preparing for chef school?

Joined Nov 21, 2009
Hello all,
I am enrolled in a one year chef training program starting in January. I am very excited, but also incredibly nervous! I have never had any experience in a professional kitchen. So my question is, what can I do between now and then to start preparing myself for life in culinary school!? Someone recently suggested that I try to apprentice at a butcher shop, which I thought would be very useful. Are there any books out there that could help me? I love to cook at home, but have never had any training and I am feeling like I might be in over my head!
thanks for the help!
Joined Sep 18, 2008
First, I'll bet that you are entering a "culinary school" not a "chef's school" there is a BIG difference!

Remember, when you graduate, you will have some familiarity with basic culinary skills and food safety practices and you probably will be able to qualify to work as a prep cook. With two to five years experience, you may qualify to be a line cook or, possibly, a "chef de partie", another two to five years, with the right kind of experience, and you may qualify as a Sous Chef.

My advice is get a job in a restaurant, preferably NOT a chain, even as a dish washer so you can see what the "real world" is like.
Joined Nov 21, 2009
I understand the advice to get a job "in the real world" but this is not practical in my situation right now. I was hoping for slightly more creative solutions as I simply can not afford to quit my current job until school begins. Perhaps a book that someone found really helpful or a suggestion of techniques that I could be researching and practicing so I am a little less behind the curve when I arrive for my first day?

What was important to other culinary students first few weeks?

Also, I used the exact terminology that the school uses. They have a "chef school" in the hospitality and culinary arts department and I am in the "chef training" program.


Founder of
Staff member
Joined Oct 5, 2001

To be honest with you I think you are putting the cart before the horse. Post-pone school and actually get a job working in the business to see if you like it. I can't tell you how many people I went to school with that after a couple years out of school went back to something else.

It is a tough business that is not for everyone. It is especially tough on the family life so you should get a taste of the life first before you go to school.


Joined Oct 2, 2006
You will not learn how to be a chef at any school. It takes years of dedication while in a professional kitchen. Learning as much as you can through repetition from doing the same things everyday and learning from daily issues that might rise. As a chef you need to be a leader, a manager, and teacher.
Find out which books will be used at your school. Buy them ASAP and try to learn as much from them BEFORE you need to read them in class.

Read the following books ASAP:
Becoming a Chef Becoming a Chef (9780471152095): Andrew Dornenburg, Karen Page: Books
The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America The Making of a Chef: Mastering Heat at the Culinary Institute of America (9780805089394): Michael Ruhlman: Books

Read books from real chefs and take notes on all the useful information they share. Pay less attention to recipes.

I like to watch reality cooking shows and try to learn from them, as apposed to just watching for entertainment. I even download the shows and watch them over and over again. Shows like chopped, Iron Chef and top chef.

I watch cooking shows, but if you're really trying to learn, be careful who you watch. I love the shows on PBS because imo they are less about entertainment and more about quality cooking. However, on the food network, some of my favorite shows are Barefoot Contessa, Secrets of a Restaurant Chef, Alex's Day Off, shows by Emeril Lagasse, Tyler Florence.

If you can be an apprentice anywhere, take it, if it's a quality gig.

Cooking at home is WAY different from cooking in a restaurant. At home you are cooking for yourself, friends, family. The pressure, if any, is low. It's more fun, and can be a hobby. If you mess up, it's not that much of an issue.

On the job, you better be consistent, better not ruin anything cause you are cutting into the profits, and the time the guests have to wait, etc. You have no time to waste. FAST FAST FAST. NOW NOW NOW. Better be able to multitask, be willing to do the same things everyday, all day, be an adrenalin junkie, handle a high stress environment well, etc.
Joined Nov 21, 2009
 Just wanted to update and say that I am finishing up my first semester of culinary school and I am loving it.  The school was great about starting off slow enough for all us newbies, and I never felt as overwhelmed as I had feared.  
Thanks for the advice.  


Staff member
Joined Jun 11, 2001
Thank you for reporting back Oscar!  :)  It's refreshing to see that our advice hasn't been in vain!
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