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Best Culinary school for change of career

I've had it! I need a new career . Been toying with the idea of cooking school for 15 years or more and finally after been fired from just about every job I have ever had. It's time. I have a appointment next Tuesday at The Art Institute, The French Culinary, and The Institute of culinary Education. Any thoughts? Please , I know It's long,hard and frequently underpaid work but it's the only thing I any good at and my best times are spent in the kitchen.

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  1. You should check out Johnston and Wales, they have a very good reputation and their Charlotte campus is great. Since J & W came to Charlotte our food scene has definitely improved.


    1 Reply
    1. re: hipquest

      Thanks. I have checked them out on the web, but I still need to be in the NYC or New Jersey region in order to attend night classes. J&W has an excellent rep as well as lifetime placement, locally and internationally.Thanks again for the advice.

    2. The best culinary school is life. Barring that, go to someplace affordable and work at the same time. It just sucks to see people flush money down the drain when they realize they have to pay their dues. Of course, there's more to the food service industry than restaurants, so find a niche you're comfortable with.

      However, I am curious: why were you fired from just about every job you've had? Those reasons may impede you in the food service industry as well.

      10 Replies
      1. re: Blueicus

        I was in retail. General as well as regional managment for several large firms but I seem to always sabotage my own career by pissing off my bosses. Either because I cant stand the politics or perhaps I knew I was not meant for Retail managment.

        1. re: currymouth

          I don't know if you have any restaurant experience. If you don't, I would seriously suggest working in a restaurant for a while in whatever capacity to see if it's for you before spending thousands of dollars in culinary school. I know people who went to culinary school on a whim and not doing anything with their degree as they found out it wasn't for them.

          Just want to add that politics are everywhere, not just in retail.

          1. re: Miss Needle

            culinary school is a waste. you pay somone $35k so that you can get an entry level job making $8 or $10 per hour. a lot of places will hire you without experience as long as your are willing to work hard and work your way up. you might be stuck peeling vegetables for a few months, but it is much better to do that earning the $8 or so per hour.

          2. re: currymouth

            i don't mean to be a jerk, but if you have a tendency to piss off your bosses in retail, do you think you'll do better taking orders from the exec chef? there are some real megalomaniac "yes, Chef," "no Chef" type of bosses in restaurants, and insubordination is absolutely not tolerated. there are also some brilliant chefs who would gladly teach you the secrets of the culinary universe, but if you don't follow orders, *they don't have time for you.* i would rec you get a kitchen job, preferably as a cook in some capacity but barring that as a server, or even as a dishwasher, to see if you truly can hack it & like the pace, the grind, the hours, and the schlepping. if you do like the work you can supplement with courses at your local community or technical school. you will then have both working experience and technical chops that will help you to follow your dream.

            to be blunt: if i was looking at a job app saying: "i worked in retail 15 years and got fired from everything, decided to go to culinary school because i like to cook dinner and cooking seems like a nice "fall-back;" now, here i am, i'm 45 and i want a line cook position and i have absolutely no practical, working restaurant experience, and i don't work well with others or in a team, and i don't follow directions. . ." uh, i'd probably laugh and take it straight to the shredder. i can only hope i've misinterpreted.

            1. re: soupkitten

              Thank you all for your input. Soupkitten, you were not a jerk , one of the reasons I posted the question is that I needed the honest advice of total strangers. My family and friends are sooooo supportive and filled with encouragement.But I guess I already knew what path I was going to take.I will persue cooking as a hobby and try to take hotel/ restaurant managment courses at night. As for retail, It all came to a head last black friday when I had to open one of our locations at 4am so that 300 people standing in the cold, pitch black parkinglot can save $50.00 on a GPS unit they did not need, It just seemed somehow perverse and futile. I will keep you posted and thanks again.

              1. re: currymouth

                gosh i can see why perverse and futile would be the words for black friday at 4 am. Currymouth-- i do hope you don't read my first response to your query as discouraging. your mature reply gives me hope that you do have a good attitude and can persevere in your career change. the "celeb chef" phenomenon is having an effect on the restaurant business, in that a lot of current job applicants either have no technical chops, or they have no clue about what the real job is about, they're shocked when they realize they're expected to scrub hood vents & haul potatoes. lots of chefs & restaurant managers/owners are frustrated with new hires who all want to be stars and not team players. i do think that getting some restaurant experience in addition to your mgmt classes will help with these grouchy & jaded folks' taking your resume seriously, & best of all, practical experience in restaurants can be as valuable as schooling. best of luck.

                1. re: soupkitten

                  I have no asperations of being a celeb chef, a fine cook would have been quite good enought. I had 2 family members who are CIA graduates and have worked internationally. and I have seen what it takes to make it as a chef. I admire the drive and conviction it takes.My wife just gave me a book by Kathleen Flinn, called "The sharper your knife, The less you cry" about a young lady who took a leap of faith and went to Le Cordon Bleu in paris knowing only highschool french, should be an intresting read. Ever read it?

                  1. re: currymouth

                    i think i've heard about that book, but no, haven't read it. K. Flinn-- i'll put it on the list. i do like the ruhlman books, "the making of a chef"-- haven't read "the reach of a chef" yet-- waiting to run across it in the used book store :)

          3. re: Blueicus

            Barring that, go to someplace affordable and work at the same time.

            I definitely second this. A lot of people spend a LOT of money on culinary school, and are left with loans they can't repay with an entry level cooking salary.

