My question is what kinds of things do they teach at a formal culinary school? Right now I'm at a community college for a culinary arts degree and they don't seem to want to teach us how to "actually cook". They expect us to get knowledge from work and use it in the class room, my problem is that I'm currently trying to find a job and I've never been a line cook, only a dishwasher or prep cook for certain things. All they do is tell us to read certain chapters in our book for the class we're in, then hand us recipes in class and tell us to make it. For instance, one day I was told I had to make a Creamy Spinach soup. I had never blanched spinach before, when I asked the Chef "how do I tell if it's done"? he got annoyed. They haven't taught us knife skills yet and this is my second semester, I've only learned from online and teaching myself knife skills. I know the first thing they teach at any decent culinary school is all about your knife, how much different is it?
What do they teach at a formal Culinary school?
I'm currently a second year student at the Culinary Institute of Canada in PEI and I've loved it so far. The culinary program is mostly hands on. You have 5 different kitchen rotations which are entremetier/cold cusine, Production, baking, breakfast/butchery and soups,stocks,sauces. Plus you also have your "core" classes the first month and a half of first year first aid, math, food safety etc. Once the core classes are done they put you in the kitchen and teach you knife skills right off the bat. During the kitchen classes you have an hour of theory class for each rotation then you have 4-5 hours in the kitchen after that each day. Our school has a cafeteria open to the public that the first year students run. Any food that is served to the public is made by the student, for example is chicken is served on day the butchery students are taught how to take a whole chicken and butcher it down to the breasts, legs and even more then just that. They also butcher halibut, salmon, parts of lamb, pigs etc. Each chef in first year is amazing and want to help you out as much as they can. But my school is very hands on. I had no kitchen experience other then cooking/baking at home before coming to this school and I've learned so much. There is a required internship between year one and two where you go out into the culinary field and take the training you got in school and apply it practically. Second year is a lot more freedom. We have a higher end restaurant we run for some of the classes but if there is something you want to try that you havent made before you just talk to the chef and they will get the ingredients for you so you can try it. My school is still considered a "college" but I would highly recommend this school to anyone. If you have any questions feel free to ask. Hope this helped some :)
Any chance you can get out without debt? My online opinion after reading your post is that your school sucks. Finish the semester but based on what you've related, I wouldn't waste any more time there.
You are correct that knife skills are taught first. Also basic sanitation and safety and good general kitchen practices. There should be
a progressive curriculum that starts with the basics like sauce making and moves on to more challenging tasks.
There is nothing wrong however with expecting you to read and follow a recipe but the chef instructor should be eager to answer your questions about basic things like cooking spinach.
You should also know that the better cooking schools have become very, very expensive while pay in the industry has not increased. So whether you have experience or not, get into a good local restaurant and start working.