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school vs. apprenticeship

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 
Basically, which is better. I'm 30 and want to become a chef. school is expensive but from what I understand teaches the classical techniques(stocks, sauces, ect...). As for apprenticeship, I have heard that working under one chef you may only learn what interests them, and what their menu offers. How can one rest. menu under one chef teach me all that I need to know to become my own chef.
post #2 of 4

hmmm much thought you need

As far as working under one chef and only learning what interests him, that is not necessarily true. Most chef's are more then happy to show you different things, like the difference between a Battonette and Brunoise cut. Present them with questions and have a willingness to learn, and keep an open mind. If you do go with the apprenticeship, go to a place that does a variety of things, a hotel is a good example, any decent hotel has at least 1 in house restaurant and will also, probably, do banquets. So you can see how working on a line goes and doing things to order, as compared to a banquet where its mass quantites in Hotel pans ready to go out. You will get out of the apprenticeship only as much as you put in so bare that in mind.

With an appreticeship, be aware that money probably wont be that good as you are there to learn and dont become frustrated if you are prepping alot (peeling potatoes, washing greens, etc) A chef has a well rounded knowledge of everything in the kitchen and prepping is part of that. It can be tedious and boring but its part of the life, again keep an open mind about it. Also, dont go to just learn from the chef, learn from EVERYONE, even the dishwasher may rattle off something that proves to be useful down the line.

As far as school goes, I really have no input on this as I have learned from just chefs I have worked under, but books provide a wealth of information a few to consider are:

The Professional Chef by The Culinary Instutite of America
Jacques Pépin's Complete Techniques by Jacques Pépin
On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen by Harold McGee

All are excellent books, the Pro Chef is a good book for anyone new to the biz, has lots of recipies and methodology, Techniques is more well rounded in the Techniques we use (obviously) like knife cuts, folding linen, different presentations on fish, how to smoke fish, etc and On Food and Cooking is really an organic chemistry that focuses on food and how we cook it, what happens to it, etc.

There is my .02 hope it helps you.
"Non-cooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet." -Julia Child
"Non-cooks think it's silly to invest two hours' work in two minutes' enjoyment; but if cooking is evanescent, so is the ballet." -Julia Child
post #3 of 4
I get this question a lot from students I mentor.

some stats:

With degree Exec Chef title = approx. 5-8 years AFTER Grad.

On the Job training Exec Chef Title = approx. 10-15 years from first employment.

Please realize that these are averages and not set in concrete. Some people may NEVER have what it takes to become a chef while others may fly up the ranks in 2 years and get a lucky break.

before deciding... do these 3 things first:

1) Read Kitchen Confidential

2) Work in the best restaurant you can get into for free as a prep cook/dishwasher for at least 3 shifts.

3) As yourself this, "Would I rather be cooking for 15 hours a day in a hot kitchen for $10/hr, on weekends and holidays, getting cut and burned more than anything else in the world" because it's THIS kind of passion you will need to have to be successful as a fine dining chef.
post #4 of 4
I definitely vote for apprenticeship. I'm doing an apprenticeship right now, and although the work is very tough (15 hour days, 50-70 hour weeks), I'm much better because of it.

I've worked with culinary school grads, been their Chef de partie, and unfortunately I have a much lower respect for schools now... Most seem stuck in the delusion that upon graduation, they are chefs. Many can't do the simplest of tasks, are slow, have shady technique, but think they know everything...

Of course, you need to work for a good chef to get the most out of an apprenticeship, and I'm lucky enough to have worked for a very good, incredibly strict french chef. The best part, I'm getting paid to learn, and getting a much better education at the same time...
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