            I attended Newbury College's culinary program on weekends, while I worked in hotels during the week. The tuition was a lot more reasonable than the same classes taught to full-time day students. And working in the hotel taught at least as much, if not more, than I learned in school.

            1. re: manraysky

              if you can find a community college, that is the only way i would suggest culinary school. i cannot say it enough, you can work your way up. there are so many line cook jobs and the turn over is amazing. restuarants like the culinary school thing on the resume, but they will take a chance.

          4. I concur - retail stinks.

            What about it don't you like exactly?

            Aside from that, I agree with the community college part. Then, go somewhere great to start your apprenticeship. You don't want to have to pay off a huge student loan when you're schlepping in the kitchen for a Gordon Ramsay type.

            1 Reply
            1. re: stellamystar

              The advice from above is regarding Community College is a very good option.

              As your comments for your concerns to be in New Jersey or NYC, I will assume you are in Northern New Jersey.....

              Bergen Community and Hudson Community have two well regarded programs.

            2. Please, please, please think about what Miss Needle & Soupkitten have said! Loving to cook is an important think to bring to the BOH, but it is only a part of it. No amount of advise can prepare you for the day to day rigors. Yes, there is an amazing camaraderie - it is formed by working shoulder to shoulder, sweating and busting your a@# in often hellish conditions. In that situation, tempers can fly & if you ain't the chef, there is no room for excess ego or differing opinions. And many of them have more ego than you would think was possible to be contained in just one person. Having diplomatic skills, a thick skin & selective hearing will be major assets in dealing with this, especially when you are the newbie.
              The hours required for most food gigs make it extremely hard to participate in the real world - not just family/friends, but Dr.appts, repair services, government offices...a lot of "everyday" things become more difficult. I see too many people get trained & realize it is not going to allow the quality of life they want. Then they have to start over with career choices & are saddled with a lot of debt. I have begun to feel that culinary schools should require a minimum of 6 months BOH (any capacity) before an applicant is accepted - but that would reduce their $$$ big time.

              1. I've been watching this thread with interest. I have been thinking about culinary school not as a change of career but as additionaly career training. Perhaps this is wierd considering I am a seminary student pursuing ordination, but hey... it makes sense to me. The ultimate goal for me would be to create (with my wife, also a seminary student) a small spiritual retreat center for fellow clery to use for sabbaticals and the like. Being able to do this would nealty blend my call to ministry with a growing passion for cooking. It seems that the general consenus is that actually working in a restaurant is the best way to get started on the road to learning to cook professionally. So my question is, how does one do that? Are there skills an applicant must have? What are some good types of restaurants to start in? I think I have a pretty good grounding in basic techniques - but how do I know if that's enough or if I need to learn more before filling out an application?

                24 Replies
                1. re: ewallace001

                  Please don't take this as being pert but I see no reason for you to go to a culinary school based on what you want to do.

                  My husband and I have done 3 parties in the last year hosting 60 to 100 people-all by ourselves (we have asked a guest or 2 to bring extra ice). Our New Years Day party was a great success (based on our guests feedback). The only "presentation" we did was for the snack table-cheeses, dips, crackers, chips, Southern-style relish tray, nuts and sweets.

                  If you want to attend a culinary program you should but I doubt most people on a theologian retreat are expecting a haute cuisine experience.

                  IMHO, good food does not have to be all swirly and stacked, it just needs to taste good.

                  1. re: ewallace001

                    Go work in the seminary cafeteria. Not kidding! Learn high volume food service and you'll be good after that. You will learn about purchasing, store rooms, sanitation, etc. OR,
                    go work/volunteer at a camp (church or otherwise) in the kitchen.

                    1. re: ewallace001

                      There are no spceail skills required to attend culinary school other than a desire to learn and motivation. In your case you might consider special group classes that some schools like the CIA offer if travelling is an option. If not then there is likely some CC option in your area. This is not the same path I suggest for some one who is interested in the culinary arts as a primary career. Also in your case I see little need to work in a restaurant as you have a very specefic interest. Outside of basic sanitation and skills I'm not sure you would learn a lot from that. If you want to learn on the job then you might be better off working in a B&B that perhaps has a small restaurant. Best of luck!
                      In regards to the OP I'm not sure with your work history if you will be done in a day or fit right in. Either way I have some basic kitchen advice to start. Keep your mouth shut and your eyes and ears open. Work in a restaurant at least six months to a year before you decide to go to culinary school.

                      1. re: ewallace001

                        i have been thinking about your situation for a couple days and i have a few ideas specific to the msp area-- so the rest of this post might be skip-worthy for those not from around here.

                        i do like the suggestion to try out some shifts in the seminary (or any other school) cafeteria. it would give you a basic pro kitchen skill set and get you used to working w large amts of food & estimating portions for a crowd.

                        local tech schools with decent culinary programs are st paul tech & hennepin tech. you can also take 1 day workshop-style courses at st paul tech in specialties from hmong appetizers to lefse. (these are just "adult enrichment," not good toward an associate's degree or anything, but look fun. working w others in a large kitchen is one of the most underrated kitchen skills and doing this in a low-key atmosphere will be valuable in the future even if you don't feel like you learn a ton from a class.

