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So, You're Thinking of Culinary School

post #1 of 45
Thread Starter 
I have been in and out of the catering and restaurant business for 45 years. I have done well, both in the kitchen and in the accountant's office. I've been retired for seven years and only on the rarest occasion will I step back into the kitchen. I have trained hundreds of cooks/chefs during the past four+ decades. Many came to me from highly rated culinary schools; many from community vo-techs. It made no difference!! Once, in the commercial kitchen, they became novices...often novices that had acquired useless skills and pseudo-talents at their schools of choice.

Remember this one fact from this post: With rare exception, every culinary school exists only to make a profit. You will pass your classes and get your pats on the back as long as your tuition is paid. PERIOD! Yes, if you are a total novice in the kitchen, you learn some of the rudiments...but, if you are that novice, you have absolutely no business attending a culinary school of any kind, private or public.

Commercial cooking (call it being a chef, if it makes you happy) is hard labor melded to both art and science. Great chefs, like all great artists, are born to it. They hone their art, but they are born with the mental and physical instruments. If you are of the age to consider a culinary career, and you're not already an outstanding cook, reconsider your career of choice. A culinary school will not make you an artist. Boys and girls, I'm sorry...it simply ain't gonna happen.

I've been reading posts at cheftalk from some prospective students that are so poorly written that I question whether the individual is sufficiently literate to read and follow a recipe accurately, let alone function as anything more than a prep cook. Before you consider a culinary career, be absolutely sure that your academics are in order. Every great chef I've known has been incredibly well read and a student of the world. Their food is an expression of their life experience.

Okay, here's the abbreviated version: Before you spend 5 cents at any culinary school; before you listen to their "admissions counselor's" sales pitch, get a job in a restaurant doing anything. Work a minimum of 50 hours a week during the restaurant's busiest hours. Volunteer to assist in all areas of the restaurant. Do this for two solid years. If you've moved up to line cook by this time, ask yourself how you can best advance yourself. If the answer is culinary school, then explore options.
post #2 of 45

RSteve, may I add my 2 cents...

I agree with you, anyone looking to become a "chef" needs to have that inner passion for the labor of it.

The thurst for knowledge needed is never quenched and the day you think you know it all, is the day you know the least.

Culinary Schools do work on a profit basis as do all schools, so choose wisely and don't expect to have the ability giving to you on a platter.

When I was working in NYC the year between freshman and shophmore year I had the honor of working with Michel Keller, he asked me what my hobbies, intrests were and I said "Pastry!"
It was at that point, by the look in his eyes, I realized there is so much more to life and I had better find out what it was if I were to stay in the business.

People, read, write, ski, dance, travel, eat, build doll houses if you must, but live outside the kitchen to succeed within it.

And, for the love of pete, take english, history, math, science, spanish, business and an education class as well. Trust me, they will enrich your life and help you in your craft.:bounce:

thanks!
bake first, ask questions later.
Oooh food, my favorite!


Professor Pastry Artswww.collin.edu
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bake first, ask questions later.
Oooh food, my favorite!


Professor Pastry Artswww.collin.edu
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post #3 of 45
ok, you guys have got me a bit worried now... i have been currently tossing the idea around of becoming a professional chef and opening a restaurant (or go somewhere in the wide world of food, i will figure that out at some point) now my current plans were to go get a bachelors in something... and an associates degree in either baking and pastry, or culinary... maybe even both! now before i get too much in the way of interrogations from everybody, i DO have a love for food and cooking and baking, i think i am a pretty good cook (not a chef without training right?), i can definitely cook better and have developed many skills that i think most people my age have never even heard of. i also have a need to understand how cooking and baking work, like why carmalized things taste better, or how yeast works... and so on, also i got much more interests besides cooking, and im a great multi-tasker!

ok, so my real questions, i am considering transferring to Johnson & wales to get an associates degree in cooking or baking, and a 4 year degree in something else... is an associates degree enough to get a job at a reputable restaurant? or even open one up possibly? and does the school reputation make a difference? i am also attempting to get work at some food related place and am going to take summer cooking or baking classes
RAR!!!
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RAR!!!
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post #4 of 45
J&W has the resources to give you a great education, culinary, business.... If you have the talent and passion, you can do really well.
Take full advantage of everything the school has to offer.
PM me if you have any questions.:smiles:
bake first, ask questions later.
Oooh food, my favorite!


