Should You Go To Culinary School? Part 1
To be very clear from the start, I have no idea, no opinion, about whether or not YOU, personally, should make the choice to go to culinary school. I know that there was this article recently on Eater as well as a supplemental piece by David Chang (who attended the same school as I did) with some of his thoughts on the topic. If you search around the web, there’s also other posts about this subject. Many articles about culinary school talk about what happens after you’ve finished, how competitive and brutal working in a professional kitchen can be, the burn-out and self-destructive behavior that the industry breeds, and how little you make (especially in relation to other professions and how big the fees are for attending school).
What happens before that? What makes people want to go to culinary school in the first place? School itself, as much as I enjoyed the experience, wasn’t exactly a walk in the park or as easy as just doing recipes and writing posts about them for websites. There was lots of sweat, some bloodshed, tears, frustration, anger, self-doubt, anxiety, and inner turmoil…and all that might have even been on a good day in the kitchen. It was one year ago today that I walked into the Level 2* kitchen at the International Culinary Center to begin my life as a student in their evening Classic Culinary Arts Program. Even now, as I type those words, a bit of a thrill goes through my chest, as I remember exactly how intimidating it felt to embark on what would be a busy, crazy, chaotic 8-month ride that culminated in our graduation ceremony at Carnegie Hall in April of this year.
Sometimes, when I’ve spoken to people who have wanted to pick my brain about this topic, to see if it is a path that they should be thinking about pursuing, I’ve seen the stars in their eyes about being in culinary school. I don’t know if this is because of the portrayal of cooking on television shows, the cachet that is attached to winning food competitions, or some of the glamor that being a top-rated chef evokes. Or, it could simply just be that somehow culinary is considered to be a choice career these days, miles away from the mundane life of working in a cubicle for some large corporation. Cooking has its tedious moments, too, make no mistake about it. For the desk-jockeys among you, also realize that this is a physically demanding profession, and that starts from the time you walk into that first classroom kitchen.
Throughout my journey over the last year-plus, I posted articles on this website about the different levels of the program I attended at the International Culinary Center. I also added stories (and lots of food photos) about doing kitchen assisting work for various visiting chefs, helping out at demonstrations, and volunteering at food events to get a wide range of experience in working with different people and exposure to cooking styles. Below, you’ll find a compilation of these links, which I hope will give you a peek into what the life of a culinary student is like. Unfortunately, there are gaps in my posts, so not all levels of the program are described, as the demands of school and getting hands-on training outweighed putting content up on this site. I’ve included links below to those posts relating to my culinary school adventures as well as to the articles in this series “Should You Go To Culinary School?“
Articles in this series:
Not entirely convinced that I should pursue the professional program for reasons of time+money as well as whether or not it was the best choice for me career-wise, I enrolled in the intensive Culinary Techniques course at the ICC and then bridged into the Classic Culinary Arts Program in Level 2 by taking a placement exam that reflected the material we’d gone through in the amateur course, which covered the same culinary skills development as students do in Level 1 in the professional program, plus some additional material. Several graduates a year take this same path. I highly, highly, highly recommend looking at the Culinary Techniques course if you would like to upgrade your culinary skills and to learn how to tackle the fundamental building blocks of classic cuisine and if you are even the slightest bit uncertain about making the investment to pursue the professional program. You might find out that this is the level of culinary education you need to achieve your goals.
Articles by course level:
“Wild Mushroom Risotto (Risotto ai Funghi)” – about a dish we made in Level 2
Articles about volunteering: