Many of the country's top chefs became successful without a cooking degree, but most agree that earning a culinary degree is the best way to kick off a stellar cooking career. So, though you may be a natural-born chef, you could probably benefit from a little fine-tuning. Attending cooking school gives you the opportunity to gain an immense amount of information in a concentrated period of time, and the diploma you earn can help open doors.
Deciding to attend culinary arts school is obviously a personal decision and where you choose to attend is dependent on several factors, most of which have everything to do with your unique situation. How long you want to be in school, how much you can afford to pay, and whether or not you want to specialize in a specific area are all things to consider when choosing a culinary school.
Contact culinary schools you're interested in to get information
As with any important decision, you need to start by gathering information, and the best way to do that is by contacting cooking schools directly, either in person or over the phone. If you're not sure about which schools to look into, you may want to consider asking chefs in your area about any culinary schools they recommend and then use the Internet to explore these schools further before you contact them.
If you request written information, make sure you read everything thoroughly before you call or make a visit. (You may find some of your questions are already answered in the school's marketing materials.) When you're ready to explore a particular culinary school more in-depth, some of the topics you inquire about should include:
- Externship programs or international study programs (Are they offered or required?)
- Availability of job placement assistance upon graduation
- Demographics of the student body (local, national, or international?)
- Cost, program length, and program requirements
- Financial aid
- Certifications and diplomas available
- Program focus (haute cuisine, vegetarian, or a little bit of everything)
Applying to culinary arts school
If you've chosen to apply to a competitive cooking school, getting in can be difficult. Less competitive schools may only require an application and a fee, but top culinary schools can't — and won't — accept just anyone who applies.
You may be required to submit not only the application and fee, but also high school and college transcripts, and letters of reference from professors and/or employers. You may need to detail aspects of your history, such as attendance at culinary seminars or conferences, literature you may have read, and any research you may have done on the food service industry. Additionally, you may need to include a personal statement on why you want to pursue a culinary career. Some cooking schools will also require that you have prior work experience as a condition of admission.
Working in the food service industry complements your education
If you've decided to pursue culinary arts school, stay focused on what you're hoping to get out of it. Work for at least a year to confirm your interest in the industry before you make the commitment to a school. This will give you a more realistic view of the food and food service industry.
If the culinary school you apply to offers an externship, take advantage of it. Work at the best restaurant you can get into, and learn and absorb everything you can. You won't quite be a master chef on the day you graduate, but you will have taken an important step in that direction.