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If you were 16 again... culinary school?

alliegator Nov 24, 2012 01:32 PM

The home cooks around here are so knowledgeable and post so many beautiful pictures and inventive recipes, etc. So, if you could rewind the clock and chose another vocation, would you go the culinary school route? Why or why not? And what do you think culinary school could teach you that a ton of reading along with trial and error can not?
Thanks for satisfying my curiosity :)

  1. Wahooty Dec 2, 2012 08:44 PM

    When I was 16, I was a violinist, a dancer, and a budding actress. I was also painfully aware of my own limitations as an artist as a result. I was also a straight-A student with an aptitude for science and high SAT scores...I made the decision early to hedge my bets and have a lot of fun hobbies while doing something I love (and am good at) that would have a better chance at a stable future. Since some of my best friends have pursued the arts (performing, culinary, etc.)...I can safely say I made the right call for me. Food is one of my hobbies...and I relish my imperfection. I might attend culinary school in retirement, if I have the money, just for shiggles. ;)

    1. babette feasts Dec 2, 2012 06:48 PM

      Probably not. I'm a pastry chef now, but had no idea what I wanted to be when I was 16. It was expected that I go to college, and I did, and I think that education was very valuable even if I'm not really using my degree. You can get far in the culinary world without higher education, but there are plenty of times when math, language, and computer skills are as valuable as cooking technique. Our chef de cuisine and sous chef did not go to culinary school either, and we've made some local 10 best lists this year, so I think we know whet we're doing.

      1. r
        ricepad Nov 30, 2012 06:54 PM

        No. As much as I love to cook - and I worked my way through college as a cook in a small restaurant owned by a friend - I knew even then that a career in a professional kitchen was not for me. Don't get me wrong...that job was, by far, the most enjoyable one I've ever had, but the hours are terrible. Zombie hours. The only people with whom I socialized were other food service workers who had the same hours. Not very family-friendly.

        1. t
          tastesgoodwhatisit Nov 29, 2012 06:48 PM

          I think there's two questions there.

          Would I, if I could do it over again, choose to train as a professional chef? Absolutely not. I love to cook and am good at it, but doing it for a living has no appeal. As others have said, high cost of training, low pay, no benefits, little job stability, physically demanding, little room for creativity (odds are none of us would be the star chef), crappy hours, etc. Plus, even though I currently work in a very male dominated field, the working environment sounds really unpleasant for a woman, and I'd probably end up knifing someone.

          FWIW, I currently work in a job that has erratic job stability, no retirement benefits, frequently long hours, and a poor return for the investment (the pay's not bad, but we're talking 11 years of university as a prerequisite, not a two year certificate), but the balance between that and doing something I like is one I can accept.

          The other question is would I go to culinary school for personal enrichment? That sounds like fun, but if I doing that would negate other things in my life that I wouldn't want to give up - like the aforementioned 11 years of university. I'd still like to take some professional level classes, to learn advanced cooking or baking techniques that I haven't done much with, like cheese making, or pastries, or chacuterie.

          1. c
            cresyd Nov 28, 2012 11:27 PM

            I have always enjoyed the act of cooking separate from eating - so even when I make something that is a total fail, I enjoy the process. However, every time I've taken a cooking class/knife skills course designed to give amateurs professional skills - it's always struck me about the huge difference between professional cooking and cooking at home. The precision, accuracy, and repitition clearly demanded in the professional food world has nothing to do with why I like cooking.

            I enjoy cooking as something to do to relax - and not for achieving precision in a speedy way. That combined with the hours and physical demands I think would make me an amazingly terrible professional cook.

            1. maria lorraine Nov 28, 2012 09:24 PM

              Years ago I sat at the same dinner table with a woman who had gone to Cordon Bleu in Paris simply because she was interested in cooking and wanted to get really good at it. She had no intention of becoming a chef -- she merely went to cooking school for her own life enrichment. I was forever struck by this idea -- I'd never heard of doing that before -- and to this day I can still picture the dinner table and the woman when this idea entered my head.

              That's the spirit with which I approached cooking school. I went for my own enrichment. I had always been a serious amateur cook, who kept attempting more and more complicated techniques, and really wanted to improve further. I hit a fork in the road in my career (ill parent, leave of absence from work) and off I went.

              I did well and loved every minute. But I also went to culinary school before it was fashionable, and marketed as an "exciting" profession. The school was strict, and the teachers were mostly excellent.

