The best culinary school is no culinary school.

Discussion in 'Choosing A Culinary School' started by alaminute, Oct 22, 2013.

  1. alaminute

    alaminute

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    So I respect the CIA, Johnson and whales and what thomas Keller says about education, but having worked in the industry for a mere seven years I've found that almost unanimously, chefs agree that it's far more valuable(and less expensive) to go straight to the best restaurants in your city/state and beg for a job as dishwasher or prep cook instead of wasting two years and tens if thousands if dollars. Also I don't know of any chef the respects LCB, in fact it's almost a mark against a resume
     
  2. foodpump

    foodpump

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    EHhh...No, you almost got it right, but not quite.

    You need the educational aspect if you're serious about your career, no two ways about it.

    Thing is, N. American culinary schools are not ideal.  Lemme explain...

    Q:  What is the sound of one hand clapping?

    A: Who gives a (deleted)?

    Seriously though, culinary schools are just one hand clapping. 

    How do you design a culinary school curriculum if there are no standards or qualifications to to model your curriculum? 

    Yes, you can design your own standards, and many schools do.  The "honorable" schools design a curriculum that mimics a good restaurant, and they know that their reputation rests on the success of their students in the workforce.  The "dishonorable" school designs a curriculum based on what's popular and gets the student in the door.  You can have a two year course with majors in chaud-froid work, ice carving, bacon wrapped something, and cute little cupcakes.  They (dishonorable schools) know that once the student has enrolled they don't have to refund money, and if the student is ill prepared for the workplace, they don't give a rodent's posterier.  And many culinary schools function this way.

    Another thing is that N.American culinary schools operate on the "front-end loading" system.  That is, cram the student full of knowledge, show him basic techniques and give him very little opportunity to repeat what they have learned, then let the student loose in the workforce and let the employer deal with the rest.  Cooking is a manual trade, and skills need to be repeated and repeated in order to master them.

    So what then is ideal?

    For me, it is the European apprenticeship system.  You work 4 days a week with your employer, and go to school one day per week.  You get all the repetition you need, and you get the educational aspect as well.  As a bonus, you get your qualifications, (Certification) and you have no debt or loans, AND you are still employed.

    In Canada we have our qualification for cooks called the "Red Seal".  It's not perfect, with some Provinces still in the dark ages, but some Provinces have developed a system that is very intelligent and practical:: You start off with Barney or Fred, no experience, no training, maybe fresh out of highschool, maybe not.  Fred takes a 3 mth course and when he passes this, he has a "Cook I " paper.  After working a minimum of 800 hrs in the industry he is eligable to take another block of schooling, and if he passes, he gets his "Cook II", and repeat a third and final time for his "Cook III" or "Red Seal" qualification.  No two years of culinary school, no student loans.

    O.T.O.H. ....

    Yes you can learn a lot by working in top notch places.  But how many are there, really?  Why should an Employer take the time to show you everything they know?  What guarantees do you have that what you are shown is the "Right way"?  I've worked with cooks who insist that a proper omelette is made on the flat top, who believe in that old chestnut about searing meat "to lock in the flavour"  Who don't know that poaching is done below the boiling point, that braising is done with the product done in 2/3 or less braising liquid, never totally immersed, who know that butter should be a minimum of 82% B.F. and how to adjust both savoury and pastry recipies when the butter is higher or lower than 82%..  You need to know the science and reasons for the things we do.  I don't care if you get this knowledge from books at home, from a small local culinary school or from a big fat expensive one, but I need to know that you know.
     
  3. alaminute

    alaminute

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    This business about 'the red seal' is news to me -but I am young and naive so bear with me- and I am excited to research it, thank you. Soooo stagiere literally means apprentice, yes? And the term comes from the Classic French system when a trainee would apprentice under a chef for usually a period up to ten years working virtually for free?
    And then in japan the apprentice period is almost always ten years under a great chef before you take the title?
    All of this to me is "working in the best restaurants, but how many of those are there?" to boost not only your resume -far more than college- but to gain true practiced knowledge. None of this is "culinary school".

    It's not necessarily the chefs job to 'train' always as it is for the commi to watch and learn and make decisions based on their palate and talent. We all learn through failure and each other, I know not only to poach eggs at water just below a boil but with just enough vinegar to encapsulate the whites without tasting any acid and dropping the eggs gently into swirling water to form nice tight quenelles. I know that not only is braising done up to the 2/3 mark but you also virtually always brown what your braising in your pan first followed by aromatics, mirepoix, deglaze with braising liquid (a la minute) to build flavor. I worship my egg pans for omelettes like people talk about cast iron. I read McGee and Larousse religiously but that doesn't mean that if I'm not doing something right than my chef won't see it and question what's going out the window. I'm not saying the chef has to expo every night, but he should know what his people are selling.