Professor Pastry Artswww.collin.edu
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bake first, ask questions later.
Oooh food, my favorite!


Professor Pastry Artswww.collin.edu
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post #5 of 45
Thread Starter 
Did you really read my post? I thought it was pretty clear. Not to dip into the political woes of the U.S., but go into the kitchen of any major restaurant in any metropolitan American city and listen to the languages spoken. Do you need an associate's degree??? No...you do not need an associates degree. You need talent and the desire to work and learn. Before you even think about training as a chef, spend at least a year in a commercial kitchen. To open a restaurant you need no formal education, training, or talent. You do need money, lots of it, and the willful understanding that most new restaurants fail, even if they are well financed and run by experienced people with great desire and skill. You need to plan for the next 30 days. Think about opening a restaurant when you have the financing, management skills, and understanding of how every aspect of a restaurant business runs.

It may get you one week's pay, then your attitude and skill will determine everything.


Attempting? In my world, that smacks of filling out an application or two. If you want to work in food service...restaurant, catering, institutional, etc., just do it!
post #6 of 45
rsteve, i did in fact read your post and it was rather helpful... very truthful. when i asked if an associates degree was enough, i meant in reputation... but your point on education has been fairly clear. as for who is working in professional kitchens? i hope i am not alone in thinking that it is nto right for most of those people to be working in a professional kitchen... it seems to me that they just pulled these people from out back hovering around the garbage, threw a coat on them and handed them a spatula... that does not seem "gourmet" in the least. what ever happened to the days of food being prepared by a trained individual, not some rift raft that calls themselves a chef?
RAR!!!
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RAR!!!
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post #7 of 45
I think you need to get a job in a kitchen, along with an attitude adjustment, a humility check, and a dose of reality.
I notice that you call yourself newbiechef. What qualifies you to call yourself chef as opposed to the "rift raft" that currently works in most professional kitchens?
"that does not seem "gourmet" in the least" What constitutes gourmet to you? Gourmet is achieved through hard work, not by a by a pedigree or the idle rich.
As to the days of food being prepared by trained individuals, the "rift raft" get real life training every day of their working lives. The level of training being dependant upon the expertise of their chef.
Give me hard working riffraff anyday. They recognize work for what it is.
Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #8 of 45
well....whether or not it's worth it...i'm enjoying it. I'm at the top of my class right now, and still don't know if I can make it. Yes it is hard work, and if I weren't willing, and able, to do it, I wouldn't be there. I am learning alot. I have never worked in a commercial kitchen....but it can't be any harder than dealing with 4 kids and a mentally ill husband full time. If I can do that for 20 years...I can work in a kitchen. LOL....anyway...I'm sorry that you feel that culinary school is a waist. It's good for me at the moment. And even if it only gets me in the door in a resturant...that's all I want. I will do the rest. Have a nice day. Kristen
Love, Kristen. Mommy and culinary student to the "stars"....LOL.
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Love, Kristen. Mommy and culinary student to the "stars"....LOL.
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post #9 of 45
Thread Starter 
But are you focusing on career training or enjoyment? "whether or not it's worth it."

Pay your tuition and you may stay there. If you don't know if you can make it, what the heck are you doing there.

Wait a minute!!! Cooking school is hard work, HUH? kraftymom. it's isn't the work world. The owner isn't going to rush into the kitchen screaming for you to get the he** out his restaurant 'cause you prepared a lousy meal for a good customer.

Before you made your first tuition payment or sat in your first class, you should have spent at least one year in a commercial kitchen...period. What do you do after spending $40K on "chef" school and discover that a commercial kitchen is simply too hot and you can't physically bear the heat rash?

Apples and oranges. I'm quite certain that your family situation was a challenge, but dealing with it successfully, does in no way prepare you for any specific career. It means you handled a very specific situation; that's it. Both of my parents died before I was out of my teens. Should that have prepared me to be a brain surgeon? Of course not.

Did I write that? I wrote that before you commit to spending a bundle of money; often borrowed money on any culinary training, you spend at least a year in a commercial kitchen to really see what goes on. The food industry has been grossly romanticized by PBS, Food Network, and the Travel Channel. It's hard physical labor and exhausting hours. You need to be an artist, scientist, tactician, psychologist, and perpetual student to ever become a chef with a following. And Kristen...I don't think it's a waste of time or energy or effort for the right person at the right time in their career.

As in what? Recreation, therapy, diversion.......?

