Can I become Executive chef with just community college training?

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Joined Jun 9, 2008
Hey guys, I really love this forum and all the information it has to offer.

I have a question that's been bugging me for some time now. So I've been kicking the idea of culinary school around A LOT lately. Here's a quick background, I've been working in small restaurants since I was 15, I'm now 26. Im 100% Greek so a lot of my family members own restaurants. I have lots of experience, just not in the high end, fine dining arena.

Cooking is about the only thing I have a lasting passion for. I decided to leave the kitchens a year ago and try to get a "normal" job and career by going back to school, and man do I MISS the kitchen! I realize that a Bachelors degree in communication or what not is just not for me.

I would like to go to an "upscale" culinary school but I just dont have the money nor can I justify spending upwards of 50K for an A.S. degree. My community college has a Culinary Management program though.

Do you think that would be good enough training to break into fine and upscale restaurants?? Thats where I want to be and eventually I would like to be an executive chef somewhere.

Just wondering how many guys came up through community college programs. Im looking online at restaurants I like and all the Executive Chefs have come from the Art institute, CIA, LCB, etc.... I still haven't found one that went to a Community College??

I definitely have the work ethic and the drive, I just dont want to be stuck because of where I got my degree...

Thanks for reading my short novel and any and all insight would be GREATLY appreciated!

Jim
 
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Joined Dec 16, 2008
Jim,

You need to look around as some of best chefs in the industry never even went to culinary school, however, I can also give you examples of those that have.

Thomas Keller, arguably the most well-respected chef in the US, is not a culinary school grad. Nor is Mario Batali, Charlie Trotter, or Michael Carlson. In fact, read the piece on Carlson in GQ. Fascinating read. However, you will find graduates that are executive chefs. One can make a compelling argument either way.

What area do you live in? What's the community college you are looking at? My advice: avoid LCB and AI schools. Most likely, admissions will tell you what you want to hear.

If you have further questions, PM me. I work at a college you may have even looked at.
 
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Thanks for the responses guys, Tobin, I sent you a PM.

To the last response (In short, NO!!) I understand COMPLETELY that I will start at the bottom in most all situations, and wont come out of ANY program and be an executive chef...

My question was, down the road, can I become an executive chef if my core education is in a community college and not some upscale culinary school??

I just dont want that to be the singular thing that will hold me back. In my mind, I dont thnk it matters where I got my degree, but I just wanted some advice from you more experienced Chefs....

Thanks again!

Jim
 

rjx

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Joined Oct 2, 2006
kleraudio you don't need any kind of schooling or degree, but it helps more than if you didn't have one.

Hopefully, you should already know a lot about cooking and the restaurant biz since you have been in the biz for a while. Use it to you advantage. Seek a job at the type of establishments you are interested in and explain to them your goals. You have a lot of experience and that should be a big positive. Get a good culinary textbook the high-end schools you are interested in use and try to learn everything you don't know. Try to improve on what you know, and learn what you don't.

In your situation I don't think going to a CC for hospitality management would hurt. That is what I am doing ... going for an A.S. My programs emphasis is on restaurants and cooking. You could try to work school around your schedule while cooking on the job.

Just some ideas.
 
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If you are asking whether a community college culinary program will give you the basics to develop your skills to gain the experience to run a kitchen, it probably will.

IMHO, NO culinary school will graduate you as a "chef", maybe as a culinarian/prep cook but certainly not a "chef". That's analogous to saying military basic training will qualify you as a First or Master Sergeant! In both cases, it takes years of experience to develop the necessary skills and knowledge. Remember "chef" is the French spelling of "chief"!
 
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Hey everyone thanks for the insight. I especially like the idea of getting some textbooks the schools use. I have picked up a few books to learn about some classical french techniques, but nothing like a text book.

Anyone have any ideas on how to find out what textbooks these schools use?

Thanks again guys, your input is invaluable!

Jim
 

rjx

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Joined Oct 2, 2006
The Professional Chef (8th) by The Culinary Institute of America
Amazon.com: The Professional Chef: The Culinary Institute of America: Books

Professional Cooking by Wayne Gisslen
Amazon.com: Professional Cooking, Trade Version: Wayne Gisslen: Books

On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals (4th) by Sarah R. Labensky, Alan M. Hause, Steven R. Labensky, and Pricilla Martel
Amazon.com: On Cooking: A Textbook of Culinary Fundamentals (4th Edition) Textbook only: Sarah R. Labensky, Alan M. Hause, Steven R. Labensky, Pricilla Martel: Books

Culinary Fundamentals by The American Culinary Federation
Amazon.com: Culinary Fundamentals: Culinary Fed American Culinary Federation The: Books

I own both the Professional Chef and On Cooking. Great books.
 
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Sweet, thanks a lot RJX! A huge help!

