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ZenTaurus

Culinary School

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I was just wondering if i could get some input on culinary school, and whether it's worth it or not, from the perspective of both students and people who have hired for a kitchen before. To those who went there, did what you learned help you? and was it worth the investment of time and money? and for the people hiring, is that a real plus to someone who wants a job in your kitchen, or not so much?


Edited by ZenTaurus (log)

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1 or 2 days a week whilst working in a kitchen is best, full timers tend to come out total idiots lacking any common sense.

it depends on the school really some of them (VERY few) are really good and teach you alot but the majority just teach you techniques most of which you will do only once or twice. whereas in a kitchen you will have them on the menu for a while and do them again and again.

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I usually tell anyone who asks this question that any education is a good education. However, in the last few years I have started adding the caveat "but don't overpay for it". Personally, I have been finding that my CIA diploma from almost 20 years ago hasn't opened nearly as many doors as it used to (Portland Oregon? Forget about it, I'm lucky to have had the jobs I've had here). If you're going to a school, research it and get some feedback from chefs and employers about the quality of graduates. We have two major schools here in town, one of which is doing a terrible job IMO of preparing these kids for the real world (to the point where the former students have/are suing the school). I've seen community college kids that blow away 90 percent of the people I went to school with, but then I've seen guys with good experience that know more than most grads. It all comes down to YOU..how much are YOU willing to put into it, because if you're giving 110 percent and have a good mentor chef, you will come out ahead of most grads and have a great starting point on your resume.

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I think if school makes sense or not and depends much on the school and the kind of job you are eye-ing.

Giving how cookery is paid, there is a very good chance you waste time and money. However if a school can open doors for you, something which I would expect CIA or FCI to do it might make a start less frustrating for you. By frustrating I mean the restaurant in that you are peeling vegetables in the beginning may not be as interesting as something a top rate school may get you into - even though you still will be peeling vegetables.

To me it seems more crucial to change jobs to see other kitchens and styles and may even do a stint at a restaurant for free. Just think about it, working 6 month for free at a very good restaurant if you can get in and have that name on your resume versus hanging out at FCI or CIA and burn through 30K on top to start a 25K a year job.

JK

P.s. I am amateur, considered a career change for a bit but there is just no way.


Edited by jk1002 (log)

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I went to one of the culinary schools here in Portland last year (not the one getting sued, haha. Had I not gone, I would not have been working at one of the top restaurants in the city for the past year. I learned a lot of basics in school, but before that I did not have any fine dining experience. So for me school was well worth it. You just have to put your mind to it, listen to the instructors, be there everyday and work hard! If you do that, the instructors will most likley help you find a good place to work. Oh and don't go to a school that costs you an arm and a leg, there are good schools our there that do not want to take you for all you've got.

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I'm currently going through culinary school, and working full time between 2 restaurants.

a little background: i went into culinary school (a 1 year AAS program) knowing EVERYTHING they taught for the first 4 months. I knew how to make stock, how to saute, knew my knife cuts and knew 2 ways to make a consomme, etc.etc. The most useful bits of information I got out of the school was from Cost Control, Nutrition, Human Resources and Management, and Garde Manger.

if you know alot of the basics of cooking, you might as well skip culinary school if you are going just to learn to cook. Find a restaurant that'll hire you (even a horrible place is a good start, always just set your goals higher). Study cookbooks, read trade magazines and cookbooks, and watch quality cooking programs that explain alot of deeper cooking terminology (I learned alot by watching 'good eats' a few years ago).

If you have a good work ethic and are willing to work for a good chef a few times for free, you can get in with some really good chefs.

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I would agree with what everyone has said so far...and I say pretty much the same thing to new interns we have coming in and out of our kitchen...

For me, I don't feel that culinary school was necessary (after the fact, of course) as I had worked in and managed small bakeries in town. When I decided to go to school, it wasn't until we were pulling sugar that I had felt I was learning something new. I stuck it out anyways and feel like it was a good experience, except for once a month when my student loan payment is due.

I do think that the best education is through experience--I always recommend that someone intern in a kitchen for a while, not just to learn, but to make sure you love it (and I mean LOVE it!!!). It takes a ton of work, more than I can even try to explain. But like Joisey said, it depends on you. You have to give 110% or more every single day, even when you're exhausted or frustrated--it doesn't matter.

And as far as hiring goes, I would say to always have a positive attitude and an eagerness to learn. Sometimes cooks who have a few years experience under their belt get way too ahead of themselves and feel like they know it all, which is a big mistake. I would also rather hire someone with a really great attitude and perhaps a little less experience, than someone else with a great resume but sh*tty attitude.

