Apprenticeship vs. Culinary School...a point of view
:nodding: I graduated from a local culinary school back in the '90s. I was already in the business, and the certificate gave me a leg up in being promoted to management. I often wonder, though, just how many of my classmates are still in the business -- or if they ended up going into the business (many of them wanted to jump start a second career).
Apprenticeship is time-honored and pragmatic. Given that a lot of young people are pushed to make the big bucks, I wouldn't be surprised if many of them would turn up their nose at being on the low end of the pay scale in such a situation.
We do have state technical high schools and regional technical schools where students can choose to take a culinary arts curriculum starting at age 13, e.g., (or an agricultural one, automotive, etc.) Over those four years they receive not only the cooking and food safety school credits, but they also prepare the food for the rest of the students and also have the opportunity to compete in statewide competitions, Plus they receive the academic credits they need to achieve a regular high schook diploma.
This subject of culinary schools and the big student loans and little pay after graduating reminds me of the broadcasting schools of a few years ago.
The kind of kid that used to want to be a radio announcer might be the same kid that now wants to be a chef. Both kinds of schools take the kids' money whether they have any talent or an affinity for being on the radio or being in the kitchen and then if they place them in a job, it's usually for little pay.
I know a few young women who went to 'fashion school', have huge student loans, and now work at The Gap.
Years ago, I remember girls going to 'travel school' so they could work at a travel agency. I'm sure there's no such thing as that kind of school anymore because there aren't too many travel agencies either.
Although I'm not in the food industry, I think the best way to get a job as a chef is to start working at a restaurant at the bottom and work you way up.
And what is the career goal 10, 20 years down from now.
How diligent will you be to spend evenings (mornings) studying, not reading, the cook books of master chefs?
Will you try to understand food chemistry or trust to luck.
Do you see yourself years from now owning a fabulous resto in a resort city, or cooking in a run of the mill kitchen?
It seems to me that the curent resto trend is to use food chemistry to concoct new dishes.
Soo. If you see yourself making food that others have given you recipes, apprenticeship is the answer.
But if you want to be a creative chef, go for a top flight culinary school or college. You'll need to learn organic and inorganic chemistry, math up to differential equations, and the like. O'wise, you can do your best, hope for the best from an apprenticeship, and go from there.
I know chefs who have worked their way up, gone to
culinary school and done both. To me, anyone who thinks
they want to work in the industry should do so for a year or so to see if they can put up with the hours, the phsyical demands etc. before putting out big bucks for culinary school.
Our local community college offers what seems to be a
pretty strong basic program but does not provide the
prestige of the big name, big $ programs. On the other
hand, I know chefs who prefer not to hire grads
from the latter because they often come
with "attitude" and expectations of high salaries and
quick promotion through the ranks.
I guess it would depend on the apprenticeship program, but my thought would be "both." While there's nothing like OJT to really "learn the ropes" there is a certain amount of "book learnin'" that is necessary too.
There are three types of mentors: (1) "This is how you do do it. Now you try." (2) "This is how you do it. Don't touch that!" (3) "Gofer another sack of potatoes."
A lot also depends on the mentor. While my mentor may be type (1) and teach me the right way to do something, s/he may not explain why it is done that way, and the disastrous results if I do it another. As a rookie I probably don't know enough to know what questions to ask.
If you come into the program with at least some training I think you'd be better off...and maybe "trusted" more. You would already (hopefully) possess some knife skills and know your way around a kitchen so you already start higher up on the learning curve.
So, yes, some formal education is necessary, but I would lean toward a community college type course rather than Johnson and Wales or CIA. That way upon graduation you might come out with some more reasonable expectations..
I'll jump on the "both" side of the debate. If you're going to work in a single restaurant as opposed to one owned by a group (becoming more common) probably not that important. You can very easily become as good a cook in an apprenticeship program as at any culinary school. If that's the goal, don't waste the money but there are more opportunities for those with the degree.
The culinary degree is like any other degree (with some exceptions like medical, engineering, etc) where that piece of paper opens doors and gets you opportunities that those without the degree don't get. A CIA graduate will have a a better chance of becoming an executive chef in a restaurant group owned place or , say Las Vegas hotel not because he's a better cook than the next guy but because he has the degree that's required in the job posting.
There are a lot of people who will not trust their $5 - 10 million dollar business to a really good cook with a high school degree as opposed to a really good cook with a degree from a fairly "prestigious" culinary school. Just like a business school grad, in theory, the culinary grad would have a better background to run "the business".
What many of us forget about the restaurant business is that it's a business and as such it's way more than just a place that hopefully serves up good food. We've all seen really good restaurants fail and not understand why. Maybe that really good chef who trained under that Michelin star legend couldn't keep his food or labor costs under control. The executive chef in most "big" places does little cooking any more. They walk around with a clipboard and manage the place. They have become businessmen and managers. And like managers in every industry, from Wal-Mart to UPS to Verizon to the US Army, the people who are most likely to get those management positions are the ones with that piece of paper.
You want to be a good cook? Work in a restaurant. Want to be in the restaurant "business"? Still, first work in a restaurant to learn what you're getting yourself into and then, maybe, get that culinary or business degree. It will help in selling yourself.