You might wondering why would anyone cut potatoes on a tray while sitting on the floor? Well, dear reader, this is me trying to practice my knife skills for class the next day. And this “10 Things To Know Before Culinary School” starts with this photograph – it’s funny and at the same time, depressing. Why? Because I was never great at knife skills and having to practice every night with potatoes I brought home from class was not my idea of fun. But then again, everyone else did it, so the saying “misery loves company” was quite right in this situation. So without further ado (only to tell you this is based on my personal experience having attended The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY and graduating from their AOS degree in Baking and Pastry Arts), here are a few things you need to know before embarking on your culinary school education!
10 Things To Know Before Culinary School
- You won’t make any money in the first 5-10 years of graduating. You’ll pay $60,000+ to attend CIA for a two year degree and no way will you be making that back anytime soon, so be ready to juggle jobs and freelance whenever you can. Line cooks and bakers, depending on the state, make anywhere from $8 to $16 an hour, even if you are a graduate of The CIA. Culinary school WILL open all the doors for you, whether the jobs are in your hometown or in Shanghai.
- It’s going to be hard, and you will cry at least once (a week). Did I ever see my guy friends crying? Yes I did, although names will remain anonymous. But between my roommate and I, we shed our fair share of tears. Whether it was because my cake wasn’t the exact color I had wanted the buttercream to be to her chef yelling at her for asking what time it was during lecture, crying was a day to day thing in our dorm. Notice I specify in our dorm. There’s no crying in the kitchen, no matter what!
- You’re about to give up your social life, holidays, and family time. Think about every social engagement you attend. Isn’t there food and drinks always available? Who do you think cooks it? A chef. A line cook. So be prepared to give up family holidays for the next fifteen years. Weekends? I have no idea what those are, since my real weekend is that one Monday a week I get off from work. Your work becomes your family.
- Freshman 15 is more like Freshman 30. It’s a career of endless temptations. Try giving up bread for a week and that’s the week you’re offered grilled cheese sandwiches like it’s the only food in the world. CIA has a great gym and while I attended school, I probably worked out about a total of 5 times. I would rather eat and those Freshman 15 were actually 22 fatty pounds after 1.9 years in my experience.
- Graduating from culinary school does not make you a Chef. “Don’t call yourself a chef unless you’ve earned it. It’s like calling yourself a doctor because you know the difference between aspirin and acetaminophen.” Read more about it on my article over at SheKnows.
- Developing addictions is a common thing (whether you’re addicted to drugs, alcohol, or bacon.) Sadly, this is a reality. The pressures of the job, the endless hours, the little time with family, the late nights – turn cooks into addicts. Now, I’m not saying every chef has an addiction, but a lot of them do. What am I addicted to? Social Media!
- You’ll have to throw your sensitivity out the door – the kitchen is a harsh and cruel environment. Back of the house is called that for exactly those same reasons. We all stay in the back of the house because we have dirty sailor mouths and can make an insinuation over the most innocent things. And it’s not only the guys. I can curse like a sailor and normally do in the kitchen. Sorry Mom. (Culinary school is a bit different since you have to respect your instructors. So I’d say FUUUUU…dge a lot. Or shiiiii….ttake mushroom.)
- You won’t ever remember a time you weren’t always tired. You’ll always be tired cause you’ll either be going to class at 4 in the morning or getting out of class at 11pm. Or you’ll get a job being an overnight baker, going into work at 10pm and getting out at 9am (I did this while working at The Broadmoor in Colorado.)
- Meeting crazy people, and even crazier chefs, will become your daily bread. You’ll meet that one girl that only eats cheese danishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner; that guy that is illegally brewing hard apple cider in his dorm room inside recycling bins; that one chef that makes you only eat with chopsticks during their Asia’s class. That and more, are the kind of personalities you’ll meet in the culinary world.
- It will change your life. The end.
What a typical dorm room looked like:
On the plus side…
…there are some amazing things that will probably happen to you if you do decide to attend culinary school:
You’ll become stronger, faster, better. You’re tolerance to BS will lower and you’re motto will become “if you want something done correctly, do it yourself.”
Your organizational skills and sense of urgency will slip into your “normal life” and make you a better person. Anyone that has to do mise en place for a dinner menu, as well as bake four desserts and train a new cook is as organized as you can get!
The friends you’ll meet become friends for life, at least some of them do. You’ll bond over late night study sessions, trips to NYC, and endless classes together.
The ingredients you get to cook with, the chefs that will instruct you, and the experiences you’ll live are unbelievable. UN-believable. Seriously, you’re life is about to change if you decide to attend culinary school.
Attend The Culinary Institute of America. Ha! No, this isn’t a sponsored post and I must say, it’s the only culinary school I’ve ever been to, but I’ll say it to anyone: it’s the best. My professors were the best in the industry; the facilities, kitchens, and bakeries had top of the line equipment and plenty of it (I never had to fight over a pot!); the classes not only make you a good cook, but a well-rounded individual that can manage a team; the extracurricular activities are never-ending (I attended everything from demos by Michael Ruhlman and Grant Achatz to butchery classes about Mangalitsa pigs!); and the networking you’ll do in less than two years in worth the thousands of dollars. Not only is the networking with your professors top of the line, but you’re going to school with the future Anthony Bourdain, Cat Cora, Duff Goldman, Amanda Freitag, Angelo Sosa, Todd English, and Michael Mina (all CIA alumni!)