Cooking-How to Decide Whether to Train as an Apprentice or be Formally Educated

Apprenticeship versus Formal Education:

Having a formal education is a wonderful thing to be able to put on a resume. Training under an experienced Chef can also teach you just as much practical information. There are pro and cons to both. Culinary schools are more structured environments. Apprenticeships are more unstructured environments. If you have the opportunity to do both, I would highly recommend it.

Culinary Schools Pros:

  • Culinary schools look good on a resume.
  • Culinary schools give a more structured environment to learn in.
  • Culinary schools give broad examples and teachings that cross different types of cuisines and styles of cooking.
  • Culinary schools have valuable resources and the opportunity to research independently.
  • Culinary schools give a person the opportunity to make future industry contacts.
  • Culinary schools give what you get out of them.
  • Culinary schools teach basic skills along with business basics.

Culinary Schools Cons:

  • Culinary school classes can be unrealistic. Six or more people working the grill station in a restaurant is not the reality of what it is really like in the industry.
  • Culinary schools can be very expensive. Evaluate whether you want to be paying off college bills for many years.
  • Culinary schools may give students unrealistic expectations. Not everyone is going to become an Executive Chef after graduating from a school.

Apprenticeship Pros:

  • Apprenticeships give a person a taste of what really working in a kitchen is like.
  • Apprenticeships can give you the opportunity to work under many different types of Chefs, and work one on one with them.
  • During an apprenticeship, you make money while you are learning.

Apprenticeship Cons:

  • The lack of formal education may hurt you in some hiring environments.
  • As an apprentice you may not learn as much about the business aspects as you will need to in order to become a Chef.
  • Apprenticeship may lack fundamentals that a formal education can and will teach you.

My best recommendation would be to work (or when all else fails) volunteer to work unpaid in a professional kitchen for at least a few months if not longer before you decide to go to school. Unfortunately many people who go right into culinary schools out of high school have no idea what working in a “real” kitchen is like. Boy they generally are in for a big shock.

So before you go spending big bucks on a school make sure you are going to like the industry first before you dive right in. Not all culinary graduates get to be Head Chefs and “in the News.” If you look at the statistics, a year after graduation, over 15% of graduates do not stay in the field, over 40% are still line cooks and 15-20 years after graduation, many are burned out and have changed careers. I know that in my graduating class at CIA, approximately 50% plus are no longer cooking, many of us have migrated to other hospitality industry jobs: food sales, purchasing, product development, etc. but we are we are not sweating in our whites any longer.

Half of the chefs and cooks I have worked with over the years have never been to cooking school and they are just as well trained, knowledgeable and talented as ones who have spent the money to be traditionally educated. There is no “wrong way” to get into the field. Regardless of what you decide to do, you get out of it what you put into it.

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6 Responses to Cooking-How to Decide Whether to Train as an Apprentice or be Formally Educated

  1. Thanks for the encouraging words. I am someone who has decided to do both formal education, and I am also an apprentice in a “from scratch” kitchen. My mother seems to think that I am taking on too much at once, but I don’t agree with her. I am learning an immense amount about culinary techniques in school, but I also get the experience in a kitchen. Both are indispensable to me.

    • Chef Forfeng says:

      Good for you! I’m glad that you are getting both aspects of it! You will become a better Chef and a better manager as well from seeing and working in both environments. Best of luck to you!

  2. markbernardo says:

    Thanks for the reply Chef Forfeng, I really appreciate your time for answering my question. As of now, I am still studying, and I don’t have the funds to afford enrolling such culinary schools. I am planning to take an apprenticeship into some hotels here in the Philippines even no salary but the allowance instead. As long as I am gaining and learning experience it will be good for me.
    Have a good day ahead Chef Forfeng. ^^

  3. markbernardo says:

    Indeed! your article is a well explained one for someone like me, I’ve been studying a 2 year diploma in HRM, and I want to pursue my career in the kitchen industry. Will you recommend, if what type is good for someone like me? Is it pastry, hot, cold? What do you think is the best to have a good job in the coming future? Thanks!

    • Chef Forfeng says:

      Without knowing more information about you, the best way to decide is to go and at least observe if you can the different stations and jobs in the kitchen, some people have an affinity for baking vs hot/cold line and without actually experiencing them first hand, even just by observing its not a decision you can make lightly. If you have the time and the funds I would suggest perhaps taking a couple of continuing ed courses, many of the good culinary schools, CIA for example, have short 2-3 week courses where you can at least get your feet wet.

  4. Narco Silva says:

    This is a nice article.It is true that no diploma/certificate or similar papers would make you a chef,only years and years of experience can.Sure,you can put your schooling backgrounds in your resume but that doesn’t mean you already have the competency nor the skills required to be on top.Let’s just all remember that education comes from a lot of things and learning is a never-ending process

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