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Do I need culinary school?

post #1 of 22
Thread Starter 

Hey everybody,

 

My name is Alexandra and I wanted to ask you if culinary schools are nessesery and helpful to become a chef?

Before finding this forum I thought they were but now I'm not so sure. I've read for example that Cordon Bleu doesn't give you the proper preparation to cook in a real working enviorment.

I need advise! Are short culinary courses better, or working in a restaurant and learning how to cook on the spot?

What skills will I need to run a kitchen? (management?)

 

 

Thanks! :D

 

P.S. I know making this decision is different for everyone, but I'd be very gratefull for an advise!

post #2 of 22

Do you need schools ?  NO  You will learn as much in a class operation restaurant in 3 months rotating at various stations then you will learn in schools in 10 months. And they will pay you, not you paying them.. But again in depends on your desires.      Management know how comes from being managed by other good managers and learning  from them and building on that.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply
post #3 of 22

Do you "need" school? No. However chances of you learning what you will learn in school working in the field in a faster time frame are slim to none simply because you are going to be the FNG assigned to some mundane task. Not many are going to hire you and start rotating you through key stations that rapidly. Simply put hand on training takes much, much longer for most.

How well you learn on your own or working in the field is determined by a few key things. One is that you MUST be capable of selling yourself to get a position working with a Chef that is actually worth working for. Not every one that runs a kitchen is qualified or willing to teach. Take a look at this seasons Hells Kitchen rejects many of whom claim to be Chefs.  Would you want your career to start with one of them? You must be willing to work for next to nothing, travel to get to some place where quality Chefs have establishments and afford to live during the process. This can be every bit as costly (if not more so) than going to school. Additionally some Chefs are now charging students and do not pay. 

So back to your question. Do you need school? No but you may want it and for many it will be a wise investment. On the job experience is something you should have before you go to culinary school and you will need far more of it to be a Chef after culinary school. 

Culinary school may help fast track your career **IF** you are skilled, apply your self and want to succeed. I think you can expect the average person who does not go to culinary school to add 5-10 years to get to the same place as a culinary school graduate that sticks with it. Hands on experience does not need to exclude Culinary school and Culinary school will not make you a Chef. What school will teach you is the basics to get you started. 

No matter which way you go the key equation in this puzzle is Y O U !

I've had culinary school grads work for me that totally wasted their time and $$ and others that didn't graduate high school with a lot of talent.

No matter what any one says it's up to you to figure out how to get where you want to be.

Choose wisely and best of luck which ever way you go!  

I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
Reply
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
Reply
post #4 of 22

I always look for college when hiring, school is 1-12. Culinary college will help prepare you for the rath of the kitchen. Choose your school well and as an alumni of J&W I would recommend that college. If pastry is your field look at the San Francisco Baking Institute. College if used properly can be your gateway to a great career. Call the career couselors and talk to them, remembe,r kitchens are tough places to work, lots of well.. lifes bad side. Go to college and make your name maybe your work with Hilz.

post #5 of 22

Hi, perhaps someone here can help. I'm currently learning to cook and want to do a catering/chef course in the UK (preferably in the south-west) but don't really know where to look. Does anyone know where I can find out which colleges offer catering courses (and which ones they offer)? Any help appreciated.

post #6 of 22
Thread Starter 

Hey,

Thanks so much for the answers!

I think your advise will help a lot in my decision making! :)

 

Alexandra xx

post #7 of 22

I have been contemplating the same thing - esp. since researching and discovering how flippin' expensive culinary schools are. I browsed another forum and a working chef who went to an expensive school recommended to just go to community college and take a course(s) there and not be knee-deep in debt once you're done. I wonder if anyone else feels the same?