Kristen, you can get in the door by walking in, talking to the owner, telling him you'll wash dishes, swamp the floor, do the most mundane prep and work for peanuts, 'cause you view the experience as OJT. You know what....that's what you'll probably be doing after you finish your training.

Two phrases that I never permitted in any establishment I ran/owned:
"Have a nice day." Is there a more trite, insincere expression in the English language. I asked staff to be sincere and show real appreciation, "I hope you enjoyed your meal. Please come again." or "Thank you."

If any waitstaff brought a meal to a customer, then smiled and said, "Enjoy," they may as well have walked right out the back door. How about, "I hope you enjoy what we've prepared. If there's anything else I can get you, I'm happy to do so.

Kristen, I truly appreciate your taking the time to respond. Thank you.
post #10 of 45
first of all, i am sorry if my last post was somewhat offensive. it was not my intention to insult chefs. i do not doubt the majority of chefs are very hard working, or very skilled. to me, it seems that some chefs are doing the job they do merely because it pays the bills, not because of food, and i dont know if i am right, but i think to be great, it needs to be about the food, not the money. and is getting a job in the kitchen really as simple as picking up a whisk and walking in the door? because i was taught that employers care more about what you look like on paper rather than your actual skill, i dont know about the cooking world, but theyve said that about everything else. oh, before i go, nothing qualifies me to call myself "newbiechef" its just a name... i modified it from another name on another forum, newbiesailor... and it sounds better than newbiecook... false advertisement i guess... oh, and kraftymomkai, thankyou for your insight about culinary school, it makes me think again that it may actually be a good idea.
RAR!!!
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post #11 of 45
Well,it's going to have to be about the food,because the money isn't always there.Don't fool yourself that you'll waltz into a sweet paying gig as soon as you graduate.It takes years to work up to a level where you are capable of holding the title of Chef.You'll work many years as an hourly employee and mostly for under $12.Insurance and overtime aren't always there;business slows at certain times of year and the hours just aren't there.

And when it comes to cooking,your skills are what will get you the job FIRST,because you can embellish all you want on a resume,but you have to SHOW what you can do.Your GPA from culinary school means nothing to a chef;they know that school isn't "real world" experience.
An interveiw in this industry is a mystery basket: chef gives you a protein,some veggies and you have an hour or so to make a meal to impress.Or you work a few shifts for free to prove you can do it [a stage].
"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
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"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
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post #12 of 45
Thread Starter 
Who is this "they" you're writing about? In the culinary world all that really counts is your ability to produce quality and often innovative menu items that cause the cash register to ring repeatedly. What you look like on paper is absolutely meaningless after your first day on the job and often before that, as well.

It's pretty clear your mind is made up about what you want to do, because you're only listening to yourself.

My advice: Get a four year degree before you even think about culinary school. Work part time and summers in a food service facility. And, please, take some classes in English composition.
post #13 of 45
Gotta pour a little water on this flame war...

As a former culinary student, I can agree with what has been said about working so many years under $12/hr for experience. It is the current stage that I'm at, I could take a $15+/hr job at a chain restaurant, but I really want to work under a knowledgeable chef learning new things.

The interesting thing about cooking is that you really dont need any type of degree to succeed, just a great passion and a dedication of equal amount. It's nice to have an AAS and some basic skills to go with it, but not necessary. Some of the best chefs have worked their way from the dishwasher up to the EC, without any formal culinary school training.

The schools will overhype their importance, and may even state a random salary of $40,000 (which I dont know where they got that from) when you graduate. Too many kids (and I stress the word "kids") have an interest (but not a passion) for this industry, so they are lured into culinary school. If they survive the externship, they have a glimpse now that cooking is not as glorified or as lucrative as they originally thought, so they either quit or get off doing the bare minimal, which makes us, as a whole, look bad. If I work my ***** off to put out quality dishes on my shifts, then on my off days I hear that the other cook is making an inferior quality product, it really annoys me. The guests should get great food all the time, not just on certain days of the week.

Thats just how I see it...
post #14 of 45
RAS1187, for some reason, i dont know... but what you said has made the most sense to me. thankyou. couple questions though, do you think your cooking degree helped you get a job, or will basic skills and some eagerness and determination be enough? also, what were your skills like before and after you went to school? thanks.
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post #15 of 45
newbiechef,

Not to horn in on RAS,but just another person's opinion:
chefs can go 50/50 on school.I went after 18 years in a kitchen because I wanted a degree in what I did best.Yes,I knew most of the curriculum,but I did learn things [pastry and baking,for example] that in my normal day-to-day routines that I would have never been exposed to.

