Culinary school students expect to learn the basics of cooking, including such things as knife skills, different cooking methods, sauces, broths, seasoning, etc. You may ask, then, what will I learn in culinary school that I couldn’t learn on the job?
Learning on the job means that you will learn the ways of the particular chef you work under, or the particular restaurant at which you work. When you are hired on in a restaurant kitchen, nobody has time to teach you everything. You will learn just what you need to do a particular job, and as you gain experience, show initiative, and demonstrate your willingness to work hard and take on responsibility, you should be able to move up in the kitchen hierarchy to more skilled positions.
Along the way, you may learn a lot of valuable lessons, and make a lot of mistakes. You may also pick up some bad habits. While you may gain a practical knowledge of cooking, you may lack a theoretical knowledge. To understand this, think not of how you prepare a dish, but what happens to foods as you cook them.
A great example of this that you may be familiar with is the work of Alton Brown on his long-running Food Network show, Good Eats. Brown not only showed how to cook many basic dishes and more exotic ones, he explained about the chemistry of food, and why you do what you do in cooking. This knowledge will be invaluable to you as theoretical knowledge can be applied to everything you do, whereas you cannot always extrapolate the theoretical from practical on-the-job learning.
A foundational knowledge in cooking-theory is as valuable as hands-on learning. But, another thing you may lack is a foundational knowledge of how a professional kitchen should be run. While there may be many ways to cook a dish, including short-cuts, there are certain things which cannot be compromised.
Some of the things you will learn in culinary school that will give you an advantage going into the restaurant industry are given below.
Culinary School Lessons Other than Cooking
- Proper food handling and food safety
- Kitchen sanitation
- Public health regulations
- Food purchasing and controlling food cost
- Food storage
- Menu planning
Those who debate whether culinary school is worth the expense and time for those wishing to become cooks in the food-service industry, sometimes forget that a culinary education may not only prepare you to become a chef in a restaurant or another type of food-service establishment or institution, it may prepare you to enter into many other types of food related careers, without having to spend years and years working in the culinary field. For more information see I Want to Go to Culinary School…
Often, a culinary school graduate will tell you what they did not learn, and what they had to pick up on the job. For example, you do not get to practice a technique hundreds of times in culinary school until you perfect it. What these graduates do not seem to realize is that what is true of culinary school is true of most vocational and/or liberal educations.