Mistake #1: Not Knowing Your Goals and Aspirations
When it comes to the culinary world, not all schools are created equally. Some programs are meant to provide classical training for use in top-tier restaurants, while others take a look at knife skills and basic nutrition education as a way to start working in the fast food industry. Before you even start looking at schools, you should outline what it is that you want out of your culinary career.
Match the School’s Focus to Your Culinary Style
List your three most important culinary goals. Do you want to work with traditional Italian cuisine or classic French techniques? Would you like to become more adept at Thai cooking as a way to expand the menu in your current restaurant? Do you simply want to learn basic knife skills and learn about the science of baking?
One you know what you want, you’ll be better able to match schools to your goals. Most culinary schools are pretty open about what they offer; for example, a visit to the The International Culinary Schools at The Art Institutes website instantly lets you know that they focus on traditional French cooking techniques.
Visiting your local community college’s website might demonstrate that they focus more on job skills development than artistry.
No matter what school you look at, however, be sure and visit the “Programs” section of their brochure or website. Make sure that you really want to land in one of those programs before you waste your time applying to or visiting the school.
Choose Where You Want to End Up
Equally important is determining what sort of career path you want to take. The culinary field is diverse, and there are a number of career options. While many of the characteristics of these jobs overlap, it can be difficult to switch from a bartender to a product development specialist without first going through the proper education and training. Consider all the following culinary options:
- Front of House: Managers, Owners, Sommeliers, Bartenders
- Back of House: Executive Chefs, Pastry Chefs, Sous Chefs, Line Cooks, Dishwashers
- Management: Hotel Managers, Restaurant Managers, Kitchen Supervisors, Food and Beverage Managers
- Other: Personal Chefs, Food Critics, Culinary Instructors, Food Stylists, Food Writers, Product Development and Research Specialists, Caterers, Menu Developer
The reality of culinary promotions and settling into your preferred niche is that it can be just as difficult to become the Executive Chef at a restaurant as it is to become CEO of a large corporation.
In addition to education, experience, and true talent, you have to put in quite a bit of time at a single company or break out to start your own before you can really realize your dreams. In fact, in most cases it takes nearly five years of cooking experience just to become a sous chef – and even then, it’s not guaranteed.
That’s why it’s important to know what you want BEFORE you sign up for culinary school. While there is no hard and fast rule why you can’t become an Executive Chef, you do have to start making the right decisions to get there right now.