What to Look for in a Culinary School

Whether you know you want to pursue culinary school or you are still thinking about it, do your research. There are a number of renown culinary schools around the country. Chances are, though, that only one of these schools is the best fit for you. This article does not presume to know the school that is best for each culinary school hopeful. Even so, we can offer perspective on what to look for before you begin the application process.

Cost

Cost is a factor in every decision we make and for good reason. When considering the culinary industry, hopefuls should be aware that entry-level food service jobs are not often high-paying. For instance, the average annual pay is $30,015 for an Entry Level Line Cook in New York City. That rounds out to about $14.43 per hour. Meanwhile, culinary schools typically cost $40,000 or more.

In other words, it is important to measure how much student-loan debt you can handle. The good news for students is that many local community colleges offer American Culinary Federation-accredited programs. Accreditation ensures that these programs meet a quality standard. The schools also recognize that students do not need to go into debt for a culinary education.

Age of a School

Due to increased interest, more privately-run culinary schools materialized over the last decade. Make sure to do your due diligence, though. New does not always mean better. The important thing to note is that schools earn ACF accreditation over time. The ACF will only give its seal of approval once it sees that a school exemplified a consistent record of excellence. Older schools are also beneficial for networking. If students can network with a long-line of alumni, there is a greater possibility of job options. These alumni may even do the hiring, themselves.

Facilities

There are tremendous benefits in attending an older, established culinary school. Nonetheless, the state of its facilities is also important to note. Community colleges are generally older than private institutions. Still, community colleges possess a smaller budget. A newer school with a higher tuition can purchase updated equipment and install modern facilities. While these factors possess great curb appeal, keep in mind that they are not always the out-of-classroom reality. A recent graduate’s first job may be in an older kitchen. Therefore, it is best to measure all of your options before making a final choice.

Cooking with the Best

Whether you are looking to get into culinary school, already attending one, or previously graduated, you need fresh ingredients. In school, you will have fresh ingredients on hand, every day, just as a matter of course. When you are in your own kitchen, either at home or work, you need to source the best ingredients in order to make dishes like you like to make them. It can be pretty easy to get good ingredients if you live in Kansas or Colorado or California. It can be more difficult if you are in New York or New Jersey. The article doesn’t aim to predict the best spots to get good ingredients no matter where you live, but rather offer some online resources to help bring them right to your door.

What Do You Need?

First, you have to start off with what you need. If you are into fine cooking, here is a great ingredients list from FineCooking. It is pretty expansive and niche, but is a good place to make sure you aren’t forgetting anything. Then here is a nice piece by Food&Wine, though sorry about their lame attempt to get you to click through to more pages rather than just putting them all on one page. We could go forever in all directions depending on what you like to cook, but just remember to start off with what you need, then work down toward where to find it.

Fresh Seafood

If you live on the east coast and in particular the Northeast, you are going to have an easy time sourcing what you need practically year round. However, not all of us live there, so it’s important to be able to bring the coast to you.

There are too many excellent fisheries out there to name them all, but we have found an excellent resource (and our go to) in Quality Seafood Delivery. They not only list a lot of different sea-to-table vendors, but they also compare their prices. If you sign up for their newsletter, they will alert you when a catch is coming in or where stocks are low so you can snatch quality fish and shellfish before they are gone.

Grass Fed Beef

EverdayEasyEats does a nice roundup of their favorite options, and Root & Revel has a similar posts that covers a lot of the same ground. What this reveals is that the nationwide options are few but solid.

However, for this, we would recommend finding a local butcher. Last night we watched Diners, Drive-ins, and Dives and found out about il porcellino salumi in Denver. If you are in Denver, this is the place I would go for my meats. And wherever you are, this is the kind of place to be on the watch for.

Vegetables

Now you need some good vegetables. It is easy enough nearly anywhere except maybe NYC to grow your own herbs. This is a must. If you live somewhere that you can have a garden, then obviously have a garden. You cannot get more fresh than cutting your own lettuce minutes before eating a salad. However, in cases where neither is possible, Farmer’s Markets are your next best option.

We apologize again about the slideshow format, but CountryLiving has a good post on the best farmer’s markets around. This may not be all that helpful if you aren’t close to any of these, but it is helpful to read about how they are talking about each one. It will give you ideas on what to look for an dhow to judge whatever is closest to you. The key to any farmer’s market is to get there early.

Spices

We are certain there are tons of these, but our go-to has always been Savory Spice. Whether in one of their live stores or online, they not only have great pure spices but tons of other combinations for great cooking. They are a little weak in their pepper department, but truly a great all-around shop

Culinary School Internships: How to Leverage a Culinary Degree outside of the Kitchen

Many culinary students make the mistake of assuming that their classes will teach them everything they need to know to get a great job as soon as they finish their coursework. But a culinary degree resembles any other type of degree in one very important way-it must be supplemented with experience outside of the classroom to be tempting to potential employers. The best way to handle this is to take care of it while you’re still in school, through a job or internship in a kitchen. That way, once you have your degree, you can hit the ground running! 

Where to start 
If you’re relatively advanced in your culinary studies, you already know what kind of kitchen you want to be working in. Ask your Chef for advice on restaurants to approach for potential internships and jobs. She or he may have connections in just the right place, but you won’t know unless you ask. Don’t ignore other connections, either. Be sure you tell friends and neighbors that you’re in culinary school. Usually if they know someone in the industry, they won’t be afraid to pipe up, and you shouldn’t be afraid to get more information out of them. The best jobs are all about connections, and you should use yours to its fullest extent! 