              I learned that cooking for a living is a most unrewarding occupation: long days, few breaks, no weekends and holidays off to spend with your loved ones, hot working conditions, stressful environment, little creativity, no health benefits, low salary, no 401K or other plan, very tough on relationships/very high level of divorce, lots of drug/alcohol/substance abuse, lots of unfair treatment if you're a woman. You make the same dish thousands of times, and after the first 20 times, the thrill is definitely gone.

              One of the great boyfriends of my life was an "top-tier" executive at the CIA, a person who made educational decisions for all the CIA campuses. One day he told me he felt terrible and deeply guilty about encouraging all these people to come to culinary school as it was one of the most horrible occupations in which to work -- and cited many/most of the reasons I listed above. I was shocked to hear this coming from him, but of course he was right.

              Way too many people go to culinary school these days with the idea they'll be a star chef, when that is almost never the case. But students are often sold that idea in the school's promotional literature. And culinary school is very expensive, as expensive as an Ivy League school. The pay when you get out is meager, and the pay raises minimal. If you take out loans to attend school, your meager wage is entirely eaten up by living expenses -- there is nothing left, and often a newly employed student cannot make his/her loan payments. I have heard this time and time again. This is the reality.

              There are some students who manage to carve out a nice life for themselves: as caterers, as corporate chefs (day shift only), pastry chefs who come in early and leave early and exist separate from the raging chaos of the kitchen. But that's not the usual result.

              Would I do it over again? Perhaps, if I took the same approach that culinary school was for my own enrichment only.

              But I think something very close to culinary school can be achieved by an amateur cook who is set on learning great techniques, and who dedicates one's self to learning new skills. This means great books on technique, the best cooking classes one can find here and there, reading the Harold McGee books, going online to the great cooking websites, reading everything you can get your hands on, asking questions, watching chefs with great technique, and trying and re-trying to perfect results. Chowhound is a great resource for learning; I'm quite struck at the breadth of knowledge here. All to say, you can get close to a professional education on your own terms if you dedicate yourself to becoming a very talented home cook in the time you have available. That may be enough to scratch the itch.

              1. p
                pine time Nov 26, 2012 09:12 AM

                Read an article recently about recent grads of various trades and their uber-high education debts. One, from a distinctly 3rd tier culinary school, had a 2 year "certificate" and was over $80,000 in debt. I'm no financial genius, but that ROI looks pretty bad. Don't think my back and knees would stand up to the grueling tasks, either, plus I like mundane, regular hours and time with family on holidays. I retired (mostly) in my early 50s, and I doubt I could have afforded that in the culinary field.

                1 Reply
                1. re: pine time
                  Caroline1 Nov 26, 2012 11:57 AM

                  Well, you've opened my eyes! As I said above, I would not want to GO to culinary school, but golly gee whilakers, would I ever LOVE to OWN one...!!! Talk about a return on investment. Hey, look, Ma! How do you like my new Lamborghini? Way to go!

                2. r
                  rasputina Nov 26, 2012 08:44 AM

                  nope, just because I love to cook doesn't mean I want to do to it professionally.

                  1. Caroline1 Nov 26, 2012 07:13 AM

                    Hey, if I could be sixteen again and KEEP what I know now, who needs culinary school? My experience is that the old fashioned way of "growing new chefs" is far superior to culinary schools, the old fashioned way being apprenticeships with master chefs and working your way up the line. I am not impressed with culinary school education today. There are very few that I consider worth while. And if you have the talent, I do believe you can learn more and come out ahead of the game by taking the old fashioned route. Go bus dishes free at The French Laundry in return for watching rights in the kitchen!

                    Now, will you please make me 16 again?

                    1. p
                      Puffin3 Nov 26, 2012 07:00 AM

                      One of our sons when to culinary school for a couple of years. He's now working his but off, and really enjoying it, at a very nice restaurant. He's the 'weekend' head chef. Before he decided to go to school he was working in some local restaurants. It seemed that soon they wanted him to be working at a higher culinary level than he was able to. Personally knowing how much hard work is involved and mostly for not that much money in a professional kitchen I'd never encourage anyone to make it a career. But hey. Some people love it.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Puffin3
                        Caroline1 Nov 26, 2012 07:58 AM

                        You bring up an interesting point... Pay checks! I am constantly amused when watching Chopped, when the four competitors talk about how much winning $10,000.00 will mean to them, and how it will change their lives, but they're sporting full sleeves of technicolor tattoos that must have cost a kind's ransom! But hey, I have a perverse sense of humor. Maybe the question should be more like, if you were 16 again, would you go to culinary school or buy tattoos? Tattoos seem to carry a lot of weight in some cooking venues....