    I'll reiterate that I do respect the CIA, they accredit the master chef cert. through ridiculous trials and what greater accreditation is there? As I said I don't really know how schools in Canada are- I pray they are better. I do know that Heinz winkler and MPW staged classically and didn't go to school- the same a me saying your better off doing six years out of high school with achatz than whatever the best school Chicago had to offer is. All winkler and white needed was bocuse and roux.
    So in gist: maybe this thread only applies to people thinking of going to a regular culinary school in the US
     
  4. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    Going to school or working your way up. Neither is the only way. The path chosen does not guarantee success nor failure. It depends upon the person on the path. To judge a person's abilities solely based on attending school or working their way up shows a biased mind which can inhibit the thinkers own success plans.

    Over the years I have worked with and hired people from all kinds of backgrounds and levels of experience. I have yet to be able to set anything in stone. Snowflakes.

    Naturally all people think that the way they do things is the best way. If they didn't think so, it would be pretty stupid to do things that way then.

    alaminute does your insistence on no culinary school stem from passion or pride?
     
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  5. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Ehhh...Nooo, an apprentice is an apprentice--part of the brigade, and they do get paid the apprenticeship is generally for 3 years, sometimes 4, but never for 10. Can't speak for the Japanese.  Stagiere is temporary, to stage something

    Poaching is not only for eggs, but also one the best methods for fish and seafood, meats, fruit and vegetables can also be poached, and you can poach in the oven--for custards, terrines, cheesecakes, etc.  I don't know what poaching eggs has to do with quenelles. Speaking of eggs, how are they graded?  How can you tell the age of an egg without cracking it open? By cracking it open?  What is a quenelle? What typical characteristic do all fish in the salmon family have?  These are all questions a second year apprentice would have on a weekly quiz at school--and they do go to school, albeit one day a week, but it is school, and it is cooking.  These are also questions a culinary student would have.

    Keep up with your reading, CIA's "New professional Chef" is a great book and easily obtainable, haunt your library and get all the books you can.

    Knowledge is power, skill comes from knowledge, technique and repetition
     
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  6. kaiquekuisine

    kaiquekuisine

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    agreed
     
  7. kaiquekuisine

    kaiquekuisine

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    Here in Brazil our culinary education is a bit different considering we have culinary schools with 2 year programs , and we have to intern for 1 year max. Basically most chefs in Brazil wont hire culinary school graduates from culinary schools here because...

    1) They think their the chef 

    2) 2 out of a 100 culinary students here actually take the biz seriously ,and are actually talented

    3) The best cooks are the ones with internships and stages who were apprentices

    I havent done culinary school , and so far dont plan on it , since i know i wont get my moneys worth especially if i was to do it in the US or here in Brazil. So far im work up a Bachelors in restaurant and business management while working and staging in a few kitchens. After that ill attempt a second degree more food related. 

    So far what i have learned living both in the US and in Brazil is that culinary schools are businesses , a business needs people so it makes money. Basically they just want your pay , if you can pay you will most likely pass. I dont think i have seen an LCB graduates actually flunk a course <_< . 
     
  8. alaminute

    alaminute

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    I wasn't trying to lay out proper procedures, I was trying to expound on your former examples to declare that while I am familiar and quite proficient at the aforementioned techniques but regardless of how 'well' I think I did it my chef will be able to see from finished product whether it's right. Obviously poaching works as a great median for everything, I rock my lobster in buerre monte and filets in duck fat. Gorgeous. And I like my poached eggs to come out like nice consistent little footballs (or quenelles) instead of having strings of white trailing off. My goal isn't to discuss MY ability to differentiate eggs (pg. 81 On Food and Cooking) but to instigate some sort of response that truly justifies the money invested in culinary school.
    Pride or passion? Just a lack of seeing logic in this structure. You're absolutely right, Chef Layne, everything is dependent in the individual and no path is "right". But it is dependent on that individual how far they will go and in what direction. I believe that nearly every culinary grad could be virtually where they are now (with advanced technique through repetitions) and 40k less in debt if they apply the same energy into a great chef in their area.
    I love the professional chef! And le technique. An ma gastonomique. Etc. and I'll attempt to continue studying every night -as I already do- per your suggestion, chef.
     
  9. alaminute

    alaminute

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    Also I know it's Wikipedia but...
    "The term originates from the French word stagiaire meaning trainee, apprentice or intern.", and "Before the advent of modern culinary schools, young cooks learned their craft as unpaid apprentices in professional restaurant kitchens and bakeries"
    But I digress, semantics.
     
