What should you look for in a culinary school?

Jan 24, 2013

Maybe you are thinking about a career as a chef or in some other culinary-related work. You know you need the right education, but a career in food can take a lot of different shapes: catering, pastry specialization, restaurant work, wine specialization, corporate dining and many others.

For most food professionals, getting the right culinary school foundation is the first step toward a life in food. However, just as a military recruit doesn't become a general overnight, you won't become a chef immediately after graduating from culinary school. That's a title you'll earn through experience.

But what do you look for when searching for the right culinary school?

According to the website The Reluctant Gourmet, the first three steps in the process are:

  • Determine what you want to do after graduating. Do you want to be in catering, make desserts in a bake shop, or perhaps manage a restaurant? Sure, it may be hard to narrow down your exact career goal right now, but knowing a general area of interest allows you to search for culinary schools that have trained others for similar positions.
  • Determine what's most important to you in a school. Location, length of program, class size and job placement history are just a few of the criteria you'll want to consider. For instance, Culinard, the Culinary Institute of Virginia College, offers a 36-week program in either culinary arts or pastry arts, resulting in a diploma. The classes are small because the school limits the number of students so the instructors can provide personal attention to each student.
  • Create a list of schools to contact. A web search is your best bet here. Request information from the schools that look the best, and be sure to create a list of questions you want answered when speaking with the school representative.

Jared Danks, Program Director for the Culinary and Pastry Arts programs at Culinard's Birmingham, Ala. campus, says the quality of instructors is an important thing to consider. "What are their credentials? Where have they worked? You want to be sure they have solid experience to back up what they are teaching."

Matthew Dyer, a Culinard Pastry Chef Instructor suggests you ask about the alumni. "It's important that their graduates have been successful out in the real world. Ask for specific examples. Like, if a graduate is a chef at a nearby restaurant, go there, have a meal and talk with him or her."

There are other important steps to finding the right culinary or cooking school, but Chef Dyer's parting advice is solid. "It's easy to do research on the web, but don't make your final decision on just that. Visit the campus, talk with students, and check the job placement statistics!"

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