Culinary School, is it worth it?

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Joined May 20, 2018
So, put simply, im new to the industry. 26 and not getting any younger, I'm doing my best to move quickly and make this my career. That being said, I dont have the connections nor the experienced bodies around me to help make informed decisions (hence my coming here)

My biggest issue currently is i live in the middle of nowhere in the US (specifically a place with few "true restaurants", and mostly chains). My overall plan is to end up moving from the US to Japan and spending my days there, however due to my location im not sure if its wise to invest in culinary school or simply try to gain experience working in one of the chain kitchens as merits from these kitchens will most likely not cross over when i move....

So, to restate my question, under these circumstances, would Culinary School be a wise choice? And if so, what would be a good school to go to in the Northwest US? UM in Missoula, MT would be the closest university with a culinary program for reference.
 
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Culinary school is the best thing you can do for your career, if you have no trouble affording it.

If you plan to end up in Japan, wouldn't it be wiser to just attend the schools in Japan?
 
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Joined Mar 1, 2017
Hi and welcome to CT! :)

I gather from your post that you only have entry level experience in the food industry, yes? So, I will ask you the same question that I have asked applicants for more than 40 years......"what makes you think you want a career in the food industry?"

Culinary school is a very specific and expensive education that will provide little benefit to you outside of the food industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average career lifespan in the food service industry is less than 2 years. So, you should be absolutely sure and 110% committed to a life in the food industry before you even start looking at a culinary schools and undertaking that expense.

To that end, yes, getting experience in a commercial kitchen, even if its a chain restaurant, will be very valuable to you. I strongly encourage you to work in a commercial kitchen for a few months to a year to see if you actually like it. At the end of that time, if you still have the same enthusiasm for a career in the food industry, start looking at culinary schools in earnest.

As for your idea of moving to Japan, do you know the language? You are not going to get far without being at least conversational in Japanese. There are Western culinary schools in Japan such as le Cordon Bleu in Kobe and Tokyo. Note, courses there are only offered in Japanese or French. If you go to a Japanese culinary school to learn Japanese cuisine, the courses are taught only in Japanese. Even if you go to culinary school here in the US and then go to Japan, you are not going to function in Japan without knowing the language. Period.

I would suggest that you research the immigration requirements associated with relocating to Japan. Its not like the US or Europe. Japan has some of the strictest immigration laws in the world and getting a Japanese visa is at best, difficult.

I don't mean to be negative or cruel here. But, I have seen a lot of young and enthusiastic people with big hopes and dreams try to take the plunge into the food industry only to find disappointment largely because they were not honest with themselves about what this industry is really like and/or they made their decisions based on bad advice.

Good luck. :)
 
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Joined May 20, 2018
Hi and welcome to CT! :) (snipped for space, see post above)

Thanks a ton for your post sgsvirgil! I wasnt aware that the lifespan of culinary careers were so short..... And i deeply appriciate the "harsh reality check" version you give as an example, i definitely agree with your statement about people effectively jumping the gun and "deciding out the gate" that being a chef is what they want.

To that end, we'll see if my answer is acceptable and helps you help me. =] Long story short, ive worked in a very specialized mechanical field my entire life (since i was about 8) and frankly ive hated it since the day i started. Ive always loved food and always wanted to work in a kitchen but was always told it was "just flipping burgers" and that i should aspire to do more. Since i obviously respected my parents i kind of ditched the idea of being a chef until now.

18 years later, i decided i wanted to chase an aspect of my life ive always enjoyed/loved (i mean, i make my own pasta and spend hours making raviolli "just because") to which end i began working as a prep cook and i'm enjoying every second of it. Sure the work is a little rough and time tables are always looming, but im more than use to hard work and time is always an issue no matter the profession.

I definitely agree with your sentiment of working in a kitchen first, however as i mentioned before, i'm neither veteran enough, nor surrounded by those who are, to make such life altering decisions with accurate information. I felt that due to my inexperience i should find others who know the trade and would have a better grasp on the situation.

My largest reason for coming onto CT is to attempt to dodge any mistakes i could make and hopefully speed any learning curves this profession may have. I'm not looking to be chef in a year or even 5, but i'm looking to avoid making silly mistakes that could cost me months (if not years) of my time, seeing as how the time window is shrinking ever so quickly.

