Often I hear about culinary students expecting to be the GREATEST CHEF EVER upon completion of culinary school. It’s good to have dreams and aspirations, but one must remain grounded and level headed to take the first steps.
I have been cooking professionally for over twelve years now and the longer I get into my career, the more clear is the fact that I never needed to attend a $40,000+ culinary school. I knew this well before the lawsuits started coming about against Le Cordon Bleu (LCB) stating that graduates from their program had no means to pay back their insurmountable student loans considering their job prospects. Now that all of the LCB’s are closing in the States, that reality is even more in the forefront for today’s culinary youth.
If I could offer advice, it would be this: you don’t learn how to make a burre blanc in a air conditioned, limited stress, windowed environment; on the contrary, such a task is mastered in the intensely heated, loud, and violent trenches that surround the kitchen line. This is where you seriously learn how to cook. This is where the real education kicks in.
Being a culinary professional is more than just being able to plate one entre successfully; it’s about plating that same entre over and over again with the last looking the same as the first. It’s about attention to detail, mastering all stations, becoming the Tournant of the kitchen, and then over time managing young eager faces, as you once were. Its about respecting ingredients and following the motto, “if it isn’t perfect, then don’t serve it.” Its about building relationships with customers and making sure they have the best possible experience they could have while in your restaurant.
And guess what? Everything stated above is not taught in a culinary school. Rather, it’s preached in the kitchen, on the line, in the back of the house.
Now that I have moved away from kitchens after so long, I find that the mentality has followed me into my present day endeavors. My experience has left me with more knowledge, more passion, and with a greater thirst for learning then I ever had in a classroom. I am not at all trying to trash the culinary school experience – I had a blast and really did learn a lot. But at the same time, I am a firm believer that cooking should be taught in a working kitchen. And guess what, in a kitchen, you get paid to learn.