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How old is too old to be admitted to cooking school?

And for those Chowhounds who've attended, how much experience would you say is prerequisite for top (full-time) culinary degree programs?

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  1. Honestly, I just spent time looking at hospitality management programs which all have associations with cooking schools and from what I saw, if you can pay the tuition you're never too old for them.

    As far as experience, I think CIA is the only one to be hard and fast about it, though even they are getting soft on the single year of experience requirement.

    4 Replies
    1. re: jpschust

      I had 25 years cooking experience when i went to school at age 50 and got my 1st.degree in culinary arts .I was 54 when i received my 2nd. degree in food service management. I did this as I wanted to teach culinary arts.today I am a culinary arts instructor at a community college and love it

      1. re: big john

        Wow, that's wonderful and very encouraging. I basically don't want to die without having devoted at least one stage of my life entirely to food -- but can't foresee pursuing the necessary path until at least 15 years from now.

        1. re: sequins

          If you walk upright, breath oxygen., and your knuckles do not scrape the ground to often.....show up with the finances in place and go for it....any place will accept you......if this is for your own sense of fullfilment and edification , bravo....go for it...however if this is a change of career path at an advanced age ...say 50 +- and you want to do this professionally in an active venue....do not do it....particularly if you have some sort of glorified image of the culinary profession. Can not begin to describe the rigors, stress, duress, extreme highs...and crashing lows that are inherent in the profession of cooking for a living.
          We/they are are rare breed.....you may be unique in that you will step up and thrive in this environ....., but most people have utterly no concept as to what is involved in cooking professionally....there is a reason why doctors and professional cooks are at the top of the list for substance abuse.......all lthe culinary instructors I have ever met always asked "why do you want to do it" and to a man/women they were instructors because it got them out of the kitchen....this is not to say that I would trade my life in the back of the house......however I would, as suggested, get my feet wet before jumping into the pool..... Good luck to you in whatever you decide to do.....if you decide to take the plunge, I have one pearl to throw your way....regardless of how busy it becomes......how much prep there is ....how deep in the weeds you are.......the day will always end.....Do not ever start doing 360's in the kitchen when the sh** hits the fan.

          1. re: Saddleoflamb

            Amen to that advice. I see the ads on tv for culinary school and I laugh. "Make big money and live your dream of being a chef". Most newly-hired culinary graduates do not begin as chefs and they earn between 11 and 13 bucks an hour. I know a chef who has been working at the same place for 13 years and her annual earnings are about $42,000 dollars. She works her ass off..and rarely has time to actually cook. Her sous chef does that while she takes care of inventory, books, employees, schedules, etc. The sous chef washes the floors at night...after closing.

            I decided to try my hand at back of the house work before going to culinary
            school. Glad I did. I changed my mind. :) I did that for two years and it is back-breaking, hot and sweaty work. My hands hurt from all of the constant chopping and I've never lifted so many huge heavy pans filled with boiling hot stuff in my entire life...and cleaning the walk-in is not fun. Oh, and putting the food away when the produce guy, chicken guy, fish guy, and sysco comes is another dream come true.

            That being said, I did enjoy "the dance" that goes on when we got slammed. Loved that rush and it was amazing to be a part of. You just best be young and/or in very good shape physically....and you must be very fast and accurate.

            Now, teaching would be fabulous...but usually schools require experience along with a degree.

    2. What's your question? How old in terms of age? Or how much experience as prerequisite. You seem to have asked a different question from your subject line.

      Most culinary schools will take you if you can pay the tuition, or qualify for financial aid.

      7 Replies
      1. re: PeterL

        I guess I meant experience as prerequisite -- but was really asking about the prospect of wanting to attend a program when I'm, say, 50 (like big_john above), but without any professional experience whatsoever.

        1. re: sequins

          Again, to be admitted to a school? Or how successful a person of 50 yr of age would be at a culinary school?

          To be admitted, at long as you can pay the tuition, no age limits. To be successful, it's a tough physical job. It all depends on the mental and physical attributes of the student.

          1. re: PeterL

            As some one who spent the better part of 20 years in the kitchen - and is approaching 50 - the thing that would scare me about a culinary program would be whether or not I could stand on a hard tile, wet floor for the 10-12 hours a day.

            Few realize how physically demanding it is to work in a hot kitchen for a long shift.

            1. re: jlawrence01

              I can attest to that.
              I'm regularly told that I have some cooking talent and that I should've become a chef. The problem is, I have a bad back. If I'm in the kitchen for more than half a day, my back is a mess. I couldn't do it full time. I'm just not physically cut out for it now.

              DT

              1. re: jlawrence01

                yeah, the physical demands are huge. in addition to the standing, which can be brutal, there's the hauling of trash cans, boxes of product, etc. there's also the speed involved. I've worked with a number of servers who just weren't as good at the job as they got older because they couldn't move quickly enough to handle a busy night. I imagine the need for speed is similar BOH.

            2. re: sequins

              Hey Sequins
              its never to late and i am living proof of that. of the 3 classes i teach at the community college the average class size is 26 students.I will tell you that 35-45% of these students are 40 plus years of age and have no prior food experience at all.They are like you are just following there dream.most chefs out there want culinary school training and would prefer that the student had no prior experience the reason is they don't have to break bad habits these people with foos service experience have developed.go for your dream

              1. re: big john

                Hey, big john -

                This is very encouraging to read. I returned to college (my local community college) late in life, and I finally got the courage to switch my major to culinary arts. I'm 54, and have no intention of killing myself in a kitchen - hey, been there... done that.. most holidays here over the years : D. I realize there are many, many other routes to take, but I admit - I'm frightened!

                My oldest daughter (who graduated college & is pursuing her own difficult path in video editing) made a good comment - she said that just the fact that I'm scared (mixed with lots of excitement) is a good sign. She also thinks I'd be great at teaching, too.

                I figure the community college route is a good decision - at least I won't be in debt up to my eyeballs.. and so far, I've encountered some absolutely fantastic instructors, so I have confidence in this school.

          2. Culinary programs/schools arren't med school, nor wildly competitive in terms of entrance requirements - I don't think they care at all as long as you can pay the tuition and otherwise meet their requirements, like most vocational training that I've had any familiarity with...

            1. When I went to culinary school, the youngest in our class was 19 and the oldest was 70.

              1. I started at 31 with the intention of switching careers. Before I could finish I was promoted several times in my laboratory tech job (which I give credit to the supervisory/management courses I took in culinary school BTW) that taking an entry level food service job just didn't seem so appealing. Oh well, my friends and family are still glad I did it!

                1 Reply
                1. re: LabRat

                  Glad that worked out for you, LabRat. When I start the program at my comm. college, I'm hoping to work on areas & skills in which I'm lacking - and I know management skills are crucial. So many food businesses fail - because of lack of skills in that area.