I'm Dave. I just started Culinary School at the Anne Arundel Community College, Hospitality Culinary Arts and Tourism Institute (HCAT) in Arnold, MD. The semester started about a month ago, but due to record setting snow (we got 5 feet at my house), we're only on the 4th week of classes. I'm a Baking and Pastry student, but I'm considering doing Culinary as well. Its only a few extra classes and they all seem very interesting.
First off, books are expensive. That is pretty much unavoidable. After looking at the book that we're using for quite a few classes, On Cooking by Sara Lebensky, at a local bookstore, I realized that it was one book I definitely want to keep forever. It has a ton of great pictures and step by step diagrams. Even after I develop those skills, it will make a great reference.
Second, I absolutely love my classes. I'm a career changer. I'm still working as an engineer, as I have done for the past 12 years. I'm going to school at night, actually doing full time work and full time school. It is a lot to handle, but totally worth it. My wife and sister in law, who lives with us, are both very supportive. They don't get to see a whole lot of me, but they realize that culinary school is something I've always wanted to do. In my first semester, I am taking Introduction to Hospitality (an online class required for all HCAT students that deals mostly about how hotels work), Certification in Sanitation (a required class that gives you a ServSafe certification), Introduction to Culinary Arts ( a 5 hour class once a week, 1 hour lecture, 4 hours lab), and Introduction to Baking and Pastry (similar to Intro to Culinary Arts, but baking).
The Culinary Arts class is a lot of fun and I'm learning a lot. We started with a tour of the kitchens, then started knife cuts, did a lecture on taste (including tasting 15 varieties of salt), and this week is a lesson on heat transfer where we actually do our first cooking (hamburgers, chicken, and caramel sauce). My baking class is advancing a little faster. First week was yet another tour of the kitchen and a longer than average lecture. The second week we made a few types of pie dough and a focaccia. Third week we made a preferment for challah, more focaccia, some baguettes, and yeast dinner rolls. Everything is turning out wonderful, and we take a ton of stuff home. Last week, I carried out a half sheet of focaccia, a dozen dinner rolls, and two baguettes, all left over from what we didn't taste after class.
I started a blog at dphagan.wordpress.com about my experiences in culinary school, and random things that pop into my brain. Check it out if you're interested. Feel free to comment.
If you have a passion for food, and enjoy cooking it, you'll love it. Just forget everything that you think you know and let them teach you. Yes, you may know how to boil an egg, but they will teach you how to do it their way, which is usually a bit easier, and they will teach you why the egg cooks like it does.
Most of all, have fun with it. You're paying them a lot of money, including some decent lab fees. Experiment. Our first focaccia had dried figs rehydrated in water with a splash of balsamic vinegar, gorgonzola cheese, and prosciutto which I chiffonade'd and sprinkled on top. It was delicious, but we learned that the prosciutto kind of shriveled up and burnt. You'll learn a lot from your successes, but more from your failures.
If you have any more questions, please ask.