                      2. hambone Nov 25, 2012 10:32 PM

                        I thought about it when I was young but even as a Hamlet, I knew I wanted a passel so I decided the traditional hours of a regular job and keeping food a hobby was the way to go.

                        It was a good choice.

                        1. Jetgirly Nov 25, 2012 09:40 PM

                          I definitely wouldn't pursue cooking as a career. I am really "hot blooded" and always feel overheated (even when it's below zero), so I wouldn't want to spend my work day in a hot kitchen. My current office is actually nicknamed "the igloo"! I also love being able to go to bed at 9:00 pm if I feel so inclined. Working nights would not be good for me. Plus, when I was twenty I gave up eating meat. If there was some kind of vegetarian culinary school I might- today- do some evening classes for fun or something, but cooking could never be my career.

                          1. alliegator Nov 25, 2012 08:55 AM

                            Interesting responses, thanks for sharing! I do agree that for some people it just may not be cost effective.
                            And cooking, at least to me, is fun and relxing at the same time. If I had to do it to put food on my own table, I think I would start to feel very differently about it.

                            1. sunshine842 Nov 25, 2012 08:48 AM

                              when I was 16, I set my heart on going to CIA.

                              A family friend had just graduated from CIA the prior year, and was working as a sous at The Breakers in West Palm Beach.

                              I peppered him with questions, and he finally sat down with me and basically talked me out of it -- the crappy hours (when everyone else is out having fun), long painful hours,high stress, getting shouted at a lot, etc., etc., etc.

                              He has continued in the culinary industry, just not in restaurants.

                              To this day, I've never been really sure if I should be grateful or angry that he dissuaded me.

                              I do know that after having an enormous marathon of cooking (Christmas cookie weekend, Thanksgiving,, etc.) I'm really glad to step away from the kitchen for a while -- I'm not sure I'd enjoy as much if I HAD to cook no matter my mood. I love to cook when *I* want to cook.

                              1. Lillipop Nov 25, 2012 08:38 AM

                                I wanted to be trained as a pastry chef but the courses at the Culinary Institute in San Francisco are outrageously expensive.I became a Critical Care RN instead.My altruism beat out my need to feed people pretty food:) The wage..benefit....job opportunity...retirement benefits disparity was another factor. I think professionals in the food industry work very very hard and are not well compensated for what they do.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Lillipop
                                  Lillipop Nov 26, 2012 08:40 AM

                                  I have to add that I also wanted to be formally trained as a saucier but practicality won over my creative instincts. NO regrets on my part career wise.

                                2. h
                                  Harters Nov 25, 2012 08:03 AM

                                  Nope. I would never consider a career in the catering industry - it is far too much hard work for a sloth like me. I was quite happy being a clerk working for the local council, etc for nigh on 40 years - boring, not very well paid, unimaginative work, but paid the mortgage and there was minimum hassle.

                                  1. twyst Nov 25, 2012 05:15 AM

                                    I was an architect until the age of 32 before deciding that II hated working in an office,so I then went to culinary school. Dont regret it for a second.

                                    1. Njchicaa Nov 25, 2012 05:08 AM

                                      No. I learned long ago that I don't like working when most of the country is relaxing (nights, weekends, holidays) Also working in a professional kitchen just sounds way too hard and stressful. I love to cook and entertain... but at my own pace.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Njchicaa
                                        n
                                        Nanzi Nov 26, 2012 08:06 AM

                                        +1. After serving in several good establishments, I have no desire for the hours required. But I'd love to have had the training for use at home.

                                      2. c
                                        cheesymama Nov 25, 2012 04:50 AM

                                        Well, I did go. Not at 16 mind you, more like 24. The circumstances presented themselves and my interest in food was developing so I pursued it. The program I got involved in was 2 years. The first year taught the various cooking methods, one for each of 12 weeks followed by more weeks of working on these methods. The goal of the second year was to teach students to become head chefs. I attended the first year of the program with no intention of attending the second year. The large majority of chefs I had worked with were angry buggers who seemed unhappy, so I wasn't interested in becoming one of them! I love to cook, but I think if I had chosen it as a profession some of the joy would be gone.

