How Do Chef Schools Work?

Culinary schools give aspiring chefs their best shot at making it to the big time, especially those accredited by the American Culinary Federation. Just like any other profession, many of the better hospitality establishments base their hiring practices not only upon the length of education the applicant provides, but also where that education was obtained.

Tuition runs the gamut from relatively inexpensive courses offered by local community colleges all the way to the Culinary Institute of America's breathtaking $40,000 price tag. And what doesn't tuition cover? Oh, just uniforms, textbooks, cutlery, and other necessary kitchen equipment.

Curricula differ somewhat from school to school, but most of the culinary student's time is consumed in learning the ins and outs of cooking by actually doing it under close supervision. Participants not only prepare food, but also learn how to plan menus, minimize food costs, buy food and supplies in quantities, and how to appropriately choose and store food. Learning proper hygiene and local public health rules also play a large part in a culinary student's education.

Classes are sometimes offered all day, taking a complete eight hours, while at some schools, classes are broken into morning and afternoon sessions.

There are usually lectures, and then demonstrations followed by hands-on practice time with students applying the techniques demonstrated earlier. Some schools even offer part-time professional classes to accommodate working cooks wanting to increase their formal education.

A number of educational scholarships are available, among them:
The American Academy of Chefs Chair's Scholarship Ten $1,000 scholarships awarded each year
The American Academy of Chefs Chaine des Rotisseurs Scholarship Twenty $1,000 scholarships awarded annually
National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) Three yearly $2,000 scholarships for high school seniors and undergraduate students
Because years of training and experience are needed to reach the level of executive chef in most well-paying restaurants, many students serious about this profession begin their training in high school through vocational programs, then go on to a two- or four-year college or university.

Apprenticeship programs offer more training afterward, and these come from individual eating establishments and are given by a personal mentor or from professional institutions and associations such as the American Culinary Federation.
Apprenticeship lasts usually about three years and is most often known as the years of "grunt work" doing all the chopping, grating, peeling, slicing, and washing necessary to prepare the ingredients for the chefs. Even cleaning appliances, sweeping and mopping floors, and other seemingly unaffiliated "chef" work gets done by the apprentice as part of his or her learning experience. Often this "trial-by-fire" period separates the truly dedicated chefs-to-be from those who are merely good cooks.

It is not impossible to attain the status of executive chef without the benefit of formal education, but in today's job market, most establishments (especially the finer hotels and restaurants) now require some type of certification to work in this capacity.

Like a degree of any sort, formal training in the culinary arts may not mean you are another Julia Child or Paul Prudhomme, but it does at least signify that you've got what it takes to get through the school. So stop trying to think of ways to take shortcuts, get your tuition together, and go learn what you need to attain your dream!

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