So You Want to be a Chef?
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Three paths to becoming a professional chef

Despite all the warnings about the long hours, hard work, the tough environment and the low pay, you’ve decided to become a chef. Actually, cooking is your passion, being in the kitchen gives you energy and you want to do the thing you love to do everyday. That’s awesome! Yet, before you run off to the traditional chef path, check this out. There are more than one option to training to become a chef and there are a plethora of  work options outside a traditional restaurant. Before you make up your mind, read this:

What are the Paths to Becoming a Chef?

Private Culinary School

Probably the most common option for becoming a chef is to go to a traditional culinary school and it’s the path that many people take. A prestigious culinary school can be more specialized and perhaps it can give you a better chance in ending up in a more upscale kitchen. However, talent is talent, and many famous chefs worked their way up. That being said if you are talented and have better access, it will give you that opportunity. 

Pros

  • You will receive a formal and organized education.
  • You can meet a lot of great people in the industry (professors are often industry vets. 
  • It’s a great place to network and you will have access to alums. 
  • You will learn both the theory and practice of cooking. 
  • Private schools can be more speacialized.

Cons

  • Culinary school is expensive, a degree in culinary arts can cost from $20,000-$108,000 and the salary of a cook makes it hard to pay your loans back.
  • A good culinary education doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a job at a good restaurant-talent and hard work ethic still matter
  • You have to apply what you learn in order to become a great chef
  • Can’t prepare you for the real stress and time crunch of working in a kitchen

Famous culinary school alums: David Chang, Grant Achatz, Charlie Palmer

Public Culinary School

Often overlooked but a very viable option are culinary programs in community colleges. These programs can be just as fulfilling as traditional culinary schools but a fraction of the cost. Although not all schools are built equally, there are several public culinary school programs that can be very elevated , with very effective placement programs. 

Pros

  • Receive a formal culinary education at a very low cost.
  • Access to state of the art facilities.
  • Options to take classes outside of the culinary program within community college. 
  • Some community colleges  have good placement programs.

Cons

  • Not the same access to famous alums as traditional culinary schools. 
  • Classes can be oversaturated because of the low cost. 
  • Can’t prepare you for the stress and time crunch of a kitchen. 
  • If you’re interested in working in a high-end restaurant you might get passed for a student from a more prestigious culinary school. 

Self Taught 

Some people decide to forgo culinary school all together, deciding that a real life education is better than any education out there. These chefs are self taught as they usually gain an education through working in restaurants, doing research and traveling. Many chefs, agree that getting a real life experience might be the best option. Anthony Bourdain strongly urges aspiring chefs to consider culinary school deeply before investing time and money, explaining that working your way up might be best. Perhaps real  life experience will show you  if you’re really fit for the culture and lifestyle of the hospitality industry. 

Pros

  • You will have no cost, no loans, no debt. 
  • You’ll start at the bottom and work your way up, giving you the opportunity to experience many different facets of the industry. 
  • If you work with a talented chef, you have the opportunity to learn first hand from him/her.

Cons

  • You’ll learn all of the practice of cooking, but little or no  theory. 
  • You might learn a lot about one aspect of the kitchen, but you might not receive a thorough education in all types of food, ie: baking
  • The kitchen will be very fast paced, so you won’t the opportunity to process everything you learned  

Famous self taught chefs: Tom Colicchio, Thomas Keller, Charlie Trotter

Photo by Nick Karvounis on Unsplash

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