The chefs we work with come from a wide variety of backgrounds: apprenticeship, learned in the trenches, community college, Culinary Institute of America, French Culinary Academy, European schools, Johnson and Wales, among them
We get frequent calls, usually from parents or grandparents, asking if a person should go to culinary school. There’s a German term, YEIN, (Ya + Nein), which pretty much answers it. Since it’s a complicated question, let’s begin with the reasons you should choose a culinary school:
- It shows commitment. Someone who works their way through culinary school has made a decision to enter the industry and to learn something.
- You will learn something. How much depends first on you, then on the school, and finally on your fellow students. More about that later. Culinary school provides or should provide you with a fairly complete framework of the basics from sauces to food chemistry. Depending on the school, they also offer restaurant management theory and accounting. When you leave you should not expect to be a chef, because you won’t, but you will have a vast store of information from which to draw in many situations, whereas if you work your way up your knowledge is likely to be limited to a select variety of cuisines or methods.
- You will have fun, and you will gain a terrific Old Boy/Old Girl network. We notice that people who get formal training manage to interact around the country or the world to propel each other forward.
- A good culinary school will get you a better starting position. You are vastly more likely to get a shot at working in the top places out of a good culinary school, partially because they have grads to whom they send externs. Note we said “good culinary school.” Unfortunately not all of them are. More about that later.
- Many find lifetime mentors in their teachers.
- We notice that people may do very well without culinary school in good times, but the last two economic downturns had a more profound effect on chefs without formal training. Whether this due to what they have learned or to the better first job tracks a good school provides, the end effect is the same.
- For some areas of the industry our experience is formally trained culinary professionals advance faster.
- Some positions actually require culinary degrees.
- One important side benefit of formal culinary education is the experience of being taught techniques and process, which serves a chef in the training and communications requirements of any good position.
- While you are in culinary school you participate in the same process as academic students enjoy: The immersion and exchange of information with people who are your peers. There are few other opportunities to do this.
- While you are there and afterward you will have occasions to meet some of the stars of the industry.
- You may get to live somewhere outside of your home area and will be exposed to a lot of new things.
- They can be fun.
There are also plenty of reasons not to go to culinary school, which we will discuss next. There is also the question of which school are good, how to choose one, and how to approach the experience, which is the third part of this series, and culinary school, while it may be an advantage (or may not, depending on the person) is not the only entry into a successful culinary career. Some of the most respected chefs in the country did not go there.
A few blogs recently have printed a fair amount of diatribe about formal culinary education, and some of what they have said is fairly true, but the whole question depends on the individual – ergo you.
Coming up: Arguments against enrolling in Culinary school.