Culinary school VS Start in a kitchen

Discussion in 'Choosing A Culinary School' started by tlod, Nov 29, 2018.

  1. tlod


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    Ive been researching for a while and some people say "Culinary school is a waste of money" others say "Go to culinary school".

    Just to give you a bit about my background: I have a MSc in a none food related subject, have been playing with the idea of switching to become a chef (because of my passion). In 2016/2017 I tried to contact some restaurants in Italy to see if it was possible to get a work for free internship or similar, but none approved. I have been cooking for the most of my life. Age 26.

    What kind of food:
    - Italy (preferred)
    - French

    Culinary school, I have considered:
    - The University of Gastronomic Sciences
    - Or FUA Apicius in Florence
    - The obvious Le Cordon (But have read lots of bas reviews from this, and based on the $$$$ fee)

    What do I want? Find a mentor who know his/her shit and become a good chef.

    Does anyone have any advice on what to do, who to contact or similar? Probably a no-brainer, but I do not expect advice such as "Contact Gordon Ramsay" etc.

  2. Robs


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    Culinary School
    2 things to keep in mind

    1. Culinary School is normally very expensive.
    2. Cooks normally make very little money.

    Normally I would say only go to a top program if you want to work in fine dining at a famous restaurant right out of school.
    In the US there are also cooking programs at low cost offered at what we call Community Colleges. It's a good start and will prepare you for an entry level job in a kitchen. I also want to note that someone without any experience can also apply for an entry level job in a kitchen.

    Think about what kind of food you want to cook and what restaurants are in your area that you really enjoy the food from and beg your way into their kitchen.

    If you are working full time now, you can see what restaurants in you area would like weekend help, you'll just have to consistent with helping EVERY weekend. This is a great way to see if restaurant life is for you.
    kokopuffs likes this.
  3. sgsvirgil


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    Retired Owner/Operator
    First off, welcome to CT! :)

    Next, let me start by saying that no restaurant in Italy or Europe in their right mind is going to hire you cold bore without any commercial kitchen experience or culinary education. You indicate that you have been cooking all your life, but, do not mention any context. Is that commercial cooking or just cooking at home?

    To address your question, let me first start by saying there are literally dozens and dozens of threads in this forum where young people come and ask the same or similar questions. I say this not to brush off your question or make it seem unimportant. Rather, I say this to make the point that you are not alone in your questions and concerns about choosing a career in this life.

    So, I will give you the advice that I have given to every wide eyed youngster over the last 4 decades who has come to me for a job and/or advice about what what this life is like and what I think they should do.

    The first thing I ask is "what makes you think you want a career in the food industry?" A passion for food and cooking are never enough. This is nothing like cooking for friends and family. The pay is terrible. The hours are long. The stress is often unimaginable. You will have no time for a personal life. You will be working weekends and holidays as they are the busiest times. You will have no time for a family. This profession has one of the highest substance abuse rates and divorce rates of any profession. According to the US Department of Labor, a career in the food industry lasts on average 18 months. Unless you land a job at a hotel or resort, forget about benefits until you are kitchen management and that's a 6-10 year track. And these are just the highlights.

    Here's my advice. If you can do anything else, do anything else. If you have a Master's degree, trust me, you will be far better off 15 years from now if you choose a career path that utilizes your Master's degree. You can always cook as a hobby or on the side to get your cooking fix. I know a few people that do that and are very happy and they even make some decent cash doing it.

    Now, there are going to be some very well meaning folks who are members in this forum that are going to answer your question with all sorts of bright, positive answers. They are not trying to deceive you. But, they are not being entirely upfront either. This is a very hard life. This fact cannot be overstated. I choose to be brutally honest about it because this profession has enough burned out souls trapped here because they are too old to start a new career and too young to retire.

    If you really want to get a sense of what this life is like and decide if its right for you, get a job in a commercial kitchen where you live. Work there for a year. In fact, work in as many kitchens as you can. Try it out for a year or two. You're young enough. After that, decide for yourself if culinary school is worth your investment of time and money.

    Good luck. :)
    Last edited: Nov 30, 2018
    planethoff, Vjan and Seoul Food like this.
  4. Seoul Food

    Seoul Food

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    Professional Chef
    I'll answer what you asked but I must say that sgsvirgil is spot on.

    From my own personal experience with Culinary school I would say I would still go even if I had a chance to do it all over. It was an amazing experience and while I had worked in a restaurant prior to culinary school to get some basic training it was nothing like the level I was exposed to at school and the primary reasons behind this are restaurants are business and don't have the time or resources to give the full attention training that someone just starting out may need. Plus in school I was exposed to many different chefs and people with different views and opinions on things where as in a restaurant you may be limited on this exposure. Is one way better than the other? Who knows it's all up to the individual but it generally comes down to money for a lot of people as culinary school can be quite expensive. Being that you are 26 your life priorities and goals may be different than mine were because I started culinary school right out of high school.
    sgsvirgil likes this.
  5. sgmchef


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    Retired Chef
    Hi tlod,

    Welcome to CT and all of the above is sound advice. Continue to review the posts about "Culinary schools" and weigh the positives and negatives, what makes sense to you and what doesn't. There are always good and bad points with either path.

    You claim to have passion, which is the only way it will work. The pay, hours, conditions, etc. are not good, unless you have enough passion to overlook those negatives and accept knowing you put out some great food as payment and reward for the job you do. Sadly, self-satisfaction is the form of payment you should expect from a career in food service, not riches.

    I will always recommend working for at least two-three years in restaurants prior to culinary school. Understand that culinary schools are there to EXPOSE you to different methods, techniques, and ideas, no time is allotted for you to perfect any of those methods, techniques, or concepts. When you know kitchen tempo, staffing and equipment limitations of working in a commercial setting, you can absorb the school information in context. Someone that has never worked in a restaurant doesn't know what questions to ask because they still haven't done the job of cooking.

    The "quality and reputation" of a Culinary school is far less important than the effort you apply. Many here, including myself, have first hand experience working with graduates of highly regarded Culinary schools only to watch them fail. Was it the schools fault? Not in my mind, the student did well enough to graduate but, didn't apply enough effort or passion to keep a job!

    Actually, consider finding a restaurant that has an operation and food you think of as well above average, explain your situation and try to get part-time work there, to start. Keep your eyes and ears open and think about your potential future! That is one way to find a mentor that knows his/her stuff.

    Oh, and NOW I feel compelled to say "Contact Gordy"! Just kidding...

    Good luck!
  6. kokopuffs


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    Home Cook
    I'm not a pro but inquiring minds need to know: is working in the restaurant industry in America just like working the industry in Europe?
  7. newyoka


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    what is this
    Working as a chef is all about either knowing or not knowing my family owned a catering company all my life and i started my own catering company as well which is very busy most people that work for me have a nack for cooking and creative i don't think school could teach you . i was told the difference between a chef and a cook is "a cook knows how to use ingredients but a chef knows why he uses them". i stress its not enough to go to school if i had a choice the only thing i would like to "learn" is decorating and plating better since its always evolving
    good luck in whatever you choose i like it but mabe its cause i was born into it
  8. foodpump


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    Professional Pastry Chef

    A cook is judged by what they put on a plate.

    A Chef is judged by how well s/he manages their resources.

    In other words, if a Chef can’t run a profitable kitchen, out the door they go.

    School WILL teach things, but more importantly, why things are done a certain way. There’s no guarantee that a.m. employer will teach you things, and no guarantee that what they instruct you to do is the right way of doing things.