School gives you the basic building blocks of a culinary education [and psychology,Spanish, French,Culinary Math, business courses,all of which are very important in this industry].If you have no previous experience,it is a faster way to learn what it may take years of working under people to learn.Best way I can describe it is that you will learn 50 more things for every one you learn in school simply by being on the job.


But what it boils down to is do you have the drive and "gift" to do this? Yes,things can be learned,but do you have a natural affinity to do it? A lot of chefs have posted that we are born to do this..like some people are great at math.

I know the B.S. "Honor's Students" with 100% on all tests,but cooking-wise,they had no business in a professional kitchen.They had no "kitchen sense".It's easy to memorize and regurgiate information,but can you PERFORM.

Just keep in mind the statistic of less than 10% of grads will still be in the industry 5 years after graduation...it's a HARD way to make a living,but we do it because we can't see ourselves doing anything but.
Everyone has a different experience and there is not set formula for success and everyone has a different idea of "success".This is a VERY competitive business based on performance...sometimes you get rewarded or are in the right place at the right time,and a lot of times you can bust your butt and not get any recognition or reward for your efforts.
It's just the way it goes.

Will a degree make a difference in getting a job? As stated,it just shows you know the BASICS.Yes,it may open a door,but only a crack in some cases.A degree with little or no experience will still get you a basic pantry/prep cook position where you will work your way up.
"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
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"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
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post #16 of 45
Thread Starter 


AtlTournant: Very well spoken comments, obviously made with significant experience. Thank-you. Steve
post #17 of 45

Thank you,Steve

I appreciate the compliment!

Have a great holiday weekend.
"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
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"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
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post #18 of 45
well, thanks a bunch for all the expertise information and sharing the experiences you all have had. i think i have decided to wait AT LEAST a semester and work in a real kitchen or a bakery... even if it is only a position like dishwashing or some other task i may not wish to be doing. i will wait at least a semester before deciding on culinary school. thanks again everyone.
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post #19 of 45
Thread Starter 
Newbie, you are making a very wise decision! Let your employer know that you really want to learn and, hopefully, you'll get a real taste of the career. You may decide that this is to be your life's work, or that it's a ladder with a climb you're not prepared to make. But, you'll get to see the culinary world from the inside.
post #20 of 45
Ditto what RSteve said! Even if you get a job washing dishes, as long as you show an interest in learning, dishes will not be the only thing you do. Show aptitude and your stay in the dishroom will be a short one, plus you will be getting a taste of the day to day life of those in professional kitchens. A semester, or two, a year, or two, culinary school will still be there if that is what you want to do. I started in the dishroom as a break from college until I figured out what I wanted to change my major to, ten years later and working as a sous chef it dawned on me that I had found my life's work and decided to go to culinary school. Good luck and let us know how it works out.
Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #21 of 45

From my experience

I have always wanted to work within restaurants. Washing disshes is always the easiest in and the hardest (perhaps tedious) way of getting a foot in the door. I never made it behind the line because frankly it doesn't pay s#it. But as a server I have done a lot of prep and been held to the whim of the kitchen when we were all in the weeds. I don't think that any of the chefs I have worked for were formally educated in the culinary arts, and they are all at the top of their craft. I guess my point is kitchen work is some of the hardest work with the least rewards that there is. I suggest rreading down and out in Paris and London by George Orwell and Kitchen confidential by Anthony Bourdain. Chef Bourdain will be the first to acknowledge that 85% of kitchen workers ( those that are willing to do the work required for the peanuts offered) are the "riff raff" previously mentioned in this thread. It is no cake walk in the restaurant industry and I think the individuals chance of achieving greatness are better if they would try to write a best selling novel. That said, if it is your passion, don't waste any time and find a chef who can tolerate you for your first 3-5 years of kitchen ineptitude.
Just my opinions on my observations.
Best of luck,
Viktor
post #22 of 45

Decisions... Decisions

Hello there:
I am concidering enrolling in a cooking school after i spent i month in a commercial kitchen and i moved up a from prep cook to a line cook in a find dining restaurant. I do have skills and passion for this industry.

Now, i am extremly confused because i cant decide which cooking school i should go to. I just moved to Chicago and i am thinking between CHIC (cooking and hospitality institute of chicago) and between Kendall College.

