Why Culinary School?

by Alex Tishman

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Best Book on How To Become A Private Chef.

Highlights:

  • While culinary school isn’t technically required, it’s highly recommended for private chefs.
  • In deciding on a culinary school, prospective students should speak with alumni, do their due diligence, and find out what kind of internship opportunities and job placement assistance the school offers before committing to a program.
  • On-the-job experience is pivotal to being successful as a private chef. Shoot for 2-3 years of experience as a line cook and 2-3 years’ experience as a sous chef or kitchen manager, to round out your education.
While culinary school isn’t technically required if you want to become a private chef, it’s highly recommended. One of the most common questions I’m asked when interviewing for a new client is, ‘Which school did you go to?’ Being able to tell them I graduated with honors from a prestigious culinary school has helped to land more than a few jobs over the years.

In addition to looking great on a resume, there are some practical reasons why culinary school is a good idea for those planning on a career in the culinary arts.

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Highlights:

  • While culinary school isn’t technically required, it’s highly recommended for private chefs.
  • In deciding on a culinary school, prospective students should speak with alumni, do their due diligence, and find out what kind of internship opportunities and job placement assistance the school offers before committing to a program.
  • On-the-job experience is pivotal to being successful as a private chef. Shoot for 2-3 years of experience as a line cook and 2-3 years’ experience as a sous chef or kitchen manager, to round out your education.
While culinary school isn’t technically required if you want to become a private chef, it’s highly recommended. One of the most common questions I’m asked when interviewing for a new client is, ‘Which school did you go to?’ Being able to tell them I graduated with honors from a prestigious culinary school has helped to land more than a few jobs over the years.

In addition to looking great on a resume, there are some practical reasons why culinary school is a good idea for those planning on a career in the culinary arts.

For one thing, you get an excellent education by practicing with top chefs in a structured academic setting. And, that education is more well-rounded than it typically is in a restaurant, where you’re confined to a certain cooking style and a limited understanding of the roles of others in the process of food preparation.

It’s also nice to have an opportunity to develop your knowledge base in a more forgiving environment than a restaurant provides. When you’re working in a kitchen, everything is trial by fire. In the classroom, there’s a higher tolerance for mistakes and more opportunity to try new things.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Most culinary schools offer financial aid—which is good because they’re not cheap. If you can’t afford an Associate’s Degree in one of the more prestigious schools—which average at a minimum of $15,000 per semester—and don’t qualify for all the financial aid you’ll need, then you might consider doing a certificate program. These are accelerated programs that usually take 9 months to a year to complete. However, keep in mind that these can be just as pricey as earning a degree.

Any accredited institution of higher learning in the U.S. has financial aid available to its students. As with any other academic program, you’ll need to complete a Federal Application for Financial Student Aid (FAFSA) and provide current tax records in order to verify your income.

What to Look For in a Culinary School

Culinary Arts programs have grown in popularity over the past decade, so there are no shortage of schools to choose from—in fact, according to the Culinary School Guide (http://bit.ly/qnkYSx), there are over 165 accredited culinary training programs in the U.S. alone.

Of those, some of the top schools include: the California Culinary Academy; the Culinary Institute of America in Napa and New York City; the French Culinary Institute, also in NYC; and Johnson Wales University.

What makes those schools a good choice? There are a few things that you should take into consideration when deciding which culinary school is right for you. Begin by looking at the alumni. Contact 2 or 3 graduates to get their opinion on some key questions. A good way to contact program alumni is via LinkedIn, Facebook, as well as the Chef and Restaurant Database (www.chefdb.com).

A few questions to ask when reaching out:
  • How satisfied were they with their overall educational experience?
  • Where did they do their internship? How helpful was the school in arranging that experience?
  • What kind of job placement assistance did they receive from the school, as they were preparing to graduate?
  • Now that they’ve graduated and are able to look back, do they feel their education was worth the time and money they invested?
Do some research into the curriculum of the schools of your choice. Check out the schedule, tuition, job placement rate, and what type of internships they offer—and how competitive those internships might be.

Below is an example email to send out to potential alumni contacts.

Private Chef example alumni outreach email

In recent years, there have been some lawsuits involving the fraudulent recording of graduation data and job placement information, as well as questionable lending practices, against some of the better known culinary institutes around the country. Be certain that you do your due diligence, speak with former students, and be sure that your college of choice has the appropriate accreditation and a sterling reputation, before you commit to a program.

Free-standing institutions (i.e. schools that are not part of an art academy or community college) are full-time, year round deals, without the standard summer break as in most academic schedules. These schools will still offer a week or two off around the holidays and in between sessions, but they are primarily full time all the time, or at least the CCA is.

Tuition will be highest at these types of schools, as well. The Le Cordon Bleu schools have higher tuition because of their accreditation.
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