Breaking apart the term, culinary means “related to cooking” and arts refers to any broad area of interest. So, put simply, culinary arts refer to the art of preparing, cooking, presenting and serving food. This may often be in the form of meals in a restaurant, but culinary arts can refer to all professions that involve preparing, cooking and presenting food.
One simple way to think about culinary arts is to consider what makes food appetizing to begin with. As humans, we judge food by the way the food itself looks, how it is presented, how it smells, how it performs or behaves while we taste it, how it feels on the tongue and of course how it makes us feel. You may not have realized that all these factors play a role in our enjoyment of food, but these senses are all working every time you have food in front of you. It’s the role of the culinary arts professional to ensure that all of these senses are satisfied positively.
This is why a culinary arts professional takes time to make sure the food looks appealing, is served in attractive or interesting ways, smells appetizing, and appeals to our taste buds. The successful culinary arts professional uses all the tools available to ensure that all of these factors work together to create the perfect dish.
The Culinary Arts process
The process begins with choosing the best ingredients. Culinary arts professionals learn how to pick and choose ingredients that are at their peak, whether it’s an apple, a mushroom, a fish, or something else. In a fine restaurant, it’s usually the chef who oversees the buying of fresh ingredients.
Next, the chef decides what recipes will be made to best make use of the ingredients on hand. A knowledgeable chef will be able to quickly adapt the menu to adjust for more or less of the required ingredients.
Once the menu is planned, the sous-chef must get to work, preparing all the ingredients so that they can be used in the recipes. This is another stage of the culinary arts process. The food must be chopped, sliced, cut and prepared in just the right way so that the food is highly attractive in its shape, or so that it can be properly cooked in the recipe. This is one reason why there are so many kinds of slices and “knifework” that a sous-chef must learn.
The chef in a fine hospitality establishment will have a group of cooks on hand to prepare the various dishes on the menu. Each of these cooks has been trained in the culinary arts and understands the importance of handling each ingredient correctly during the cooking process.
The cooks will have learned a wide variety of cooking methods so that they can call upon their knowledge to correctly prepare any dish. The cooking methods will include things like frying, deep-frying, sautéing, broiling, boiling, basting, baking, steaming and much more. In addition, the cooks will be familiar with each of the tools necessary to prepare the dishes. These include cookware and utensils. There is an endless number of kitchen tools, and the true culinary arts professional must learn how to use all of them, including the food mill, grinder, mortar and pestle, ladle, steamer, stick blender and more. The cooks must also know how to operate cooking appliances such as gas ranges, electric ovens, freezers, convection ovens, etc.
What Culinary Arts means around the globe
If all this sounds overwhelming, consider that there are also international cuisines that culinary arts professionals need to be aware of. To work in a hospitality establishment that caters to international guests, the culinary arts professionals must be familiar with international dishes and tools. These include dishes like crème Brulé, bouillabaisse, cooking methods such as sous-vide. Needless to say, this can all seem very intimidating, considering the vast amount of information that is needed to be a true culinary arts professional.
However, consider that not all the information must be learned at one time. In good kitchens, a culinary arts professional learns in stages. Anyone interested in becoming a culinary arts professional can attend school to learn the culinary arts. You would then work your way through the various positions until you were comfortable with each position. For example, you might start as a busser, become a waiter, become a sous-chef, become a cook and then perhaps one day become a chef running your own kitchen.
Along the way, you would learn every aspect of the culinary arts profession. You would learn how to present the dishes to the customers, how to garnish a plate, how to cut, dice and slice foods so that it is attractive, how to plate a dish, how to prepare raw foods, how to select fresh cuts of meat and much more.