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Is Culinary School Necessary for a Chef?

Everyone knows culinary schools are expensive—especially if you want to go to top ones like the Culinary Institute of Vancouver or Northwest Culinary Academy.

Those tuition’s are on par with the average cost of some top American universities. The only problem is that once you graduate, your starting salary as a line cook is probably around $15 – if you’re lucky.

In fact, you’re probably looking at being on the front lines for about ten to fifteen years before you can even think about moving into the top echelon positions.

This begs the question: does going to a culinary school open doors that would be otherwise closed?

I suppose it depends who you ask. If you were for example to ask me, here is my general opinion on how someone might consider entering the culinary or pastry field.

Why this image of a bread formula? Well, to begin with a cook has to have more than aptitude for cooking. Just because the food network glorifies the "just wing it", magical world of food creativity, doesn't mean it's real. What is real is the fact that a cook must have a firm understanding of basic clerical matters; math, science, languages and culture.

How to get going in the culinary field in a few easy steps;

  1. Work for a year in a very good restaurant or hotel, doesn't matter the pay or position. It's just to find out if it's for you!

  2. If you make it to step two, consider an apprenticeship; 3 years for cook, 4 years for pastry cook. Notice I'm not using the term "Chef", that comes later.

  3. Enroll in a good culinary school. The options are numerous, and to be honest all your looking for is the educational aspect to support the practical knowledge you are getting on your apprenticeship.

  4. Spend almost all of your free time expanding your knowledge; competitions, extra "free" work assignments, stages with other chefs, online courses, reading, reading, reading!

  5. Write your journeyman papers ASAP

  6. Add educational credits in related fields, business, specialized skills and management.

Unlike what most people understand, there is a huge difference between a cook and a chef. The minimum requirement in years to getting your designation as a chef is 8 years, three of those being your journeyman papers; red seal cook. It takes about the same amount of time to become a lawyer, accountant or mastery in just about any profession.

A Chef manages product ($$$$$), sometimes millions of dollars. A Chef leads people, sometimes dozens at a time. A Chefs job includes, marketing, menu planning, training, sales and financial accountability.

So if this sounds like something you want to do with your life, giddy up my's a very challenging and rewarding career. At least it has been for me, I just LOVE my job!

Cheers, and have a great weekend!

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