federation accredited programs are offered at community colleges and specialty culinary arts schools. While enrolled, you'll take courses in professional cooking and baking techniques, kitchen management and food safety. You'll learn techniques for preparing foods such as meats, fish and vegetables, and you'll also learn plating and wine pairing. You may complete an on- or off-campus internship, depending on whether your program runs an on-campus food service operation. A culinary arts associate degree qualifies you for a range of entry-level commercial kitchen brigade jobs such as chef de partie, sometimes referred to as line cook, junior or sous chef.

Four-Year Degree

If you're interested in executive food-service management, you can earn a bachelor's degree after you finish your associate degree program. Majors such as Hospitality and Tourism or Hotel Management are offered by many colleges and universities, including well-known culinary arts colleges such as Johnson and Wales University and the Culinary Institute of America. To earn such a bachelor's degree, you'll complement your culinary arts background with coursework in accounting, management, marketing and human resources. With this degree, you'll be eligible for management jobs in corporations such as multinational resorts, cruise lines and major chain restaurants. Some chefs simply complete undergraduate and graduate business degrees to advance in the executive food-service field.

Apprenticeships

A culinary arts apprenticeship can be undertaken in cooperation with your state workforce agency and the American Culinary Federation also collaborates with employers to offer apprenticeships to those interested in becoming chefs. As an apprentice, you will work in an approved commercial kitchen to learn the profession hands-on and take college courses to supplement your real-world experiences. The number of years it takes to complete an apprenticeship ranges, but often amounts to about the same time it takes to complete a culinary arts associate degree, approximately two to three years. Upon completion, you may be eligible for promotion leading to a chef position, especially if you remain employed with your apprenticeship sponsor.

Considerations

If you have a strong business plan and need culinary arts training to start a food service business, you may benefit from enrolling in a short-term certificate program. Such programs usually take a few months to complete and teach you professional techniques in your specialty area. For example, if you wish to start a wedding cake business and need some training, enrolling in a pastry arts certificate program of a few months may be all you need to get your business up and running.