I actually made a choice and went with CHIC as they are offering the LCB program (Le Cordon Bleu) but i was not happy with the quality of the students i saw over there. Horrible. Only 5% of my class are intellegent students and the rest are so **** confused. Also we have 35 students in our first class and i think that is too many per 1 teacher.

I am ready to switch to Kendall, do you recommend it over CHIC? i need any possible details you can provide me with and i greatly apreciate it.

PS: please know that i have a bachelor degree in management information systems and almost done with my master in hospitality management.

many thanks
post #23 of 45
*edited* I gave you my perspective in the other thread you started, please refer there.

Pretty much, there are always going to be slackers in this industry, not much can be done about that.
post #24 of 45

thank you for the reply

Thank you for your reply.

I already have my BA in MIS and almost done with my master. My question is , if you are in my position which way you go.... CHIC or Kendall... taking in concideration that i am working as a line cook now for 40 hours a week... my ultimate goal is to become an executive chef in a great hotel or restaurant... would CHIC on my resume gets me that position (ofcourse with some years of experience) or am i better off with Kendall ? i have heard some bad news about CHIC so far but i also met with some brilliant students there.... it is sooooooo confusing.... please help with any idea...

Thank
post #25 of 45
I honestly think that the school wont really give you much leverage, either way.

I have not had a chance to evaluate Kendall's culinary program, but from just quick spectating I would have to say it appears to be more solidly built then CHIC.
post #26 of 45
thank you for the advise. when i visited Kendall, i saw some more serious students for sure and that encouraged me.... i have to think seriously about it and see if i have to make the switch...

Many thanks again
post #27 of 45
linecookA [don't abuse the "chef" title:)],

Like RAS said,a school is a school;they are going to follow the same basic curriculum.I know people who went to CIA and French Culinary Institue and you'd think they went to a community college.

Even at the original LCB in France,they have worthless students [I've worked with a few French cooks/chefs in my time],so it all depends on the individual,not the school.

Look at it this way: Yale is a school with an incredible reputation...and our President [who is the biggest f***ing idiot on display in our country] went to Yale.

And just for clairification,do you work in fine dining [and what is your definition of "fine dining".It's not just a white tablecloth and napkins] or with a catering company? Your post from 5/15 stated you just started at a "good catering company" and in 15 days you switched jobs,were prep cook and then line cook in fine dining? Uh,it doesn't sound right to me.......
"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
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"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
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post #28 of 45
Thank you for your reply. as i mentioned i started working with a management company that runs a catering oporation, and a fine dining restaurant. So i started in the catering kitchen doing prep work cuting and all that, now i moved to their fine dining restaurant as a linecook... hope that is clearer.

I thank you for the advise and you are right about schools , however there must be a reason why we have good schools and not so good schools (in my opinion), otherwise no one would have pursued yale or harvared... right? i am leaning more toward Kendall now and i think i should make the move.

Many thanks again.
post #29 of 45
Okay,that makes some sense.

Just keep in mind that when you say "fine dining" it means something very specific in this industry and is highly specialized.Even in big cities,the number of restaurants that qualify as "fine dining" are a handful out of thousands and have no less than 4 stars.

Here in Atlanta,for example,we have Joel Antunes.When he was running The Dining Room at the Buckhead Ritz [Alain Ducasse reccomended him for the position],the restaurant was the ONLY one in the entire SouthEast that got both the Mobil 5 Star Award and AAA 5 Diamond Award simultaneously...not to mention his own Michelin star in London.

That is fine dining.

Not many can afford a multiple-course meal/wine pairings for two and walk out paying $200 to $300 for the night.


I grew up in Chicago so I am very familiar with the area and when you say "fine dining",I think Charlie Trotter's place,The Dining Room at Ritz-Carlton,Ambassador East and West hotels,The Pump Room,etc...all of which would have had you on a prep station for a good while before moving you anywhere [especially with no previous experience], if they hired you at all,so don't be offended if I question the validity of your statement.
"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
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"Sometimes people can be oh so dense"

The Pixies
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post #30 of 45
thank you for the explanation, you are right about the meaning of fine dining. The one i work at will be concidered a very good restaurant but maybe not fine dining if that is the case.

Thank you again and i welcome any advice you have for me. I met with the people at Kendall and i will be transfering there soon.

Regards;
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