 

Thanks to everyone who responded to this thread. I know I'm not the O.P. but it helps a lot with the decision making process.

post #8 of 22

I can only say go and don't look back. Use your time at school to network, move away from the crowd, hang out at the college after hours cause they are always doing parties. The chefs like that or mine did ask the chef if you can help, go to the school couselors asking to help are you seeing my method stand out, so you get to help peel, how carses, your name is getting out. Go for an internship at the school or one of the schools resorts, most own a lot more places then you know. Most of the time you can work off your college debt, but go for it or just be one of the many chefs in the world or be one of the great chefs. The great instructors are away looking for good students ot assist in making video's, functions but are not looking for the average, drinking students. Sorry for my slant rant but we need more quailifed chefs and college is a great start. Notice I say college not school because its a 4 year degree not the easy 2. I have done well and it all started at J&W, I here it is expensive but hey yo do have 50 years to pay it back:) :)

 

I mean no disrespect to anyone how reads this this is my 2 cents about students going to Culinary college

post #9 of 22

It's great to hear someone talking positively about going to college and gaining culinary qualifications. Some people have been telling me to skip college and get some practical experience.. I'm hoping I'll learn the right skills and get qualifications by doing a course. I think I might have answered my own question about finding a course in the UK (I found a list of colleges and the courses they offer at http://www.chef-jobs.co.uk/ so I'm on the right tracks there). As for the cost, I know it's going to be expensive, but like you say, I'll have the rest of my life to pay off the debt, and I don't want to miss out on all the fun at college.

post #10 of 22

In my many years in this business I have had the opportunity to hire and have many people work for me. Some were formally culinary schooled others not. Overall I found the non culinary schooled, harder workers and less of the  party type. The attitude simply was that "I went to culinary school therefore I know it all"'' This may not be true in everyones case, however this is what I have found. As far as my opinion goes again I stick with it is not the school you go to or even if you did not go. It is all up to the individual. Your work ethic and how far you want to go.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

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Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply
post #11 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by WheresTheBeef View Post

 I browsed another forum and a working chef who went to an expensive school recommended to just go to community college and take a course(s) there and not be knee-deep in debt once you're done. I wonder if anyone else feels the same?

 

 

 

For those in the US;

NO!  You get exactly what you pay for. If you are going to go to college then go for 4 years at one of the better known schools. Leave with a BA. Every CC in nearly every city across the land thinks they have the greatest culinary program that ever existed. Leave that immediate area and the chances that any one has heard of your school will be slim to none. Maybe less.

 IMO there are only a few Culinary programs in the US worth considering.

College is an investment in your future. Never underestimate the value of interviewing for a position that you dearly want and discovering that the person interviewing you is an alumni or finding that some one over seas or on the other side of the country knows the reputation of the school you attended.

I just don't think it can be emphasized enough that you should work at least a year in the field before you enter any culinary program. I can't remember the exact statistic but roughly 60% of all culinary grads will never work a year in the field. There's a few key reasons for that IMO.

One is that many seem to choose the culinary arts as a defacto career choice to appease mom and dad. Those would be the ones that partied like rock stars in HS and took all of the easiest classes or didn't have a great GPA.

Then there is the group that just has done what ever they wanted their whole life and have been spoiled rotten with mom and dad writing the checks for every thing. Many in this group seem to be over achievers in regards to having good grades.

Add the group that thinks its a chic career and think that after school they will magically have their own TV show making the big bucks.

I know that's a bit obtuse but in my experience it is the absolute truth. When you combine the above with all of the students that enter this field with zero experience and add it with those who think that school is just one big party, it's not surprising at all that so many never work a year in the field.

With out question there will be those who disagree with me but here is the way I see it.

If you are going to make the commitment to go to school then make the commitment to go to the best program/college available. 

If you are not motivated enough to apply yourself  or "Make" it happen then save your $$$ and get a job. 

I don't believe I have ever seen a CC graduate make a dollar more at hire than some one with reasonable experience and no degree. While many start at the same wage tier after graduating from the CIA or J&W remember that the top 10-15% of each class will NOT!

IE they will be making more money and be starting in positions with more responsibility than many who did not opt to go to school or went to some generic CC program or cooking school and have several years of experience. 

That's the value of a quality program and an internationally known college. With some corporations you will never be on the Executive staff with out a BA. 

Irrespective of whether you choose a 2 year program with an associates degree or a 4 year program with a BA make sure you go to an accredited college and not some culinary school that leaves you with a worthless piece of paper and no degree.

If you are not determined to be in the top 10-15% of a major program then IMO you are wasting time and $$$ going to school. 

Then again you just might be one of the lucky few that never goes to school and ends up making millions with their own restaurant, TV show etc. If so I'll tip my hat and wish you well.

For the rest a quality education at a reputable college is by far the best option followed by CC or simply working your way up. Just be aware that while the last two save $$$ you will likely earn a lot less $$$ over your career and work harder/longer to get to the same place as a first year college grad.

Again which ever way you go best of luck and Happy Trails! 

I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
Reply
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
Reply
post #12 of 22

NEED school... no. Is it helpful? Yes. The best thing to do before going to school is to get experience. Experience in the kitchen with a chef who will TEACH you is crucial. Be picky about where you choose to cook at, and try to be flexible and intern with a chef... even if it's only two days a week. 

 

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Bringing back great food to the family table, inspired by Lisa Caponigri


Edited by lisacap - 7/8/10 at 5:13pm
post #13 of 22

I agree you need college,but the original question was Do I need culinary school?  I still say that to pay 44000.00 to be able to come out and hold a job for $12-15.00 per hour is crazy. You are  in  debt before you start your life, and that is bad.Or  to pay back 44000.00 at $4 80.00 a week less taxes would take 91.6 weeks using all the income. derived.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply
post #14 of 22

Ok, so right now i am taking your typical tech. school culinary/catering classes. The main reason is to get my foot in the door and gain some experience. My next step is to go to college, where would you sugest me going? Also i would love to intern, but dont know the steps to getting an intership do i just walk in and say hey i want to intern for you or what? Any and all sugestions are apreciated, thank you.

post #15 of 22

Do you want to pay a school and then have them send you out on an externship while you are paying them. To me that is totally crazy and wrong. They should not charge you for this time. Walk in to some local places and tell them you want to be a chef and are going to school and you really want to learn and will work cheap. In this economy you will be hired .Give it a shot better then talking about it.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply
post #16 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Ed Buchanan View Post

I agree you need college,but the original question was Do I need culinary school?  I still say that to pay 44000.00 to be able to come out and hold a job for $12-15.00 per hour is crazy. You are  in  debt before you start your life, and that is bad.Or  to pay back 44000.00 at $4 80.00 a week less taxes would take 91.6 weeks using all the income. derived.


Ed with all due respect you don't go to culinary school and get a degree to work as a line cook. When I left Disney 20 years ago starting salary for an Exec was $1100 a week. I had cooks making $15 an hour ten years ago. Culinary school and college go hand in hand if one is going to get the maximum return from the investment. 

If you can't earn enough extra to justify the cost of school you are either not very motivated or made a poor career choice. 

Who cares if it takes ten years to pay it all back if you make more over the life of your career?

As far as externships go I'd say good luck getting one in some of the prime places that the major schools have rotations with. 

How much is Thomas Keller charging to work as an extern at the FL now?   ;)

It's not as easy as just walking up and boom you get to work with a great Chef. Unless you are coming from a recognized program or have stellar references from others that are well known in the industry your chances are slim at best of ever even getting a response even if you are paying for the experience. 

Working with some unknown local is not the way to advance a culinary career unless you actually aspire to spending a significant portion of your career as a line cook or some other overly inflated title at a chain restaurant. 

If you are going to work like that at least get involved with the ACF so you can start to network and recognize who the best chefs in your area are. 

I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
Reply
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
Reply
post #17 of 22

For me, schools will never  replace experience and I don't believe a formal culinary education is deemed necessary however if you put them together, you will become a very valuable employee. Besides finest chefs around the world do not have formal educations but they succeed without enrolling to culinary arts.

My advice is if you have strong passion in cooking and make it your life's work or you might have plans to open your own restaurant in the future, apply and work for as many fine chefs as possible and mabye you can go to college on a part time  basis... not necessarily for culinary arts but give yourself a well-rounded education.

post #18 of 22

Duck Fat  When you get out of culinary school what do you believe they are qualified to do? Lets go by the average not the exceptional student?

