Culinary School worth it?

Joined Mar 13, 2004
I know you all probably hear this question all the time! But I'm going to ask it again---Is Culinary school worth it for me?

History: I am currently a 37 year-old, (pretty much) stay-at-home mom. I went to college out of highschool, got to my junior year, got married, went into the work force with computer companies, had kids, stayed home with them and currently volunteer as the administrator at my children's parent-run school.

Right after my son was born seven years ago, I discovered my love of baking bread after reading one of the first of the now many artisan style bread baking books. It became an obsession for me for the next three years. I bought and worked my way thru every book on the subject. I made countless loaves of bread from whole wheat to sourdough---you name it!! I wore out my Kitchenaid. At the time I dreamed of going to a baking school to go into the field. I then had my second child and that plan was put on the back burner. And life went on and my children entered school and etc, etc, etc.

Now I am going to be leaving my children's school and possible finding something for myself. I am going to start working at a local, very small artisan bakery in the small town I live in. I am going to work with the woman who recently opened it who had a very successful restaurant beforehand. She will train me for a month and I will then work as the relief baker. From what I have seen, her breads are not the European style I prefer, more gourmet & enriched, but I'll take what I get.

I still think about going to culinary school. Western Culinary Institute is about 1 1/2 hours away. It would be both a huge commitment in time and money for me. I am wondering if it's worth it. I love baking bread and would love to one day have my own bakery but I do not have a lot of experience with pastry beyond home baking nor do I with confections, etc, not to mention professional skills at being a chef. I am wondering if it is wise to focus on one subject such as bread baking or be a more well rounded chef in the long run from going to school. I also found a course in NY that is a few months long in International Baking.

I am at a quandry and I am also just in the preliminary stages of deciding what to do. Any opinions and firsthand experience would be greatly appreciated!! Thanks--
Joined Jan 26, 2004
We are twins! I am 38, have two young kids, tried to finish my PhD and while struggling to write my thesis (it never happened), I discovered my passion for baking. I decided to make it into a profession and considered going to school (the CA culinary institute). Instead of getting a degree in culinary arts, I decided that I would probably learn more by working under someone (plus we weren't quite sure we wanted to spend that much money). Not having any experience I was scared that nobody would give me a job, but I was lucky to find a job in a small cafe', baking morning pastries and desserts for the evening. I worked there for 5 months and although I was working and creating alone, I learned tons. I also got incredible feedback from the costumers, which felt reassuring and confirmed that I am meant to be a pastry chef. I then quit my job and I am now waiting for a new local restaurant to open in 2 weeks. I will work together with the chef in creating morning pastries and desserts for the evening crowd. I am so excited!

Few months ago, I contacted a local, really accomplished, and famous chef because I wanted to work with her. To my surprise she called me and I was interviewed for the job, which I didn't get. I feel that I now have this great contact with her and if the new restaurant gets written up I will have another chance to work with her. One step at the time.

Another reason why I decided not to go to school is that I wasn't sure I really liked working in a bakery or a restaurant. I decided to try working first and then decide. I have collected tons of books on baking and learned about many pastry chefs. To my surprise many chefs are not formerly trained in schools, but arrive to the culinary profession like I did, because a change in career. I believe that school can teach me a lot, but I can learn much more by working in a kitchen.

I hope this helps and keep us posted.

Joined Mar 13, 2004
Thank you for your input! Yes, your situation sounds quite similar to mine. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work in the bakery soon and know I will also learn tons.

I know other chefs that have worked their way up and now are quite successful. I guess the reason for my question is that without school I would not know the "basics" and would not have that knowlege to fall back on, if needed. I would do it in second if it were not for it being so much money---quite a commitment for our family!!

Unfortunately, I live in a very small community and therefore do not have access to any well-known pastry chefs. The woman that owns the bakery that I will be working at is pretty well known in her own right from her previous restaurant so I am lucky for that, though.

Keep me posted on how it works out for you!! :)
Joined Mar 12, 2004
You should work and learn as much as possible before going to culinary school. For the amount of time and money involved, I would suggest no other school but the CIA (Culinary Institute of America).
Is it worth it? It all depends on what your long term goals are?
Do you want to open a bakery? Do you want to work at a bakery? You can work at a bakery without going to culinary school. Do you want to work at "The Best" bakery? You can work at "The Best" bakery by volunteering your time. This is how you get your foot in the door at ANY nice establishment.

