People considering a culinary degree or diploma are often asked: “Why bother going to culinary school? Can’t you just learn on the job?”
And it’s true! Just like an actor doesn’t have to take acting classes, and a writer doesn’t have to study journalism to achieve success, a career in the food industry doesn’t require a formal culinary education.
But by spending a brief time focusing on education, students can reap a host of benefits that the “work your way up” approach doesn’t offer. Plus, completing a culinary program may help graduates to achieve their goals more quickly.
Here we’ll explore the value of culinary degrees or diplomas, and why many students have found them so important to their long-term success.
The Education Advantage
Some say that culinary school is unnecessary, because cooks can learn “on the job.” And while there are certain lessons that are best taught in a professional kitchen — like how to work around others on a crowded line, or how to manage your time during service — there are unique benefits to the classroom setting that can’t be replicated in a working kitchen.
Here are some ways students may enjoy the culinary school advantage.
Learning is Your Job
In a professional kitchen, your job is to get those potatoes peeled, or that hollandaise prepped for service. And the executive chef’s job is to get the food out the door to serve hungry customers.
As long as you can complete the tasks assigned to you, your supervisors may not have the time or incentive to help you expand your culinary skills. And even if you’ve found a great chef mentor, you still have to complete your assigned tasks before you can focus on learning.
A culinary student’s job, on the other hand, is to learn as much as possible. And your Chef Instructor’s job is to teach you. Everyone is working toward the same goal — providing students with the knowledge and tools they’ll need to be successful.
This environment lets students ask questions, make mistakes, and practice until perfect, without holding up service or wasting a restaurant’s product. That’s what school is all about!
Understand Why, Not Just How
If you want to be creative in the kitchen, you need to understand why certain techniques give you the desired result.
Why do savory dishes benefit from a hint of acidity? Why do we add eggs to a cake? Without the underlying understanding of these basic culinary principles, you may find yourself unable to make substitutions and alterations, hindering your creativity.
In culinary school, Chef Instructors are available to explain the science behind these techniques, which will become tools in your experimental toolbox.
Travel the Culinary World
A major drawback of the “learn on the job” method is the limited scope of what you may learn.
A restaurant or professional kitchen will have a limited number of menu items, often within one specific type of cuisine. Cooks will make those same recipes over and over. And while they may gain great expertise in that one culinary style, they won’t have the opportunity to learn different world cuisines.
But in culinary school, students will have the opportunity to explore a wider variety of food styles. Escoffier’s Culinary Arts programs include courses on world or regional cuisines, exposing students to culinary traditions from around the globe.
Access to Great Chefs
Aspiring culinarians in large cities may have access to a wide variety of chefs from whom they can learn. But in a rural area or smaller city, there will be fewer chefs available to act as mentors.
In culinary school, students have the opportunity to receive instruction from successful, passionate Chef Instructors. And with online degree and diploma programs, you can get that access without having to move away from home.
“Escoffier is an accessible education, in the sense that if you live anywhere in the world, you can have access to it. Escoffier is also modeled in a way that a student can work in the industry, full time, perhaps have multiple jobs, have a family, and still pursue their education.”
Jess Stanfill, Escoffier Success Coach
Learn Where Your Food Comes From
Some culinary degree and diploma programs get students out of the kitchen and onto the farm!
Escoffier’s Farm to Table® Experience teaches Culinary Arts students about farming, production, and the advantages of buying local.
On-campus students will spend one day per week on a working farm or food procurement facility. They may get an informational tour, or they may be able to dig in and get their hands dirty (literally).
Online students will have the chance to study the relationship between the chef and the food producer. They may also get the chance to attend weekend workshops, depending on location and availability.
Give Your Career a Boost
Culinary school graduates are not chefs. That’s a title they still must earn.
But a culinary degree or diploma on your resume may provide hiring chefs or supervisors with proof that you take your career seriously. And that could be the difference between winning the interview or being passed over for a more experienced candidate.
In any career, there is an element of learning on the job and working your way up. Hiring chefs know that new cooks will have a lot to learn.
So put yourself in their shoes. You see two resumes with identical work experience. Each candidate has held one position in a professional kitchen as a prep cook. But one went to culinary school, and the other didn’t. Which candidate looks more appealing?
“I think that students that go to culinary school have an advantage over those that don’t. The students or the cooks that I’ve hired that went to culinary school, I didn’t have to teach them how to brunoise cut a carrot. They knew how to do it.”
Chef John Hummel, Culinary Arts Chef Instructor at Escoffier’s Austin campus
Chefs are busy people, so the greater baseline knowledge a candidate brings to the table, the better!
Prove You’re Invested
For some, working in a restaurant is just a job, rather than a career. That’s why the industry as a whole has such high turnover — nearly 75% in 2018.
Turnover is time-consuming and expensive. It can cost thousands to hire and train a new cook or chef. So executive chefs are looking for employees that will be in it for the long haul.
