Reflections on Culinary School: Part II
Read more about this mini blog post series here and here!
The mini series continues! After you all so graciously allowed me to ramble on and on last week, I’m back to ramble on a little bit more. Since I already explained how I came to the decision to go to culinary school, today I’m going to share a little bit more about my actual experience in school.
Did I enjoy it? What was it like? All of those nitty gritty details.
To give you a little bit of background, I came to the final decision to go to culinary school back in early fall of 2011 and enrolled in January 2012. After researching schools all over the country (California, New York City, you name it), I visited a smaller, top-ranked culinary school named L’Academie de Cuisine (LADC), which is located in the suburbs of Washington, DC.
I was instantly attracted to its small class sizes, intimate learning environment, and ‘no frills/real world’ attitude. They didn’t sugar-coat or glamorize the restaurant industry (as many of the other schools I visited appeared to do), and their curriculum was menu-oriented, as opposed to a standard block format. They said it like it was.
We made three to five-course meals every single day (including a dessert course). You never had a chance to get rusty at any one skill–for the most part–because you were doing so many different things every.single.day. The entire program was six months long, followed by a required six-month paid internship at a fine-dining restaurant.
When I headed to school on that first day, I had ridiculously huge butterflies in my stomach. I was excited and terrified all at the same time. I was worried I would crack under the pressure. I suddenly doubted my ability to do even the most basic kitchen tasks. It sounds ridiculous, but the environment was intimidating.
Not to mention, there are a lot of stories about culinary school out there–stories about students sabotaging your food when you’re looking the other direction, you name it–and that was weighing on my mind as well.
Was I going to like my classmates? Was I going to stick out like a sore thumb? Were they all restaurant line cook veterans? I had no idea.
The first day of school, I cut myself twice and had to walk around donning two finger condoms for the rest of the day (mortifying, but pretty hilarious in hindsight).
I questioned my ability to make it through the program almost every day for the first month or so (despite being numerically at the top of my class). Just when I was beginning to get comfortable, our daily menus would increase dramatically, and we would be expected to make twice the quantity of food in the same amount of time.
It got particularly intense in the last three months, as we focused increasingly on plating and more intricate dishes (like the one below). Every little detail was scrutinized. There was always something.
And as close and tight as my fellow classmates and I became, as time went on we also became increasingly competitive with one another. Not in a ‘sabotage your classmate’s dish’ kind of way (I never encountered anything like that! We were all incredibly close!), but in a ‘we all want to be the student to beat’ kind of way.
It was just the nature of the beast.
I think sometimes there is a misconception that culinary school is all fun. You get to learn how to cook and make amazing dishes all day long! How could it not be?
Well, it is not. Don’t get me wrong! It is an amazing, amazing experience. I made incredibly close friendships, and I would choose to do it all over again. And it was very, very fun. But…it is not all fun.
It is hard, manual labor. Most of the time you are dripping with sweat, and don’t even feel like eating or trying the meal that you just labored over meticulously. It is not like cooking at home, and it is very, very fast paced. It was the hardest (both mentally and physically) experience of my life.
You’ll wake up at 5 am, trim chicken fat from bones (for stock), clean out the gunk from the stock pots, fight your classmates over the best pots, take out the trash, mop and scrub the floors at least once a day, and wipe down every last gas burner range. And more. I genuinely believe that these not-so-fun elements of the experience are just as important as the ‘fun’ parts, particularly if you want a realistic expectation of what it will be like to work in a restaurant kitchen. You can’t have one without the other.
I truly believe that a huge element (if not, the biggest element!) of culinary school is simply learning how to work in a restaurant or production kitchen. How to move, how to be efficient, how to use equipment, how to behave…you name it!
I can honestly say that my biggest gripe about culinary school was that I wished it had focused more on the ‘whys’ of cooking–rather than simply the ‘hows’. We certainly touched on these subjects in depth on occasion, but the primary focus was cooking and how to learn how to cook ‘on the line.’ I think this will change over the years as people seek alternative jobs in the industry, but for now, that seems to be the focus.
With that said, despite the fact that it was one of the hardest experiences of my life, it was also one of the most positive experiences of my life as well! I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Do I think culinary school is worth it? Well, that’s a question for another day! Stay tuned…
24 Comments on “Reflections on Culinary School: Part II”
It is so hard. So glad you highlight that. I can’t stand it when people act like: “Pastry school? Aww…I’ve always wanted to do that; it must be so fun.”
Yep! People definitely have that opinion! Thanks so much Bee!
I have never thought about culinary school, but I love hearing your thoughts. Seriously, what and amazing post. I am pretty sure I could never do culinary school because I hate school of any kind, but learning how to work quickly and not slow like a turtle would be amazing!
I’m sure you don’t act like a turtle in the kitchen! Hahaha! But yep, it is definitely super fast-paced. Occasionally I ran/jogged to get my equipment, especially during practicals. I’m pretty sure you would like this kind of school though! 🙂
So interesting to get this insight … it sounds crazy! I bet you never felt like cooking yourself any dinner when you got home.
I love the picture of the fish on potatoes (4th piccy down). It looks a bit like the Flintstone’s car!
Haha! Yes, I definitely barely felt like cooking when I was working in the restaurant. I missed it, but I just didn’t have the energy most of the time (cooking overload).
Also, cracking up over your Flintstone’s reference! Never thought about that 😉
Look at you in your fancy getup, I love it! I always look forward to these posts for a behind the scenes look, excited for the next.
Hahaha! Yeah, isn’t the hat the best part? (NOT!)
I am loving these posts!! I’m currently in a very similar situation to you when you were deciding whether to make the leap– I am just on the brink of deciding whether to apply to LADC (taking extended courses there right now), so it’s really great to read about your experiences. Can’t wait for the next post1
Oh my gosh! I’m so glad that you found my blog–and that you commented. It’s a hard decision, but at the end of the day, you have to follow your heart. It’s a great idea to take classes before you jump into the professional class though. Feel free to send me any email anytime!
Love hearing this “behind the kitchen doors” perspective, and I can only imagine how physically demanding working on the line all day would be. Honestly, I’ve never considered that aspect of it — being on your feet all day, sweating profusely, rarely getting to sit or take a break. Whoa.
It is incredibly physically demanding–I think people would be shocked if they experienced a day in the life of a line cook! They would have so much more appreciation for people who work in restaurants!! Thanks Meg!
Beautifully written Laura. It was definitely a lot of hard work but having class mates like you made it tolerable. I miss our little group. Looking forward to the next installment.
I miss you!!
You always leave me hanging for more information….
It’s really interesting to hear your experience! I am a late-thirties stay home mom and I have often thought of culinary school as something to do when my kids are grown. Thanks for sharing this. : )
You should definitely consider it!!! It’s never too late–its intense, but I loved it.
Nice pics. You got me thinking… I don’t think I’m ready for culinary school!
It definitely is something to think long and hard about! 🙂
So glad to hear you say how much work it is! And that it is NOTHING like cooking at home. You’re so brave! 🙂
Yes, NOTHING like cooking at home!! I’m sure you are very familiar with that feeling now that you are a private chef!
I’ve never considered culinary school as I hardly ever even cook at home but I really enjoyed reading this post. The honest insights are so much more interesting than the ones that gloss over the bad and make everything sound perfect. Although I’m glad you didn’t come across anyone who sabotaged your food 🙂 xxx
La Lingua : Food, Life, Love, Travel, Friends, Italy
I am thrilled that I never came across anyone that sabotaged my food either—I’m not sure if I would have lasted if that was the type of environment i was in for six months! 😉 So glad that you’re enjoying these posts!! Really means a lot.