What Kind of Schooling Is Needed to Be a Chef?
Although a chef doesn't necessarily have to follow any set educational track, to compete in the market for the top jobs, chefs should include culinary schooling on their resumes in addition to a varied list of restaurant positions. Most chefs begin their careers in entry-level kitchen jobs as they pursue their education.
While it is not a requirement, most chefs today attend culinary school at the beginning of their careers to earn a degree. Prestigious culinary institutes such as the French Culinary Institute in New York City or one of the three locations of The Culinary Institute of America can put a chef in line for advancements. At the same time, a number of community colleges and universities provide outstanding culinary programs. Online cooking schools are growing but do not carry the same weight as hands-on instruction.
A good culinary education includes training by chefs who know the requirements of a working kitchen and have experience to pass on to students. Ideal curriculums include classic French culinary techniques, knife skills, sauce and stock preparation, how to identify quality food products and facts about seasonings. A thorough program includes training in various styles of cooking from Mediterranean and Latin American to Asian and Regional American. Palate development and kitchen management also are important subjects.
Chefs need to pursue education that delivers well-rounded knowledge of various cultures, history and geography to understand how food is cooked and used in other cultures. This helps the chef incorporate the best cooking styles into his own repertoire. Math is important for chefs to be able to figure out recipes and to manage food costs. Since most chefs also supervise the kitchen staff, courses in human resources and business management will prove very helpful.
The Reluctant Gourmet advises potential chefs to attend culinary school but to incorporate a range of experience while attending school. Experienced chefs have much more to teach the novice right out of school and new graduates should temper their self-confidence and book learning to continue their training on the job. New graduates should expect to do time on the cooking line for a number of years to gain the kinds of experiences required to fill an executive chef's role.
Chefs must stay on top of trends as well as continuing to fine-tune their skills. Participation in groups such as the Chef 2 Chef Culinary Portal or the International Association of Culinary Professionals can offer a plethora of learning opportunities for students and experienced chefs alike. Networking with peers can lead to an exchange of recipe ideas, introductions to new vendors and new ways of using ingredients, job leads and career support.
The Reluctant Gourmet
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