There are many reasons you might choose to go to cooking school. Culinary school can be expensive, so it’s important to get the most from your time. Here are some suggestions on what not to do, in an effort to make the most of your investment.
It might seem obvious, but if you are investing your time and money on trying to attain a degree or certificate, why wouldn’t you invest your time and energy to support it? Study, pay attention and work hard. Some of the basics are difficult and complicated at first, and they are incredibly important to master. The foundation of your entire career depends on your expertise in these basic skills.
Don’t ignore the chef instructor.
Chef instructors aren’t going to hand-hold you because you’ve been day-dreaming, winking at the girl on the prep team or because you’re sleepy from a late night out. Get used to paying close attention to the chef’s orders – the first time. When you are in a professional kitchen, the chef will have no patience for inattentiveness or disrespect. Be alert, listen and respond promptly and respectfully.
Don’t be lazy.
The majority of the movement and activity in a kitchen is cleaning and organizing. Actual cooking is a very small portion of a regular day. It’s important to learn very early on that you must be clean and organized at all times. If you have spare time – spend it cleaning. You’ll be noticed as a hard worker, and it will pay off tenfold when you are in a professional kitchen.
Don’t ignore other students.
Other students are not only sharing the experience with you, but every individual can teach you something. Whether it’s a great, creative idea or an ingenious method of doing a traditional task, you can always learn. Some of these student will continue on in the culinary field, and you may very well work with them again.
Don’t forget names.
Along with getting to know the other students comes not forgetting names. You will come into contact with many people during your time in cooking school – students, chefs, managers and administrators, as well as owners and chefs within the community. Make a habit of learning their names and matching them with faces. If you aren’t skilled in this area, practice and write things down. This is your early opportunity to network and you should take advantage of it early on.
Always be on time.
This goes for any job, but especially in a kitchen. The rest of the kitchen brigade relies on you to do your part, and not showing up on time shows disrespect to your instructor and classmates, and will not endear you to your coworkers in a professional kitchen.
When it comes time to purchase your knife set, do not buy the most expensive ones.
You’ll need a good quality set of knives, but you don’t need to most expensive set on the market. A solid, middle-of-the-road set that can be your workhorses will do perfectly. Save the investment in the thousand dollar knives until you are on Food Network.
Don’t buy cheap shoes.
Take the money you save on the knife set and invest it in your shoes. You’ll be on your feet anywhere from 8-14 hours a day, so you’ll want a pair of shoes that will help, not hurt. Check and see what your chef instructors wear – this will give you a good idea as to brand and product. Make sure your shoes adhere to your schools policies. Expect to pay between $100-250 for a good pair. It’s well worth it.
Don’t be cavalier with safety.
Your safety, and the safety of others around you in a kitchen rely on your diligence. Carry your knives properly. Warn people loudly when you move around them. Communication is key. Don’t follow the same safety precautions you use at home – follow the professional kitchen guidelines. You will get hurt at some point. If it’s a minor cut or burn, clean it up, wrap it up and keep going. Unless you have a very serious injury, you’ll be expected to continue with your job – without tears or complaint.
Don’t act like a prima donna.
No one gets to be a prima donna without decades of experience. Acting like you have that track record while still in school only makes you look foolish, and you will lose all credibility and respect. If you want to be the best – earn your way.
Don’t go to culinary school without a long term plan.
You should know that a career in culinary is a long term prospect. Have a plan in place to remind yourself that this is merely a stepping stone in a long career path. It will be around ten years before you even come close to becoming a head chef, but every bit of learning along the way gets you one step closer. Think of it as a checklist.
Don’t be reserved and quiet.
You will need to spend this time asking questions, and lots of them. You’ll need to become comfortable using your voice in a kitchen – whether responding to your head chef, alerting someone of potential danger or requesting product or an order. Find your voice and use it often.
Don’t invest in an expensive, top culinary school if you are not 200% sure you want to be a chef, and you are willing to sacrifice and work hard for it.
Culinary school is expensive. Many top schools cost between $40-80,000. That’s a lot of debt to take on, when the average cooking school graduate makes $11.00 an hour after graduation. Often it means working two and three jobs after graduating, in order to pay the bills. It means slaving away in hot kitchens for many years, trying to work your way up the brigade. If you are not completely positive about this career path, choose a less costly school. If you are not in the culinary field in five years, you will still have the school loans – so choose wisely.