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply
post #19 of 22

I think you have to be more specific Ed. An average CIA grad with a BA degree is not going to be starting as a line cook. 

 You seem to be focusing where one starts and I'm far more interested in where one finishes. 

The average culinary graduate with a degree who applies him/herself  will go further and make more money over their career.

 Many of us have not spent our careers on average. I do not look for average when hiring. Average today is working for some no name joint or a chain restaurant. 

If you can speak in a succinct manner and carry yourself reasonably well you don't need school for that. However if you go that route you have to be prepared to accept that may well be exactly where your culinary career begins and ends. 

Aiming for mediocrity (average) is setting your self up for failure and from my perspective that's simply not an option. When I am speaking to students or others who plan on entering this field I am not talking to those who are expecting to be average. I am addressing those who have a desire and passion to learn and excel. In short I'm talking to those who actually want to be Chef's and not cooks, leads or second in command for their entire career. 

 

We do seem to have some disconnect here between "culinary school" and programs with degrees. The way I see it this breaks down into a few categories.

1. Trade schools or other programs that offer only certificates and no degree. Unless you are a home cook, taking an enrichment course for self gratification or advancing yourself for a higher level of certification these programs are largely a waste of money.

2. CC with an associates degree. I feel this is vastly better than no college, trade school or other programs that offer no more than a certificate but this is far less desirable than a four year program or even a two year program with one of the major schools.

3. Universities that offer highly reputable culinary arts programs with a degree like the CIA. 

 

I think we need to get back to the OP's question and my response is straight foreword. Culinary school is not necessary but is absolutely helpful as long as the student is motivated and makes wise choices in their career path and where they decide to go to school.  

The bottom line for me is that I can teach just about any one that wants to learn how to cook. However not every one that cooks professionally can or will end up as a Chef. For the majority that are successful that requires a balance of experience, motivation, talent and education.

I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
Reply
I think the most wonderful thing in the world is another chef. I'm always excited about learning new things about food.
Paul Prudhomme
Reply
post #20 of 22

I  have known and hired these students out of CIA and most tell me how much they owe. I just can;t justify in my head spending all that money to go into this business. I went to a culinary High school and a  city community college.. Did not owe anyone a penny when I got out and started as a salad man.. Many of the guys I graduated with dropped out. The good ones stayed and one became pastry chef of the Plaza Hotel in NY. The other ex chef at the Essex House. I pursued the volume  catering business and retired at age 40. Most of the guys that made it, had it in  inborn in their hands. Worked morning till night in the beginning. Today no one wants to do that anymore  Everyone wants to start at the top. I know you didn't. You don't look fopr average, nor do I however they can't all be above average . You are either born with it or not.

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply

Chef EdB
Over 50 years in food service business 35 as Ex Chef. Specializing in Volume upscale Catering both on and off premise .(former Exec. Chef in the largest on premise caterer in US  with 17 Million Dollars per year annual volume). 
      Well versed in all facets of Continental Cuisine...

Reply
post #21 of 22

Thanks  for your open views on college. My degree from J&W took me a long way and won't not change it. I will say that if your dream is to go to school and be an average Joe then don't go. If you find yourself in a bar most of the time, stay home. You will pay a lot of $$$ for the privilege to attend Johnson and Wales and that would be my choice bar none. Look at there staff, the best, unless you can get into Luxembourg.

 If you stay focused and out of the bar and in the kitchen you will find a whole different world a world where you get asked to go cook for so in so on there yacht, at the home for a party etc. Those events are for the top 5%.

 

Here is another way, go to the recruiters office and talk to them. Let them know you want to go to CC and then into the Military. They will pay for your tuition and working with them before hand they will assist in managing your officer career in the military as well. That is a win-win. You go in cooking for a Colonel or head up a mobile kitchen, it will difently build you leadership and speed.

post #22 of 22

I think culinary school is one step to let you gain enough knowledge in cooking.However, culinary school can't give you enough experience so maybe you can work in a restaurant or have practice at home...This forum might help you but consistent practice and your determination would really help a lot.

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