                        apart from that, i really rec on-the-job learning, there is a lot to be said for getting tossed into the pro kitchen "sink or swim"-style. you will learn so much from your co-workers and will learn right away whether the work is a good fit for you. there are many small independent restaurants who are constantly hiring. it is often easier to get your first restaurant job as a server and then move to back-of-house. if you have any friends working in the restaurant industry, or even your favorite server or barista, these people hear about service industry jobs opening and can give you a heads up. i often tell people who are thinking of getting into the service industry to get a part-time job as a dishwasher, barback or busser & work their way up. i get strange looks sometimes because washing dishes is nobody's idea of a fun job, but hey, you are starting at the unskilled level. these jobs are easy to get & you can move up quickly if you work hard & learn fast. the smaller the establishment you work for the more stuff you'll get to do. there are some terrific local kitchens that are really just 3-5 people who can work many stations. keep in mind that when your goal is to learn as much as possible from working in kitchen jobs, you need to be self-directed to seek out the most challenging positions/cuisines, and to move on to a new position/restaurant when you have stopped learning.

                        since you want to do a retreat, you might also look at caterers and others who serve one large meal to all comers all at one time. one local place that might be in line with what you are wanting to do is the food service division of the aveda corp/group. as you probably know they do uber-natural & organic whole foods, & spa-foods. they always seem to be looking for natural foods cooks, you could probably get some valuable experience working with these foods at their training center's cafe. . .

                        another natural foods tack: (sorry, i think theological retreat, i think natural foods) is to check into your local foods co-op, or join one. in particular, hampton park co-op's deli offerings are prepared by members on the co-op's pro equipment. membership is cheap and if you are willing to work someone will probably be willing to train you to cook these deli offerings, & then you'll have some kitchen exp. to put on your resume.

                        if you have one or more culinary specialty interests (pastry, charcuterie, etc.) i'd encourage you to get as much training as you can in these areas you like and supplement with classes. specialization will open doors for you.

                        when you have gained some practical experience and are ready to open your retreat, you'll have to get your facility licenced locally and probably have a food mgr on site. you can take the "serv safe" coursework through the university of mn extension services, & i strongly rec doing the class ***online*** and as close to your opening date as possible.

                        helpful? not so much?

                        1. re: soupkitten

                          VERY HELPFUL! And I am touched by the thoughtfulness of your response! I'll probably have some more questions/comments when I can read through it all again more carefully (I've been at the hospital all day - MIL had surgery, so not all that coherent), but for now let me just say thanks a lot!

                          1. re: soupkitten

                            OK, sorry it took so long. My MIL had surgery for cancer this week so my mind has been occupied with other things. I have several follow-up questions, so perhaps I'll just list them:

                            1) Would you still recommend that I work at the seminary cafeteria if you had tasted the food (i.e. the food is mostly pretty terrible)?
                            2) Of the two schools you mentioned, is either better than the other?
                            3) If I took classes at one of them would I need to enroll in one of the degree/diploma programs or could I take random classes?
                            4) What might be some good restaurants to look for emploment at (I would be perfectly willing to accept the dishwasher position to get a foot in the door)? Unfortunately I don't really have any friends in the business to make inquiries of.

                            I'm currently in search of employment anyway as I am on a leave of absence from the seminary for family/personal reasons, so I have some time to start figuring out this part of my dream. Yours (and others) comments and suggestions are GREATLY appreciated. Thanks in advance!

                            1. re: ewallace001


                              Forget the dishwasher position.....you will not survive.

                              Getting into a top restaurant is probably not realistic. Find a good restaurant in your area or one that you frequent where they know you somewhat. If you present yourself well and express your desires, there are some kitchens that may take you on. If you stay closer to home, your expenses and travel time will be easier on your present situation. It does not make sense to add to your commute.

                              I suggest you also consider a Country Club type caterer......they always need additional help and they are always looking for someone reliable to show up. Expect a prep position.

                              1. re: ewallace001

                                ewallace, I would suggest avoiding the cafeteria and other high volume operations. Based on your earlier post I gather you want to do something very specific and I'm guessing that you will only be working with 6-12 people at a time. Avoid the dishwashing jobs. I think you could get yourself a copy of The New Professional Chef or a couple of the other basic books and learn far more just studying. Do not under sell yourself and waste time. Look for a job as a prep cook in a smaller club, restaurant or B&B with a small restaurant or maybe a breakfast place. Many are willing to train. Best of Luck!

                                1. re: ewallace001

                                  sorry for tardy response, out of town. . . best to your MIL & family

                                  1). no, don't work *anywhere* you don't respect the food. the cafeteria format, however, can be useful to learn about portions, ordering, how to design a basic menu. it depends on how many people you plan on serving at your retreat, it might be very useful if you'll be serving several hundred for a summer retreat, but as other posters have mentioned, cafeteria-style service wouldn't be the first choice if you'll be serving less than 20 people.

                                  2)&3). contact the schools for course schedules, visit & see what appeals. i tried to pull up st paul's homepage but it seems to be currently down. i'm a little out of touch w/ who's teaching currently, i'll have to double-check. there are classes that are available to people not enrolled in a degree program (continuing ed, non-accredited), & accredited courses you can enroll in w/o being in a regular degree program (though you might have to give up your seat in a popular class to a student who needs the credit for their degree program).

