or Connect
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Professional Food Service › Professional Chefs › Culinary School do I really need it?
New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:

Culinary School do I really need it?

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
Okay, first time poster here and I could really use some help. I am a High School student attending 2 High Schools 1 for my regular core classes and the other for a Culinary Program to get me started in the right direction in the culinary world. Lately I have been thinking about what I am going to do after High school. I am a senior now and here are my goals in life
graduate High School, get into CIA or JWU, graduate college while working in a restaurant as a cook, travel world a little bit by working as a chef on a cruise ship, work in multitude of different style kitchens
>Asian
>Italian
>American
>Indian
>Mexican
just to get a wide variety of food culture and knowledge on all foods. Finally settle down in Crested Butte, Colorado
>Dream city
Open my own small restaurant and see how it goes progressing to get bigger and live my life cooking and managing my business until I die.
But lately I have been thinking, do I really need to go to Culinary school? Would it really affect me a lot if I didnt go? I know I could get in easily, the main schools I have been looking at are JWU, CIA, AI (yeah I know AI) Augeste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts and like 3 others. Please help me, id really like some feedback on this.
tl;dr Do I really need to go to college to live out my culinary dreams
post #2 of 16

Might be opening a can of worms here, but I can tell you, I would prefer someone who has real world experience, and a proven tract record, than someone with just a piece of paper, and not real world experience. 

 

School is GREAT, it has its uses, and that's why people go, BUT, for the time you are in school, there is someone out there putting in their 40+hours a week, learning in the REAL WORLD.

 

To do the things you aspire to do(Chef on a cruise ship, that is thread worthy in its' self), you will NEED that degree, no questions asked.Traveling the world via cruise ship is laughable, you WILL travel, you WILL get hours off, but you won't see the world(except through a porthole). I suggest that you read up on how employment in the cruise ship industry works before getting your heart set on it.

 

School will teach you the basics, the fundamentals, but the students that come out are only a good as the Chefs that teach them. I have had interns come to work for me so they can get their credits, I ask them to prep me 10lbs of mirepoix, and they look at me like a deer in the headlight. School doesn't always teach the sense of urgency that is MANDATORY in the industry. I have had kids that think it is OK to take 20min to put a salad out. . . .sorry, BUT SCREW THAT, if you can't make it, and make it up to my standards in under 4min, than I have no time to waste with you. On the other hand, I have had some students come through my kitchens that are gems. You KNOW that they have "it", the BIG DIFFERENCE: Prior industry experience.

 

For the time that you put into school, you are working towards one thing, and one thing only: A piece of paper. In certain parts of the industry, some folks don't give a rats ass about a degree or not, while other aspects won't even consider talking to you, unless you have that paper. It all depends on what you want to do.

 

Please though, for the LOVE OF GOD, read up on the cruise ship industry. . . I get the feeling you might be a little disillusioned by the whole thing, and not realize that you are working 7 days a week for the term of your contract(normally 6months, iirc). You are NOT scheduled days off, you are scheduled HOURS off. When the ship is in port, you STILL have to prepare fresh food for the floating city you are a part of. F&B is one of the most demanding(besides house keeping)jobs on a cruise ship. One of my best friends in life, has been a cruise director for Cunard for the last almost 7 years, the stories he could tell you would make you SERIOUSLY rethink your notion of cruise ship work. I go on cruises often(try to every other year, as it's the cheapest way to get home/stay on island/not bother family), you need to see first hand the work involved. OH, not to mention PAY. Your pay is largely dictated by where the ship is registered from. If the minimum wage in the port of registry is $3 an hour, they can legally start you at $3 an hour, plus room and board(hot racking and no privacy) . .  . ..  .. .  all that said, it's up to you.

 

That paper, it can mean the world to some, but there are LOADS of VERY WELL TO DO Chefs that are all SOHK(School of Hard Knocks). 

I am sure there are others that will chime in with their opinion, and hopefully she some more light onto your situation.

~If you are what you eat, I am cheap, fast, and easy.

Reply

~If you are what you eat, I am cheap, fast, and easy.

Reply
post #3 of 16
Need?

Simple answer; No.

Hope this helps.smile.gif
post #4 of 16

The answer to your question is NO but that little piece of paper can open up many doors that might not open without it.

