How To Get the Most Out of Culinary School
While culinary school isn't necessary to have a long, fulfilling career in the industry, most cooks will have gone through it. By going through culinary school, you gain a broad understanding of techniques and cooking styles In a compressed, organised format. These things could be learned independently, but, with a school pushing the curriculum, you're forced to learn at a faster pace. While culinary school is beneficial, it is also expensive. When you consider what you'll be earning through work after culinary school, it can take a very long time to finish paying for school. When the cost and commitment of culinary school are taken into account, you want to make sure that you get everything you can out of the experience. It's not uncommon for people to have gone through the schooling and gain the credential, only to be worthless in an actual kitchen. By putting in the effort while you're in culinary school, you can catapult your learning and progress in your career. Here's how to get the most out of culinary school
Take rigorous notes and pictures
Culinary school is usually broken down into demonstrations and practical classes. During demonstrations, Take as many notes as you can on what the chef is saying and doing. Even studying the chef's order of operations will help you work with more efficiency. Take pictures of finished plates and complicated techniques to help jog your memory later on. During practical classes, when you're cooking, keep some note paper handy. If you come across an issue in preparing a dish, you can record it and look for answers later. The most helpful notes, though, will be your self-analysis at the end of a practical class. Analysing your performance each time you come out of class will set you apart. Criticising your own work will highlight areas where you can improve. You'll avoid making the same mistakes and you'll hone your efficiency. Taking pictures of your own work will let you compare to the chef's finished product to look for possible improvements. f you keep the pictures, they'll also be interesting to look at to see how you're plating style has progressed.
While taking notes, record any questions or ideas you have. When the chance presents itself, ask the chef for their input. Usually, they'll have a good answer, but, if not, you now have something interesting to research on your own time. Make a point of seeking the answers to these questions you have. Learning the answer will help cement the information in your mind. Asking questions like, "Why is it done that way and not this other way?", "Is there a better or faster way to do this?", and "What could I add to this dish to make it unique or more interesting?" will lead you to learn a whole lot more. If you accept everything as it's presented, you keep a narrow perspective and will come out like everyone else. Asking questions will broaden your view and will allow you to approach problems from different angles, making you more versatile. By seeking the answers to your questions, you'll gain a deeper understanding of the techniques at hand.
A culinary school curriculum will present a wide array of subjects but doesn't always have the time to go in depth on the ones you may be most interested in. Part of the idea here is that the school presents all these different options to you, hoping that you go on to pursue what's most interesting to you. If there's a specific topic like bread making, charcuterie, wine or even food history that interests you, then, by all means, dive in. There are infinite resources out there for you to learn from, you only have to look. By learning about what interests you like this and taking more than a passing interest, you'll be started on the path towards specialisation. Studying on your own time will also help you answer questions you've come across during school. As you start learning about a new topic, you'll have more questions that will drive you to continue learning. Going down this spiral, you can gain a deep understanding of something that, only a short time ago, used to be foreign to you. Continuing your studies outside of school will broaden your knowledge base even more than schooling could do alone. You may even learn a few tricks you can bring back to culinary school that'll impress the chef instructors.
Try as many industry disciplines as you can
The school curriculum should make this happen for you, but by paying attention to it, you can get even more out of the experience. The culinary industry is huge and has a lot of branching sectors. Let's say you first decided to go to culinary school because you want to learn how to cook well so that you could open your own restaurant some day. While this is an admirable goal, it's also common and not everyone can open a restaurant. When first coming into culinary school, you're narrow sighted and closed off to much of what's available to you. By starting to learn about different aspects of the industry, like butchery, confectionery, or molecular gastronomy, your mind is opened and you may find a brand new passion. You'll only see what sticks by trying as many different disciplines as you can. Then, when you discover something interesting, you can dive deep and learn much more about it. Part of opening up the industry like this is on the school to do for you, but, as you do your own research, you will come across specialisations that pull you in. It's a discovery effort. See what sticks and pursue it.
Work in a kitchen while you attend culinary school
I know, I'm prescribing a lot of work for you. Attending school and adding your own independent study on top of that is busy enough, but a job as well? Yes! This job doesn't need to be full time or in a high-end kitchen. The goal is to allow you to practice what you learn immediately in a professional setting. While this is the intention of practical classes at culinary school, their scope needs to be narrowed so that you can succeed and learn through the process. Whereas, if you apply what you learn in a work environment, you can get more raw, valuable feedback from colleagues. Working while you attend culinary school will force you to master the basics while challenging you with a new environment. Aspects of the industry like working under pressure, and working an a la carte menu, can only be learned by doing them in the kitchen. The sooner you start learning these integral skills, the sooner you'll adapt and get better at them. The pressure of working in a restaurant kitchen will carry over and help you perform better under the pressure of practical classes and exams at school. Working while attending school will also open you up to new perspectives and methods, allowing you to learn from your colleagues in addition to your school.
Make friends with your classmates. Try and Stay in touch.
By making friends from school, you'll start to develop a network that can be tapped later in your career for work opportunities, insight, and perspective. Everyone will come to culinary school with different levels of experience and knowledge. Some will have already worked in the industry for a while before deciding to go to school. You can learn from these classmates and more easily pick up some of the basic skills they've already mastered. It's not that hard to make friends while attending culinary school. The school environment almost forces friendships through common experience and regular proximity. The harder part is staying in touch. Make the effort to meet up. Talk about life and cooking. Bounce ideas off of each other for menu items. If you get along well, look at working together in the future. While surrounded by your peers, you get to challenge yourself and each other constantly. You push each other to succeed. It does get hard to stay in touch after school when everyone's working full time and trying to get their careers going. If you put in the effort, though, it's definitely worth it. Social media can help here. Everyone uses it and it can be a great way to stay in touch with classmates that have dispersed throughout the world. Maintaining a network of friends in the industry will help you as you get further into your career where they can be tapped for opportunities and collaborations. Plus, you know, having friends is nice.
Culinary school is a great way to get started in the industry. Through it, you're exposed to different techniques and aspects of the industry itself. If you're only doing culinary school, though, you're missing out on more knowledge and the ability to kick-start your career early on. By putting the extra effort and time into your learning, you'll gain a deeper understanding of the subject matter from school, while setting yourself up for success outside of school. You can unearth new passions and interests that set you apart. Going deep and immersing yourself in the industry through your studies will get you the most bang for your buck. It will set you apart from the competition at work. It will create a great starting point for a prosperous career. It may seem like you need to pile on a lot more work for yourself if you want to get the most out of culinary school. This may be the case, but the extra work is enjoyable. Learning and improving at such a rapid pace, like you do early in a culinary career, is a joyous experience. The hard work is worth it to get a head start in your career. You will look back on your times of intense studying and learning with fondness.