As for the Japanese language, i have done extensive research into the costs, schools, and requirements needed so ive got my bases covered on that one and its an incredibly long laundry list of hoops to jump through just to get the visa required, but all good things require effort.

And as mentioned before, i appreciate your honesty and bluntness. I'm not after a sugar coated version, im after facts and hard truths, anything less is going to do more damage than good. Hopefully I've done a decent job of clarifying my position and why i chose what i chose. If you have any further advice, feel free to share it!

Thanks again!
 
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Hi Shiviandemon,

Here is a thought, how about relocating to work in a hotel, like a Marriott or Hilton here in the states to make sure this is the job and life style you really want, then you could transfer to Japan, with the help of that hotel. From the info you have provided I assume you are either able to speak and read Japanese or you want to work in a Marriott, Hilton or other English speaking hotel in Japan.

I recommend you explore Chef Talk on this subject. Some of your situation is unique to you and some of your situation has similarities to others asking similar questions. Dig through other topic pages on this site and you may find some useful nuggets of info to help with your decisions.

Culinary schools provide broad exposure, not proficiency, to different products and techniques. I worked in several different food operations (5 years worth) prior to culinary school. Some of your fellow students will take 5-7 minutes to peel and dice an onion because they haven't learned how to do it any faster, yet... It's a little painful to accept how slow the classes progress but, that is the school environment. I learned more "off-line" from my instructors than I did from the curriculum. Yes, they had a "fine dining" restaurant open to the public like most schools but, they had 4 times the staff (the class) to serve those customers! This is a lot closer to useless than it is to valuable training! Two students to run a deep fryer? It was funny until I saw fellow students panic even doing that little, then it was just sad... I found school interesting and somewhat useful but I didn't stay to graduate. I completed 4 out of 5 semesters. A former employer bought a private Country Club and wanted me, so I went... Not having the piece of paper did not affect my career one little bit and I still have standing job offers even though I'm retired.

I also know that I can NOT open a restaurant in Germany, BECAUSE I don't have a piece of paper... I have no idea what the rules are in Japan, do you? If that even matters...

No doubt in my mind that there is a shortage of authentic American Cajun, Texas/Memphis/Kansas City BBQ, Burger joint, Fried Chicken, etc. dining establishments in Japan. I don't know if you are ultimately planning to open an American style something in Japan or if your dream is to be a Sushi Master...

You can always go to school if you have the extra money and time but, if you expect a culinary school to get you a head chef position, that is like expecting a four year business degree will get you a CEO position of a million dollar company. (Unless you have the buckets of money to open your own place unassisted!) Some former students have sued their Culinary schools in California because they had the impression that a culinary degree would get them a Chef position. It doesn't...

To recap, I view culinary school as a luxury, not an essential, to a successful career in the food industry.

Everyone has a different view and opinion and that is mine... I'd be glad to answer any specific questions you have.

Good Luck!
 
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Hi Shiviandemon,

After reading your posts, I still don't know if you are currently working in a kitchen or not. As others have said, and which I also endorse, any time spent in a commercial kitchen is very valuable.

Culinary schools are a mixed blessing. Yes they teach valuable techniques, but they don't acknowledge that repetition and experience are just as valuable. Cooking is a trade, you work with your hands as well as your brain. Just because you learned once in school how to make a sabayon or a choux paste doesn't mean you have mastered that technique, you need repetition to master that skill. On the other hand, there is no guarantee that what you learn from an employer is correct or explained properly to you.(i.e. searing meat to "lock in the juices").

Oh, and the pay for cooks sucks, sucks pond water actually. There is no way you can support your current lifestyle on a newbie cook's salary. You're in for some harsh choices.
 

nicko

Founder of Cheftalk.com
Staff member
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Joined Oct 5, 2001
Hi and welcome to CT! :)

So, I will ask you the same question that I have asked applicants for more than 40 years......"what makes you think you want a career in the food industry?"

sgsvirgil sgsvirgil what an excellent post. I quoted you to say that I ask a very similar question of people. When someone tells me they are tired of their career and they "Love to Cook" I ask them "Do you love to cook professionally?" Because that is a world of difference.

As for culinary school I personally don't feel the big name schools are worth the investment or the debt. A solid community college will teach you everything you need to know. It all starts from the basics once you have that the rest if just personal preference and what interests you.
 
