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21 November 2006

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» think twice before going to culinary school from groknaut
On the job training is where it's at. [Read More]

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I'm in school right now at a Community College which is a lot cheaper than the other options. So far, I like it. It can be frustrating at times but so can any other position/schooling/internship. I was working full time in a decent paying (but absolutely mind-numbing) job and I am so, so glad that I decided to do this for myself, something that I've wanted to do since I was twelve. Just my two cents.

As someone who has thought seriously about culinary school, I just have to say: I only wish I lived on the West Coast so I *could* come talk to you.

I'm in the final(ly!) weeks of my Community College Culinary Program here in Seattle. As someone who'd worked in kitchens for years, I knew there'd never be the return on the big, private school investment. I've received a great education for a fraction of the cost, and our school does a lot around teaching sustainable practices. I'm glad I did it...that said, if you could find someone to take you under their wing-- all the better-- I'm just not sure how many wings are still available these days.

I wish the local culinary schools offered some sort of evening program for those of us who are not planning to be a professional chef but would simply like to learn. I think the culinary schools are missing a huge market there.

I'm 34 and have worked in restaurants since I was 16. I wish I had gone to cooking school instead of college. I've learned a lot on the job but the most important thing I learned is that I don't want to be a chef. I recommend people interested in cooking for a living read Michael Ruhlman's books.

Yes! I completely agree and I too am living proof of that. I started at a bakery worked there for 6 months then went to work at Spago. Now I own a dessert catering business. Don't think that I am unique... I think anyone who is willing to put in the time, work hard, study and make sacrifices, than it is possible.

Yes..try it out for a few months..weeks even to see if you can handle it. All of the commercials & Food Network shows make it seem so fun & glamorous.
Being a pastry chef has been one of the most stressfull,backbreaking,unglamorous,fullfilling,challenging,fun,unfun,rewarding,low paying & satisfying career I've had. Confusing? It should be. It is. And it's not for everyone.

I started out going to school & then getting a job by chance working the counter at a bakery in Chicago called Bittersweet. I would work the day shift 6-2 and them head to night class afterward. I finally got into the kitchen a year later & almost immediately quit culinary school. Everything I learned & needed to know I learned from my boss,Judy. She was a self taught pastry chef & she had done quite well for herself. "Save your money,kid. Watch & learn" is what her husband told me. And I did. I worked there for about 6 yrs before packing up & heading to California.
Find a mentor. They are out there. It's just that they're not all working at the top 10 restaurants in SF. They're in your local mom & pop bakery. Your local supermarket. Don't assume that because they work at a fancy restaurant they are the best you can learn from. I've met & know some of these "pastry chefs" and really some have no right calling themselves that.

What I'd like to know is would any of you go to culinary school if you didn't have to pay for it? The cost to benefit ratio is clearly a fantastic one in favor of going straight into the job market, but no one ever talks about the actual comparison of the training itself. Culinary school vs. Work...Which is more complete training? Which is more practical training? What do you gain from each that the other doesn't offer?

I had no experience in the reataurant biz and people wouldn't give me a second look because of it. When I tried to get my foot in the door by dish washing or bussing, I didn't get hired probably because I'm white and not Latino, because most people think that they can get away with paying a person of color less. I decided that school would my best option. I get some experience and something to be put on my admittedly thin resume.

"All of the commercials & Food Network shows make it seem so fun & glamorous."

it's funny -- i said the same thing at work when i was closing tonight. i was declogging our floor drain. it smelled like the elephant habitat at the zoo. better than sitting at a desk, and i say that with zero sarcasm.

"Culinary school vs. Work...Which is more complete training? Which is more practical training? What do you gain from each that the other doesn't offer?"

this depends on the individual. i went to school because i wanted the basics down before i stepped foot in a kitchen. i had no idea how to hold a knife, no idea about sanitation, nothing. i doubt a chef/kitchen manager will have the time, patience and energy to explain these things to a n00ber when he needs someone to sling food. when Chef says "I need you to do ___________ for me" he wants to hear "yes, Chef" and not "what's that?"

as for me, just like i want my doctor to be trained in his field, i think a trained cook would be a better asset than someone who is curious. i would say seek out cooking classes that some higher-end grocery stores (Whole Foods springs to mind) might offer -- if you're in a large enough city, some non-chain restaurants might also have cooking classes.

how did i know i wanted to be a cook/future restaurateur? i prepared my first Thanksgiving dinner on my own in 2003. i told my dad "i could do this for a living." i was in school 14 months later. best decision i ever made.