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You need to understand two things:

1) It is the mandate of every restaurant to make money. They may or may not teach you the right way of doing things (making "ommelettes" on the flat-top, marking off steaks and tossing them into the oven to order, deepfrying instead of sauteing meat, etc), or you could work with some really excellent, knowledgeable people who may or may not have time for you. One thing for sure, you learn to work quickly and cleanly or you get asked to leave.

2) It is the mandate of culinary schools to teach the curriculum. You may or may not learn how to work quickly, work clean, think ahead, or do mundane things like clean out a fryer, a flat top, asssemble a meat grinder. One thing for sure, if you do not learn the curriculum, you get asked to leave.

There is no perfect solution, at least not in N. America. In Europe the perfect solution is an apprenticeship where you work in good houses with knowledgeable staff and go to school one day a week.

Don't get hung up on the name of the school, extract what you can from the experience, and don't expect the fact of any schooling to make any impression on the hiring Chef, s/he is only interested in how you work.

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looking at this as a general training question...

Is it better to train somewhere with a single teacher or one with many teachers? If the single mentor is a good teacher with a wide breadth of knowledge, then that'd be OK; but otherwise the multiple teachers give broader knowledge.

Looking at ROI, if I were going to start in the business I think that I'd do a lot of free labor in a lot of kitchens and take individual courses in areas that wouldn't be covered eg business law, culinary accounting/cost control, sanitation. They would come relatively cheaply compared to the full degree.

Looking at goals...if the plan is to work in a kitchen and be a competent cook then any route would work if you worked hard, the cheaper the better. If a career in corporate hospitality is the goal then a degree of some sort would probably be a good idea.

But what do I know? I'm not in the business.

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ZenTaurus:

No, culinary schools are not worth the exhorbitant tuitions that they charge. There are better alternatives to culinary or cookery school. If you still young, you should consider finding an apprenticeship.

Advantages: wages, experience, certification, A.S. degree.

Disadvantages: 3-year commitment, possible relocation.

If you are older, or disinclined, then, search: Shaw Guides for a community college near you. If you can move to Michigan, the two best community colleges in the country are: Schoolcraft College: Culinary Arts, and Grand Rapids Community College: Culinary Arts.

I have visited Northwestern Michigan College Culinary Arts program. Macomb Community College Culinary Arts Program, ACF Apprenticeship Program.

If you are curious about the textbooks that the cookery or culinary programs use, see the following list. You can use Book Finder, to search for the following titles[the older versions are less expensive than the current editions]:

On Cooking, by Sara Labensky

The New Professional Chef, by The Culinary Institute of America

Professional Cooking, by Wayne Gisslen

Culinary Fundamentals, by The American Culinary Federation

The Art and Science of Culinary Preparation, by Gerald Chesser

On Baking, by Sara Labensky

Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, by The Culinary Institute of America

Professional Baking, by Wayne Gisslen

Baking Fundamentals, by The American Culinary Federation

The Professional Pastry Chef, by Bo Friberg

I have spent several hours compiling this reply. I hope that it helps someone reading this. Good Luck. :cool:


Edited by TheUnknownCook (log)

Buttercup: You mock my pain.

Man in Black: Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

-- The Princess Bride

If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy -- Red Green

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FYI:

The only finishing apprenticeship in the country is at the Greenbrier Resort. They require that all prospective apprentices must have a 2-year A.O.S., A.S., A.A., degree in Culinary Arts, or 3-years of experience. [it would behoove any young person considering the apprenticeship to have done the A.C.F. apprenticeship.] :cool:


Buttercup: You mock my pain.

Man in Black: Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

-- The Princess Bride

If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy -- Red Green

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As a person working in the industry that did not go to culinary school, I'd say the answer is a definite maybe. The things you learn there may or may not greatly benefit you but having that certificate can definitely open doors. Not having a formal education can be an automatic "no thanks" with some employers. Depending on what doors it opens (or when it opens them), it could be a valuable piece of paper.


It's kinda like wrestling a gorilla... you don't stop when you're tired, you stop when the gorilla is tired.

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As a person working in the industry that did not go to culinary school, I'd say the answer is a definite maybe. The things you learn there may or may not greatly benefit you but having that certificate can definitely open doors. Not having a formal education can be an automatic "no thanks" with some employers. Depending on what doors it opens (or when it opens them), it could be a valuable piece of paper.

I'd have to agree, being a culinary school grad a lot of job openings right now are looking for experience and/or some sort of culinary schooling. While a few of the jobs I didn't get selected for, I got called in to stage because of my schooling.

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Again, there are a few things you should realize:

There is a HUGE difference between the Chef, and the HR manager/Owner/ Manager and what they look for in prosepective applicants.

The Chef tends to look at work experience on a resume.

