What to Expect
Celebrity chefs and changing ideas about the way people look at food preparation
are generating a huge interest in culinary programs.
In addition to sizzling employment opportunities, working in a kitchen
has become fashionable since the rise of the celebrity chef. Shows like
Iron Chef made stars of some chefs. You can "kick it up a notch" by going
to culinary school, instead of just watching Emeril Lagasse on TV.
Allyson Merritt has always dreamed of being responsible for a cute little
bakery cafe on the corner. Or maybe the hidden gem, deep in the heart of the
city that only the locals know about.
She's followed her dream to The Culinary Institute of America. She is taking
her bachelor's degree in baking and pastry arts management.
"Healthy is trendy!" says Merritt. She is preparing for a future with organic
and vegan products. Learning from highly skilled professors has been a
great experience for her.
"My Pastry Techniques teacher is the man who first introduced creme brulee
to the United States -- now the number one dessert," she says. "How many people
can honestly say they learned from someone with these kind of credentials?"
A variety of instructors is also important for culinary student Aly Sunderji.
He attends a college which offers a 12-month professional cooking certificate.
About 75 percent of the class time is hands-on practical training.
"I like how we change instructors every four weeks, and get to learn new
techniques from each of our instructors," he says. "My main difficulties were
knife skills and learning the classic French terms for dishes."
Merritt usually has one or two classes at a time during her 38-month bachelor's
degree program. Each class is six or seven hours long. This lightens the
homework load, but she still spends at least an hour studying every night.
"Any student thinking about coming to this school, or even just entering
the industry, should be prepared for how demanding it is. It's serious,
it's intense, it's fast-paced. We don't get holidays off, we work weekends,
we're tired and we drink a lot of coffee. That's the nature of the business,"
Since Sunderji's program is mostly hands-on work in class, homework is
not very demanding. "We don't really need to study, we just need to look over
our notes and refresh our minds a few days prior to our exams," he admits.
Culinary students may need to buy learning guides, a cooking textbook,
uniforms and knives. There may also be smaller items, like a monthly
cookbook and a name tag.
Some programs include the cost of textbooks, equipment and uniforms in
How to Prepare
Sunderji suggests taking food studies in high school. You might also look
into courses offered in your community, such as cake decoration, creative
garnishes, or chocolate and sugar workshops.
Some high schools offer a culinary arts program through a technical school.
If you can gain experience while in high school, you'll be ahead when you
reach culinary school, as Merritt found out. "It was an amazing opportunity
for me, and I really learned a lot at tech school," she says.
Working in the industry for a year is another great way to find out
if you want to go to culinary school, she adds.
High school math, science and English will come in handy for future culinary
students. "Trust me, you'll need to pull a lot of that back out eventually,"