I worked as a savory cook for several years and never went to cooking school. I had a natural intuition for cooking and learned everything I didn't know from my chef and sous chef. I find that learning on the job is very beneficial b/c you get to do tasks multiple times. For example, in one day I had to skin and trim 7 beef filet roasts. Had I been in culinary school, I would have had one chance to skin a filet (what school has the budget to allow 7 filets per student?) And, in many instances, a student may only get to WATCH another student do a task b/c there is not enough product to practice on, not enough equipment, or not enough space/time.

That said, I found myself working in pastry a few years later. I, again, had a natural knack for baking, but pastry is an exact science (unlike savory cooking), and I felt that I could benefit from formal training. I took a 6 month professional pastry course in the evening. I was able to continue working at my job during the day, and I paid ONE SIXTH of the price of full-time culinary school. I learned so much in that class. I don't regret a thing.

Thank you for all the comments-- keep em coming!

The point of this post is to corral as many experiences into the pen as possible. Every person learns differently, everyone comes from a different class background with various amounts of privedge to choose or even feel as though they have choices.

Had I been able to afford it, I think I would have excelled in culinary school. As it was, I did fine with on-the-job training.

In school there is more freedom to experiment. In an job situation you're just being yelled at to get it done.

But it is my experience that a lot of students come out of culinary school thinking they know far more than they actually do, or could.

I am mentoring someone now who I sent to the SF City College. It put her far less in debt and she still has the same opportunities for ex/interning which the big fancy overpriced culinary school has.

Read Kitchen Confidential, Heat and then maybe Ruhlman's books-- Mr. Ruhlman is not a cook or a chef...

There are some great suggestions/life experiences here so far, I hope they continue to flow in from all kind of corner!

I found the culinary courses in this community college in San Diego very interesting. We had to line up from 6 in the morning to get the forms since only 25 are admitted per class.

Many classes were taught by chefs who chose to have more sane working hours and a personal life.

I fell in love with this chef who deglamorized the whole profession and boiled it down to the bass tacks!

Utensils were short, till I finished my course I did not set sight on a chinos!

The real learning happened when I started interning in the morning and studying in the evening. Working gave my learning a reality check and a whole new perspective. It taught me what it takes to drag my tired behind day after day into the kitchen to make a living.

Some of the bakeries that I interned in San Diego and Sunnyvale were very interesting to say the least. I learnt from an one woman jewish bakery and another one that specilized in all things flour and flower!

I am a better baker because of all these experiences and I am very thankful to all those who gave me that chance.

I have earned my stripes literally, on my right forearm when the oven door banged shut on it!

"But it is my experience that a lot of students come out of culinary school thinking they know far more than they actually do, or could."

this is true. there are two culinary schools in my hometown, one that trains by Le Cordon Bleu's methods and the one i went to (which was 1/4 the size and 1/2 the price) but the people who came out of the LCB school were, for the most part, total pricks who thought going to school meant they were chefs even though they couldn't cook rice. but, in my school, i also had a few in my class who thought they knew it all when everything they made was garbage as well. it's like being called "doctor" from the first day you're in med school -- just because they call you that doesn't make it true.

i am a cook. i know for a fact i can't call myself a chef at least until i have run my own kitchen. and even then it might be weird. ;-)

because of the people who have an inflated sense of who they think they are, they give the rest of us, the ones who live in reality, a bad name and make us have to prove ourselves more, which i think is unfair: "oh, you went to school. you think you're better than me?" no. i would hate to think someone who has been on the line for 20+ years would hate/resent me just because i shelled out money for school. if someone does give me grief for that, then they are the pricks and not worth the breath to explain myself. i'd rather see/taste what someone's made of than be expected to take their word for it.