I have volunteered at many restaurants until either they start to pay me or I learn enough to move on.
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Joined Mar 2, 2002
I thought about going to culinary school after college. I even went so far as to take a test to allow me into an accelerated program the school offered. I passed the test. I also passed on the school. Truth is, I chickened out. I would have had to move to a city where I only knew one other person. I didn't think I could do it.

In hindsight, I'm glad I didn't. The school wasn't CIA, for one thing. I had experience working in restaurants and in catering, and I eventually got a job where I was the boss of someone who had graduated from the very culinary school I was thinking of going to. School itself doesn't guarantee a good position.

I think experience matters a lot. Also learning on your own. Most of what I know about food I taught myself. Most of what I know about the food industry, I learned from working for other people.

It all depends on what your goals are, though. If your goal is to own your own place, I would advise learning at least as much about business as baking.

Good Luck to you

Joined Mar 13, 2004
Thank you all for the input. I have always been a firm believer in volunteering if needed to obtain the position you want. If there was a bakery here in my local town that was worth it I would volunteer in a hot second to work with someone I wanted to.

When I picture the ideal situation for me it would be to have my own bakery or to work with someone that has a fine bakery I aspire to. I realize culinary school wouldn't necessarily give me that, other than the business aspect. I guess I was thinking that with school training as a Pastry Chef I would be more well rounded and more employable in the long run rather than only being focused on bread baking. But then again, if that's my love and where my talent lies, that's probably what I should pursue!

Thanks again!
Joined Dec 4, 2002
It is also important to consider the appititude of those allegedly giving you friendly advice.

I highly reccommend taking some classes.

It will open man
y doors for you.
Joined Mar 2, 2002
Was that a slam or did it just feel like one? If so, my aptitude (one p) is just fine. I am always ready to learn (a descriptive term of such an attitude being "aptitude").

My apologies if no slam was intended toward me or anyone else.

My advise... Don't do too much assuming about the aptitude or motive of anyone providing words here. Just read the words, and then decide if you think those words could potentially be helpful to your particular situation.

Best of luck to you :)

Joined Dec 4, 2002
My advice for you Rit, is to loosen up a bit and not assume we are speaking of you. So sensitive, not a good chef trait :chef:
I was actually only poking fun at our esteemed celeb chef.
All apologies accepted.
Any form of quality learning, whether school or non-school can be very......
educational?? We are always learning.... :cool:
Joined Sep 27, 2003
I agree and i am throwing my opinion in here as well. Culinary school, (a well rounded one) will give you lots of insights about the business side of restaurant that you won't learn slinging in a kitchen. I am 33 and have been in the biz for years. I am a freshman at J&W and it was/is a huge commitment for myself and my family to go but i was tiredof my lack of degree stoping me from promoting. We keep our eye on the prize (The B.S.) and get through it one class at a time. I have learned all sorts of stuff that rounds me out as a cook, and i am sure the same will hold true for you as a Baking and Pastry Chef. There are well known spots that won't consider you if you don't come with the degree and a willingness to start at the bottom. With the degree they at least know you have a certain aptitude in the basics.
so give it considerable thought. You will learn about the aspects of costing/marketing and all sorts of stuff that will help you in starting your own biz too.
Good luck!
Joined May 26, 2001
Time to add my two cents.

Before I went to school, I looked very carefully at the schools in my area. Did their programs teach what I felt was the range of skills I would need? Did the instructors come from the "real world"? What were the classes like (I sat in to see both the instruction methods and the way the class did its work.) I chose a school that felt comfortable and useful.

I had many careers before I started culinary school at age 46. I had always cooked at home, but wanted to do it professionally. I learned what I needed to know, but more important, I made the necessary contacts. I did my externship at a four-star restaurant here in New York City. THAT is what opened doors for me in the business, and it would never have happened if I hadn't been to school.

I no longer cook in professional kitchens, but the knowledge and experience I gained at school have been invaluable to the next career I've moved on to -- still food-related, and making better money than I ever did in any other line of work.

Hope this helps.
Joined Oct 2, 2014
Just read your thread. and was surprised by some of the answers. best advice was included in many of the threads.  I am over 50 and been in and out of the business for years. went to the CIA. its not for everyone and less these days where its the bank account that gets you in, not your experience.  So to answer, truly make sure this is a field for you,by working in it.  Love it, yes take classes that relate and you are interested in.  Full time school (any school) will give you a lot of theory that you wont need and isnt practiced in the real world; but will give you lots of information you dont have as well.  So all in all my answer is yes get some schooling, but be sure and any school will do, higher name - higher price doesnt equal better. Master Chef Instructor told me once   " cooking school is like cooking - You get out the quality you put in!"  I know this was ten years ago... but i hope you followed through.

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