Starting something new as an adult can be challenging. But if you’re asking yourself, “Am too old to become a chef?” know this: you haven’t missed your chance. There are Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts graduates who began their careers in their 30s and 40s, and went on to successful futures!
Aging is a strange process. On the inside, we feel as youthful and vigorous as ever. Then we catch a glimpse of ourselves in the mirror and wonder, “How did the years fly by so quickly?”
This passing time can make us doubt ourselves when it comes to starting a new career. Can we keep up with the 20-somethings that we’ll be competing with? Do we still have what it takes? Is it even worth it, knowing that we don’t have as much time to build our careers?
Learn the truth about what you can accomplish in the culinary industry as a career changer.
Is There an Age Cutoff for Becoming a Chef?
It is never too late to become a chef! This career has no age limits, and there are many successful chefs who found culinary arts later in life. Escoffier graduate and winner of the prestigious Cochon 555 competition, Lance McWhorter, for example, got serious about cooking after his military service, and didn’t become a chef or attend culinary school until he was in his 40s.
Do keep in mind—becoming a restaurant chef can be a physically challenging career path. So while there is no age limit, this path can require long hours on your feet, which can become more difficult as you get older. Some older chefs may choose to become personal chefs or research chefs, which might be some great alternative options.
How Long Does It Take to Become a Chef?
The time it takes to become a chef differs for everyone. It’s impossible to say how long it will take any individual to get the promotions they’ll need to rise through the ranks. Remember, attending culinary school does not make someone a chef. But it may give them many of the skills they could need in the future as they pursue that title.
At Escoffier, you can complete your diploma or degree programs in a period from 30-84 weeks, depending on your program and campus. So pursuing this education isn’t necessarily a years-long endeavor!
After school, the aspiring chef can begin working in the culinary industry. They may start in an entry-level prep cook position or similar role, and begin working their way up the ranks to line cook, supervisor, sous chef, and eventually, executive chef.
Overall, this progression can take several years. Some graduates find that their degree or diploma can help them to move forward quickly. Escoffier graduate Damian Palacios says “I think my career is on a faster track because of culinary school. Back when I started working, the supervisor was there to help me out. But now they ask for my opinion on how to do things.”*
So it’s possible that investing the time in culinary school on the front end of your career could help you reach your career goals months or even years earlier. The years are going to pass whether you pursue your culinary dreams or not. Better for them to pass while you’re working in an industry you love and reaching for a title you want, rather than feeling stuck in the same unfulfilling career you’re in right now!
“I went from washing dishes and cleaning a commercial kitchen to managing my own within a two-year span. Escoffier has given me the culinary and business tools, resources, knowledge and self-confidence I need in order to make my dream a reality!”*
Mitchell Rodriguez, Escoffier Online Graduate, and Sous Chef, Holiday Retirement
Am I Too Old to Go Back to Culinary School?
No one is too old for culinary school! At Escoffier, we have students ages 18 and up, with all levels of experience, and from all walks of life. Some of these students share your goal of becoming a chef. Others are pursuing alternative culinary paths.
You’re likely to work alongside students who are fresh out of high school, experienced chefs who want to take their cooking to the next level, home cooks who want to start their own businesses, and more. There are many careers that are supported by a culinary education, and you shouldn’t let concerns over age stop you from getting that credential.
Graduate Coy Pierce began culinary school at Escoffier in his late 40s. He said, “I was worried I was going to be the oldest person there [in online culinary school]. No. There were three people older than me. One had retired as a printer salesman. One had been retired for 15 years and got bored and decided he wanted to try his hand at culinary. The other gentleman was a Bronze Star recipient who had just retired out of the U.S. Army.”*
So it’s highly likely that you can find both younger and older students working alongside you as you pursue your degree or diploma.
“You’re never too old to learn. If you stop wanting to learn, you’ve given up on life. Don’t be afraid. Get out there and just do it.”*
Coy Pierce, Escoffier Austin Campus Culinary Arts Graduate
I Have To Keep Working Full Time…So How Can I Attend Culinary School?
It’s one thing for an 18- or 20-year-old to devote weeks or months exclusively to their education. But what if you’re 35 and have a family to provide for? Or a mortgage to pay? You don’t necessarily have the option to quit your job and dedicate yourself 100% to culinary school.
So many people find themselves in this position. In the past, this problem kept many otherwise qualified culinary school candidates away from formal education.
But now, online culinary school can be the answer. Escoffier’s online culinary arts programs can give adult students the flexibility they need to continue working and stay present with their families, while also getting that school credential. Graduate Rhonda Adkins attended Escoffier’s online program in her early 50s while working full-time, running her blog, and raising six children!
“When you have a life and a job, you just can’t quit and go off to a traditional school—especially at my age. So I loved having the opportunity [to attend school online]. It was such a good experience for me.”* Rhonda Adkins, Escoffier Online Graduate and Food Photographer
Students watch instructional videos and complete their cooking assignments in their home kitchens, on their own schedule (as long as they meet class deadlines). Do your classwork on Sunday morning while the kids are relaxing, or turn an entrée assignment into a family dinner. There are also live lessons, assignments to submit, and ongoing feedback from professional Chef Instructors.
Modern technology has allowed us to access an education that was once the domain only of a privileged few. There’s no reason why an online curriculum shouldn’t benefit students of all ages.
Online students will also have someone in their corner, in the form of a Success Coach. These coaches may provide support and supplemental resources to help students excel in their programs. For older students who may be adjusting to the school environment for the first time in years, these helpers can be an invaluable source of support and guidance!
If You Always Do What You’ve Always Done, You Always Get What You’ve Always Gotten
Change can be hard. And it can get even harder as we get older. We become more set in our ways and may feel that we have more to lose.
But adulthood does not—and should not—equal stagnation. Adults who are brave enough to try something new often find that the rewards are well worth it. You are NOT too old to become a chef. With hard work and the right education, you have just as good a chance as anyone else of achieving your dreams.
Explore all of our culinary arts programs to see which ones are the best fit for you and your goals!
To read more about the path of adult culinary students, try these articles next:
- Why Older Students Should Consider Culinary School
- How to Become a Chef: The Complete Guide
- How Older Workers Can Change Careers and Enter the Culinary Industry
*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.