                                  4). msp is full of great small restaurants, & the best one to work for will be the one that *appeals to your thoughts about food & the way you'd like to cook*. this might not necessarily be your very favorite place to go out to eat, but you should make a list of places that seem to have a "food philosophy," and a quality level, similar to what you'd like to see in your own cooking. a small local deli might be on the list along with rated restaurants. shouldn't matter too much, as long as you're learning. be aware that the stereotype of the arrogant, domineering (boss) chef still holds true in many restaurants and that some of the most admired chefs in town can be difficult to work under. i won't mention specific names, you'll know 'em when you encounter 'em. of course, once you get past the gruff, no-nonsense exterior & the chef takes an interest in you, these people can prove to be wonderful mentors, bosses, & human beings. but you should steel yourself for a few tongue-lashings as a newbie :). working as a host or server can be an entry into higher-end places, the chef might not readily accept a relatively unskilled kitchen worker (as in bill buford's "heat"). bear in mind that while you are trying out a restaurant job, the restaurant is also trying you out. hustle and be sure to pull your own weight, keep your area neat, clean w/o being told to, you'll do well.

                                  to the dishwashing nay-sayers, i don't see how any honest kitchen work is beneath anyone who truly wants to be a chef, esp a chef-proprietor. the chef should be able to work every station in the kitchen, incl. the hobart or triple-sink. if i had a nickel for every time i've sent staff home and end up finishing an evening doing dishes for an hour i could afford a new refrigerated van. boy do i need a new refrigerated van :). a chef proprietor needs to know how to maintain a refrigerator, clean a hood vent, run a hobart, clean smelly fish and dirty produce, work a mop bucket. ime you gain the respect of your hardworking staff by doing the same heavy labor you expect from them, not treating them as servants who are around to clean up after you. in small kitchens especially, all tasks are shared, including cleaning. locally in msp, look at james beard nominated chef alex roberts (alma, brasa): when you walk into his restaurants it is not unusual to see him waiting tables during a lunch rush, or doing the humble work of scrubbing out cambros in the triple-sink during the slow times. there is nothing wrong with wanting to work in a specific kitchen and being willing to go through a period of, well, drudgery: scrubbing pots & pans, peeling mountains of potatoes, breaking down cardboard boxes, schlepping trash. in the old days, this was called "apprenticeship," and some of the world's best chefs began their careers in this way. just a thought.

                                  1. re: soupkitten

                                    Sorry to seem ignorant, but I still have some more questions for you. The opportunity to pursue this piece of my dream job came up rather suddenly and unexpectedly so I am feeling a little overwhelmed. A couple more questions have come to mind:

                                    So, once I make a list of places I'd like to be, how do I go about pursuing it. Do I just show up and ask for an application, make phone calls, etc?

                                    If I do have to settle for dish washing or the like, how do I communicate that I have greater ambitions in a non-annoying way?

                                    When filling out an application and it asks for what position I am applying for, should I aim low (dishwasher) and see what happens, or should I maybe just talk about what my ultimate goals are instead?

                                    Sorry to be so clueless.

                                    1. re: ewallace001

                                      Start with places you have enjoyed eating at. Go on a slow night / afternoon and talk to the owner (best option) or manager. Explian your situation and get a feel for how you would fit in. You will be spending a LOT of time at work and it will be more enjoyable if the people are decent (at least most of them). Take a vow of sobriety and jump in.

                                      1. re: ewallace001

                                        ewallace and soupkitten,

                                        It's one thing to be an owner or chef and jump in to help wash dishes.....that's commendable, but to have aspirations of becoming a chef and start by taking a job as a dishwasher in the hopes of future advancement is pointless. You would be wasting a good part of your life. As horrible as this may sound to some, the mere fact you can speak English allows you to jump over this stage. Being a porter is better than being a dishwasher. Stress you want to ultimately become a Chef and want to assist in preparation of foods.

                                        Wherever you decide to apply for a position, sell yourself as a person who is inexperienced at the moment, but you have the desire to change that circumstance and do whatever it takes to do to gain experience, even if it means......(whatever you are willing to put yourself through, in your own words and thoughts)......long hours, entry level position and pay. Express your desire to be an apprentice of sorts, and willing to be the gopher for any reason........cooking, cleaning, running errands and shopping.

                                        When you land your first job in a kitchen, then extend yourself without being told to do so, and lend a helping hand to your co-worker, the dishwasher...........everyone will see this and know you are a team player.....especially the Chef and Owner.

                                        1. re: fourunder

                                          i have a strong feeling this may be deleted, oh well i suppose i can't keep my big mouth shut:

                                          see, that just isn't the way it works in my kitchen. i'd prefer to promote a busser or dishwasher rather than fill a position with an applicant who has zero restaurant experience. the bus/dish workers have proven their aptitude and reliability, loyalty and interest in the establishment & they are already team players who have relationships with the rest of staff. i also have no problem paying a spectacularly hardworking and efficient dishwasher more than i would pay an entry level cook-- the dishwasher is a valuable and valued member of staff who is rewarded for doing the hard work that is essential for the smooth running of the entire establishment.

                                          i am well aware that in many/most kitchens around the country there are hundreds of thousands of workers who are addressed as "amigo" regardless of her/his real name, and they are kept "down" in the less well-paid positions & never given raises, and that less experienced workers who speak a different language at home than they do, with a different shade of skin color, are promoted around them and are eventually given the opportunity to open their own establishments. that's the way it's been for a long time and a lot of folks are really comfortable with the status quo.

                                          daniel boulud's legal "difficulties" remind the rest of us in the industry that discriminating based on race, ethnicity, sex, religion, orientation, etc. is not only wrong, it is illegal. many independent restaurateurs and chefs who choose to do things differently meet with industry resistance similar to the sentiments of plantation owners prior to the civil war: "this is the way it's always been, before 'them' it was the italians. . ." "well yeah, it isn't fair, but it's the only way to run profitably. . ." tony bourdain is perhaps the most well-known opponent of restaurant inequality & speaks eloquently about the issue in his books & interviews.