I think that's all great advice if you happen to have a close relation who owns their own business with an outstanding reputation or if you get that lucky break of getting an apprenticeship for a renowned chef, but I've been working in kitchens for two years and despite the fact that I am a talented patissiere, I can't get a job in prestigious kitchens because there's always somebody else who has been to school and has connections who wants that same job. And they get it.
Cooking school is about making contacts, networking. Alos, if you play your cards right, you get placements in top kitchens. I've just secured a place at a cordon bleu school, which will permit me not only to learn things that I would never have learnt in kitchens ( such as pastillage, sugarwork and a much broader base of techniques and recipes than in a restaurant with 8 dishes on it's menu that change once in a blue moon) but also to get positions, as the lowest of the low maybe, but positions nonetheless in michelin starred restaurants which learning on the job would not give me the chance to do until maybe in 10 years time. I think it's worth it.
It all depends if you want to work in a steak and fries joint or if you aspire to maybe one day being in a brigade directed by paul bocuse or heston blumenthal.
Personally, I want to work my way to the top, and you need to go to a reputed school to do that. As I said, unless you just happen to have contacts.
Which I dont.

One of the best decisions I've ever made was NOT to go to culinary school. A new (and expensive) culinary college opened up by my home - I was considering enrolling - thinking it would be fun to go back to school and get a culinary degree.

But then, I thought....is it fun to get $60K in debt?

Here here! I COMPLETELY agree. Sound advice...

Cheers,
Rachael (who is grateful she was able to pay for cooking school up front, but still thinks it was a waste. A fun waste, but a waste. LOL.)

I'm sorry to all those that went to culinary school and found it to be a waste of time and money. Like anything in life, you get as much as you desire to take in. Maybe you can learn half of the things taught in school on the job but you can't learn everything in one place. Culinary school was definitely a great experience for me and I would not dismiss the idea of attending school just because a lot of people here decided not to take the experience for all it's worth.

Hey Baygirl,
I have some questions...Do you work in the industry now? In a restaurant? How long has it been?
Just wondering.

Shuna, I'm so happy you are helping students out with this advice and are interested in mentoring people. I think profit-driven schools are so bad for education as a whole; the problems with debt and over-admissions are prevalent in other fields too. I've decided to get some real world experience and not worry about a fancy piece of paper.

tyronebcookin: age 37
Did you go to culinary school? No.
If you could go back in time and go to culinary school would you?

Probably not. I was baking cookies & brownies at 4 years old as part of a 4-H club. My mom still has the paper clipping of me in the middle of about 12 girls when the local paper came and did a piece on the local 4-H club.

I did not go to culinary school because it was not that prevalent and not that big a deal when I was growing up and the closest one was in another state. It was more about what you could do, who you had worked for, what your references looked like. I apprenticed under quite a few Chefs both corporate and regional, some trained/schooled, others apprenticed and well traveled their self.

If someone would pay for it would you go?
Not now, there's nothing for me to prove...but maybe if they offered to pay back then.

How do people react outside of the 'job place' when they find out you have not gone to Culinary School?

Almost every time I am asked 'what culinary school did you go to/graduate from?' almost 70% of people seemed disappointed or unimpressed when I explained my work history...that I was apprenticed, took management courses/study for corporations within their restaurants, catered...etc.

What would you want a person considering culinary school do before hand?
Start working some job(s) earlier than college…get back in a few kitchens and cook, put up inventory, help the dishwasher(be a dishwasher) to appreciate and learn all aspects…try being a server, hostess, make sure you really want to take on these tasks and are able to do them double digit hours each day. Even a job at a fast food chain will teach you some basics, rules, work ethics, health standards. Realize there is a REAL HIGH chance you will not become a celebrity chef with your own show on Food Network. Sometimes dreams (and careers) stem from the un-reality of TV and become very disappointing when they can not be achieved in a very short amount of time.

Who would you hire 'old school/hard knocks' or culinary grad?
I would probably hire a well-regarded friend/associates pass-along or reference for someone else that had either one. School, or hard knocks.

Say like you said to me, 'yo tyrone, I know this kid...got a good creative streak and he has integrity, not to mention can cook double shifts and works great after 4 hours of sleep' THAT is the guy I am probably going to hire...school or experience.

How has your culinary life served you?
I've paid my dues, I have worked the corporate, franchise, & private business/company/enterprise aspects of cooking... Also spending time in a hospital kitchen for learning special diets and other health related stuff along with all that lovely commercial equipment and an almost unlimited budget for tasteless food made by people still getting paid $8 an hour that have been there for 25 years. (that year almost killed me from boredom)

I love what I do. I volunteer my skills to church, mission, and volunteer organizations. I have a sense of accomplishment. I get to see instant gratification in most circumstances, there is always something else to learn, study, cook, and travel. Food crosses all boundaries, religious, cultural, rich or poor, etc…and there is much history behind it all. It opens doors for me. Now, I even get to decide what jobs I will work, what hours, and what money I want to make.

