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To Be a Chef, Must You Graduate From Culinary School?

When I asked your opinion of Paula Deen, I noticed some interesting comments about what it means to be a chef. Many people get angered when the term is used to describe a celebrity (especially Food Network stars) who never attended culinary school.

However, there are chefs who didn't graduate from culinary school, but worked their way through well-respected restaurants to become famous — look at Tom Colicchio, Mario Batali, and Rick Bayless.

How do you feel about the matter?


Join The Conversation
alee90nev alee90nev 5 years
if you want to build your way up the culinary ladder move to a city that have reputable restuarants like portland or san francisco, and continue to move jobs until you become as great of a chef as you like, and go to community college for college, le courdon bleu gives the same type of education as community colleges do, and its a lot cheaper, and dont underestimate cooks, they can make some very complicated recipes
alee90nev alee90nev 5 years
School is definatly not a must, but definatly helps, A chefs job is to run the kitchen, and cooking is a very small part of being a chef, its creating recipes, ordering and checking freshness of ingrediants, making sure there recipes on the menu is profitable. Plus they have to keep staff inline, to make sure everyting that comes out of the kitchen is perfect. Most chefs create recipes and are responsible for how much the restuarant makes, its hard to learn all the technicle parts of being chef without school, but definatly isnt necissary, just hard work , and building your resume can get you there. They run the restuarant, so there only job isnt just cooking. Most cooks can cook the recipes just as good as the head chef, but would fail if they were asked to run the kitchen.
staple-salad staple-salad 8 years
I think that the culinary arts are like any art. It's possible to master and be successful with absolutely no formal training, but it takes innate and nurtured talent none-the-less and is entirely possible to learn on ones own without having a school teaching it. However, having a school that facilitates this learning makes it easier, especially if you don't grow up in an environment that encourages it, or don't have an in-born talent for it. I find it much easier to respect someone that learned an art on their own, rather than a person who went to school and learned it.
ilanac13 ilanac13 8 years
i can totally understand how it's helpful but i don't think that you HAVE to graduate from culinary school to be a chef. it's one of those skills that you CAN learn elsewhere
mollywog mollywog 8 years
I know someone who's 33 and has worked in the food industry ever since he was 16, starting out as busboy/dishwasher. He has finally gotten hired as a chef, at a nice restaurant. I really do feel that his food and his knowledge of running a kitchen are truly chef quality. But he'd still love to go to culinary school someday.
SeptemberLights SeptemberLights 8 years
I knew a girl who spent 80K on a prestigious "culinary school" and ended up with broken promsises and a job that pays 6.50$ an hour. After busting her ass for 5 years in restaurant kitchens she finally gave up and got a job as a bank teller that paid a whopping 8$ an hour! That is how I met her. I think it is a combination of LUCK and talent. You do not instantly become a gourmet chef overnight.... ps. good luck paying off those student loans! better to get a job as a dishwasher and work you way up based on experience...
chiefdishwasher chiefdishwasher 8 years
Well I am in the kitchen and am trying to work my way up but I am still stuck in my position......
shoneyjoe shoneyjoe 8 years
I think it's what you do and not your academic qualifications that earn you the title of chef. See Marcella Hazan's opinion piece in the New York Times last November: ---- “My husband is such a great chef,” my hairdresser was saying. “Oh,” I said. “What restaurant does he work in?” “No, no, no, he doesn’t work in a restaurant. He is an electrician. But he does amazing things on the grill when we cook out during the weekend.” This happens a lot. “Chef” has pretty much replaced “gourmet cook” to describe anyone who cooks well. How many times over the last few days, for instance, did you hear it used to refer to the person who prepared a Thanksgiving meal? I must confess that the growing use of the word bothers me. For starters, “chef” is a job description — a chef is someone who cooks professionally, usually in command of a restaurant’s kitchen brigade, and depending on the brigade’s size, he or she might not even be doing any of the actual cooking. ( ---- I'm a damn good cook. I'm not a chef. And Party (and Smileyface), you can too be a lawyer without going to law school. Rule 4.26(B)(1) of the California Bar Association rules states that applicants for the Bar must either be graduates of ABA approved law schools or "demonstrate that in accordance with these rules they have studied law diligently and in good faith for at least four years in a law school registered with the Committee; in a law office; in a judge’s chambers; or by some combination of these methods." As long as you study the law "diligently" in a law office for four years and somehow pass the bar, you're good to go. (
merie33 merie33 8 years
Like I said on the Paula Deen discussion...there are many many chefs whose food I would be honored to eat. And there are thousands of culinary graduates food that I wouldn't feed to my cat. I went to culinary school. I know what they're churning out, and it's not redi-made chefs. Some of the graduates will become chefs, but they aren't as of graduation. You get the chef title when you earn it. You don't learn it in class. Also when you're directly out of school, you're not put in any kind of management or chef're put right at the bottom...where you belong until you prove otherwise. So a culinary graduate can stay at the bottom for the rest of their career and be in charge of flipping the pancakes every morning. At the same time, an "uneducated" (formally at least) cook can prove themselves and work their way up and be higher than the culinary student. Sorry for the possibly incoherent rant...this topic gets me kind of heated...I hate this assumption...I graduated from culinary school and people are constantly saying oooh you're a chef. No. I'm not. I'm a day I may be a chef but not yet.
Leanne1078 Leanne1078 8 years
Wow. If my boyfriend had gone to culinary school, it wouldn't have made him a better chef than he is. And since he runs a kitchen with 35+ people under him, I think that qualifies him as a chef. I guarantee you that a huge percentage of culinary school graduates are no where near as talented!
Tuliplexie Tuliplexie 8 years
