School vs. Experience

Joined Feb 26, 2003
Let me start out by saying this is an honest question not meant to spark any great debates............ That being said......

I am curious as to why the majority of people I have come across in my travels that have attended culinary school give off the attitude of superiority over those of us who haven't gone? I have been in the restaurant business for the better part of 25 years specifically cooking for 20 ...... I have also had a job in every possible position in the rest. Busser, Dishwasher, Hostess, Bartender, Cashier, Prep, Baker, Cook, Lead Line, Sous Chef, Kitchen Manager, Assistant Manager. This includes a variety of styles and ethnicities, family style, cafe, barfood, supper club, mexican, seafood. You get my point anyway, there have been times in conversation that I have been treated in an extremly inferior manor by someone who has gone to culinary school and I was just wondering what makes those people feel so superior to someone like me?

Thank You
Joined Nov 10, 2001
CookatHeart,some people are under the delusion that they know everything there is to know.They claim to be specialists in their field,well,you know what you find in fields,lots of B.S.Talking about a specific task and being able to do it is another thing!!
There is no substitute for "hands-on" experience!!
I`m like you,i`ve been a chef for nearly 20 years and i`m still being educated and loving every second.:D Leo.
Joined Dec 1, 2002
I presume these are the same people that I go to shool with, but post-graduation. I have some people in class that cooked for 2 years before someone told them to go to school. They all pretend to know everything. I laugh becuase they will ultimatley learn less. I ask questions all the time, and they think its because I don't know. I ask because I know a few different ideas about a subject, and want to know what the instructor thinks. If someone you have a conversation with thinks they know, because thats what they learned in school then they have a narrow perspective of the subject at hand. There might be some ratios to follow but cooking is not an exact science. There is no right or wrong. If something is a particular style then there are correct ways for that style, but because Escoffier doesnt list cumin as an ingredient in lentil soup doesnt mean it cant be good. If people choose through arrogonce to cut themselves off from learning from your expierence then let them. Their loss! Just try to better yourself by absorbing an ideas they might have, good and bad.


Staff member
Joined Oct 7, 2001
Many schools try to attract students by telling prospective students that after just 2 short years they will be chefs. These schools really don't give them a realistic view of what life will be like after schooling.

I have worked with many chefs from both schools of thought. Some went to school and others did not, and I found both groups to be as talented as the other. I think schooling is great, because it can speed up the process somewhat, given the fact that you spend 2+ years studying under many different chefs, and are exposed to a lot more, in a shorter amount of time. I say it speeds the process up, but schooling doesn't make someone a chef. In the end, the chefs who shine, are those that constantly took advantage of learning experiences, and spent plenty of time developing their craft. Not those that pushed themselves up the ranks as quickly as possible, in the hopes of gaining more and more monetary gain.

I studied under a French chef who had many awards bestowed upon him. At the time Michel must have been in his mid 60's. Of all the things he taught me (and there were a great many) the thing I remember the most about him is, one day he took us aside (we were starting to get a little cocky) and told us that everyday he learns something new, and if he was learning something new every day at age 60 then we should be learning something new every hour. It was then that I realized that cheffing is a lifelong journey. You will never learn it all, and to think that you can or will is not only egotisical, but also self-defeating.
Joined Mar 3, 2003
I know how you feel. I have been cooking for over 25 years and get that "better then thou" look when people ask me if I have been to school and tell them no I have not. I have worked with chefs who have told me that they have learned things from me, but then I have worked with chef's who have had less "time in the kitchen" then me and think they are so much better.

My thoughts on it all are to heck with them. I was there to do my job and do it right. I now own my own business and hire people who have been to school and haven't. We all get along great and learn new things from each other. So why let it bother me, when I know I can do the job.........;)
Joined May 3, 2002
Lets consider this;

You are a chef at a hotel hiring someone for the position of commis.
You have two applicants considering they are relatively equall, except this: one has completted a formel 3 year apprenticeship at a very well known upscale hotel. The other has just graduated from the CIA.

Which one do you hire?

I would hire the former apprentice, for this reason only. School is just that school, but the other one has already proved that they can do the job.

What do the others say?
Joined Jul 23, 2002
If a kid apprenticed at a holiday inn
and a stpudent worked at a four star hotel while atending school
I'd pick the student.
If the apprentice did it at a four star hotel
and the student delivered pizzas or didn't work at all while in school
I'd pick the apprentice.
If they both worked at a great hotel and had equal skills I'd have to weed one out by the interview proccess.
If the were both pompus asses
I'd either pick neither, or pick them both and show them there place in the operation.:p
Joined Dec 4, 2002
:chef: I've only been cooking for 15 years, so I am at a disadvantage compared to all you old-timers:) .