I currently work as a volunteer ( I raise my own financial support for insurance & crew fees ) for a global charity running the kitchen/galley for the worlds largest non-government, hospital ship the M/V Africa Mercy ( http://mercyships.org ). The title here is Lead Chef or Chief Cook.

I would still never pay all that money to be culinary school trained, the money (from working fresh out of culinary school) is not any better in the job market even with the exposure in media.

I`ve been working in the restaurant business for 7 years. Went to college, was placed in a hotel for my inservice training, applied for a position as chef at a local high-end restaurant. I got the job and was later promoted to executive chef. Would I have gotten the job without an education? Who knows, but I`ve just started more training at a chef school and after this training, the world will be my oyster.

AHA! I just found this, it answers my question. Thanks! :)

Hi,
I have wanted to go to culinary school since I graduated from high school. Pressure from my parents caused the desicion to go to a state university and study social work. I am now 25 years old and at this point I have no kitchen experience except in my own and even there i must admit that my knowledge and skill is limited. However, I still dream of becoming a great cook and running my own catering business. Would culinary school be the best place for me to gain the knowledge to fulfill my dream?

Hello Danadoll,

It seems as though some kind of culinary training would be a good idea, although I warn you to pick one that will not break the bank. Especially right now, in lieu of America's terrible economy. ~ Shuna

glad I found this. I'm still only in my mid twenties but I will say that I worked in fast food in various positions including as assistant manager for 5 years. I then was lucky enough to get my current job as a diner cook. I've learned so much so far but it also taught me how much I didn't know. I decided to attend a technical college for a diploma program. It's 1/8 the cost of even the cheapest culinary programs and teaches the same stuff....if an associates in culinary wasn't so expensive I'd consider it but I actually I'm starting to think that experience always triumphs over degree.

Cooking is an art form though and taste is subjective. As long as you learn the basics I think it's up to every individual to be able to create and express themselves through their own recipes anyway.
You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink it. I think that parents or kids who go to a high priced culinary institute are trying to overcompensate for something. There are many restaurants and different kitchen jobs/opportunities, a lot of places are always short on help. If they liked it so much why wouldn't they work there? I think more often then not a lot of people view art colleges (art, music, cooking) the same way as a university that teaches a subject. They think the education will bounce them straight to the executive chef position at a four star place and that's just not true.

those are just my two cents

I very much appreciate what you do on this blog and the advise/ information that you provide. Reading your opinions on the food industry has really made my passion for entering it even stronger. So thank you
And also i would really like to here your true unedited/unfiltered on Culinary schools.

Thanks a lot for this post; it actually made me sit and weigh my options. For one, i had to set out and fully discover if this is what i want. I am only 17, but it would suck to change my mind during a service and realize i would rather be in marketing.

So i flipped over every rock and with the help of my guidance counselor. i found a "job" as a modern day cabin boy at the new york restaurant Aquavit, and i must say i love every single second of it.

I love the peeling, the chopping, the dicing. i love the fact that when i mess up (which is rare), the cooks care enough to say do it again, i love that they take time out of their days to show me something new, and what freaks me out the most is that i love just sitting and looking at my hands in wonder at all the new cuts that i find,(there are a lot).

But now that i know i love the kitchen (even the heat), i am still left with the burning question of whether i should spend money on myself or on culinary school.

The general opinion of the kitchen i work in is yes but spend as little as possible-- but i just don't know. The CIA calls to me and as a young person the idea of debt shouldn't be in my mind while making choices but for some reason it is.

But until i land on an option i will spend my time chopping, dicing, peeling, counting, cleaning, plating, and even cooking.
- Khalil

hello Khalil,
Thank you so much for taking the time to write your current experience and perspective here. It is an honor to have you and your honesty.
I must call to question one statement though,

"The CIA calls to me and as a young person the idea of debt shouldn't be in my mind while making choices but for some reason it is."

The idea of debt SHOULD be in your mind, no matter how old you are!!!! Especially right now, when the American economy gets worse every day.

Why not just do a year at Aquavit (an amazing opportunity, you should know!) and then ask the chef what/where to go next. If you decide on The Culinary Institute of America, please look into the possibility scholarships based on merit.