Actually, you don't have to go to law school to become a lawyer. You can do an apprenticeship and then take the bar. So you don't have to go to culinary school to become a chef, or go to law school to become a lawyer!
Spectra Spectra 8 years
Like some of the other posters said, I don't think you need to go to culinary school to become a chef, but there is a difference between being a chef and just a cook. If I worked at a restaurant and studied under a chef that knew all the techniques, I'd learn them as need for culinary school. You learn the same things whether you pay your instructors or not.
chefdrea chefdrea 8 years
smileyface - I agree that it's different from getting a law degree. Absolutely. However, not just anyone can practice and train and eventually become a chef. It takes a specific personality to be a chef versus being a cook. You have to be able to multi-task, think very quickly on your feet, have eyes in the back of your head to see everything that is going on around you, have multiple conversations at once without missing a beat, all at the same time that you're (possibly) cooking on the line, getting your orders put together for the next day and doing many other tasks. That's why most people end up being cooks instead. They are more comfortable focusing on one or two tasks at hand. Anybody can be trained to cook but being a chef is a natural instinct that is polished through training and/or education. There are a lot of things taught in culinary school that aren't taught on the line as a cook so it takes extra motiviation to seek out somebody to teach you or resources to help you learn them. They are primarily administrative functions such as health regulations, food costing and menu development but they are specific to being a chef versus being a cook. And they are important to whether or not a restaurant stays open or closes it's doors.
danaruth danaruth 8 years
Of course you can be a chef without going to culinary school. Just like you can be an artist without going to art school. To me, the difference between a chef and a cook is responsibility and professionalism. People who do not work in the food industry are not chefs; they are cooks. Not everyone who works in a restaurant is a chef - most are cooks, who support the chef. I guess another way of looking at it is: You can be an artist without going to art school. But there is also a difference between an artist and someone who can draw a picture.
smileyface smileyface 8 years
I wouldn't compare being a chef to getting a law degree. Totally different things. Becoming a lawyer takes years of prep to establish yourself and its a regulated profession that not just anybody can walk into. Maybe I am biased since I am in law school but stiff. Being a chef on the other hand, while it involves training and learning, anyone can practice and train and get the experience to become a chef if they want to and just be one. So I say no, culinary school not required. Sometimes you learn the most by doing. And aren't you really learning the same techniques by being out in the field that you would learn in culinary school anyway?
girlwparasol girlwparasol 8 years
after scanning through some discussions on the matter among chefs/cooks themselves, it would seem that there's NO standard. they all seem to agree, however, that one should not come out of culinary school calling one's self a "chef". one should spend some time in the industry, work one's way up, etc. personally, i don't believe one needs to attend culinary school to adopt the title of "chef". if a person does all the hard work, and works his/her way up the old fashioned way, shouldn't we respect him/her just the same as someone who has a degree? i believe there's a difference between a "cook" and a "chef", but i don't think it's in a few years of schooling.
chefdrea chefdrea 8 years
There are cooks, chefs and celebrity chefs. They are all completely different and none of them are dependent on whether or not you go to culinary school. I went to culinary school because I wanted the formal education to get into the management aspect of the restaurant, not because I thought it would automatically make me a chef. My grandfather did it the old school style - no education - but trained under others for years. There are many cooks who go to culinary school and never become chefs and the celebrity chef typically has much more to do with personality and enthusiasm than culinary training. That is not to say that some celebrity chefs aren't authentic chefs. To clarify: A cook is responsible for his own station, his own mise-en-place. A chef is responsible for everything that comes into the restaurant, goes out of the restaurant, food cost, labor, inventory, menu development, and so on. There is a fine line for a chef between being an administrator and being an artist. You have to be able to balance the two to create an environment that is both fiscally successful and also pleasing to the guests. A celebrity chef is truly more about personality and flair than about the actual cooking. They may have started out as cooks or chefs but by the time they are in front of the cameras it's about the relationship they form with their viewers. They have a staff behind the scenes who are responsible for the "chef work". **amloveaffair: you asked what you need to know before going to culinary school - the answer is simple. You have to know that you want to work your butt off 18 hours a day in a hot kitchen with very little pay and very little reward most of the time. You don't have to have any skills to get into culinary school, just a way to pay for it. There is no prequalification regarding knowledge or skills.
GlowingMoon GlowingMoon 8 years
In my opinion, no. The best chefs I know did it the old school way -- apprenticed in the industry since they were young, and worked their way up. It's the old school, artisan way of training, like any old world profession. As much as I value education (and I'm educated myself), formal training is not always necessary to groom a good professional. JMHO.
fuzzles fuzzles 8 years
I agree with YumSugar. People were cooking well and eating well long before the advent of culinary schools. I also feel that the title of chef should depend more on an individual's ability and skill level as opposed to formal education.
Food Food 8 years
I believe you can still be a chef. What makes one a good chef isn't whether or not he/she went to culinary school; it's how well he/she knows the fundamentals of cooking and has the mind for culinary creativity. I have tons of respect for Tom, Mario, and Rick!
356UIK 356UIK 8 years
There's a diff between a chef and a cook.
LaLaLaurie06 LaLaLaurie06 8 years
How was Paula Deen supposed to go to culinary school when she suffered from agoraphobia and had two kids to take care of at home and no husband around? Wow, I know a lot about Paula Deen...
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