However, I also have worked in just about every position over the years and did notice a similar occurance. After 5 years of cooking, I went to FCI and learned a lot of things that were invaluable to this day. I also learned not to be smug, and to value the experience of others. Compared to many cooking schools, I think the experience at FCI is one of humiliation and humbleness rather than to think you "deserve" any particular position.....
My personal experience is that many grads of CIA have the superior attitude going on. In one case I had a sous chef who constantly challenged my culinary knowlege. He even tried to "educate" me about the wines of France!:rolleyes:
Every day, though, while he was popping a vein trying to work the line, I would show him how it was done.....he didn't last long and vanished into the depths of non-descript restaurants.....I've seen that repeated over and over.....
Of course, I don't mean any offense to CIA students, but at least in the past, I think the training took on a rather robust industrial persona, and that the way they were taught "IS" the way to cook. I think that attitude has been tempered significantly and modernized recently as they are taught more contemporary "management" skills.

Essentially, cookie:) , you should never feel threatened by any person of this sort; your experience will always show through!:chef:
Joined Apr 17, 2003
Today the schools, without mentioning any names, put these cookie cutter chefs with no experience. Every one of them believe when they come out they should easily get an Executive's position. The worst thing about them, and there are many things which can go wrong, is everything fits in a box. It is very hard for them to be flexible, and as we know being flexible in this business is mandatory. I have worked with very few individuals from culinary school which had my respect. Johnson and Wales being the best. I believe I was very lucky to have gained my knowledge in the trenches. We are the wild children of the business.
Joined Oct 13, 2001
In my career so far I have worked with several CIA graduates . For the most part they were fresh out of school with the opinion that because they were schooled as chefs that they knew the biz better than those who did not attend school . For the most part when the s*** hits the fan during the big rush that all of us chefs know all to well , all I can say is this is the time when the truth of what you are or can be comes out . How well do you really work under pressure ? Its not that hard to create or cook a meal in the confines of a school , but when you must do 5 of this dish and 3 of another and 2 of this and 1 of that , and your timeing has to be perfect , well this is the true definition of what a chef is . If you cant tell , I did not go to formal school but I did apprentice myself to several european chefs who taught me food and a work ethic like I never knew existed . One of my best friends is a CIA grad and he in my opinion did it right . He had worked in the field for several years before going to school so he really knew what he was doing and what he wanted to do with his life . Like Pete said and my friend and I both share this truth , being a chef is a lifelong experience , learn somthing new every day for you can never know it all . Clear skies , Doug....................
Joined Apr 17, 2003
I was the same. I started off my career as a dishwasher, before slowly moving my way up the ranks over the years until I was working as a Sous Chef. It was after that when I decided to go to school, before accepting my first appointment as Exec. Chef. Years ago when I decided to pursue a career in cookery, I chose to follow that path, and it seemed to work well for me. Over 4 years of experience did help me a great deal throughout my schooling, and combined has made my job now a lot easier. That being said, I have met many chef's who have not completed any formal training, but are more than capable than those who have. One of my Chef de Partie's has never seen a minute of school, but has the experience which outweighs other 'learned' candidates for the position.
Joined Apr 17, 2003
It's tough entering the field as an entry level chef. Hopefully the school didn't give you the attitude that when you graduate you are automatically an Executive Chef, most do. You need to find a chef you would like to become a mentor to you. One whose food you respect, even if you need to travel. Then make sure you have a Larousse Gastromic, this is a chef's bible. I prefer the middle version, there are three versions. Constantly research food stuff, this is what will allow you to rise to the top. Be sure to only work in the best houses. high end. I worked for Norman Van Aken when he had AMANO, and the average check charge with no wine was $100. per person. This is high end. Always do your possible best, no matter the task. These things are always noticed. And just always have fun. Chef's are the coolest perple to work with.:chef:
Joined May 26, 2001
Chef/Journalist: there is no such thing as an "entry level chef." Not unless the people doing the hiring are totally clueless about how this business works. And there are many, many other -- and better -- resources besides Larousse; it all depends on the kind of food you are cooking.
Joined Jul 31, 2000
"Those people" are insecure and not truly caring about the improvment of our industry.It is much easier to put others down then to deal with one's own short comings.

The great leaders of our biz understand the value both sectors offer to the bottom line. These are the people you hope to seek out.

Joined Apr 17, 2003
I agree completely. Just because someone may have not completed formal schooling does not mean they do not know the job! I have seen this first hand on more than one occasion.

I guess these schools the other members talk about in the United States teach students the wrong impression, but here in Australia I was taught that even though I know how to cook, I do not know everything, in fact i really know nothing, and that when I retire from cookery, I will still not know anywhere near what there is to know.

I am learning something new everyday, and I will never consider myself a 'complete' chef, because honestly, no chef is. There will always be something left to learn.

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