Should you go to culinary school? It’s a question that continues to inspire much debate within the restaurant profession, with some advocating for real-life experience over formal education and others insisting on the importance of learning hard skills in a classroom setting. This week we are hearing from those chefs who did attend culinary school on what they did not (and wished they did) get out of the experience.
“I wish culinary schools taught students to be creative. Every student is fixed into the system where they learn the basics and the classics; there is no time to express themselves. They don’t have the guidance to find their style of cooking.” — David Shim, executive chef, Cote Korean Steakhouse (New York)
“People skills! For me at least, all along the arc of my career the learning of new cooking skills has come pretty easily, but the interpersonal relationships are far harder and way more important over time. There’s no training manual for them, and they constitute a real art form on their own. You have to learn how to navigate so many different types of personalities, lead a team, and create an overall dynamic environment where everyone is focused, positive, and fulfilled.” — Alex Pitts, executive chef, Bazaar Meat by José Andrés at the SLS Hotel Casino (Las Vegas)
“Give classes in diplomacy. Learning how to be firm yet fair or tough yet open is something that took me years to understand and develop. I wish I had a better head start. Also, business and entrepreneurship — wow, I wish I knew what I was truly getting myself into. Lawyers, partners, how to negotiate and what to look for in contracts — it’s all overwhelming and daunting if you don’t know what to look for. The more you’re prepared for that the better.” — Scott Conant, chef/restaurateur, Fusco (New York), The Ponte (Los Angeles), Mora Italian (Phoenix)
“I wish that culinary schools taught stress management techniques. Mental health is such a huge conversation at the moment, especially within the hospitality industry. There needs to be something put in place early on for young cooks to start on the right track.” —Janine Booth, chef de cuisine, Root & Bone (New York)
“Spending even more time on basic skills, like butchery, sauce making, and bread and pastry techniques, would be helpful — you can’t overemphasize a good foundation, and it’s something many cooks don’t have.” — Julia Sullivan, co-owner-executive chef, Henrietta Red (Nashville)
“The one thing they don’t teach you in culinary school is how demanding being a chef can be — the long hours, the nights, the weekdays, and the holidays. And then there is the toll on your body — being on your feet, the heat, and even the psychological pressure of making sure you always execute at a high level to satisfy every guest.” — Josh Capon, chef, Mercer Street Hospitality (New York) [Read more…]