The others tend to look at paper qualifications.

In many places it is the HR who does the actual hiring, or has final say in who is hired and at what pay rate. In this scenerio you peddle your paper qualifications.

In Canada we have the "Red Seal" which is a qualification for cooks, I repeat, COOKS, not CHefs. Most Chefs see this for what it is: A sit-down test comprised of 200-odd multiple choice questions. When schmoozing with the Chef DO NOT mention the "Red Seal" Or endure the guffaws and smart-azz remarks.

Personally, I think it an oxymoron to have a "degree" in any hand-trade, such as cooking or plumbing, or electrical work. Then again, I don't manage a culianry school......

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Is culinary school worth it? For the prices most are charging nowadays, I'd say no. Fact is, doing a year or two apprenticeship in a good restaurant will put you light years ahead of a culinary school grad. Of course, culinary school does open doors, but you'll still be slaving away for the same shitty pay, except you'll also have debts to pay. And one thing I've found with culinary school grads that have worked under me, is that they're taught classic recipes and techniques that no one uses anymore, and generally I need to retrain them to do things the modern way anyway - I might as well just train someone from scratch - they talk back less too...

And finally, one last thing. The way the economy is, any restaurants that want to survive need to change the way they do business. Simpler menus, less staff, modern technology and techniques, etc... Most of what culinary schools are teaching is obselete now.

As for myself, I never went to school, I was mentored by several French chefs (who themselves were products of Michelin 2 and 3 star restaurants), was a chef de partie by 19, a first cook at 21, and was offered an exec chef job for a bistro at 22. Instead though I switched to pastry, was a pastry chef by 23, and now at 25 am a pastry chef for a large restaurant group (although I do plan on opening up my own pastry shop within the year). Anyhow, my experience in the industry is that work ethic, willingness to learn and take responsibility, and ambition mean much more than any formal learning. Not to mention knowledge of the industry itself, some business smarts, and lots of creative thinking. Once you're a chef - actually cooking is the least of your worries...

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I was just wondering if i could get some input on culinary school, and whether it's worth it or not, from the perspective of both students and people who have hired for a kitchen before.

One thing to keep in mind ... regardless whether you go to c-school or not, having actual kitchen experience is the only way to get into kitchens. As a matter of principle, I (and many other chefs I know) do not hire pure c-school graduates, not because I am a snob, but because anything that is important in day-to-day service is not taught in schools. Timeliness, dependability, team-work, situational awareness, multitasking, all those are scratched at best. And, let's face it, try as they might, no cooking school can emulate the heat of a dinner rush.

Even if you make it into a kitchen after c-school, chances are you'll be precisely where you'd have been if you hadn't spent those $30k - on the prep line or on amuse or something around there. What c-schools can, and will, teach you are techniques and an understanding of your product and its preparation. Things a very interested line can pick up in a restaurant, but also things that often fall by the wayside if you're just tossed into a busy kitchen.

My suggestion would be to spend four weeks externing or staging with a chef before you decide if you want to go to school. You _can_ make do without school, but you cannot make do if the kitchen life and kitchen work doesn't do it for you. If that part works, if you find yourself curious for more, and if you can see yourself being an underpaid, overworked, back-of-the-house for a long time ... by all means, go and get a degree.

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Personally, I think it an oxymoron to have a "degree" in any hand-trade, such as cooking or plumbing, or electrical work. Then again, I don't manage a culianry school......

I respectfully disagree. I am the product of the German apprenticeship system, and if anything the difference between those without a degree and those with one, given the same time in the business (three year apprenticeship, six year journeymanship, one year master prep, master chef degree), are in the goals either candidate has.

If I am looking at someone who spent three years working in the same kitchen, working their way up from prep to line and, after three years, convinced a panel of seasoned and grumpy chefs to give them a journeyman certification, I know I am looking at someone who has dedication and drive for the industry.

That is, I agree, a far cry from the 600 credit hour evening class culinary schools in this country, but given the same amount of industry experience (note, I don't count being in school as experience), I prefer the culinary graduate if all else is equal.

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As a product of both schooling and an apprenticeship, I believe that the choice is truly tailored to the individual. I went to two culinary schools with an apprenticeship in between and this is what I learned. The first culinary school i went to was a community college and I touched base on all topics but never really went in depth as far as detail went. I was a greenhorn at the time so I absorbed as much as I could while working as well, so that went hand in hand, learning both at school and practical application. After the community college portion, I then worked in the actual industry for 6-7 years, 2 of which were spent under a chef that was willing to teach me as much as possible (the "apprenticeship"). After a few more years I decided I wanted to go back to school and refine everything I've learned...so i went to a prestigious school and found that all that I've learned over the years translated into everything they taught...and more. I knew what to expect from the school and used everything they had to my advantage, including networking, resource materials, demonstrations by world renowned chefs and modern facilities.