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Joined Mar 1, 2017
sgsvirgil sgsvirgil what an excellent post. I quoted you to say that I ask a very similar question of people. When someone tells me they are tired of their career and they "Love to Cook" I ask them "Do you love to cook professionally?" Because that is a world of difference.

As for culinary school I personally don't feel the big name schools are worth the investment or the debt. A solid community college will teach you everything you need to know. It all starts from the basics once you have that the rest if just personal preference and what interests you.
What a nice thing to say! Thank you for that compliment. :)
 
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from: Nicko ..."As for culinary school I personally don't feel the big name schools are worth the investment or the debt. A solid community college will teach you everything you need to know. It all starts from the basics once you have that the rest if just personal preference and what interests you."


I agree completely ... except that I went to the CIA ... and that's the best place there is.
 
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Joined Jun 28, 2018
Hi and welcome to CT! :)

I gather from your post that you only have entry level experience in the food industry, yes? So, I will ask you the same question that I have asked applicants for more than 40 years......"what makes you think you want a career in the food industry?"

Culinary school is a very specific and expensive education that will provide little benefit to you outside of the food industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average career lifespan in the food service industry is less than 2 years. So, you should be absolutely sure and 110% committed to a life in the food industry before you even start looking at a culinary schools and undertaking that expense.

To that end, yes, getting experience in a commercial kitchen, even if its a chain restaurant, will be very valuable to you. I strongly encourage you to work in a commercial kitchen for a few months to a year to see if you actually like it. At the end of that time, if you still have the same enthusiasm for a career in the food industry, start looking at culinary schools in earnest.

As for your idea of moving to Japan, do you know the language? You are not going to get far without being at least conversational in Japanese. There are Western culinary schools in Japan such as le Cordon Bleu in Kobe and Tokyo. Note, courses there are only offered in Japanese or French. If you go to a Japanese culinary school to learn Japanese cuisine, the courses are taught only in Japanese. Even if you go to culinary school here in the US and then go to Japan, you are not going to function in Japan without knowing the language. Period.

I would suggest that you research the immigration requirements associated with relocating to Japan. Its not like the US or Europe. Japan has some of the strictest immigration laws in the world and getting a Japanese visa is at best, difficult.

I don't mean to be negative or cruel here. But, I have seen a lot of young and enthusiastic people with big hopes and dreams try to take the plunge into the food industry only to find disappointment largely because they were not honest with themselves about what this industry is really like and/or they made their decisions based on bad advice.

Good luck. :)
Sydney Parham
[email protected]
Future Chef
This article was very helpful in deciding what I wanted to do as far as culinary since I ave recently completed my bachelors in Food Service Management.
 
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Joined Oct 25, 2016
I believe I can give a great perception on what culinary schools are for. Culinary school is an option just like any other school to attend. But what they don't tell you is that you have to know what you want out of culinary arts in general. The programs are usually 6 month certificates and 2 year A.A.S degrees which both have there advantages. Going for the 2 year degree program is like being "exposed" to all things culinary. You won't necessarily be prepared for a full service restaurant by the end of your education. For example you will probably know the real way to make Ratatouille and know that it is a peasants dish of France. You'll have knowledge of the classic way to do tasks like sauces, knife cuts, filets, and origins. The 6 month certificate programs are like a rushed course of culinary arts in general. I can imagine that they practice and study things like food safety but are definitely geared towards the skills side of the field. I don't think you will be going over things like the math needed to calculate the AP/EP of a steak that goes into food costs for menu planning. Culinary degree programs teach you about the terms and even go in to fine dining details such as dining room setups, running a hotel and the costs of upkeep to serving alcohol and knowing the laws.

You can definitely become a sous chef no problem with skills from a 6 month program. I believe that if you want broad more in depth knowledge in a school environment you should choose a culinary school with an instructor that has a lot of experience and isn't only there for the paycheck. The culinary field is so deep you simply can't rush the education behind anything. It is a life long journey to learn the various parts of culinary arts. Only experience and sometimes errors will get you the experience you really need sometimes. We don't necessarily need school 6 months, 1 year or 2 years to learn how to cook steak or flip a saute pan at a restaurant. The experience you gain will teach you how to cook 10 steaks at the same time along with trout on the other end of a broiler.

In my opinion, entry level positions for foundation building are bussers, dishwashers, fry cooks and perhaps flat grill cooks depending on the restaurant. Spend a day in the dish room or a fry station on a Saturday night and see if the industry if something you even want.
 
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