The value of a good, solid education, particularly if you’re young and inexperienced with aspirations of working in high-end, white tablecloth restaurants is certainly not in question here. Culinary school will lay the foundations and teach you the skills that help you to work efficiently, with a good understanding of ingredients, hygiene, kitchen etiquette and procedure–depending on the institution and level of qualification, of course.
Culinary school is where you develop your repertoire, learn through trial and error, and figure out which part of the kitchen feels most like home to you.
But is school really where you cut your cheffing teeth?
Before you commit several years of your life to culinary school – not to mention the hefty price tag it comes with – it may be a worthwhile idea to get a taste for the real ambience of a high-pressure kitchen. A little bit of hands-on experience could really help you to make the right decision. You may be surprised at what you learn about yourself, the catering profession in general and the reality of the dream you are pursuing.
The trouble with going straight into education is lack of familiarity with the industry and a poor grasp of your strengths and weaknesses. By getting some insight into kitchen life, you can sign up for college feeling a lit bit more focussed and reassured about the road you want to pursue.
Undertaking any form of education these days is not only super expensive, but it also does not guarantee you employment. So if you’re going to go, you best be sure that your heart is really it. Otherwise, it’s a long time to dedicate to a qualification that will most likely start you off on a very low pay packet and may not live up to the romantic notions of career fulfilment you imagined.
From cook to chef
Culinary school will teach you how to cook, you will be exceptionally good at chopping, dicing, measuring, tempering, slicing, glazing; name the technical skill, and you will undoubtedly acquire it at a culinary institution. But the creative, visionary, intuitive skills, as well as the ability to manage people, take initiative and display the discipline to continuously strive for self-improvement that are the characteristics that truly set your CV apart from the other contenders.
A realistic view of hours and conditions
It’s no urban myth that cheffing is not for the faint-hearted. Although working conditions in kitchens are vastly improving to meet modern human resource standards, the hours are never going to be hospitable or suited to every individual:
• half of all professional chefs in big cities regularly work between 48 and 60 hours per week;
• 78% suffered an accident or had a near miss due to fatigue;
• 56% take painkillers to get through shifts and more than a quarter were relying on alcohol; and,
• 51% said they suffered from work-related depression.
Contemplating the demands of the industry will help you to prepare yourself mentally, physically and emotionally for the role. By getting some experience in a kitchen, regardless of the calibre, you will be able to gain at least a little bit of perspective. Cheffing most certainly requires a very unique temperament.