Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Not About Food >
Sep 3, 2012 07:30 AM

Culinary school math

A recent thread got me to wondering if they teach practical math skills at culinary school. Algebra, geometry, trigonometry are all things that I find useful on a regular basis in my home kitchen. Seems like a good working knowledge of them would be essential for an executive chef.

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. I find that PDE (partial differential equations) helps me measure more accurately. ;)

    1. Never mind teaching some basic math in culinary school! Regarding that thread you are referring to - these skills should have been MASTERED at around 12 years of age/6. grade!

      3 Replies
      1. re: RUK

        While I don't disagree with this I will say that I never really mastered practical applications until I had a need. I really learned how to use algebra and trigonometry when I quit school and became a tool and die maker. Did that for years and went back and finished my degree and have been an accountant for the past twelve years.

        It may surprise some that being a tool maker requires a higher level of expertise in math than being an accountant does.

        I am not a math whiz by any stretch of the imagination, I pretty much reached the level of my competence with first year college calculus.

        1. re: RUK

          Algebra, maybe... but serious geometry isn't even introduced to most US students until 8th grade with more algebra on 9th grade, and trigonometry in the 10th. That's for advanced students who start algebra in 6th or 7th grade. Average students start algebra in 9th grade, with some foundational lessons in earlier years. Many students graduate highschool without any trigonometry at all.

          1. re: RUK

            RUK, you're absolutely correct... but it's NOT a skill that kids hold onto. Fractions... forget it! If a kid doesn't have a calculator handy, they'd have NO idea. Have SIL (closing in on 50) who does a LOT of baking around the holidays and throughout the year. If she was makiing a double/triple/quad recipe of some cookie that called for 2/3 cuppa something... she'll measure out 2/3 cup... 2/3/4 times!?! In general, kids don't know ounce/cup/pint/quart/gallon or ounce/pound... cuz they dont have to use it. When they get out on their own, either figure it out or throw away LOTS of money on take-out, cuz they don't cook!?!

            Maybe cuz I enjoy math for it being constant, I use it a lot. Say recipe calls for a 9X13 pan and you plan to use a 9X9 instead. You'll need to adjust the recipe... volume, ratio/proportion, all that jazz. Of course, your result may be 1 2/3 eggs??

            Relatively clueless when it comes to metric system... though makes SOOOO much sense since everything is a multiple of 10/100/1000. Know a meter is about 3" bigger than a yard... not something needed in cooking, huh! A liter is a few sips more than a quart. A kilo is a little more than 2 lbs. Taught ESL for a while and had students from several Asian countries and what used to be USSR. If I asked how much is 1 cup... immediately got... that's xyz grams.

            Think one of the most useful math concepts for cooking might be ratio/proportion. EX: if 1 batch needs 2.5 c of flour, how much flour for 6 batches... simple, multiply by 6. BUT if you have a restaurant recipe that makes a dozen portions and you only wanna make 4... do the math!

          2. In 1992-3 I taught math in a Connecticut Regional Vocational Technical High School. These schools are run by the state, not individual towns and cities.
            At that time I had to develop specific lesson plans/curicula for each separate trade. The Culinary Arts students got math that dealt with fractions, percentages, multiplying recipes, coversion between English and Metric systems and the necessary finance math to figure cost of materials, labor, markup, etc. I also gave the seniors an entire semester on the costs of starting a business. Understanding rental costs (gross, net, triple net), insurance, loan costs, financing a college or adult level culinary school education, equipment costs and depreciation.

            This was quite sucessful. I have run into a number of former students who own their own restaurants/bakeries/caterers, who said this trade based math was invaluable.

            Unfortunately, the new school dirtector who came in 1995 scrapped my curricula and said he wanted all trades to learn the same math. What nonsense, the culinary arts students do not need the same math as the dental technicians who were trained to make false teeth, or the LPNs or auto body (who really needed to understand geometry, curves, angles, stress loads, etc.

            2 Replies
            1. re: bagelman01

              You must have been very upset with that "director". You put alot of constructive thought and practicality into your curiculum. Unfortunatly reality has gone way down the ladder in the last 20-30 years. I'm really glad I'm retired.

              1. re: mrbigshotno.1

                I taught for those few years as a break between being in the catering business and being a management consultant in the hospitality industry. I loved teaching and the kids. I was able to place about 30 in the industry and helped three open restaurants.
                I was very happy to see this new director fired for having falsified his resume. Turns out his educational management experience was as a prison warden.