How Culinary School Students Can Foster a Sense of Belonging

Discover how students can find community and an invaluable sense of belonging in culinary school.

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November 14, 2023 8 min read

Ever encountered Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the vivid pyramid illustrating our innate yearning for “love and belonging”? This yearning tier, described as a fundamental need, most likely resonates with all of us. It’s that burning desire to be part of something greater than ourselves—to be truly seen, heard, and understood on a deep level.

Now, for the sake of this article, let’s consider students—specifically culinary students. How can culinary students foster a sense of belonging that can enrich their educational experience, and ultimately, their success in both classroom and career? If your curiosity is piqued, let’s jump in!

Sense of Belonging: A Key Ingredient for Student Well-Being

A “sense of belonging” can be described as a feeling of acceptance, typically within a group dynamic. This might mean connecting deeply with a group of coworkers, an athletic team, or a close-knit peer community.

Michel Escoffier, the great-grandson of Chef Auguste Escoffier, describes the distinct sense of ‘being part of a family’ when you attend Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts.
For students in particular, it’s quite common to feel ‘siloed’ along the educational path, from starting that first assignment to crossing the graduation stage. But finding camaraderie can make the journey a little less lonesome. For instance, this 2020 study demonstrated a strong link between a sense of belonging and overall well-being, enhancing students’ contentment while in school, which is evident in the real-life story of Les Misfits d’Escoffier.

Les Misfits d’Escoffier: A Success Story

The genesis of this group of Escoffier students traces back to the year 2020, a tumultuous time marked by the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was during this period that Luis Rodriguez, an online student at Escoffier (now a proud graduate), reached out to a few classmates with a simple yet profound proposition: convene in the virtual realm to tackle assignment obstacles and engage in collaborative brainstorming sessions.

Rodriguez and a few others met weekly over Zoom, then invited a few more members to join, along with Chef Instructor Leigh Copeland, who could address any academic questions in the virtual room. This small group eventually grew to eight members from all around the country (Seattle, Philadelphia, New Orleans, etc.).

Luis planted a seed and witnessed it blossom, as select students from all walks of life, with varying culinary interests, started to join. In a matter of no time, Luis realized he needed to make this small group official and eventually coined the name ‘Les Misfits d’Escoffier’ —inspired by Les Disciples d’ Escoffier, a premier gastronomic society comprising members who promise to “transmit, serve, and honor the Cuisine, its culture and its continuous evolution.” Luis simply swapped out ‘disciples’ for ‘misfits.’ Why you might ask? Well, he knew members of this special group came to the table from different cultures and backgrounds, but despite their differences, they quickly united over their shared Escoffier experience and the universal ‘love language’ of delectable food.

With weekly virtual meetings and check-ins, deep-seated friendships began to form. Fast forward to today—each member of the group considers each other “family.” Plus, they all graduated with Honors.

Escoffier students celebrate together at the Boulder Campus graduation

Students celebrating at Escoffier’s Boulder graduation, forging invaluable connections.

“I could have gone through school alone,” Member Travis Bihm said. “But still, there’s something about a sense of community—understanding the struggles we all share. We found each other due to our spirits. I feel like all of our spirits were attracted to each other. And we just formed a beautiful group of people from all shades, all backgrounds. And we became family. And I think that’s the key to survival in any atmosphere that you go into.”*

Strategies to Foster Belonging in Culinary School

Through this organic process of building genuine relationships, you can foster a profound sense of belonging, which can lead to remarkable outcomes. So how can students in culinary school start to foster a keen sense of belonging? Here are some strategies you might consider!

A small group of students and faculty smiling during graduation at Escoffier’s Boulder campus.

A sense of belonging can directly affect student contentment and overall well-being!

Take Initiative: Create Your Own Tribe

Chances are, as a culinary student at Escoffier, your Chef Instructors will encourage you to interact with your peers during class, whether that’s bouncing innovative ideas off each other or sharing your concept behind a dish you created. This can be an opportune time to take the initiative to start forming a small tribe of peers, just Luis Rodriguez did.

Building that camaraderie of course takes time, but taking small baby steps can be a great place to begin! For instance, Les Misfits’ communication began with a simple group text and occasional Facetime call—not just to chat about assignments but to share more personal life updates. Eventually, that weekly back-and-forth cadence formed a rock-solid foundation for unbreakable friendships. Some members are so close now, that they even make travel plans to visit one another across the U.S.

“When students feel a sense of belonging, they show up. They come to class. When they’re in class, they’re engaged. Engagement is demonstrated through the raising of the hand, wanting to be a part of the conversation, and wanting to be part of the illustration or demonstration in class. They are ready and willing to meet you outside of class to ask questions.”
Dr. Terrel Strayhorn
Dr. Terrel Strayhorn
President/CEO of Do Good Work Educational Consulting Group

Join a School-Facilitated Club

If starting a small peer group isn’t in the cards, most schools may offer clubs or groups that can foster a sense of community. For instance, at Escoffier, students can participate in various online and in-person clubs where students can connect and find belonging through shared interests.

Current Peer Groups at Escoffier

Peer groups are great ways to get to know your fellow students and grow as a culinary artist. Some of the groups currently active at Escoffier include:

  • Backyard Kitchen
  • Awesome Food Creations
  • Authentic Jamaican Food
  • Barbeque Chicken
  • Atlanta Area Southern Cuisine

Participate in Events

Discovering a sense of community can take many forms, and one avenue is through active participation in school events, where you can forge meaningful connections with your fellow peers. Take, for example, students enrolled at Austin, TX, or Boulder, CO campuses. They have the opportunity to immerse themselves in engaging in-person gatherings organized by the school, such as the Three Sisters Farm Tour and Dining Experience.

Led by chefs, these events offer a unique chance to delve into sustainable and regenerative farming practices, all while getting hands-on experience in preparing a family-style dinner. And the Farm To Table Experiences offered by Escoffier involve extracurricular trips to destinations around the country where students can discover even more about sustainable practices. And the best part? These experiences are also available to online students! In these interactive atmospheres, students can not only cultivate new friendships within the Escoffier community but also have the chance to explore innovative educational concepts, all converging into an immersive experience.

Smiling students and faculty at an Escoffier event located at a farm.

Attending school events can be a great environment for networking, building, and making friends!

Campus students may also have the opportunity to volunteer at other events in partnership with Escoffier! For example, in previous years, Boulder students participated in the Boulder International Film Festival— a four-day extravaganza that celebrates cinema, art, and award-winning local chefs. Students in Austin have also worked with Luck Presents, famously known for the Luck Reunion, held in March. Needless to say, these are prime opportunities for students to network, not just with Chef Instructors and fellow peers, but also with community leaders and local businesses.

Find Your Community in Culinary School

Whether you choose to start your own small group or attend an on-campus event, discovering your community in culinary school—that sense of belonging—has the potential to enrich your educational journey! You may even meet lifelong friends along the way.

If you’re eager to delve deeper into how Escoffier can help you turn your career dream into a reality, take that next exciting step and contact us today. Your culinary adventure awaits, and a community of like-minded individuals may be ready to welcome you with open arms.


*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.
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