                                          if the old status quo is your current reality there isn't much i can do to change your attitude. i know that attitude is particularly prevalent in nyc restaurant culture especially, and it doesn't occur to most folks in nyc that anyone is doing anything differently than they are (and if they are it's because they don't know any better, right?). a lot of diners treat the worker who clears their plates or fills their water glass as if they are invisible, and these diners are part of the problem too. i can tell you that inevitably it's gonna change. it wasn't long ago that you didn't see women executive chefs, but all walls have a tendency to eventually fall down, even in the restaurant biz.

                                          trying to keep it on topic, eWallace should not necessarily rely on his english language ability or skin tone to land himself a better paid position in a kitchen. he should recognize that he has zero restaurant experience and be prepared to start at the bottom if need be. he should not expect to be promoted more quickly than other workers on staff for any other reason than his own aptitude and hard work. he should be prepared to take orders from someone who may not be a caucasian male. he should treat all of his kitchen co-workers with respect rather than condescension, as all of them will have more experience than he will, and have valuable insights and things to teach him. not that i know anything whatsoever about the seminary, but i'd imagine the same type of teaching applies: compassion, humility, service, perseverance.

                                          1. re: soupkitten

                                            AMEN! That's pretty much what they teach us. You could turn that into a sermon pretty easily I think :-) I never meant for my advice seeking to lead to such a debate, and in a sense I guess I am feeling like I've been used as a springboard a bit. All I want to do is learn, and the questions I've been asking have been trying to get advice on how best to get started. I think I've hit the age old quandry - to get a good job, you need experience, to get good experience you need to work in a good place. I appreciate everyones comments and suggestions, and if I think of any other questions as I continue searching I'll ask. Thanks to everyone!

                                            1. re: soupkitten

                                              It seems to me that when I worked in at the bottom rung of a large commercial kitchen and one of the more experienced people called in sick or quit, 90% of the chefs and assistant chefs would be happy to have me substitute for them or at a minimum, work with them to complete the required task.

                                              As for racism in the kitchen, kitchens are a microcasm of society and it happens. However, in most places, people are a whole lot more concerned with whether you can get the job done and do it well then on how you look. When you are getting slammed in a rush, having a competent person beside you is the key - even if he is a Martian.

                                          2. re: ewallace001

                                            ewallace I'm going to amend my previous post and suggest you start by washing dishes. I hope it won't sound short or unpleasant in any way but you seem to lack confidence and basic job skills. *If * that is the case you need to start in the dish room and build up from there. Confindence in your self and how you carry your self as an individual in the kitchen can be as important as your ability to cook.
                                            SK- while I agree with your take about respect I think most of us could teach a motivated individual how to run a dish machine, break it down, chemical balance etc. in a few hours. I can think of several Chef's I've worked under that I had a LOT of respect for and I don't think I ever saw them busting suds. I do agree with your point about being able to run all stations.

                                            1. re: Docsknotinn

                                              Doc, I appreciate the wisdom of what your comments. That said, I feel the need to "defend" myself a little bit. I don't lack confidence that I can learn the things I need to learn to succeed; I've been trying to teach myself for a couple of years now and the more I learn the more I want to know. I know that what I have learned barely scratches the surface I need and want to know, but I know I can learn them given the opportunity. What you see as lack of confidence comes from the fact that it's difficult for me to find guidance in pursuing my thirst to learn about good cooking. The seminary life style doesn't permit much time or money to pursue other endeavors, and there aren't many seminarians who understand the food world that I want to learn about (mostly I cook for people who would rather eat at Applebee's, or who think that our bad cafeteria food is enough for them). So I guess what I am trying to say is that I that I am confident in my ability to learn and am willing to work very hard to do it. I'm just looking to get pointed in the right direction and not take too many wrong steps along the way. I am willing to wash dishes if that's what I need to do to get my foot in the door and be around people who can teach me. I'll start wherever someone gives me the chance to start learning.


                                              1. re: ewallace001


                                                during the interview process, it would be refreshing for an employer to hear your are willing to start at the bottom to gain employment.......but consider also, as an employer, he would also ask himself why this person is willing to make such a sacrifice......he may think you are hiding something or be suspicious in other ways.....

                                                1. re: ewallace001

                                                  EW I guesss I'm a bit taken aback by some who appears to be an intelligent adult asking for help in filling out an application, how to obtain one, basic job search info etc. Again I don't want to be obtuse or un-friendly in any way but your first step is to get off the computer, get out there and find out what works for you. You need to ask the establishments you want to work at not strangers on the internet. Again I want to wish you the best of luck. :)

                                                  1. re: Docsknotinn

                                                    Doc, again thanks! I ask such questions because I've been a student pretty much my whole life, so these things I've been asking about are not concerns I've really had to face before now. I'm know how to get applications, etc. My goal has been to find out how the process works in this particular field while I look around.

                                                    1. re: ewallace001

                                                      EW What I'm trying to convery is that there is no universal answer to your question. A B&B might be run by some one who interviews on the spot and doesn't even care if you fill out an application. A chain might tell you to fill out an on-line application. I do get the sense that you have been some what sheltered (for lack of a better descriptive) as a student. This is one reason I reconsidered my advice. The one thing I can suggest is that you start by trying places you are only moderatly interested in first. Go to a few interviews to get warmed up so to speak before you start applying to places that are your first pick. If some one offers a job you are not obligated to take it.
                                                      As you see we all have different advice. We all took different paths and have different experiences. If any of us are going to be completly honest with you the simple truth is that it's very hard, if not impossible to offer universal one size fits all advice on the internet.
                                                      Keep us updated. I'm sure I'm not the only one that would like to hear how it goes for you.

