Reflections on Culinary School: Is it worth it?
I took a mini-break from my mini-series. Funny how that works! Maybe this is due to the fact that this is the hardest post to write of them all. Seriously–where do I even begin?
In my last installment, I talked all about working in the restaurant and how at a certain point during my time there, I began to realize that my heart wasn’t in it for the long haul. I can’t say that I was entirely surprised by this revelation (I never envisioned myself as a restaurant executive chef), but it definitely complicated things and forced me to evaluate and prioritize different elements of my life.
It would have been a whole lot easier (in many ways) if I had loved the kitchen and envisioned myself there forever. Sometimes, even to this day, I still wonder about it–but I definitely don’t have any regrets about my decision to leave.
I remember telling my chef (just before service one night) that I was quitting and giving my two week’s notice. I was terrified that she was going to literally kick me out–which is not all that uncommon in a restaurant kitchen–but luckily, she respected my decision…
I do distinctly remember her asking what job I was leaving for (to which I answered, a marketing communications position at a fine foods company)–and her giving me a very confused look.
Followed by who the heck goes to culinary school for a non-restaurant job? Uhhh. Me. I guess. I actually sort of expected that all along.
Cue even more confused looks.
In general, I think most people don’t quite understand the concept of attending culinary school and not working in a restaurant kitchen. It sounds like a contradiction to most people.
Heck, there were times when even I wondered if it made sense!
I’ve gotten many emails over the last few moths that ask me the big question. Was culinary school worth it? And to be honest, I always struggle with that question because to me, the answer is dependent on a number of factors.
Some people will go into school knowing exactly what they want to do, and others will not. Some people have to take out loans to pay for culinary school, and others do not.
Some people want to use their culinary degree to get a leg-up in the restaurant industry, and others want to use that degree to gain credibility and culinary knowledge that will serve them in an entirely different capacity (writing, consulting, private chef work, etc.).
Some people are attending culinary school right out of high school (I strongly advise against this), and others are attending school as career-changers.
All of these factors come into play.
I can honestly say that culinary school was worth it to me. Did I have to go to culinary school to get where I am today? Probably not–but it definitely helped.
Could I have skipped culinary school altogether and just gone to work as a line cook at a restaurant for a certain period of time (without attending culinary school)? Absolutely. You’ll learn skills in a restaurant that will never be touched on in school.
But I knew that learning ‘on the job’ was not the right choice for me. It would have taken me years in a restaurant kitchen to learn what I did in six months time at school. It also provided me with the knowledge and confidence to work in a pretty tough industry–without which I’m not sure I would have survived–and it has definitely shaped who I am today, provided me with amazing connections, and opened a lot of doors.
My biggest advice for anyone deciding on whether or not to attend culinary school is to truly think about what you will get out of it at the end of the day (and whether culinary school will help you get there) and to gain at least some experience in a professional kitchen prior to attending…so that you have a true understanding of what it will be like. If you still love it or if you still think it will be valuable experience, then decide to enroll in culinary school. And remember, the food industry is a pretty big world–and restaurant kitchens take up only a tiny bit of that space!
Thanks for reading along!
13 Comments on “Reflections on Culinary School: Is it worth it?”
Thank you for writing your Culinary School series. I’ve just finished reading the whole thing and thoroughly enjoyed it. Like you, I changed careers and it’s something I don’t regret doing at all.
I look forward to trawling through your blog further and tasting the delicious things you have posted!!
Very nice reading and thanks for sharing!
It totally makes sense to me that you don’t want to keep working in a restaurant but still consider it’s worth to go to a culinary school.
Attending a culinary school in Paris is always my dream. It’s super expensive and I won’t work in food industry after graduation, but the idea of going to live in a great city and learn what I love is very fascinating.
My ultimate goal is, find a job I love and have great hobby the same time. 🙂
Thanks for writing this Laura. I’ve been wanting to go to culinary school myself for quite some time but I know for a fact that I do not want to work in a restaurant kitchen at all. But I do want to have the skills and knowledge that go with it. So that alone would be my reason for going!
This post has settled quite a few questions for me! I’m done with my mass communication exams and awaiting results and for the longest time I wanted to enroll at a culinary school but there have been all kinds of parental pressure against my decision leaving me so confused as to what to do with life. This has sort of made some things clear for me and I can’t thank you enough for writing such an honest piece!!!! 🙂
Great post! I would love to go to culinary school, but have no interest in working in a kitchen 🙂 I just want to become a better cook and baker. Probably not in the budget right now, though!
I was so close to attending culinary school back in the day. Ultimately I chose not to go. I still look back and wonder how my life would be different if I would have gone. One thing’s for sure, I probably wouldn’t have ended up behind a bar. Anyway, really love these posts, Laura. Such great insight. Thanks for sharing!!
Thanks for all your insight, Laura. I have really enjoyed these posts about your experience with culinary school. : )
Hi, Laura! What an excellent post! I guess I have also wondered whether you are happy that you made the commitment to go to culinary school, although I sensed you were. I suppose you would have had some funny looks from people not understanding why you would want to go to culinary school if you didn’t want to cook in a restaurant. But I also know it has given you invaluable expertise and knowledge about cooking and the food world, a great avenue for your creativity, a chance to hone your photography skills, and, most important, fulfillment and joy! Brava!
Laura, I completely agree! Although I am not working in a restaurant now I will never regret my decision to attend culinary school. I use those skills EVERY DAY. I’m not willing to throw myself into the restaurant business at this time but I am sure happy to know I have the skills and knowledge to do so in the future if I ever need/want to! Plus as you said there are SO many other options than just working in a restaurant.
Thanks again for sharing, I miss you!
Thank YOU for writing this! I really appreciate the advice and how you told why you think it, not just “this is what I think.” Your honesty makes this a really special series and I definitely learned some things! Thanks for sharing, Laura!
Thank you so much Mary Frances! I am so, so glad it was helpful (even just a little bit)–really means a lot. Hope you have a great weekend!
Though I know I could never hack it in a professional kitchen, I really enjoyed reading your series. I’m glad to know it was all worth it to you in the end — and it sounds like you’re in a wonderful place now! Your advice sounds very practical for those considering culinary school, which is great. It’s the same with grad school and all higher education, really . . . will taking this step open doors? Will the expense make it worthwhile in the end — either financially or psychologically (or both, hopefully)? Makes sense to me!
very interesting. thanks for your honesty!