And if you think of it, and have the time, please do stop by eggbeater again, and tell us what you decided, at least for the moment. ~ Shuna

Thanks to all entries, I appreciate everyone's opion and advise. My dilema...I am an almost 50, empty nester. I was a stay at home mom. I have no marketable skills, and I am seriously considering getting into the culinary arts program at my local JC. I have no ambition to become a great chef or work at a grand restaurant. I would be happy to get a job decorating cakes at the local chain grocery store...or preparing take home meals at the warehouse superstore. At one time, long ago when I... was younger, I spent time in a large kitchen, making meals for about 60 people. I loved using the industrial sized equipment, and going into the walk in refrigerator and freezers to scream when things got rough. I miss cooking for my (used to be larger)family, am I directing my interest in the right direction? Thanks.

Hello Vi, I think you should go where you're heart says go. Just make sure you don't spend too much, is what I'm mostly saying. Thanks for bravely giving your point of view. ~ Shuna

Hello! I too am thinking of attending culinary school (community school). I've had a little experience in the food service industry (mainly ice cream service, that is) but have always been a crazy at-home baker. For the last 6 years I've been working at a law firm that is of no interest to me but it pays the bills. My original plan was to quit next Fall, go to culinary school and work part-time in the food industry so I would get technical education through school but then get the feel of working in a food service environment. I must admit, however, after reading the above comments, I'm not so sure. I have no idea how to get an apprenticeship when I've had no real baking experience outside of my kitchen. Should I look for an apprenticeship now? I only have weekends available.

I feel the proper schooling can definitely give you an edge in knowledgre with the proper aproach.I agree with most post stating you should work in the biz a while before deciding to invest and struggle through school.i have been in and out of the industry for a decade and after spending some time in nyc this past year realized how important the credit of a formal culinary education can be.if you already have hands on knowledge and i pretty good history then a diploma can only heighten your salary and options.just be very careful about the school you choose.look at what's going to be your living situation.cost of living, public transpo etc.i don't suggest moving to Los Angelas to go to school.expensive city with a big bill and heavy rent.lots of negative distraction etc.same for nyc.try portland oregon or some new england state.if your pay all that money ytou might as well live cheap.also know what your goals are.what do you want to do? there are so many more options than just chef in a restaraunt.you can cook at hotels,ships,offshore, summer camps, year round camps, islands... explore the air force's program maybe. really look around and put some heavy thought in it.what are you're life goals? i am looking forward to settling in one restaraunt for a while and not move around anymore once i'm done with school.i have international interest and i know how i'd like to blend my already proven established style with certain other types of foods.i just nned the education to help with more tech skills and knowledge as well as more leverage for possible investors later.i don't knwo there is much to it.just research and be real with yourself and your personal goals and past experiance.

So I am curious those that scorn a culinary degree. I am 40. I taught myself tattooing, and remodeling. Or rather did the school of hard knocks..

I am going to culinary school. Why you may ask?? Very simple... it get's my foot in the door.

When I am asked what the mother sauces are... No problem... when I am asked to create a fine brunois. They will be 1/16th cubes. When I talk to some dumbfuck human resource guy I have a credential. I have tried to do too many trades on my own or school of hard knocks to learn the hard way. If ya don't have a cred you wipe benches and clean puke, pick up nails, or wash dishes.

When I leave school I will have my CCC. After a time I will earn my CSC and will keep my credentials up to date as my skills increase.Eventually even if I own my own restaurant my creds will rise the goal being CMC. It may or may not happen.

On the way do I expect the red carpet treatment... hardly. I know I will scrub pots for shit wages.. BUT... the time I spend there will be lessened. In short order I will be scrubbing pans.

It amuses me to hear people say how hard it is... 16 hour days in 100+ heat... boo hoo

Try 16 hours in 120 on a roof hoofing 90 lb bundles of roofing. Nail off 150 lb beams. Cooking is cake

The trades are changing and a credential looks good to a human resource dude..

To an independent owner maybe not so much. But then again the cash isn't in the mom and pop. Nor is it in the boutique.

My thought is it is gonna get my foot in a higher quality door.

JSin

I've left a similar comment on another post here, so I'll keep it short.

I'm also in a community college culinary program. My school's culinary program has had an excellent reputation for years. Last year, they started a dedicated baking and pastry program. I just started this week and can tell that it's going to be a great, challenging experience that will prepare me well for a job in a professional kitchen. My chef instructors are fantastic!