I would try to do both, work under the best chef you can in the industry getting real world experience while going to school. By the time your done you have a piece of paper saying you went to school and experience working in the industry.

post #5 of 16

You don't need to go to culinary school to be a great chef, but it can be a great, great resource. I learned things that I wouldn't have been able to pick up in just a restaurant and in my opinion when you learn how to make things without cutting corners the less likely you're going to cut corners down the road. I agree I've been in class with a bunch of arrogant kids who think they're better because they go to culinary school but like with any school you get what you put into it. So yes absolutely get your feet wet before you decide, it's better to find out if it's not for you while you're young and before you spend your life savings at CIA or JWU. Food Network and Food Channel glorify the really fun parts of the industry and they don't show enough of how much hard work people put into their craft. 

post #6 of 16

Not many  of the old masters   (not these new tv star guys)   went to schools. They learned on the job and at  HKU  (hard knocks university)

 

The kitchen was your classroom, where you actually did 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 #7 of 16

To be a line cook? No you do not need culinary school.

Our generation faces the expectation of higher education. The self-taught path you must overcome that "oh, you only have a GED" stigma. I am currently enrolled in a culinary program myself. Our school runs a restaurant which does 3 services a week to give the students some experience. However it is true that it is not enough - 40-50 covers of a 7 course meal produced by 8 students a teacher and TA. I approach my education with a 50/50 attitude. My resume when it goes out will focus 50% on my education and 50% on my real life experience. This means right now I am posting on my first day off in 3 months. Between school and work I find myself doing 6ams to 1ams almost daily and it wears on you. Some days I wish I was a dish washer or bartender, how relaxed my life would be. But I am slightly off as a person and enjoy 99% of this all.

 

I am also developing a program for my school to provide more promotion to the culinary program. This will be the development of a company from the floor up. It is chances like this which pay off. It is a great resume builder for myself. What surprised me is that no one else really stepped forward to do it. I thought to myself "I could put an hour into my day for this planning, Screw it lets do it''. If you get involved with your program a school can offer great opportunities. Education is what you make it. Its not what someone else has put forward for you.

post #8 of 16

The problem of not having your papers is clear when you think that you are qualified enough to handle the job due to experience,  they always ask do you have your papers?  and 9 times out of 10 they will not hire you because you do not have them.  I am learning this first hand as I am returning to NS after all these yrs in hopes of getting a good paying job with my experience I have now.

post #9 of 16

I feel it is becoming more and more important in todays environment to have your papers.  However with that being said its not as much the papers which mater (cause truthfully its not incredibly difficult to challenge for them) but its the experience you have before and after.  I only say this because I myself did my culinary schooling along with my apprenticeship to obtain my papers over the course of 5 years.  Then immediately after i used them to get a foot in the door and bulk up my resume with some very amazing opportunities.  Yet i have run into many a Chef who honestly brag about papers and this and that but can't make a quality sauce to save their life and cook no better then some of the line cooks I've met in my day.  

 

Also as you said your only in high school take the time to read as much into the trade and all the different aspects (fine dinning, hotel, cruise, resort ect...) before setting your heart on one.  With every interesting and intriguing opportunity and all the perks comes many downfalls that you must be prepared to over look and/or deal with.  Whether that may be time away from family and friends, hours that make it virtually impossible to have a social life, and pay cheques that make it hard to pay the bills.  But if your serious and prepared to give it your all, keeping your head up through the good times and the bad then you, one day, will be successful.  At the end of the day you really have to want to do it.

 

Sorry to stay from the point, basically what I'm saying is go out and work in the industry and get some basic skills down.  Then if your still in love with the trade go to school and learn some of the finer points while getting your papers.  After thats said and done decide which route you really want to proceed with.

 

Hope that possibly helped a bit, cheers.

post #10 of 16
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dpeitzsche View Post

The problem of not having your papers is clear when you think that you are qualified enough to handle the job due to experience,  they always ask do you have your papers?  and 9 times out of 10 they will not hire you because you do not have them.  I am learning this first hand as I am returning to NS after all these yrs in hopes of getting a good paying job with my experience I have now.

 


I'm gonna go ahead and say this is bunk. Definitely not 9 times out of 10, maybe not even 5 out of 10. It's all about experience. Your resume becomes your "papers". You do have to apply within your means(don't expect to get hired at a fine-dining restaurant when you barley have experience with cafe/diners/more rustic fare. However, if fine-dining were your goal, you could take the proper steps to achieve that goal). However, in my experience(8+ years of working at every level of the industry without a degree) most chefs realize that it's your experience, personality, and work ethic that matter NOT whether/where you went to school(though it CAN help, not arguing that).

 

It comes down to what you think is right for YOU. Are you a better hands on learner or do you feel more comfortable learning in a classroom setting? Are you prepared to pay all that money for something you can do without? Are you prepared to work hard/push yourself to make up for the lack of contacts/resources you may have made at school(this is probably the greatest advantage from going to school)? Are you a motivated self-learner? Will you spend your free time reading cook books/researching techniques and will you make the most of the opportunities you get in the workplace(asking questions, writing down recipes, having enthusiasm for learning on the job)? Things to think about. Just be honest with yourself and find out what's right for you.

post #11 of 16

Regardless of one's personal opinion, it certainly pays to know and understand the licensing, or lack thereof, certification, or regulations of the country in which you are or plan to work.

 

The previous two posts clearly illustrate the difference between working in Canada and the USA. Canada does have a certification process in place, the USA does not.
 

Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
Reply
post #12 of 16

my initial thought is, not necessarily.

 

i am super happy i went to culinary school. i am happy that i know what a veloute is; a lozenge cut is; a chinois is; a rondeau is, a liason, etc. BUT, i am also very much aware of how much of the practical aspects school does NOT teach you.

 

if i were to surmise a ratio of importance, id give:

school 5%,

experience 15%,

and work ethic/attitude 80%

post #13 of 16
It goes both ways my friend. I have worked in kitchens now for 12 years started from the bottom. And now in the start of the new year I am teaming up with a women and opening my own place. I have not been to school. I just expariment a lot with different ideas. I keep an open mind and stick around others in the industry. Keeps me hungry and ambitious. School can be hit or miss. Seen a lot of kids come out of school lost because they never new what to expect. School just can't teach you some things. But if you pay attention it wil give you a good push forward. Hopefully.
post #14 of 16

i'm a line cook with a degree, i work at a resort, it has it's challenges. I traveled across the states to get here. What you retain from school is methods. What you practice depends on the kitchen you work. After you get your courage methods timing among other things down, it's all about taste and flavors. Work for the best, then run around a small but good mom and pop restaurant. 

 

 As far as traveling, try a getting a business visa. i've no experience and only read about them briefly, but if you can afford school, you can probably obtain a business visa to say, India.

 

I could be wrong, find your own path  ever washed dishes?

post #15 of 16

Melancholy,

 

Your dreams sound good, and very similar to mine 30 years ago.

 

 

 

Degree or not, it is the employer who hires.  If the employer wants a cook 6"4 with brown eyes and a dimpled chin, he/she will eventually get it.  If the employer wants "papers" and are willing to pay, they will get it.  Many employers are looking for some kind of paperwork, but there is no one "paper" or certificate the makes a cook.  Every school has their version, and every school has a different curriculum, textbooks and tests.

 

The Europeans don't really have  "Culinary schools", they have an apprenticeship system.  The apprentice is usually 15 when they start, work 4 days, and go 1 day per week to school. Usually for 3 years. This provides a balance of work experience and knowledge.

 

The culinary school system in N. America is a "front end loading" system.  The student is crammed full of knowledge but has very little time to apply this knowledge or to master the techniques shown during the course curriculum.  Unbalanced.

 

I really urge you to get a job in the kitchen--this means "underwater ceramics technician" (ie dish washer) maybe some prep, and if really lucky, cold stuff.  This will provide you with some real work experience before going into culinary school.  This is what I did, and many others on this board have done as well.

 

Go to the most economical culinary school you can find.  This usually means a community college. 

 

You do need school, remember:

 

You will not learn everything you need to know from one employer--or even a dozen employers, your employers may show you a false technique or explain incorrectly ("sear the meat to lock the juices in"....)  Schools do not--or in any case should not.

 

Also remember that school is like a piggy bank--in that you can only take out what you have put in.  There is no bank interest or magic involved.  Many culinary school instructors (big name or not) can tell tales of students not willing to put any effort into the course curriculum. 

 

Hope this helps, please show this post to your parents and school instructor

...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
Reply
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
Reply
post #16 of 16

What's your opinion on how to say this to chefs/cooks? - Please don't fret. :) With the given population and opinions, thanks 4 caring,  --"You seem to be be very passionate about what you want. If so, please do not let others' negativite opinions change what FEELS RIGHT to you reflect on your will to do something you enjoy! BE HAPPY, LIVE LIFE!!! :) And if you love to cook, I may want to experience that meal at some time in the future!"   Just saw & love some opinions! Gr8 luck 2 u!

New Posts  All Forums:Forum Nav:
  Return Home
  Back to Forum: Professional Chefs
ChefTalk.com › ChefTalk Cooking Forums › Professional Food Service › Professional Chefs › Culinary School do I really need it?