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Is a Culinary Education Necessary?

Everyone knows culinary schools are expensive — especially top private ones like Culinary Institute of America or Johnson & Wales. An undergraduate year at CIA's Hyde Park, New York, campus currently costs $33,850 in tuition alone; at JWU's Providence, Rhode Island, location, $37,896. Those tuition's are on par with the average cost of private colleges in the U.S. In Canada tuition is a little more reasonable, but still expensive when you add your cost of living, tools and books. And of course upon graduation you can expect to make not much more than minimum wage for the first few years.

First, money aside, does culinary school open doors that would otherwise be closed? That is, if a talented, hardworking person were to spend X number of years in culinary school instead of working that same amount of time in a restaurant, would they be able to achieve more advanced positions during the course of their career because of it?

Most people said yes. For career changers, culinary school is a must; even for those who aren't, however, most of the chefs agreed that culinary school provides a certain mobility that would otherwise be lacking. This depends on one's goals, of course: What's the endgame? To become the chef-owner of a fine-dining restaurant, culinary school is pivotal. To work as a sous chef or become the food and beverage director at a hospitality brand, perhaps it isn't. As a professor of culinary arts having worked in the Canadian college system, I can agree with this entirely. In fact some of the most successful students I had were mature students, starting a little later in there culinary adventure.

Here are some of my thoughts for those thinking about a culinary education. First and foremost, you need to spend at least one year working in the industry. It doesn't really matter what sector, Fast food, casual dining or 5* hotels, you will find out pretty quickly if you have a passion for this industry. It's called the HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY for a reason. You need to have a people pleasing type of personality. Forget everything you see on the Food Network, it's all nonsense, and has very little do with what actually goes on in a typical restaurant/hotel.

The next thing would be getting your foot in the door with a good, qualified and well connected Chef.

The Qualities a Head Chef will be looking for are

  • Passion – How you would love to be a chef.

  • Hard Work – Experienced working unsociable hours, or working hard to achieve something

  • Keen to learn – Any extra activities that involve learning (could be learning a sport or a new hobby)

  • Timekeeping – Mention how you are always on time, very important!

  • Determination – How you don’t just quit at the first hurdle

  • Teamwork – Any situations when you have played your part in a team

Anyone looking to become a chef should familiarise themselves with the basic terminology of the kitchen. Understanding the rank structure of a kitchen is a great starting point as well as a few other key areas.

A few other things that can be helpful in preparing to start your path to Chefdom, and also to make you more appealing when applying for your first stage in cooking are as follows;

Having your food handlers certificate is not required, but looks good on your CV.

Take a few short courses in baking, cooking or pastry to demonstrate that you truly have an interest in this career path.

Finally once you have some time in, consider asking your chef to sign you up for a formal apprenticeship. This is a three year commitment, and really says, YES, I WANT TO DO THIS!

And now, finally, what about education? In my opinion, in this new climate of is changing. It really is not necessary to go the formal in class route of say a Culinary Management certificate or diploma in a community college anymore. There are dozens of online programs offered at a fraction of the cost. Of course I am going to promote the virtues of our program, simply because it offers more than the rest. A full online program coupled with 3 sections of in person practical application. Nobody has this...yet.

Have a look at what we offer; Dinner Thyme Culinary Arts Program.

Cheers, and have a great beginning to your week!

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