Do I think you need a culinary school degree for straight culinary? Maybe, maybe not. One guy in my program has 30 years experience. He's there because he is realizing that he needs a degree to get paid more.

I personally think a degree is necessary for baking and pastry. I think there is so much more science involved, so much more precision, and so much more room for error that it's not a bad idea. I'll take these two years to learn, fail, perfect, and grow so that I can hit the ground running when I'm done. Especially since I have my sights set on a big time restaurant when I'm done.

I hate chef school boys and girls. They can't cook in a real kitchen or work the line worth a shit. I have had the opportunity to work with alot of those pukes and they can't even dice an onion efficiently. Just because you have a piece of paper that says you are a chef, you still have years of being someones bitch in some hell-hole kitchen somewhere. Take your time and learn from the lifers around you; just because they did not go to school does not mean they don't have a better and faster way of doing it. Listen to them because they went to the school of life in those hell-hole kitchens. I know because I have over 20 years of experience.

i love to cook, and bake.. Im the only one who cooks at my house. I can tell what food need what spice and love decortating cakes. but i have no money nor time to go to school because im a single mother of a 2 year old.. What should I do???

but it's hard to get a chance to be hired in a kitchen,they only look for those who has experiences or those who studied related course :( i have sent plenty of emails to every restaurants , hotels and cafes and no one is hiring me. i really wanna be a chef..that's my dream.

Hello Ashley, sending emails is not the best way to reach chefs. Walking into restaurants and introducing yourself is the best way. I recently took on someone with absolutely no professional kitchen experience because she came to me the old fashioned way.

There are all sorts of paths to this dream of yours, you just need to be persistent! Never give up. I didn't. And I never have. On what I wanted. ~ Shuna

Age: 18
I recently got accepted into the CIA bachelor's program for June 2010 but I am having second thoughts.The money is due and I have to take out student loans. Everyone tells me I have a natural talent and that culinary school is not what will make me a successful chef/entrepraneur. I have big dreams of owning a bakery, restaurant and hopefully franchise. I have gone to a technical high school that is accredited by the ACF and I know the basics such as knife cuts and mother sauces. I have competed in culinary competitions and I am ranked second in GA. I have also done ProStart. I have received scholarships but they are from different schools. The money is stil not enough. I have been offered $10,000 a year from NECI which will make my tuition $24000/yr. Due to the fact that I want to own my own business and venture out, should I take the leap and get the loans, and if so should I get it at the CIA? I want to ask the opinion on what I should do, because it is difficult to take the advice of people that have no idea about cooking.( sucha as my parents whose opinions change with the economy) Please HELP!!! I am running out of options....
P.S. I also wanted know the opinion on what I should major in. I am signed up for Baking and Pastry but should I change my major to Culinary???? Sincerely, A Stressed Young Adult

Adrianna, thank you for reading eggbeater & leaving an enquiry in the comments.

Right this minute this is what I have:

If you are not in a position to pay for culinary school, you will not be in a position to pay back those criminal loans when you get out. Much of this comes down to brass tacks. People who graduate culinary school with profound loans can not be choosy about the jobs they get when they graduate. Those loans become your bondage & far outweigh {in MY OPINION} the freedoms your "degree" give you.

I cannot begin to count the number of cooks I have interviewed, talked to and met who say, "I wish I never went to culinary school," after they got out & started cooking professionally.

If I could have afforded culinary school when I entered this industry I would have gone. But I could not. And here I am. If you want to be cooking professionally, start. There's nothing to wait for.

Good luck. And feel free to come back to eggbeater in 6 months and tell us what you decided, where you're cooking & how well your decision is treating you. The "answer" lies within you. ~ Shuna

For those interested in culinary school, go visit your local community college and see what they have to offer. For old farts (60+) who want to go, the community college generally waives seniors (however they define that) from paying tuition.

One of the secrets is the internship. Bust your butt, brown-nose all you can and you might be offered a full-time position. I was. They are always looking for talent.

