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If you dream of owning a restaurant, catering to the rich and famous, earning a Michelin star, or becoming a TV celebrity chef, then your first step is unambiguous—it’s off to culinary school for you. “But I’m a great cook,” you say.
Yes, and that’s exactly what all those people on Kitchen Nightmares and Restaurant Impossible say too, and they come up with creations like shrimp-stuffed chicken and risotto with pomegranate seeds!
Cooking is a creative endeavor, but it’s grounded in classical principles, techniques and ingredients. That’s where culinary school can give you the distinct advantage over your competition. Those without a classical culinary education engage in a lot of guesswork, a lot of baptism by fire, and a lot of trial and error. Culinary school is a shortcut to the top, and without it, you might not succeed; if you do, you’ll probably make avoidable mistakes along the way.
How do I get started?
What are your culinary interests? Some people want to focus exclusively on pastries while others want to learn it all. If you’re unsure, then you probably want to learn it all and see where your interests take you. The American Culinary Federation lists more than 80 certified, post-secondary schools devoted to the culinary arts. And that’s just one listing of culinary schools. There are also a number of night schools and four-year degree and post-graduate programs available.
The shortest programs start at under a year. Would you believe that The Cordon Bleu has programs of just a few months? It’s not so much where you go that matters. It’s more important that you complete a program, that you show aptitude, talent and determination, and that you work hard to hone your skills in your post-graduate jobs.
What’s culinary school like?
Unlike many post-secondary paths, culinary school is a participatory experience. You’ll spend a lot of time on your feet, and you’ll get a good idea what working in the field is going to be like. There are lectures and tests, but the labs prepare you for your real-world experiences.
What are my career options after culinary school?
Your career options after culinary school are, in a word, endless. Gerald Celente, leading trends analyst and trends forecaster asserts that in times of economic trouble, people seek quality, and two of the areas where they seek quality is food and clothing. As people seek quality, they must educate themselves, so there are many local options outside of the restaurant industry available to trained chefs.
While your mind may immediately jump to restaurant employment, there are many other options as well—catering, personal chef, institutional cooking (think senior communities and assisted living), cruise ships, teaching cooking classes, high-end takeout, and the list goes on and on.
Once you learn classical cooking techniques in culinary school and train diligently in your jobs following graduation, you too can reach for the stars, and maybe even earn a Michelin star. After that, the sky’s the limit.