I was also looking at The Fundamentals of Classic Cuisine by the French Culinary Institute.

Which book should I get first? I only have enough money to buy one and I wanna make sure its the best one for me.

Thanks again for the list!

Jim
 
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Joined Oct 18, 2007
"Can I become Executive chef with just community college training? "

If you mean can you be a Chef right after you complete the college courses, with no experience, then no.
If you mean can you eventually be a Chef, with only the community college as formal training, then yes.
But also, you can eventually be a Chef with no formal training whatsoever.
Certified is another issue, but could you perform all of the duties and responsibilities, yes.

Schooling is just another form of experience.
It's ideally well-rounded experience, but still just experience.
And schooling doesn't teach you what to do when your oven goes down just before service, or how to stretch food for 100 to feed 200 on the fly.
It teaches you what to do when everything goes right.

One of my Chef's once told me "anyone can cook if they have everything they need".
This was a man who had half of his equipment inoperable due to the owner's tight pockets, who routinely did a wall of BEO's with half of his shopping list unordered, again because of the owner.
And he made it work.
He never went to school, but he could cook circles around many culinary school graduates I've worked with.

You seem to have the desire, so that coupled with community college, plus quality experience, should see you as a Chef one day.
Try to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Work with as many Chef's as you can, learning their ways, so that you can find your own.

Good luck!
 
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Just Jim, thanks a lot for your reply! That was really motivating and I thank you for that!

So what makes you an "official" chef? Sous chef is the beginning I take it?

Thanks a lot, cant wait till August for school to start!

Jim
 
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Sous Chef is not the beginning. School is the same as being a commis which is slightly below an apprentice. It is not based on where or what school , its based on YOU. How far do you want to go, how dedicated will you be<You have to put in your time like we all did. Think ,if you owned a 4 million dollar place would you put a 23 year old any school graduate in charge of that type investment??? I think not.:bounce:
 

rjx

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Joined Oct 2, 2006
Since I only have 2 text's, I would recommend The Professional Chef (8th) instead of On Cooking. I like how the Pro Chef comes across as more serious and thorough. On Cooking is really good and has lots of photos, but compared to the Pro Chef it seems more like a high school text, IMO. Thats not bad. But I prefer the book with more information and what I think is better organization.

In reality, either will would be fine.
 
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No, Sous isn't the beginning.
It may feel like the end at times though.
Sous Chef translates into: the Executive Chef's Main B!tch.
You will work longer, harder and better than everyone around you, oftentimes including the Chef.

If you find yourself at school, taking smoke breaks every chance you get instead of trying to get that extra knowledge from your instructor, you're probably not going to survive this career choice.

Like Ed said, you'll get out of school what you put into it.
And you'll keep learning.
Until you die.
On the line.
:beer:
 
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Hey guys, I KNOW Sous is not the beginning, what I meant was are you considered a chef when you hold the title "Sous chef"? Thats what I meant when I said that.

Oh yea, my friend was a Sous chef at the palms and he workd from 7a-12p 7 days a week!!! And for some reason, I WANT to do that....... :)

Thanks for all the advice guys, I think I will buy a book later this week and start to do some serious homework in my own kitchen!

Jim
 
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Are all 164 of your posts as informative as this one?

From what I've seen, kleraudio, where you've worked and who you know are ultimately more important than where (and if) your formal education took place. I know cooks that never went to school, worked at the same restaurant for five years, got promoted to sous then exec, and went from there to head up other restaurants in town. I also know cooks who dropped 55k in LCB affiliated schools and are still making $10.50 an hour ten years later.

It's what you put into your education (be it formal or not), the people you meet and the references you have, and your overall professionalism. Based on that, I would think that a two or three year apprenticeship program would be better than "just" and AAS degree. With most apprenticeship programs you can earn a degree along with it, but at the same time that you're earning that degree you're working for a (hopefully) respected chef and a respected restaurant, earning money while you're working, AND putting your school knowledge to practical use everyday. It doesn't get much better than that.
 
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you get out of it what you put into it. i've hired and fired people from some of the best schools in the country, alot of them were completely useless. one of the best chefs i've ever worked for graduated from a community college cooking program, he was as well read in informed as any chef i know. all a degree does is get your resume looked at, beyond that he who works the hardest and longest will eventually win out.
 
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No matter where you go to school you're going to have to learn a lot on your own. Culinary school will get you up to speed a bit if you have no experience, but if you already do you can definitely work your way up as high as you want without a degree.
 
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I graduated a community college in 1960, but then apprenticed in New York Hotels and Europe. After working in many places, In 1980 or so became Ex.Chef at largest all banquet /catering facility in U.S. then went on to teach culinary arts. So yes you can, in fact you can become anything you want if you have the drive and are willing to do what is required. Good Luck
 
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