I guess at the end of the day it all depends on how you manage to make the best out of any given situation, wether it be school, learning on the job, or just through trial and error.

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As a person working in the industry that did not go to culinary school, I'd say the answer is a definite maybe. The things you learn there may or may not greatly benefit you but having that certificate can definitely open doors. Not having a formal education can be an automatic "no thanks" with some employers. Depending on what doors it opens (or when it opens them), it could be a valuable piece of paper.

The no thanks is what I am seeing. In this economy, employers can be picky. I see little option myself being unemployed as my old job is not coming back. Might as well go to school as a second degree and get the paper. I can't get more than a cursory glance otherwise.

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I'm still hung up with this "degree" thing...

My daughter is now looking into post secondary and we've been to a few Universities for their "show and tell" stuff.

It's my understanding that only a University can offer degrees, and only a University in one part of the country can offer the same curriculum as another University in an other part of the country--or world for that matter. Colleges do not, and this is the main difference. I was also told that it is a big "no-no" to do yor Bachelor's and your Master's degree at the same school.

It's also my understanding that a "degree" is comprised of 120 credits, with many of the credits having not much to do with the major--just for filler content or balance, --or, as one Prof put it: "They're vegetables, not particularily nice to eat, but good for you. Get 'em done in the first and second years".

There might be a degree in Hotel management, but a degree in cooking? What would the "filler" courses be comprised of?

This is all my understanding--prior to last month I've never been on a Uni campus.

For the record, I did my grade 12 in Canada, took a year of Community college (Commercial cooking), worked for year, then did a 3 year cook's apprenticeship in Switzerland.

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Go to France - Work like a devil - learn.


The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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It's also my understanding that a "degree" is comprised of 120 credits, with many of the credits having not much to do with the major--just for filler content or balance, --or, as one Prof put it: "They're vegetables, not particularily nice to eat, but good for you. Get 'em done in the first and second years".

There might be a degree in Hotel management, but a degree in cooking? What would the "filler" courses be comprised of?

English Lit, to provide context to one's menu pairings

Chemistry 100, provides basis for baking

Creative Writing, hello... menus?

Math, because math is everywhere

Business Courses

Botany, Viticulture, Land Husbandry, to learn how the food we work with is grown

Psychology

Environmental Science, since as cooks and chefs we have more influence over consumers than we realize

etc...


Karen Dar Woon

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As a person working in the industry that did not go to culinary school, I'd say the answer is a definite maybe. The things you learn there may or may not greatly benefit you but having that certificate can definitely open doors. Not having a formal education can be an automatic "no thanks" with some employers. Depending on what doors it opens (or when it opens them), it could be a valuable piece of paper.

The no thanks is what I am seeing. In this economy, employers can be picky. I see little option myself being unemployed as my old job is not coming back. Might as well go to school as a second degree and get the paper. I can't get more than a cursory glance otherwise.

If you are going to go to culinary school, go to the CIA or the FCIA, Ruhlman's posting of the excerpt from Boardain's new book "Medium Raw" Has convinced me of that. After spending a year and a half in the trenches, I can say for certain it DOES make a difference. Yea, I walked into Flip and got a entry prep/dishwasher job and quickly worked it to a station on the line and then all the stations. Time however isn't on our side. You like me, because we are old dogs, do not have the time to spend the next 10 years it takes to get there without that Diploma. The whole time I worked in the kitchen, I watched Arts Institute students come and go, but the CIA grad that showed up is on the fast track and I'm not, or wasn't and neither were the local food schoold kids. (Life caught up to me and I had to go back to earning better money. So the kitchen job is sidelined, even though both Flips in ATL want me to work more. I would have stayed if someone would have made me an offer. I would probably have gotten that offer with the piece of paper.)


Veni Vidi Vino - I came, I saw, I drank.

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Hey R,

I was sad the hear you were gone when we ate lunch on Saturday. I understand family needs and such though.

I just feel I have no choice in the matter. I can't sit on unemployment forever, don't think I will ever work in IT again, which age is factor in as well. Might as well chart a new course. I wish I could go to the CIA. Even if I was single, I could not afford that stuff. Chatt Tech is where I am headed; Jason actually mentioned it to me in the interview.

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I agree with Joisey. Look around for a good school to get your certificate then get a good mentor chef and hold on to him for dearlife. Absorb everything he can teach you. I am manager in a hotel that have a few restaurant. More often than not I have seen young kids coming out from college expecting to be the top guy. My advice is work hard, learn hard. Nothing beats experience in our line of work.

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