Upon graduation, my advice is go to New York City, Miami or Las Vegas. There room there. You can grow (due to turnover). Just hang in there. Take the ACF sous chef exam and the chef de cuisine exam a.s.a.p. Credentials count in this racket. A lots of "chefs" out there have no clue because they never went to culinary school. Someone who went to culinary school who goes to work with an open mind has it all over some joker who apprenticed. Apprenticeships that are not intimately tied to a schools are without merit. [ed note: I have to disagree with this last sentence as this was neither my experience nor the experience of other chefs I've worked for. sfl]

Go! Run, don't walk to the community college. If one in your area does not have a culinary program, go to one that does. Simple.

About the $50,000+ culinary schools like CIA, etc. They do not know more that you will upon completion of the community college's culinary program, providing you bust your butt.

You can be all you want to be. Have faith, work hard, take bloody notes (seriously) and you'll be an executive chefs within 5 years (or get out of the business). Note that a lot of the high-paying chef jobs are NOT in the restaurant industry, such as colleges, industry, racing, etc.

Thank you Richard for taking the time to write this detailed comment. The more voices the better is what I say! ~ Shuna

Lots of great information here. I'm sure there are many kids that have gotten out of school thinking they would make much more money than they actually can in the kitchen.

I am a bit bothered by the assumptions being made here. It's similar to the bashing of academics and intellectuals for their choice to pursue a higher education. Yes, degrees do not automatically prove intelligence nor common sense, but let's not make it out to be that those who have them are all devoid of those qualities.

I went to culinary school. I am heavily in debt. I am fairly sure I do not want to be an executive chef. I would not have gotten hired without a culinary degree here in NY.
I am forever grateful for what I learned in school. I got a lot out of it, though many do not. Part of it is the continued work to learn as much as possible, which most people don't do. I cook and bake on my days off. I probably bake more, and have worked pastry because I've made sure that I know more than just how to work the line. I am a hard-working line cook. When I started, and to this day, being a woman makes it hard to get respect, but I usually get it from the chefs, and even other cooks recognize the knowledge I have. And it's knowledge that other cooks don't have for the most part. If I didn't have it, where would I be then?
Let me give you an example. We have a fairly simple soup that keeps getting screwed up. Why? In spite of the cooks making it being experienced, a couple of them sous chefs, they've not bothered to learn something so basic. They've learned to work the line, and from having someone tell them. Even the ones who went to school just didn't hold on to what they were taught. They don't cook at home. So they go and add a ton of water to the pot, not realizing that when you make a soup, you add as much liquid as needed to get the vegetables properly cooked. You can always add more liquid, but you can't take it out. That's basic. Another, a sous chef, was grinding up the cobs in the soup (it's a corn soup) because he didn't know that cobs are there for flavor, much as the pod of a vanilla bean is steeped once it's been scraped out. I don't think. And that reminds me of how little most cooks know about produce. Most worry only about protein but can't for the life of them treat a vegetable properly. Again, it's due to the fact that they don't bother to learn anything other than what they get told at work. And because such a premium us put on simply shutting up, working fast, and doing what chef tells you. There's no analysis, no research of their own, even with base knowledge.

So please, let's not make it out to be that culinary school is useless when it's the individual that makes the experience. And learning on the job is great and all, but not if it doesn't make you think about how what you learn can be applied to other things and expanded upon. Not if you don't push yourself to learn more.

Hello all,

Thank you Saria! I've been looking for an answer as to why or why not culinary school and you're the only person that made sense of it all. I'm 48 and I plan to attend CIA in NY next year in the Fall. I'm from NY and I live in TX now and I can't wait to go back to NY. I've been scared about debt and my age, but after everything that's been said; I love baking, I have nothing else going on in my live now, so why not. I've put it off now for two years and I just realized I don't want to look back and say what if anymore. I'm just going to study hard and make the best of it. Thanks again. I wish you all the best.

Maruka

WHY did I not discover your blog until today? brilliant - thank you!

I've been cooking now for over 30 years, not on a professional level, I cook for parties, holidays, just about everything. I never been to culinary school, but I've done tons of reading. Meats, grains, beans, flours you name it I've read it. I also love baking desserts...hell I think I can do it all. Creole, french, I'm one of thoses that if you name it I'll cook it or bake it. I been thinking about going to school at 57 years old, still having doubts. I've worked as an engineer for the last 35 years and retired.I'm also have a wholesale dessert food distribution to Whole Foods Market for vegan desserts. Just wondering if culinary school, can help. I like to maybe open a small dessert shop in Santa Barbara off the ocean. Can use some serious advise.
Thanks
Ivory

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