15 years ago, I went to culinary school. Here’s what I learned.
Pluses of Going to Culinary School
- It’s a fun, hands-on school environment. You get to make all kinds of food and eat all kinds of food and that is fun.
- You might try eating a whole bunch of things you never tried before.
- You learn all about the science of ingredients and how they interact chemically. Once you understand that, you can troubleshoot recipes and spot problems in advance, which are great skills to have in the kitchen.
- You learn all about proper food handling and safety, which is another valuable skill. It means the difference between making people sh*t their pants and puke their brains out versus feeding them a healthy meal.
Minuses of Going to Culinary School
- It’s expensive. And the return on your investment is not as substantial compared to many career choices that cost about the same in terms of time and training such as dental hygienist, nurse, physical therapist, administrative assistant, massage therapist, automotive technician. If any of those careers sound appealing to you, you might consider heading in that direction instead.
- It does not guarantee work. If you have never worked in the food industry before, a culinary degree is not necessarily the best way into the kitchen door. In a pool of job applicants, someone who has commercial kitchen experience but no culinary degree is almost always going to edge out someone with a degree and no commercial experience.
- It does not replace job experience. The skills you learn in culinary school aren’t the same as what you learn in a commercial environment. For instance, at culinary school, I learned how make delicious cakes one cake at a time but I did not learn how to do it quickly or efficiently or in large volume. I had to learn that kind of thing on the job.
Get a food industry job before you enroll in culinary school. It doesn’t matter what kind of job (dishwasher, busboy, hostess, expeditor). You want to be sure it’s the right kind of work environment for you before you invest in a culinary education. Not everybody can hack it. Not everybody likes it.
Small schools rule. I went to a small culinary school. It was a one year, part-time program, which was a lot cheaper and more efficient than some of the 2-year programs that come paired with associates or bachelors degrees. I’m really happy I made this choice.
Work in a commercial kitchen while you’re in school, if you can. In my class, the students who were already employed in the food industry seemed to be squeezing a bit more out of the culinary school experience. Just like how it’s easier to learn a new language when you’re immersed in a culture, your culinary expertise grows when you are putting your knowledge to practice in a kitchen every day.
Share Your Homework. In culinary school, when you learn how to make things like croissant and Danish, you will probably want to go home and practice. Just, don’t eat it all by yourself. Share your homework. One of my classmates ate all his homework and ended up getting gout.
Think Long Term. One thing to keep in mind about the food industry is that it’s extremely physical, labor-intensive work. The older you get, the harder it is to maintain the pace and the rigor of kitchen life so it’s a good idea to factor that into your long term career trajectory.
Low Impact Ways to Use a Culinary Degree
- Food Writer/Blogger
- Restaurant/Bakery Critic
- Culinary School Instructor
- Product Developer
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