                                        1. Rodzilla Nov 24, 2012 10:51 PM

                                          Not that I'm on the level of these other home cooks, but I doubt most of them would say yes.

                                          1) like pikawicca said, insufficient return on investment
                                          2) cooking in a restaurant kitchen is much different than cooking at home

                                          1. cowboyardee Nov 24, 2012 10:01 PM

                                            Even if I wanted to be a professional cook, I wouldn't go to culinary school. I'd do whatever job I could convince a restaurant to let me do for a while, study a lot in my free time, and then spend a couple years staging in the best places that would have me. Culinary school is overpriced, and many in the industry seem to be wary of recent grads anyway.

                                            1. s
                                              sunflwrsdh Nov 24, 2012 08:54 PM

                                              No. I love to cook, and I cook for love, not money, While I love to learn about food and cooking, I don't want to pay someone to teach me in an acedemic setting, and I don't want to cook professionally, because I think that to have to cook for a living would take all fo the joy out of it for me,

                                              1. j
                                                julesrules Nov 24, 2012 08:35 PM

                                                Nope. Way too much work for too little pay. It doesn't help that 50% of the people I know who did go realized before they even finished, via stages/internships, that it wasn't for them (due to hard work for hardass chefs).
                                                I also worked for a small business (bakery) in high school so I know it basically takes over your life to own one... I knew I wanted to take vacation, be able to leave my work at work, etc. t
                                                I don't regret my boring office job with passions and hobbies on the side.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: julesrules
                                                  rockandroller1 Nov 30, 2012 08:43 AM

                                                  +1

                                                2. Bill Hunt Nov 24, 2012 08:17 PM

                                                  For me, no. For my wife, then probably.

                                                  Were she not so talented at running hospitals, she could well be a chef, and a good one.

                                                  When I hit the PowerBall, then she DOES go to Le Cordon Bleu, and we'll then set her up in her own New Orleans inspired restaurant.

                                                  For me, I would have pursued a Master Sommelier certificate, but then, at 16, I was not into wines - yet.

                                                  Hunt

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt
                                                    goodhealthgourmet Nov 24, 2012 08:43 PM

                                                    For me, I would have pursued a Master Sommelier certificate, but then, at 16, I was not into wines - yet.
                                                    ~~~~~~~
                                                    i'm so with you on this. i started drinking wine at 17, but didn't really get into it until my mid-20's. i've had sommeliers and wine stewards ask me if i have training (i don't) because apparently i have a great palate, and at times part of me wishes i had gone that route professionally.

                                                    i'm glad i didn't go to culinary school. i've probably learned even more through self-education than i would have in a formal setting, and i'm not in debt up to my eyeballs.

                                                  2. Quine Nov 24, 2012 06:06 PM

                                                    Ah nope. Not as a whole degree program. I have been to the CIA and Johnson & Wales, and from all I could see, I pretty much knew a great deal of the first few years of education. I could and can see the value of taking some coursework, for example, sugar work, as enrichment.

                                                    I am social Media friends with someone who is attending N.A.I.T. (The Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) for Culinary and from what I now of her course work ( I recall she is a senior) she is getting a splendid education.

                                                    1. l
                                                      Leonardo Nov 24, 2012 04:23 PM

                                                      No way would I go into debt for that. Culinary schools are a ripoff, and I know a number of chefs who won't hire a a grad. It wouldn't help me get a better job than had I entered the field with no schooling. Had I wished to work in the field, I'd have found a chef who was willing to let me start at the bottom and take the time to teach me.

                                                      1. juliejulez Nov 24, 2012 03:00 PM

                                                        Maybe. I didn't really figure out my love of food until I was 25ish though.

                                                        I WOULDN'T have transferred from a cheap state school to a very expensive private design school though :) That was when I was 21 though. I would have gone to a 2 year community college then transferred to the nearby state university and gotten a sensible degree in something useful.

                                                        1. s
                                                          sueatmo Nov 24, 2012 02:51 PM

                                                          I think culinary school would teach me far, far more than I know now. But I had/have no desire to make a living as a cook or chef. I am amazed by the passion and desire behind so many who pursue culinary science. I respect it totally, but I don't think I would be a good fit for that occupation.

                                                          1. pikawicca Nov 24, 2012 02:46 PM

                                                            No way. Insufficient return on expense.

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