There is a big debate about culinary school in the service industry. On one hand, it is an education. On the other hand, you can get the same education working and honing your craft. Both ways are completely acceptable. Let’s pro/con it out.

Culinary School is an investment. It takes time and a lot of money. There are also a ton of schools that are just made to take your money. You’ll learn the mother sauces but you’ll never crawl out of debt. You need to watch out for these. Do your research, you don’t want to throw away your future to learn something that is in all of the old french books.

Trust me working off culinary dept is incredibly hard. I still have mine and I’ve been paying hundreds of dollars for it every month, and I went to the non-profit school.  The Culinary Institute of America, which, is possibly the best culinary school in the world, right next to Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. Please take note the in Paris, That is very important.

I  know people who have graduated my culinary school with over 100k in debt. I also know people who have gone to different schools and acquired about the same. Be careful, and again, do your research.

Culinary School gives you a lot of things. It makes you incredibly adept at a lot of different types of cooking. We had everything from banquets to Asian cooking at CIA. and everything in between. The curriculum was intense, three-week classes, the hours varied wildly. our start times were anywhere from 1 a.m to 4 p.m. and our homework was intense and due tomorrow.

We learned everything from wine to food, to history. We also had almost a year off in the middle to go on our internship, where we went to a restaurant somewhere in America and worked. Honestly, for me, it was worth every penny. I struggled, but I also got through it with a pretty decent g.p.a.  Just so you know how big of a deal this was for me, I almost failed out of high school.

Culinary school was a good thing for me. I was trapped in Northern Michigan and I felt like there was no other way out. I had also been cooking for ten years before going, so I had a base and I had an idea of what I was doing.  Some good friends pushed me toward it and I never looked back.

 

There is another way. Something that I’ve experienced as well, the school of hard knocks. Working your way up the industry by being in the industry. This is an excellent way to go about your schooling. It is also incredibly important to find the right person that trains you. You need to do just as much homework for this.

When I was a young cook all I wanted was to work the line. I dreamt about it. I read about it and I watched entirely too much food network. It just felt right. The people on the line were monsters. They felt no pain, they worked ruthlessly and precisely. I wanted to be that. I also was a very angry kid, and I wanted somewhere I could vent my anger and have it seen as a positive, as passion.

I learned quickly that this wasn’t exactly what cooking was. It is less brutal and more dancing, more memory and skill than grit and fire. It feels good to be a cook. It feels good to be on top of a rush, to utterly crush it. The rush feels like a wave, you can either ride it and dominate or else it eats you alive and throws you toward the rocks. Once you fall it’s almost impossible to get back up without help or a lull.

I learned about mise en place, about being prepared and clean. I learned so much from cooking in kitchens, and I was pushed to learn by my Chef’s. It is incredible how fast you have to learn to not be a shit head, to not be green. It’s addicting, there comes a point where everything else is just background noise. Everything that you know or want to know is cooking and being prepared.

There are downsides to learning in the industry. You do make money, but it isn’t a lot of money. Most cooks I know are poor. I once worked at a place where I made 700$ every two weeks, for over 80 hours of work. Most of the really nice places you want to work at will cut your overtime. They will just take it away, this is a common practice. You will work through holidays and important dates.

The one thing I’ll always regret is that I worked through one of my best friends wakes. I couldn’t get the time off, I was a Sous Chef and my CDC couldn’t keep people. You become a slave to this industry. I will never forgive myself for that.

Having a degree makes things a little bit easier, you become more well-rounded, you have more options. most culinary schools make you learn how to serve, and make pastries, even bread. They help you find a job that you want. When you work in the industry you meet people. You’re network explodes. After a while you just know everyone. If you don’t know them, then you’ve definitely worked with shared people.

The important thing that you take from this is that both ways are important and have their merits. There is no wrong answer if you want to get into this industry. Just do your homework.

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