                                                      1. re: Docsknotinn

                                                        I'm touched! Good idea on not starting with the top places right away. I think maybe I'll start a new thread to keep those who might be interested updated. I'll post another message here when I do. I REALLY REALLY appreciate all the advice I've gotten so far!

                                                        PS - Don't worry about offending me my calling me sheltered - I know I have been. I love being a student, don't get me wrong, but it is nice to start branching beyond that life. Thanks again! :-)

                                                        To the OP - sorry, I feel like I hijacked your thread.

                                                        1. re: ewallace001

                                                          Not a problem at all. I am pleased to see that I was not the only one with questions that may effect the future . I love cooking and the look of people enjoying good food. Especially if it came from my kitchen. Good luck to us both.

                                              2. re: ewallace001

                                                Tony's advice is good-- visit a couple of times alone or with one companion to get a feel of the places you are interested in (you don't need to spend big bucks on a full meal, just getting coffee & dessert at a bar table is fine (i don't know if you are a drinker but do not drink *any* alcoholic drinks in these establishments while you are feeling them out like this, or you may come across the wrong way). try to get on friendly terms with one or two members of staff, conversing with your server or a manager when they aren't slammed busy, and ask some questions about the restaurant or menu. be interested in how the restaurant runs. you can come right out & tell them you are interested in your first kitchen job and ask if the restaurant is hiring for any positions. re the dishwashing thing-- for sure, aim higher, if you can. but if you make it clear that you'll be willing to work any position and do any work available, you may come across as a serious, hardworking type of person (vs the undesirable perception they may get of an inexperienced person as being unreliable or flaky or worse yet. . .).

                                                the staff will also probably give you a cue, if they like you. they will tell you the chef is bummed out because business is slow and s/he had to lay off a worker who was trained and eager to work, and that you stand no chance of getting hired, there aren't enough hours for the employees they have. . . or they'll tell you, yes, we're always hiring hosts, here's an app. . .or they'll tell you, hey nothing right now but leave your name and number (they secretly have a feeling about the new waitress not being around much longer)

                                                try to get a host job, you can observe & ask lots of questions that way. one inexperienced cook i know "weaseled" into a line cook position by taking the host position but offering to come in before the restaurant opened and chop vegetables for 1-2 hours. most hosts are groomed for waitstaff positions but she made it clear she wanted to go back-of-house and when a spot opened, she slid in.

                                      2. Currymouth, I asked DH this question. DH's company deals with culinary schools and one of his jobs is to find out as much as possible about the field. In his opinion, he said the field of culinary arts have been changing rapidly over the past few years. In the past, there was not much respect to being a chef. Now, people are considering being a chef as a viable career, no doubt helped by celebrity chefs. Culinary school enrollments have skyrocketed. There are more and more students graduating out of culinary school every year, and is starting to be more of a prerequisite than it used to in the past.

                                        He also feels that working your way up is a viable option but very limiting. Graduates from culinary schools do not all work in independent restaurants. They work in corporate restaurants, independent restaurants, food companies formulating products, hotels, casinos, etc. He feels those jobs are difficult to get unless you graduate from culinary school. He also says that the independent restaurants who may have hired people to work from the ground up in the past will have a bunch of culinary graduates to choose from.

                                        He also doesn't have much regard for the community colleges (sorry to those who are advocating it). He said they are poorly funded, terribly run programs. Because they are poorly funded, the teachers don't tend to be as good. The attrition rate is astronomical and the students who graduate from the community colleges don't have the same skills as those who graduate from for-profit culinary schools.

                                        Now, with all that said, he also added that whatever way you get your education -- whether it's through the CIA, community college or working your way up, the most important thing is your hard work. So many people go to culinary schools thinking they're going to be the next Emeril. There's a greater chance being struck by lightening. Just because you get a degree from the CIA is no guarantee that you'll be doing well. You really need to work your ass off. In fact, I do know people who graduated from the CIA and FCI not working in the culinary arts (and tens of thousands of dollars poorer).

                                        20 Replies
                                        1. re: Miss Needle

                                          Miss Needle,

                                          I must commend you on your due diligence and efforts for a stranger's request for assistance.

                                          With regards to Community Colleges and your DH's insights, on a national level his observations may hold true, but the OP is in the Greater New York area and specifically states his/her desire to remain in this area. The two Culinary programs at Bergen County CC and Hudson County CC were specifically created and designed to meet the area needs and both have an excellent placing programs.

                                          Hudson County CC was in fact created with the assistance of The Culinary Institute of America. Just last year their State of the Art Facility was completed, complete with a dining room for service. HCCC is also one of the very few CCs recognized nationally, and to be fully accredited by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation (ACFEF). They also have a program with Fairleigh Dickinson University for any one to complete a full degree.

                                          These are two options for the OP to consider in what is best for him/her. I would also suggest the OP check out >northjersey.com> and Bill Pitcher's Second Helpings food blog and archives. Presently there is a who is an attendee of the Academies Kitchen @ BCCC, ans she is providing a diary of her experiences ona bi-monthly basis. Her actual experiences may prove fruitful.

                                          1. re: fourunder

                                            I'm sorry to dissagree and I hope it won't detract from your advice to the OP. However there are numerous ACFEI accredited schools. Some very good, some not.

