July 12, 2021

As an adult, switching careers can feel like a risky move. You may have financial and personal obligations that a younger person doesn’t, like children, a mortgage, medical bills, or student loan debt from a previous degree.

But you also have life experience, wisdom, and reliability. And these traits can make older workers an attractive hire for an industry like hospitality with historically high turnover.

Whether you’re switching from one career to another, or starting your first career now that kids are getting older, here’s how you can successfully enter the culinary industry.

Start With Your Goal

If you’re considering a new career, chances are you have an end goal in mind. This clarity can be a huge advantage to you as an older worker! Some young people jump into a new venture without knowing exactly where they want to end up. With a clear objective, you can chart a path to get there.

Think about the amount of time it will take for you to realistically reach your goal. Some have a very low barrier to entry, like a food blog that you could start today. But if you hope to become an executive chef, it could take several years to reach that level.

Portrait of chef standing with hands behind back

That doesn’t mean it’s a bad career goal for an older worker! It’s simply a factor to take into account as you make your plans for the future. Executive Chef Lance McWhorter, for example, began his culinary career in his 30s after he left the military. He enrolled at Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts at age 39, and now in his 40s he’s winning competitions and owns his own successful restaurant!

When you know what your goal is, you can design a path to get there. And that path will usually include education and experience.

Consider Online Culinary School

Getting a culinary education is a great way for older people to start a career in food and cooking. But dropping everything to attend school for six hours a day may not be an option for you, like it could be if you were 18 or 20.

Instead of going the traditional on-campus route, older students may find themselves more comfortable and at ease in online culinary school. Here’s why it’s a great choice for older students.

Happy older woman in apron preparing breakfast, crossed hands

Online Education is Flexible

With an online program, you can study from your own kitchen, in your own time, as long as you meet program deadlines. This flexible model has opened culinary school up to groups that could never have attended an on-campus school, like busy parents, working professionals, and active-duty military and veterans.

We know that life can just get busier as we get older, and that’s why online culinary school is designed to fit into the pockets of time in your schedule. Rhonda Adkins attended Escoffier’s online program in her early 50s while working full-time, running her blog, and raising six children!

And if you’re having trouble finding balance, each online student is assigned a Success Coach. This guide could help you meet these challenges and find solutions that keep you focused on completing your education.

Rhonda Adkins, Food Photographer & Online Culinary Arts graduate“I absolutely loved going through Escoffier. It gave me the opportunity to do something that I’ve really wanted to do. When you have a life and a job, and you just can’t quit and go off to a traditional school – especially at my age. So I loved having the opportunity. It was such a good experience for me.” Rhonda Adkins, Escoffier Online Graduate and Food Photographer

Online Education is More Private

Some older students have concerns about learning new skills next to younger students. A 20-year-old is two years out of high school, so they’re more “in the habit” of going to school. But a 45-year-old could be 27 years out of school. It may take them some time to get back into the swing of things.

By attending school at home, these older students can take their time. They can reread instructions to make sure they understand, refer back to a video for clarification, or check in with their Chef Instructors if they need help. Taking this extra time—away from the eyes of younger students—can make you feel more comfortable and help you to excel in your assignments.

Lance McWhorter, Food Network “Chopped” contestant, Executive Chef & Owner of Culture ETX, and Escoffier Online Culinary Arts graduate“I couldn’t have [gone to culinary school] if it wasn’t online…I’m already winning contests and built my own restaurant. I kind of fast tracked myself. And I really feel like Escoffier was a huge part of that.”
Lance McWhorter, Escoffier Online Graduate; Executive Chef/Owner, Culture ETX; Food Network’s “Chopped” Contestant

Take the Leap—Get Some Experience!

In some ways, attending school is the easy part. There’s a curriculum to follow and clear assignments to complete.

But when it’s time to really start that career, older workers can feel a bit of trepidation. As we get older, we can become more set in our ways and more risk averse. It will take a little courage to get your first job in the culinary industry!

Escoffier students have help getting over that hump. All students must get an in-person culinary externship in order to complete their programs. These are real jobs in the real world. And you’ll have Escoffier’s Career Center backing you up with resume and interview help along the way. This means every student who finishes their program will have at least one position to put on their resumes. And once you’ve made that first step, the next step will be easier.

Chef Freida Nicole Davenport of Freida’s Sweets and Meats got years of experience before she attended school as an older student. Now she uses her education and experience to help recent graduates in their first jobs out of culinary school.

Chef Freida Nicole Davenport“You look at these young kids, and you go, ‘Wow, you get all this time and this future ahead of you. You’re young, and you have youthful energy.’ And you think ‘I don’t have that energy I had when I was younger, but maybe I can pass [my knowledge] down. I have a lot of young chefs that come to work for me that are out of culinary school.”
Freida Nicole Davenport; Escoffier Graduate; Owner, Freida’s Sweets & Meats Food Truck; Food Network “Chopped Grill Masters” & TLC “BBQ Pitmasters” Contestant

Give It a Try Before You Commit

Remember—you don’t have to go full-tilt immediately. Before you quit your job, enroll in school, or start working full-time in the industry to give it a try on a smaller scale.

Maybe you could take a week or two of vacation and set up a short-term apprenticeship with someone who does what you hope to do. Find out what it’s really like, and see if it’s a good fit. Or look for a part-time, entry-level position just a few hours per week. You can do this before you even enroll in culinary school.

This is a measured approach that will help you to narrow down your goals and feel more confident that this career change is the right step for you.

Two male cooks looking at a receipt order in a commercial kitchen

Keep Dreaming and Keep Learning

Just the fact that you’re considering a new culinary career as an older worker is cause for celebration. It means you’re still dreaming and setting new goals for yourself.

We all have different paths to walk in life. Your path may not have started on the road to a culinary career, but it’s headed that way now. And with a culinary education at Escoffier, we can help you find your next steps.

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