Thinking of Going To Culinary School? Read This First: Advice From Actual Chefs.

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Photo by Laila Derakhshanian
Ryan Carson of AnQi
AP recently did a story on how more culinary schools are getting sued by students who graduate from these for-profit programs only to land low-paying jobs and face a mountain of debt. The former students allege that they were misled by recruiters on their job prospects after graduation. Often, the story says, they discover that after significant investment in tuition, books, supplies, room and board, they end up doing little more than minimum wage work, putting in long hours in a job that others can get with no formal culinary training.

Well, on our On The Line series of chef interviews, we at Stick A Fork In It happen to have a treasure trove of wisdom from our established and accomplished interviewees on this very subject. We asked them this simple question:

What advice do you have for those who might be thinking about a career in food?

Few if any chefs recommended actually attending school. In fact, a lot of them went out of their way to discourage it. So for those of you thinking about going into food and are considering culinary school, herewith is some free advice from sage minds who know better:

Brent Palmer of Mesa:
"Before you go to school, work in a kitchen for a year and see if it's for you."
Hung Tram of La Creperie Cafe:
"Try it out first. Culinary schools are getting more and more expensive, and honestly, a lot of what you learn there can be easily attained by reading books and working for the right chefs."
Joseph Mahon of Burger Parlor:
"1. Forget school. School debt will haunt you.
2. Passion will only get you so far. Have short term and long term goals.
3. Get some serious experience in a good kitchen and decide from there."
Nathan Coulon of True Food Kitchen:
"Forget culinary school, where you'll end up spending a lot of money to get a low-paying job. Work in kitchens and get real-life business experience. It's just like getting ahead in any other job: To get to the top, you have to start at the bottom."
Ryan Carson of AnQi:
"Life in this business WILL be hard. Be willing to give up any hobby, dear friends, family relationships and the guy/girl you think you love. Because the rest of your life will be consumed with the life that has been set before you as a person that has chosen this career. You'll pay thousands of dollars in tuition to be a minimum-wage employee. And if you're not in it for the food and only in it for the fame, then you should try to become an actor or actress, for the life we lead is far skewed from what the media likes to portray it as. My work life is fantastic, but my personal life is in shambles. That being said, don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't do it. This is a passion career; you probably won't make that much money, and you will work ridiculous hours and holidays. But if you love what you do . . . then you'll never work a day in your life."
Thank these gents later when you've achieved your culinary dreams without a debt collector after you.

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5 comments
course for chef
course for chef

Good post. I am totally agreed about your idea that when you were planning to go for culinary schools then you need to have more practiced at home for a year so that when you are going to pursue your first cooking study you will be able to learn fast.

Anon
Anon

Also don't forget, to succeed as a chef you need lots of piercings, tattoos, and a holier than tho attitude. At least that's what I have learned from watching Food TV.

Sj Sebellin-Ross
Sj Sebellin-Ross

If you want to know about culinary school, I wrote all about my time as a culinary school student. It's an eye-opener:

"Culinary School: ThreeSemesters of Life, Learning, and Loss of Blood" - http://amzn.to/oqXw1R.

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