                                            1. re: Docsknotinn


                                              I'm a little slow today....what exactly are you disagreeing with?

                                              For the record, I am not recommending anything or anywhere. I am merely providing information for options.

                                              1. re: fourunder

                                                I was pointing out that I believe there are numerous ACFEI accredited schools as opposed to your statement about HCCC being one of a very few. I just don't think that's accurate. I personally do not believe there is a single CC option in the US that can compete with many of the dedicated culinary schools. Several of which are in NY.
                                                In point of fact I really don't dissagree with any ones view on the topic. IMO there is no Universal right or wrong answer. Just personal choices.

                                                1. re: Docsknotinn

                                                  Doc and for anyone else who cares,

                                                  According to the Home Page for HCCC, CAI......I should have used the word "Select" instead of "Few"......if they're lying......I'm lying.....
                                                  in reference to accreditation nationally.

                                                  1. re: fourunder

                                                    Straight from their page;
                                                    "accredited by the American Culinary Federation Educational Foundation (ACFEF). Only a select number of schools in the nation have this prestigious designation."

                                                    There are only a select number of culinary schools in the US so I would say the credability of that statement is subject to interpretation. There is no shortage of accredited culinary programs. HCCC is also making some bold claims about culinary students receiving "numerous job opportunities" as well. I wonder how that works for a program that's less than a year old?

                                                    1. re: Docsknotinn


                                                      You would get no argument from me that CCs are not the best Culinary Schools, but they may be the best option for some. for that reason, they should not be dismissed. Some students simply cannot commit to dedicated schools for financial or time reasons.

                                                      With regard to HCCC specific:

                                                      The Culinary Program is about 20 years old, not one.....the new facility is one year old.
                                                      They have an enrollment of 400 full time students.
                                                      They are the only accredited school in New Jersey.
                                                      CN8's Paul Dillon has been instructing there for 18 years and he's an accomplished chef with an impressive resume.
                                                      The ACFEF certification was recently re-certified and expires in 2012, where it must again go through a re-certification process.

                                                      The only other schools in the NYC area that are certified are:

                                                      New York Institute of Technology
                                                      Sullivan County Community College
                                                      The Art Institute of NYC

                                                      You can have the final word on this topic.

                                                      1. re: fourunder

                                                        First my apologies for my miss-understanding that the program is not new just the building.
                                                        My only point was that the school is making to what amounts IMO to be some rather misleading claims. As you now point out there are several other accredited scools in the immediate area including one that the OP was considering.
                                                        As I stated previously I don't believe there is a universal right or wrong, just personal choice. I am an advocate of education but I do not believe that CC is the best choice for an individual seeking a career as a Chef.

                                            2. re: fourunder

                                              fourunder, many local community colleges have similarly born culinary programs that were created out of need. I think MissNeedle's husband is overgeneralizing saying the community college option is poorly funded terribly run programs.

                                              Chef's get hired on their resume not their degrees.

                                              1. re: BlueHerons


                                                Chefs get offered positions based on their resume, yes....but with that comes experience. The Community College route is for entry level positions... support staff if you will. Unless the Op knows someone......they will enter at the bottom of the food chain.......but if they show promise...acceleration can be fast due to the high turn over rate associated in the food industry. Chefs were not chefs when they first entered their first commercial kitchen. They were workers in a kitchen,

                                                1. re: fourunder

                                                  I do agree with you however really good and well run restaurants do not have a high degree of turnover.

                                                  At my husband's last restaurants (he owned two for 10 years before he sold them and is now a restaurant consultant) his average employee was with him for six years and two months. He had very little turnover and probably half of his two staffs were with him the entire ten years.

                                                  1. re: BlueHerons


                                                    Your husband was a lucky man while in business....and in other ways I'm sure..

                                                    Did I notice you reside in Myrtle Beach? What are your inside picks for a golfer? I've been going to MB 25 years and the restaurant landscape has changed dramatically over time. My son is going down in May for five days and i may go in October. any Recs would be greatly appreciated.......I already know the K&W intimately.

                                                    1. re: fourunder

                                                      What kind of food?

                                                      Honestly we are challenged.

                                                      My favorites are either eating outside at Louis's Fish Camp or Frank's Outback but I live on the south end. I also like eating at Thoroughbred's (my husband did some consulting for them when the new owner Tony Bennett bought it as he had zero experience), Greg Norman's, and New York Prime however I heard Ed Cribb sold the restaurant and it may be owned entirely by Jerry Greenbaum (California Dreamin', Carolina Road House, etc).

                                                      I've heard Benny Rappa's is outstanding.

                                                      My absolute favorite place for a low country/soul food/stick to your ribs meal is Prossers BBQ in Murrells Inlet. Cheap and very good buffet. Homemade fried chicken, local fried oysters and shrimp, pork BBQ, mac & cheese, etc.

                                                      When I can get up there Boulineau's cafeteria in North Myrtle Beach on Main Street is excellent.

                                                      My husband is opening an as of yet not named bistro in Murrells Inlet so I'll let you know when that opens. Heavy on the appetizers but not tapas, a few steaks, seafood, woodstone pizza oven, extensive wine list, indoor/outdoor dining etc.

                                                      1. re: BlueHerons


                                                        Thanks for the recommendations. I am always intrigued by the local places people dine in. Prossers sounds inviting. I have never heard of Boulineaus or Benny Rappa's.

