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Should You Go To Culinary School?

Making the decision to attend a culinary arts school is not a decision to be taken lightly. Culinary professionals often work long days and even longer nights, in unbelievable heat and in hazardous, cramped conditions. Working as a chef de partie, also known as a line cook, in a brigade system (think assembly line cooking), requires the ability to stand for eight hours or more during a shift; to repeatedly handle scalding hot pans and utensils without oven mitts (you are given wash towels); to lift and carry heavy loads, weighing more than 20 pounds, throughout the shift; to quickly handle carving, filleting and slicing of meat and vegetables; to safely work with scalding hot oils; and to perform all the above while meeting health and safety standards.

In short, there is no profession in the world that is quite like being a cook.

While many line cooks have started out as dishwashers and risen to the title of head chef, the responsibilities of a chef include more than simply being a great cook.

Chefs must be able to do all the work of a line cook in addition to managing other cooks, waiters and waitresses; creating menus; running a profitable business; and above all, creating dishes for customers.

Chefs supervise the sous-chef and line cooks; they check the freshness of food and ensure there is enough to meet the needs of the day; they manage the kitchen s supplies of food, pots, pans, towels and general inventory; they create the restaurant s menu and determine how to present the food; and they hire and train line cooks and various specialty chefs.

While on-the-job experiences can adequately, and in the eyes of some, better, prepare you for the general act of cooking, culinary school is designed to prepare you to be a chef and actually run a kitchen. Classes expose students to the world beyond the kitchen, teaching them the science behind a souffl so they know what they can do with it, not just how to make it.

While work experience in a restaurant may teach you to properly cure a prosciutto, it’s rare to find a restaurant that can teach you to prepare avant-garde level dishes in molecular gastronomy. Culinary schools aim to foster creativity in addition to a reverence for tradition, allowing students to push the envelope of food and re-invent the bagel and cream cheese .

Why Should I Attend Culinary School?

Culinary school can be an expensive proposition, especially when much of the trade of cooking can be learned while on the job. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects employment of cooks and chefs to grow by up to 8 percent nationally from 2010 to 2020, which is slower growth than that projected for all U.S. occupations (BLS.gov. 2012), and in the case of chefs and head cooks, no growth is expected (BLS.gov. 2012). In this environment, investing your time and dollars in culinary school can seem risky.

However, if cooking is more than a job for you, if it is a passion, a joy — your life — culinary school may be the right choice.

Culinary school prepares students for more than grilling a steak; required courses can include classes in language and history, food science, business management and marketing. Pastry and baking classes will teach how to create a creampuff but also what separates a puff from a pastry and why. This education forms the foundation for culinary creativity that in turn fuels some of the most well known restaurants in the world. The elBulli Foundation website describes cooking as a language through which creativity, happiness, poetry and culture can be expressed.

If you aspire to be more than a line cook, to do more than mash potatoes, to provide an experience and not just a dish, culinary school may be worth considering.


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