We have hired several newly “minted” chefs directly from culinary schools usually through an internship program. In every case culinary students find their biggest challenge to be timing and pressure. They have the knowledge to create dishes from scratch (a valuable tool for an Executive Chef) but can only understand the pressures a commercial chef faces by working in an actual commercial kitchen environment. Don’t get me wrong, I continue to view the hiring of culinary students through intern programs a valuable tool and find qualified students who continue to advance in their career at our bistros and bakery. However, my first hand experience is that, despite all those newly learned skills and knowledge, only one out of three will make it in the industry.
Before you spend the money, you need to ask yourself three key questions that will tell you if you are right for the chef position
Question One – Do you thrive under “blow and go” pressure and love having new challenges thrown at you from left to right? A yes answer allows you to move on to Question Two.
Question Two – Can you maintain a clear mind and balanced personality with the ability to inspire people to push themselves to the limit day in and day out? If you answered yes, fantastic! Move on to Question Three.
Question Three – Can you consistently produce quality dishes that not only taste great but also look fantastic each time?
If you have answered yes to these three questions, you may just be chef material.
Now you can move on becoming a chef.
Culinary school is a valuable (but not necessary) tool if you plan to move up to Executive Chef. As mentioned above, it provides you with valuable knowledge on the “how to” of creating and in some cases, saving dishes. It will also give you a pretty good idea if you want to be a savory chef (cook) or pastry chef (baker) two very different professions.
Working in a commercial kitchen is a “required” tool to get in and move up in the industry. And we’re not talking in a chain, which will only teach you how to heat up and serve food.
If you plan on making this your career, it’s better to start out in prep for free in a fine dining restaurant then get paid to work as a “head chef” in a chain.
If you have answered yes to my three questions, get into a fine dining restaurant doing anything you can. Watch, listen and learn. Move up through the ranks. Experience is a more valuable asset than culinary school at this stage. Don’t get me wrong, culinary school is a valuable arrow to have in your quiver, but experience is the bow. It will tell you if you’re cut out for the business, what area you excel in, all while providing you with added chits for your resume. Think of experience as the cake, culinary school as the frosting. It should be the finishing touches to position you in a very rewarding industry that, although extremely challenging is also extremely rewarding.