  10. burntmitts82

    burntmitts82

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    I staged for a few days and got a job, my first kitchen job in fact. There are only two of us on the line that haven't gone to some sort of culinary program, the majority having attended CIA. They all have told me the same thing, "It is not really worth the huge debt you leave school with.", and this is including the chef de cuisine. The consensus seems to be that if you really really want to go to culinary school, first explore the program at your local community college as it is basically the same curriculum as the big schools for a lot less money. Other than that, the one of the many pieces of advice they have given me is to READ READ READ, read cookbooks especially, but everything that has to do with cooking. Like someone mentioned above, the CIA textbooks are great, I got the workbooks to go along with them and on my days off  I try to knock out a chapter or two, it's really great to read about some technique or concept then come in to work and be able to contextualize it, it leads to a lot of those "AHA!" moments.  That is how I learn best though, and I realize people learn different ways and some learn best in a classroom setting  so don't take this as any sort of indictment on culinary school.

    I think I have learned more by working my way up from the bottom and being thrown in the fire, so to speak, than I would have at a school where you only get a handful of onions to dice, or two oranges to supreme. You'll be amazed how much your knife skills improve after hours and hours of prep work in only a short time. I also feel extremely fortunate to work in the kitchen I do, everyone is really good at their job and they all are incredibly patient and take time out of their day to teach us lesser cooks something new to help us get better, even the chef de cuisine always makes sure he explains why we do the things we do and that we understand what the cooking principles behind the dishes we make. It is a great leaning/working environment. That kind of leadership style has made pretty big impact on me.

    Having said all that, the single most important piece of advice I have received, to the point that is kind of a mantra now, is sense of urgency and efficiency. You can possess all the culinary knowledge of Escoffier, Keller, and Adria combined but if you don't possess a sense of urgency in the kitchen all those smarts will not do you one bit of good; that is something I don't think you can learn in a classroom, that is something you hone on the line, I believe.
     
    Last edited: Oct 25, 2013
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  11. Iceman

    Iceman

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    WOW.

    Very interesting thread.

    A coupla weeks ago I made eggs benidict at a homeless shelter. I poached the eggs, a dozen at a time, in a hotel pan using tuna cans as a mold. For me, I've never had much use for people in a kitchen that could use all kindsa French words, or who could quote from any great master or from their cook books. Culinary school, like any other institution of higher education, is only gonna give you back what you are willing to put in.
     
  12. beastmasterflex

    beastmasterflex

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    I will be trying this egg poaching method tomorrow, I have never seen it done like that.

    There's an incredible amount to learn, just truly staggering. You need to be a sponge, put yourself in an good environment and absorb everything you can.

    "There is no perfection, only repetition"
     
    Last edited: Nov 4, 2013
  13. Iceman

    Iceman

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    Practice first, going small: 1 egg in a saute pan.
     
  14. meezenplaz

    meezenplaz

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    Dang, Iceman, that's awesome. Can you build a radio from a coconut too?
    I just bet you could! :)
     
  15. Iceman

    Iceman

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    "Kitchen MacGyver - 101"
     
  16. meezenplaz

    meezenplaz

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    I was about to call you that.....but decided to let you do the honors.

    Yes these are the mighty little tricks that enable us to survive on the fly in the

    fast-paced chaotic world of culinary service. /img/vbsmilies/smilies/crazy.gif
     
  17. foodpump

    foodpump

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    A good toolbox needs two things:

    -Duct tape to stop things from moving,

    -WD-40 to get things moving

     Attributed to Red Green
     
  18. meezenplaz

    meezenplaz

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    You don't fool me none.....that's an interdimensional time travel machine!! /img/vbsmilies/smilies/laser.gif
     
  19. beastmasterflex

    beastmasterflex

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    Whats going on there? channeling humidity? some sort of smoking dehydrator? I can't figure out what that kitchen aid is doing. Too intriguing to not know what is happening here.
     
  20. foodpump

    foodpump

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    Chocolate covered hazelnuts.  It's the same process for making jaw-breakers and pills, called panning. 

    The ball just goes round and round, and you toss in a little mix (in my case chocolate) and build up the layers.  The air conditioner is there to cool off the chocolate so I don't have to wait so long between coats.  Everything you see in the pic I made myself: The table, the drawer unit (takes shallow hotel pans, easy to wash out), the "mask" for the a/c unit, even the fixture to hold 1/9th inserts to the underside of the shelf and used as mini-drawers.
     
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