Can you start culinary school in your 40's?
Timing is essential when cooking but it's also great when you are responding to visitors call out for some help. Yesterday, I received an email from Chris asking for some advise & encouragement he could give his wife, Patty, before she starts culinary arts school at The Orlando Culinary Academy this October.
Patty is nervous because she is starting school at 45 years young and concerned about her age and if she has the necessary skills. A couple of hours after I received Chris's email, I received an email from Chef Jenni Field, a graduate of The Orlando Culinary Academy who started school at age 40. Perfect timing!
I asked Chef Jenni for some help and she sent me a thoughtful, informative response to send to Chris & Patty. By the way, Chef Jenni has just built her own web site for home bakers called pastrychefonline.com. It's in the early stages but worth a look.
Here's the email I received from Chris :
Hi, my name is Chris and I writing you from Orlando Fla. My wife Patty will start classes at the Cordon Blue Academy here in town. She is 45 years old and she is "frightened" about her age and very concerned if she will understand the course...like afraid of the high skills needed. I am helping a lot by encouraging her. I think she is a very smart person and she absolutely loves food and cooking in the kitchen...but classes start October first and I really need somebody to help me here. She is an extremely responsible person and extremely concerned. Any help? Is it a real rocket science class?
Here is Chef Jenni's response:
Chris, can I just say that it is lovely of you to seek some help and guidance for your wife. I attended The Orlando Culinary Academy myself as a 40-year-old "freshman." Like your wife, I, too was extremely nervous. "I've baked for years, but will I be lost in the professional arena? Can I keep up with the young guns? Will it just plain be too hard? Will I feel old and dumb?" I stayed up many a night with my supportive husband patting my back. If this sounds at all familiar to you, I think I might be able to help.
Tell Patty to take heart. If she is passionate about cooking (I'm not sure if she will be taking the Culinary or Patisserie and Baking Program), it will shine through. The chefs at OCA are, for the most part, very supportive and will certainly go the extra mile for the motivated student.
Just like at any school, the people attending come into the program with a broad spectrum of experience and expertise. I met Executive Chefs, Sous Chefs, line cooks, bakers and many, many people with no culinary background at all. It was my experience, entering as a passionate amateur with 20 years of reading/experimenting under my belt, that my self-taught skills placed me towards the head of the pack from the beginning.
Once in school, I was able to build on my existing skills, and I came away with a well-rounded background in Patisserie and Baking.
I found that the older students were generally more serious about their studies, since most of us had already had a career and were serious about making a change "later in life." And most of us were paying out of our own pockets! I also found that, (again, this is a generalization) because we had more life experience, as well as cooking experience, that it was easier to build a good working relationship with the chef instructors.
I hope that this has helped to quell some of your wife's fears and apprehensions. You might also look on the home page of my website, Pastry Chef Online, in the "So you think you wanna go pro?" section for more insight into working in the restaurant industry and attending culinary school. Best of luck at OCA!
Chef Jenni Field