What I learned from culinary school
After graduating college, I spent years deliberating the decision to attend culinary school. The high price of culinary programs was a major concern. While I craved the opportunity to go back to school, I wanted to avoid going into debt. Luckily, I discovered that many community colleges offer high quality yet considerably less expensive trade programs. One such program, with a solid reputation and full accreditation from the American Culinary Federation, happened to exist in my hometown. After completing both the Culinary Arts and Baking programs at my school, I can definitely say culinary school challenged and fulfilled me in many ways. I cannot imagine my life without the experience and I think it was meant to be. Culinary school is the focus of much debate, and the internet is full of articles that will tell you the cost is not worth it. However, many of the articles out there fail to mention low cost community college trade schools as an option-- which is why I felt compelled to write this post. There are many paths you can take. Some chefs bypass formal schooling and build successful careers through experience. But if you're able to work and go to school at the same time, you can potentially get the best of both worlds.
Culinary school gave me a worthwhile opportunity to build a foundation of industry skills and knowledge, the chance to immerse myself in a trade, and the opportunity to develop my instincts within the professional kitchen setting. It offered instant access to professional networking opportunities, dedicated mentors, and jobs. It gave me the chance to exercise key skills in the kitchen, from time management during a restaurant service to proper use of commercial equipment. Instead of the pressure of learning solely on the job, school offered a supportive setting where I could increase my skills and immediately apply that growth to stronger performance in the workplace. Plus, instructors offered the wisdom and guidance of experienced professionals, an invaluable resource. Culinary school was also an exercise in discipline. It takes a lot of internal motivation to attend a 4:30 AM baking class all semester while also holding down a nighttime line cook job. Or to devote 30+ hours a week preparing for a school cooking competition while also meeting work and personal obligations. If you're considering culinary school, you should know that the mental and physical demands of kitchen life will toughen you as a human, humble you, push you to your limits, cut you, bruise you, burn you, and leave you with cocoa-powder-tomato-paste-stained chef coats. But if you have passion and a love for learning, it will hone your skills, build your confidence, and give you a lot of unforgettable learning experiences in the process.
Ultimately, I gained a lot from attending culinary school and would highly recommend researching a reputable community college option to get the most bang for your buck. If it's your dream to study food, know that there are accessible options out there. And if you're still on the fence about whether it's right for you, keep on cooking, whether you get a part-time job in a kitchen or learn solo during your free time. I have learned a lot over the years just from working my way through recipes at home. In either situation, the key requirement to make some real progress is that you demonstrate work ethic and the willingness to learn. Lastly, you don't need a culinary degree to buy groceries, so start building your skills today. Crack open your favorite cookbook, be fearless in the kitchen, and keep at it.