Does a college degree have anything to offer a young cook?

Discussion in 'Professional Chefs' started by Guest, Oct 16, 2012.

  1. Guest

    Guest Guest

    This is my first post, so I will just add a little background.

    I have been cooking professionally for about three years. It all started after I enrolled in a culinary arts program at my local community college in attempt to learn a little about more about food, because as a hospitality student, I figured that was important. The class was not exactly what I thought it would be, and although I did not pull much useful information from the class, through a friend of our T.A., I was given the opportunity to stage in the kitchen of a prestigious social club here in Los Angeles. This stage was what made me want to be a cook; I loved how you could leave work after a long tiring day with gained knowledge and a feeling of accomplishment. That being said I jumped into the industry and applied for a stage in my neighborhood, where unbeknownst to me I would begin working for some of the better cooks in the area. From there I continued working, enjoying every second of it, even on nights where I found my self deep in the weeds that I thought would never end. Over the past three years I have gone from a part time worker and full time student to a cook and part time student. I honestly don't know why I continued schooling, but I am getting to the point in my traditional education where I can either transfer to University or graduate from my Community College. I FEEL STUCK. I have been there for so long already... It's not that I did poorly, in fact I did quite well in my classes, but with budget cuts and cut classes, as well as the fact that I am a part time student it just took a while to complete requirements.

    SO... lol. My question is since I have already invested so much time into an education that I am unsure whether it will aid me as a cook into chefdom... SHOULD I CONTINUE?

    If it helps I plan on transferring to Cal Poly Pomona as a hospitality major. If anyone knows anything about the program and how it could help me, in aspiration to become a better cook any info would be much appreciated. 

    I am not the greatest cook, but I am confident in the skills that I do have, and as I have been taught, I at least actively try to learn something new everyday and show up better than I was the night before.

    I know that I want to be a cook.

    I know that I want to be a chef.

    There is no need for a backup plan.

    If I fail I will fail in the kitchen.

    If I succeed I will succeed in the kitchen.
  2. petemccracken


    Likes Received:
    Professional Chef
    Well, in my biased opinion, anyone who aspires to become a chef needs to know:
    • Basic business accounting
    • Basic business finance
    • Basic business law
    • Inventory control
    • Personnel management and fundamentals of employment law
    • Fundamentals of plumbing, electrical, and carpentry trades /img/vbsmilies/smilies/crazy.gif (stuff happens at the WORST time)
    in addition to knowing:
    • culinary skills
    • menu design and development
    • marketing basics
    so, does that mean a college degree?
    brandon odell likes this.
  3. Guest

    Guest Guest

    Thank you for the input sir. I completely agree with everything you have stated, but at the same time I feel like I am learning these lessons first hand in the kitchen before the issues are ever addressed in the classroom. 

    My main concern is the large investment of time and money that transferring to University will cost me, and I am unsure whether or not the benefit I will receive will be worth it.

    As a chef yourself, if it is not too much to ask, where did you learn these lessons?
  4. petemccracken


    Likes Received:
    Professional Chef
    My undergraduate degree is from MHC, my graduate degree is from SHK, with about 40 years work experience, not in cooking  /img/vbsmilies/smilies/crazy.gif.

    MHC = Mama's Home Cooking

    SHK = School of Hard Knocks

    Oh, I do have a B.S. Ag Engineering, Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, 1972
  5. brandon odell

    brandon odell

    Likes Received:
    Anything is possible without a degree. Almost anything is easier with a degree. I don't have a degree and I have restaurateurs from all over the country who come to me for help, in addition to getting interviewed as an industry expert by magazines, websites and professional organizations on a regular basis. However, I have read, practiced, studied and experienced much more than most degreed chefs/restaurateurs my age. It took a lot more effort and time than it would have if I'd have went to school. If I put a plan in place for someone else to be where I am now at the same point in their life, that plan would MOST DEFINATELY include school.

    I like Pete's list on what to focus on in classes. If you want to be a leader and a successful chef, you need all those things. If you want to be a restaurant owner, you'll need even more focus on marketing and management. To get your foot in the door as an executive chef, you'll have a much easier time with a culinary degree AND experience working in some well run kitchens. Don't waste your time working in poorly run restaurants, you'll only learn bad habits and you are more likely to be offered an EC position from a sous chef position in a well run place with a great reputation than you are from a EC position in a place with a bad reputation.

    Brandon O'Dell
  6. greenguy


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    Line Cook
    It's a tough decision.  I recently graduated with a B.S. in Hospitality Management and I am currently a line cook.  Similarly to you, I started out in school, then took a job as a cook to fulfill a 1000 hr work requirement for my major and decided to pursue becoming a after graduation.  As a line cook, I don't directly use much of what I learned in school, but it does help me better understand the variable and fixed costs, why management makes the decisions they do, and overall how all sides of organization works, not just the kitchen (I work in a hotel).  I can definitely see it being to my advantage to have that knowledge when I do move up to a higher position, as well as help get me into that position.  One of the biggest benefits to me is the flexibility it offers.  While it may not be necessary if you stick with this career path, with the management degree you can move into different departments or higher level management if you work for a larger company or hotel, or even move into a new field all together.  Also, most of the better exec's and sous that I have worked or staged for have a college degree in either Hospitality or Business Management.  I'm not saying which way to go, but this has been my experience so far.

    One thing to add:  If you haven't already done so, I would recommend getting serv-safe certified.  I'm shocked at how many cooks I've seen who have such a lack of food safety.  When the day comes that I am in charge of a kitchen, I will make it a requirement for all my cooks to be certified, even if I have to pay for it.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2012