                                                        Once when joining a twosome, I asked them where they intended to eat, or what was on their itinerary for their stay. One guy told me the Carolina Road House for every meal out. I laughed and said you're kidding right? he said no, it was his favorite place. I totally dismissed him and did not even attempt to see the place.....I never traveled that stretch of highway....I always took the bypass........Anyway a few years later I tried CRH after finally seeing the place and stopping in.......

                                                        I am now a Carolina Road House fan.

                                              2. re: fourunder

                                                I am surprised and gratified as to the response to my original posting and with the help of all of my CH friends with special thanks to Soupkitten,Miss Needle, and Fourunder. I was able to make a very important decision. I will be attending The Art Institute in lower Manhattan to persue a Restaurant Management degree while searching for a position at either a hotel or restaurant to get my foot in the door. After I get established. Hopefully within 3 Years, I intend to take a culinary program, either at The arts institute or Hudson County Community College.The ultimate goal was always to open a small, comfy,inviting, restaurant/ hotel. in either the Phillipeans, Portugal, or The Islands.We have decided that there is where our future lies. I will keep you all up to date.

                                                1. re: currymouth

                                                  hey! that's great & all the best wishes for your new career!

                                                  1. re: currymouth

                                                    Talk to me if you decide on the Philippines. Talk to my cousins if the Islands mean Hawaii. Good luck.

                                                    1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                      Just spent Christmas and New Years in the Philippines, and ate at some fantastic places from amped up philippino a la Cendrillion. to classic french. and everything in between. The restaurant scene is booming over there. Yet there is still room for small, casual dining experiences , not so much in metro Manila but in the provences. As for the "Islands" I meant the caribbean , where I grew up.

                                                      1. re: currymouth

                                                        On Lake Tagaytay? Los Banos? Mindanao?

                                                        1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                                          Tagatay or De Megete. also a major resort is slated for Boracai even though it's quite developed already. Looking for a piece of the beach, Thus the trip this Christmas.

                                              3. Currymouth, it is indeed a joy to have a career doing something you love. I have to tell you that I have worked with people who are married to chefs, sous chefs, etc. And I grew up working in my parents' resto. My co-workers tell me they hardly ever see their spouses. They pretty much have to raise the kids as though they were single parents. I remember growing up that the only times I saw my parents were those when I was working in the restaurant kitchen and in the dining room. You might want to think about the impact of such a career on your family.

                                                Conversely, I have to say that I LOVE my work (child psych) and the hours fly by. I arrive at work, have fun all day (most days; admittedly there are some tough ones) and then the day is over before I know it. I would love to see you in work that brings you joy.

                                                Best of luck to you. And BTW, thanks for the advice you gave me on the pork chops a few days ago. They turned out great thanks to you and the others who were kind enough to respond to my post.

                                                1. Culinary Institute of America is the best. Pls vist www.ciachef.edu

                                                  5 Replies
                                                  1. re: swati25

                                                    I became interested in teh culinary field about 20 years ago so here is what I did: I went to a friend that owned a restaurant and I offered to work for free to gain knowledge about every aspect of running a restaurant with the exception of washing dishes (I received that training as a teenager for two years at a Chinese place). I cooked, cleaned, waited tables, ordered all products, revamped the wine list, hired/trained/fired staff. After a few months, I began to draw some pay to supplement the tips I received. This lead to about 10 years in the restaurant business. I never got rich, but I enjoyed the experience (most of the time). To me, working for free beat paying to learn the same skills. Granted, it wasn't as formal and all encompassing as an education at the CIA, but it worked for me.

                                                    1. re: TonyO

                                                      May I ask - where has that experience taken you today?

                                                      1. re: ewallace001

                                                        I decided to get out of the restaurant business about 10 years ago after a career cooking/waitstaffing/ and managing operations. Today I own a vending company. My years in the restaurant industry were enjoyable and rewarding and I would recommend it to anyone (especially young people without a family).

                                                      2. re: TonyO

                                                        And the restaurant business is one of the few businesses where you can get to a management position with little formal training. It is one of the few industries were you can become a unit manager and operate the kitchen at a very young age. It is all based on what you can do and what you can accomplish.

                                                        1. re: jlawrence01

                                                          Agree. Additionally, it is a great way to see the USA and beyond as there are openings in the industry virtually everywhere for those willing to work hard.

                                                    2. Currymouth, have you come to any conclusions? I'm someone in a similar situation, and I decided to go the real-kitchen route after a slew of research on this board and books written by chefs. What an invaluable experience it's been. I've been going into a kitchen twice a week, once on the weekend for prep work and once in the evening for service, for 6 months now, all the while keeping my day job just in case I decided it wasn't for me. I didn't. In fact, the kitchen life has left me yearning for more, so now I'm getting ready to take a dive into the deep end with a 4 month full-time apprenticeship.

                                                      In the book, "Becoming a Chef," someone (I think Batali) suggests that you, "shoot for the stars." I can't tell you what great advice this was. Don't sell yourself short. If you have a passion for food, a willingness to learn, and can demonstrate humility, just knock on the door of a chef you admire and just ask. So many opportunities can be had by just asking.

                                                      I can say a real kitchen is probably the best "culinary school" out there. I've run into culinary school externs asking, "Hey, why didn't they teach us that in school?" If you can afford the luxury of paying tens of thousands of dollars for a formal education, great. But as my head chef says, you'll most likely be learning everything new and differently (maybe even better) in every kitchen you work thereafter.

                                                      Best of luck and please give us an update on where you are. Thanks!