What to look for 
If you’re just starting your work in culinary school, now is a good time to try out different types of restaurants to help you pick a concentration. If you’re really going to go for it, you should let the owners and chefs know of your intentions. If you want to devote yourself to one restaurant for the long run, tell them! Many places look for someone who is willing to make a commitment. But above all, remember this: This job is supposed to be a learning experience. You can learn a lot through observation, but you’ll learn a lot more if the chef is willing to show you the ropes. Make sure you’re securing a good on the job instructor! 

How to sell yourself 
If this is your first restaurant job, your resume is probably pretty short. But that doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer. Put past jobs on your resume, and be ready to tell your interviewer how they are pertinent. In what job did you learn to take instruction? What job taught you about what it means to make decisions? Don’t be afraid to flaunt your skills, and what you’ve learned in culinary school. But remember, you’re there to learn, not to show off. 

The Growing Fields of Catering and Prepared Food

As we all get busier, more and more people turn to catering and prepared food for their special events. This means that in your studies, you shouldn’t feel like you have to limit yourself to studying solely for a career in a restaurant. Growing numbers of newly graduated chefs are striking out on their own, turning to this field for an alternative culinary career. 

Benefits of choosing catering over traditional restaurant work 
While both career choices are fast paced (isn’t that why you chose culinary work?), catering has a different pace than working in a restaurant. A restaurant has fast hours, when people wait in line and the kitchen goes crazy. A catering business has fast days, when everything must be done at once and ready to go when the guests arrive. It involves coordinating all the dishes at one time-and usually with a smaller staff. People who open their own catering businesses often hire their own waiters, or serve the food themselves, so there’s a lot more multi-tasking on the part of the catering staff. And while this may sound quick, catering also involves a lot of downtime. Hours may be spent planning menus with clients, experimenting with new tools and mapping out a day. After all, few catering companies cover special events seven days a week! 

Negatives of making this career choice 
A catering business tends to be less steady than a restaurant. And if you’re starting at the ground level, it’s unlikely you’ll be needed every day. If you start up your own catering business directly out of culinary school, you’ll have to build your own reputation-and you won’t have a storefront to lure people in. You’ll rely on friends and connections for your business, which is guaranteed to be slow at times. And you’ll have to invest in a lot of your own cooking supplies, which can be expensive. 

What to do now 
If you’re in culinary school and are considering working in catering when you complete your degree, you should take the time now to find a job or internship with a catering company. Not only will this provide a prospect for future employment once you finish your coursework, but it will also give you a realistic, inside look at how the catering sector works.

A True Day in the Life of an American Culinary Student

Every culinary school has slightly different schedules, both in terms of the day-to-day schedule as well as how many months or years it takes to complete the entire program. It won’t be exactly like this student’s experience, but if you’re looking for a shorter but more intensive culinary school experience, this is the type of schedule you can expect.

5:45am- Wake-up. 

6:30am-Arrived and school and started reviewing for my Storeroom Operations final and practical. I was able to get in a solid 20 minutes of reviewing and headed into the dining room. The final took about 15 minutes and next I was on to the product identification practical. 

7:45am-The practical was a little tougher than the written test. We had 15 minutes to identify 92 fruits, vegetables, spices and herbs. In many cases it was required that we be specific (i.e., “pear” was not the correct answer, “bosc pear” was). 
Upon turning in our practical we had the option of earning four extra credit points by tasting or identifying something the Chef had selected. Our first option was to identify a beige, stringing looking something in a bag covered in Japanese writing. None of the students had enough confidence to select the identification option, which turned out to be shark fin. That left two tasting options, Dave’s Insanity Sauce or these little pickled fish that “Taste like salt, but the fins and scales get caught in your throat.” 
I opted for the Dave’s Insanity Sauce. Chef ran the toothpick in the hot sauce, and with a smile handed me the hot sauce. I coughed a few times and ran to find bread and milk to soothe the heat. It was worth the extra points. 

8:15am-I go shopping for storeroom foods. Fortunately, the requisitions we are filling today are for day 1 of the next class. Usually day 1 requisitions are smaller because of limited production. 

9:00am-Since it was the last day of Storeroom Operations, we began to deep clean the room. 

11:15am-Lunch runs from 11:15am to 12:15pm and is served by other students. At 12:05pm we were still waiting for our salads, which is the second course. The student waiter brought us meat knives and then realized he had never served us salads after the soup. He decided to go ahead and skip the salad and on to the entrée we went. I received my lamb rack and it looked as if it were accidentally dropped on the grill. It was terribly undercooked. Definitely the worst lunch I’ve ever had. 

1:00pm-I had the opportunity to join a Chef as he prepared for a photo shoot with the Rocky Mountain News. The Chef was going to be making Braciola and meatballs. After we were done with the prep and mise en place (the mood of the plate) for the shoot, I had to go to my afternoon class. The Rocky Mountain News didn’t arrive until after I left so unfortunately I didn’t get a chance to see any of the cooking, photography or writing. 

2:00pm-Went to my Menu Planning and Cost Control class upset that I was missing the photo shoot. 

4:00pm-Left class in a rush to get to a job interview. Went to a restaurant downtown that’s about to open and interviewed for a line cook spot. The interview went well enough that I was asked to come back in for a 2nd interview Wednesday. 

6:00pm-Started my storeroom paper that’s due tomorrow. 

7:30pm-Went and played a little basketball to break up my storeroom paper. 

9:00pm-Recovered from playing basketball and got back on my paper. 

10:30pm-Ironed my uniform and organized my stuff together for the next morning. 

11:00pm-Light’s out.