Can school teach creativity.

Joined Oct 6, 2002
I have had this discussion with dozens of chefs all the time. Can culinary schools teach creativity or does it limit them to certain techniques and recipes?
Joined Aug 11, 2000
That's such a blanket statement. Teaching like anything else is not stagnant nor uses one approach. It depends on the school, and ultimately on the teacher/student.
Joined May 26, 2001
Boy, is that a great question!

My belief is that there are only two things that limit a chef's creativity: lack of knowledge, and lack of curiosity. Fixing the first is what schools are all about. Of course one need not -- SHOULD NOT -- rely only on formal education to learn technique, product information, presentation, and so on; it's one's own responsibility to learn from as much as possible from as many sources as possible. But if one lacks curiosity, even the best training in the world will sit in one's brain like a leaden pierogi on the stomach. While school can't teach curiosity, it should awaken it where it's dormant, and nurture it in those who actively posess it. The worst a school can do is quash curiosity -- although if one's curiosity is strong enough, that can be overcome.

A solid grounding in technique is absolutely necessary for any chef. As is knowing basic and classic recipes. It takes work on both sides, student-chef and teacher-chef, to take that knowledge, mix it with curiosity, and allow creativity to grow.
Joined Jan 1, 2001
What a beautiful and eloquent answer, Suzanne.
I'm amazed at how you can take what can be unclear to me and distill an answer into a few choice phrases.
Joined Dec 1, 2002
I am currently at the Culinary Institute of America. Just started here in January. I feel that, if you have an intrest in cooking, being some place where every conversation you have is about food can do nothing but spark some creativity.
You learn new ideas, but no two minds are alike. When you leave school you will have your own interpretations of all that you learned in and out of class. If you don't apply yourself school can't teach you classic methods or help you formulate your own ideas.
One thing I have always done is to right down ideas in a diary type book. Just ideas no recipes with measurement. My own personal "La Repertoire" if you will. Sure I got the idea from someone, but I recreate them my way. :bounce:


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
That's a good one :) I trust you've had one of those "leaden pierogi" before? :D

Joined Oct 6, 2002
Culinary school "in general" is filled with students that have barely cooked before let alone set a foot inside a restaurant kitchen. This is not the bad thing.
The bad thing is, their first impression of cooking is a strict following of recipes with their chef instructors etching it in their brain.
Now, where it becomes a problem is that first impressions on cooking often reflect on personal style and cuisine.
Joined Jul 23, 2002
Before you can run you must walk, before you can walk you must crawl.

Basics are basics and that's that. If you don't know the right way to make a consome you can't make it at all.

to become an artist or a musician you (usually) need to learn the basics first.
Give a kid a guitar or a paint brush without any lessons and it sill be quite a while before that kid can play or paint something enjoyable to others.

School is not brain washing it is a building block, a base, a starting point.
that's my 2 1/2 cents worth for now.
Joined Feb 23, 2003
not always true i attend culinary school right now and i have worked in a kitchen before. also many of the students that go here have worked in a kitchen before. also the chef's don't always follow a strict version of the recipe in fact most don't. the chef's i have had so far 10 different ones have all let me do wht i want with the recipe. as ong as we use the main ingredient it doesn't matter we can change all we want. :chef:


Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
I concur with most everyone here. Though school can help spark creativity, that really is not the purpose of school. The purpose of school is to teach a student the basics. Learning to follow (and memorizing) recipes is one of the very base functions of a chef. All chefs use recipes very day of their exisitence. Sure they may not need to pull a recipe out and look at it, but that is only because they have it memorized. Without this solid base of core recipes it is very difficult to become successfully creative. Everyone can be creative, that's easy. "Gee I bet I could combine anchovies, ketchup and peanut butter." That is creative. Is it good? I doubt it! Again (like in the above post), look at cooking in terms of music. Anyone can sit down to a piano and bang on it creatively, but without training (unless they are very lucky) all they are going to make is noise, not music. It is the one thing that I tend to see too often in recent culinary school grads. They get out of school with this knowledge, and they want to chuck it all in the name of creativity, and what they end up creating is a bunch of "noise". They say that 'a little knowledge is a dangerous thing'. I agree. It takes years to develop a palate, and a style all your own. All the while you are learning, and amassing more and more knowledge. Remember you must first learn to walk before you can run

One another note, though creativity is a wonderful thing, never dismiss the classics. The reason things have become classics, is that it has been proven to work, time and time again. Truffles and foie gras, fennel and fish, tomato and basil, peanut butter and jelly :D . As a new, young chef, remember you don't have to reinvent the wheel. Use the knowledge accumulated over hundreds of years by your predeccessors. Don't allow yourself to fall prey to the allure of creativity. Yes, it is a wonderful thing, but without knowledge first, all you are going to make is noise.
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