Traveling the world to learn from the finest restaurants, taking down the competition in a televised chef battle, taking charge of a gleaming kitchen on your own Food Network show; that's what being a renowned chef is all about, right? Certainly, if you're successful enough. But even Emeril Lagasse and Anthony Bourdain had to start somewhere. Like most chefs, world-famous or not, they started in the kitchen—and at chef school.
Reasons to Go to School
Attending chef school and obtaining formal culinary arts training can impart a wide range of technical skills as well as providing networking opportunities. Also, the fact that you're willing to invest time, money and hard work into a culinary education indicates to potential employers that you're serious about your career.
There are other good reasons to go to chef school, too:
- Learn basic skills in a supportive environment: Your instructors will teach you the proper techniques for everything from menu planning to cleaning and sanitation.
- Broaden your culinary horizons: Chef school introduces you to a wide range of styles and cuisines with instructors who have experienced a variety culinary environments.
- Gain valuable business knowledge: If your goal is to become an executive chef or restaurant manager, culinary arts programs can teach you the critical business skills you'll need to manage a kitchen, supervise staff and stay within a budget.
Choosing the Right School
Choosing the right chef school is a matter of knowing your own educational needs and career goals, and doing the research to find a program that meets those criteria. When you're looking at potential culinary programs, ask yourself questions like these:
- Is the school accredited by the American Culinary Federation?
- Does it offer a curriculum that aligns with my goals, interests and scheduling needs?
- Does it offer financial aid?
- Are there opportunities for internships and job placement?
Chef School Degrees
Here's the scoop on the different levels of chef school degrees:
- Certificates and Diplomas: One month to two years in duration. Offered at cooking schools, culinary institutes, vocational schools and community colleges. Suitable for would-be chefs who want to enter a professional kitchen as soon as possible.
- Associate's Degrees: Nine months to two years in duration. Offered by community colleges and culinary institutes for those with a GED or high school diploma. Suitable for those looking for a degree and more in-depth training, but who still want a quicker path into the work force.
- Bachelor's Degrees: Four years in duration. Offered by universities and 4-year colleges to those holding a GED or high school diploma, or who have transferred from a community college. A higher-level culinary arts degree that may include more management curriculum or other specialized training.
- Master's Degrees: Two years in duration. Offered by universities and colleges; a bachelor's degree is the necessary prerequisite. Particularly suitable for those interested in culinary management, hospitality management, teaching or nutrition science.