It’s Monday again! I actually got up at a decent (ahem… 5AM thanks +John Pare!) time this morning. Workout is complete, and FINALLY we are BACK to do another Ask the Chef! session. You may have noticed that I’ve started at Season 1, Episode 1. Yes, like I previously spoke about, it’s a REBOOT everyone.
Today I’m fielding questions asked to me about getting an education to be a Chef. Is it worth it? Where do we go? Should we go? Read on to find out.
Is it possible to get a free culinary education (pastry) in Europe or United States? If yes, what does a person need?
I can only speak about Canada, but I’m sure that it’s the same world wide. The short answer is ABSOLUTELY. The long answer is it depends on what you are looking for. Do you want to be paid? Are you willing to sacrifice pay in order to work at a place that is more prestigious? What experience do you bring to the table? Ultimately, what is your final goal?
What a mouthful of question-answers! I find that most people entertain the idea that being a “chef” is something that they will go to school for, and instantly be qualified once they graduate. If the tuition for the cooking schools in the United States (such as the Culinary Institute of America,) are any indicator, then you should have the skills needed to instantly be an Executive Chef.
Unfortunately, I’ve not heard of one such case.
That’s too bad, considering there are a LOT of free places to get the culinary education you need for only one non-monetary cost. SWEAT. Okay, and TIME. Oh yah, and SOCIAL LIFE.
That’s the thing. You can definitely find yourself a place to work at that will teach you from the neophyte beginnings, (like how to peel a carrot properly!) but it comes at a cost to you. You won’t be selling various orifices for tuition money (forget bread and cool things like eating!) but you sure will pay in hours worked doing inane repetitive tasks on your feet, often in sweatshop conditions. If working in a 90 degree kitchen is your idea of fun, if you run outside to the sweltering humid heat to cool off and can stomach someone yelling at you to hurry up with the 2 orders of veg, 3 pastas, 2 meatballs, 3 chicken pad Thai, 4 fajita setups, and 1 kid pasta – (sorry, had to take a breath in there!) Then a free culinary education is at your fingertips.
The only other consideration is if you would like to get paid. That leads me to the next question – what do you have to offer? What real kitchen experience do you have right now?
If you answered none, then you can get a free education, but don’t expect that it will be easy to find a position where you will be paid. I would do what the French call a stage. That’s where you agree to work for free in exchange for the experience you get working in the kitchen. This is where most people with no experience find themselves. Truth be told, in most culinary programs, you are expected to work a stage anyway.
If you have experience, then go for a low-level job somewhere that is decent and has something to bring for you. Don’t work for the pay, make sure that you are getting something from your experience there. Chances are you will be getting a pittance. (Perhaps the dishwasher will be making more than you!) Suck it up, and remember – just like Mr. Burns said in the Simpsons episode “The Great Homer:”
Patience, Monty…climb the ladder.
dpr8ter – Restaurant Manager asks:
So, I have a dilemma. After being in the industry for 8 years, I’m finally ready to go to culinary school. I’ve worked in fine dining for about 5 years and I am currently general manager of a coffee shop. I’m ready to get back to the kitchen and I feel this will help me tremendously. The problem, however, is choosing a school. I’m married and my wife has a good job and is happy where she is, so moving isn’t an option. I have to keep my current job, so it will pretty much be part time school and will be commuting. I live in middle Georgia and all the schools I’m looking at are in Atlanta. The big question is, if I get a tech school associates degree and then transfer to either Le Cordon Bleu or Georgia State for a bachelors, will this look worse than a full degree from LCB? I’m not going to lie, money is an issue, which makes the tech school option very attractive. Any feedback will be greatly appreciated.
Let me level with you. In an employer’s eyes, where you went to school doesn’t matter. I can tell you that in my career as a manager, I think I saw that someone went to CIA a few times here and there, but I don’t recall who. In the end, it was noteworthy in the sense that it got someone’s resume a second look, but that was it. From there, a chef will automatically look at experience, or your references.
I’ve heard that going to a famous school will open up doors, but let’s be honest. The culinary world is a small one. If you want to open doors, then you need to be working out there, proving your worth. I would counsel you to go to the technical school. You will be with great instructors who will teach you the skills that you need to know, and will have contacts out there for you to get into those great cooking jobs that will get you the experience and contacts that will help further your career.
I am new to here and need some information about getting my red seal and I can’t find it anywhere. I live in Ontario and I went to George Brown and I did the 2 year program and graduated in 2010 so here are my few questions any answers help!
- Does my schooling count as any of my hours in any way??
- if I had 2 years of hours with a red seal chef then left and he won’t sign that I worked those hours is there a way to prove it or have I lost them?
- How hard is the test if I have the gisselin and all of my notes from school still plus Ive been working full time for 3 years?
- George Brown offers a course to get you ready to write the test has anyone taken it??
Again anything helps! Im confused and just really want to get this since im 23 and think this would be an amazing opportunity for me
I did sort of the same thing as you back in the day. I took my courses at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, then went to Jasper Park Lodge to apprentice. I might be able to give some insight…
In my case, I got credit for the schooling portion of the apprenticeship, but was still obliged to fill the hours required to work (and my blue book) for the privilege of writing the Interprovincial Exam. It was up to the Apprenticeship board then, they made the decision in my case.
When you become an apprentice, you are entering into a contract with the journeyman. Essentially you are promising him to commit to him for X amount of time, and to learn anything he will teach you over that period of time. If you can’t get him to sign after the fact, unless you have signed into the apprenticeship agreement, there isn’t much that you can do.
To prepare for the Red Seal exam, I wrote the important stuff in the Professional Cooking (by Wayne Gisslen) to remember on flash cards. (I still have them squirreled away in the basement somewhere…) I don’t think my test was all that hard; I wrote it in 45 minutes and (with the help of those flash cards), did really well. It’s all about the preparation and study before hand. Again, the flash cards were a boon.
I can’t speak for the George Brown preparation course, but to ask – why take another course if you’ve paid for one already? It may take some diligence and organization, I’m sure you will do well.
My name is Monika I’m a polish student. I have a great passion of cooking and I’m so keen in that. I would like to star the career as the Chef, however I have no education of culinary school. I’ve attended many cooking courses f.ex by Kurt Scheller. My question is, is it required to graduate from culinary school to become a chef? I know it’s a heaven better to do, however is it required? I’ve been thinking of taking the 6 weeks course at Paul Bocuse’s academy, does that certificate equal to the Chef title? Can I work as a chef (souse chef and beginner chef) without graduation from culinary school? If the chef diploma is required please tell me where to study the best with no fortune spend;)
Thanx and please help me !
I have wrote a few things above that will help you understand what is required to become a “chef” in the culinary world. I fault most schools with this notion that one can be a “chef” as soon as graduation rolls around. I remember hearing the exact same thing from the orientation at my school. I didn’t fall for it, as I had already worked in restaurants before school.
All job requirements aside, all that one needs to be a chef is a crew that will follow the Chef into the abyss of a Friday lunch, or a smoking Saturday night. A chef inspires people by not even being present. On Sunday you can see a chef’s crew doing what needs to get done despite the Chef taking the day off. No school program will prepare you to get that respect.
So, tell me what you think – Prestigious cooking school, Technical college, or School of hard knocks? Let me know in the comments!