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Culinary School vs. Experience: Through the eyes of a JWU student

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 

Hello, my name is Nate. I am currently going into my Sophomore year at Johnson & Wales in Providence. I'm majoring in Athlete's Performance Nutrition. I just wanted to take the time to share my story in hopes it will help some of the undecided students on whether or not Culinary school is worth it.

 

I started my Culinary career at a Vocational school. The program was more then decent, as we learned both the Culinary and Baking/Pastry Techniques. I excelled and was well liked by my instructors. Right when I turned 16, I got a job at a local up and coming restaurant owned by a family friend. As all teenagers, I started as a dishwasher but quickly jumped onto the line. The line was the size of a medium sized closet and there was only the head chef, a dishwasher, and I in the kitchen. We were not a busy restaurant in any sense, and at times it was extremely slow. But within my first year, I went from the dishwasher to running the entire kitchen on Sundays. During my time there, I also got accepted into the Early Enrollment Program at JWU. So come September 2012, I was a 16 year old Freshmen at JWU. If I didn't choose to attend JWU, I would be a Freshmen at the CIA next September. But I think attending Johnson & Wales was my best decision.

 

I loved my Freshmen year. Being 16, I couldn't go out and party, so instead I focused on my studies. I made the Dean's List two out of three trimesters. I learned a lot, and felt steps ahead of my peers as most had never stepped foot inside a real world kitchen. I watched countless students drop out as they never thought that cooking was this intense and stressful. I had a 70+ year old Meat Cutting Instructor that made you feel like the the most worthless person in the world, but by the end of his nine day segment you knew every cut of beef, veal, pork, and chicken there is to know by heart. Johnson & Wales has treated me tremendously. The kitchens are spotless, the equipment is the newest of the new, the chefs have amazing backgrounds, and the out-of-class clubs are world-renowned.

 

Once class was out for the summer, I attended my high school prom and crossed the stage to receive my diploma, now being a 17 year old high school graduate along with completing my freshmen year of Culinary school. Wow. I chose to leave my first restaurant as the owners were putting too much on my shoulders and business was going no where fast. I somehow stumbled upon an opportunity at a local restaurant who was awarded restaurant.com 's best local restaurant, was very well respected in the almost all Portuguese community for only being open six years, and who's chef won Newport's Chowder Fest's best chowder in 2012. Spoke with the owner, made him and the head chef a simple seared scallops with a bacon cream sauce over linguini and I had myself a job at the best restaurant around. The owner owns two restaurants, a large function hall connected to one of the restaurants, and a bar. I was told that I would work at the main restaurants on weekdays and the other restaurant/function hall on Friday's and Saturday's. I went from working 15 hours a week and doing maybe 100 covers a night, to working 40-50 hours a week doing 200+ covers on a Tuesday and doing plated weddings for 300 people. A big step up. I started on pantry at the main restaurant and was thrown directly on grill at the other. I am now on Fry at the main restaurant and am currently learning saute. I am still on grill at the other. But boy do I love my job.

 

That's my story, but here's my outlook on experience versus school. I learned a lot of the classical, right way to do everything in school. I learned all of the terminology, a lot of plating, and bits & pieces of every aspect of a restaurant. But working in a real world kitchen is a complete 180. You aren't taught how to work on a line or the most efficient way to do things. I have honestly learned more in the three months I have been at this new restaurant then I have my entire first year at JWU. So in my eyes, an associates degree in Culinary Arts isn't worth the $30K+. As I've read, certain high-end restaurants do require a degree so that is the only reason I deem it worth the money. I am going into the Nutrition field as it isn't a 50+ hour a week, weekends & holidays job. It is a better paying field and allows me to raise a family without having to only see them one day a week. And it also allows me to stay in the Culinary field that I love so much. To put it short, a Bachelor's degree in the Culinary field is the only way I see that Culinary school is more valued then experience. If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask.

 

Thank you,

Nate

post #2 of 3
I own and run a Restaurant in India. I am a Pharmacy graduate so needless to say that i have zero experience in running a Restaurant. I had hired a consultant initially who helped me to setup the Restaurant and with the staffing. Now my joint is 6 months old and its doing average business. I ventured into it as i felt that it was a good business opportunity but as i started spending time in the kitchen i have started enjoying the whole process. Now i want to become a Chef myself. Could you suggest me something in this regard? Thank you!
post #3 of 3
Thread Starter 

First off, work with your head chef on the line on a couple weekend nights to get a feel for the career choice. If you find it to be enjoyable and a passion, I would suggest some community college classes. As you already own your own restaurant, you don't need an expensive degree because you won't be trying to find work in a big name place. These classes will teach you the basics, and you will develop the rest through experience in a live kitchen.
 

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