“As employers look to hire students, the most attractive thing about students is they’re committed to the industry. This is not just a part-time job — they’re trying to commit to a lifestyle, to a career. As employers look at our students, they understand that this is someone who is going to build a career in culinary arts.”
Patricia Souza, VP of Career Services at Escoffier
Culinary school graduates appear as safer, long-term hires. By earning their culinary degree or diploma, graduates prove that they have invested their own time and money into the profession. It shows that the candidate sees a kitchen as more than just a place to work for a few months.
Keep Up in the Kitchen
Professional kitchens are fast-paced and can be dangerous, with hot pans and sharp knives around every corner. This can be a disorienting environment for entry-level staff with no kitchen experience.
But if you’ve attended culinary school, you’ll be more familiar with both the environment and terminology of the kitchen.
Escoffier graduates also enjoy the benefit of their industry externships. All degree and diploma programs require students to complete an externship in a professional kitchen. This gives them the chance to test their skills, make new connections, and get their first experience of the chef’s world!
Bridge the Knowledge Gap
Not everyone who attends culinary school has the goal of working in a kitchen. An aspiring food writer with a journalism degree, for example, may be a wonderful wordsmith. But if they don’t have the food knowledge to back up their writing, it may be difficult for them to find work in the industry.
This is the value of specialized education. It bridges the gap between your technical skills and the subject you want to work with — food.
“Because of my experience at Escoffier, I feel like I can work a lot better with chefs…I guess because I understand the mind of a chef, and I get what they’re doing. And I think they have a little more respect for me when they know that I know where they’re coming from. Escoffier really helped with understanding all the steps that go into a final product.”Rhonda Adkins, Escoffier Online Graduate and Food Photographer
Build Your Network
A robust network of cooks and chefs can prove invaluable during a culinary career.
When a chef has a position to fill, what is the first thing they’ll do? They’ll think about their network and who they know who could fill the position. Then, they’ll reach out to their industry connections to see if they know a good candidate.
Some chefs won’t ever post jobs on local job boards. They’ll fill openings by word-of-mouth alone. That’s why a network is so important — it may open the door for positions and opportunities that you might not hear of otherwise.
Networking with Fellow Students
The successful executive chefs of tomorrow are often the culinary school students of today. School gives you the chance to bond with fellow students who are passionate about food and cooking.
At Escoffier, the networking opportunity doesn’t end when you graduate. All graduates get lifetime access to the Escoffier Alumni Association. In this online community, grads can connect with other former students, access job postings, and gather with like-minded graduates in specialized groups.
“Just talk to everybody,” says Escoffier Chef Instructor Emily Maddy. “Don’t put any sort of guard up. Everyone’s different. Just keep it professional and talk about food.”
If anyone knows the value of a professional network, it’s Emily. She first learned about the opportunity to become an Escoffier Chef Instructor through a friend and former co-worker!
Networking with Chef Instructors
Escoffier’s Chef Instructors are invested in the success of their students. With many years in the industry and a wealth of knowledge to share, these experts can be invaluable resources to culinary school students.
Some students establish long-term mentorships with Chef Instructors. And they can reach out to them throughout their careers for tips and advice.
Austin campus Chef Instructor John Hummel often shares his phone number with his students so he can answer questions. He tells them, “If I can do anything for you going forward, do not hesitate. Job recommendations, advice — do not hesitate. And several have taken me up on that.”
Industry Networking Opportunities
Culinary school provides networking opportunities outside the four walls of the classroom.
Students at Escoffier’s Austin or Boulder campuses may have the chance to participate in food festivals or culinary competitions as student volunteers. This will give them the opportunity to work with great local chefs and build their networks.
And all students must complete their industry externships, where they can connect with a whole kitchen of working culinary professionals. Online students will complete their externships near where they live, making it a convenient way to meet cooks and chefs. They may also be able to connect with local food events in their areas.
Most cooks and chefs are on their own when looking for career opportunities. But Escoffier graduates get even more value out of their culinary education with lifetime job placement assistance.
Our Career Services staff offers resume writing help, interview coaching, and job leads for students based on their career goals.
Escoffier also works with employer partners like Disney, Hyatt Hotels, and The Ritz Carlton, which may lead to job placement opportunities for graduates.
The Essential Culinary School Planner & Checklist
The Essential Culinary School Planner & Checklist
Thinking about culinary school? Get the workbook!
We’ve compiled a checklist of all of the essential questions into one handy workbook: Career options, academic plans, financing your education, and more.
How Committed Are You?
A culinary diploma or degree does more than provide cooking knowledge. It shows that the graduate is serious about a career in Culinary Arts, Pastry Arts, or Food & Beverage Operations. It tells hiring chefs that you’re willing to prioritize your culinary future — because you’ve already invested in your education.
And it lets you start building a network that may lead to employment opportunities in the future. That network could also be a source of hiring opportunities, if you become an executive chef yourself!
Learn more about Escoffier’s degree and diploma programs, and see if a culinary education is right for you.
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