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I graduated from a local catholic private school in 2013. From a small city know for historical tourism. Out of 42 people in my graduating class, I was the ONLY one that was going to go to a trade school which seemed to be frowned upon. Apparently community college was more elite than the option I had decided to take.
Everyone I knew told me "You are too smart to go to culinary school." or "You have plenty of other talents than just that." Which is true I do have plenty of other talents such as web design and a good eye for graphics—all of these things would help me develop a business which I knew.
Before actually enrolling, the school I had chosen had a program in which you could get a sample of what classes would be like. They flew long distance students out like myself to their campus and for three days you would be submersed into the culinary culture. Those three days were no where near a sample of what class would be like. Those three days were a breeze.
When I actually stepped foot on campus I learned quickly I didn't fit in. I had been invited to be a part of what they called a LLC (living learning community). That was their first year and they were still working out the kinks. If you were apart of the LLC you were able to come on campus a week earlier than all the other students. To this day I still don't see what the benefit of that was. But at least culinary arts wasn't their only major so there was somewhat of a diversity when it came to degrees.
I remember my first day of labs. They had set my first trimesters schedule up for me and I took all my academics first. (First big tip take all your academics first if you can. I know you want to get straight to cooking but you have to attend these classes. I've seen plenty a person get kicked out for not attending something as remedial as English 1001) New World was the class. An overview of frying, sauteing and other less classic cooking technics. Each group was broken up to tackle one or two recipes. This is the part where I felt I could have saved my money and done this at home. Also I've never been good at working in groups due to my anxiety. I'm always that person that sees the project going south and rather finish it by themselves. Which is more of what I did for my second associates in baking and pastry. The culture between baking and culinary was very different but I'll get into that later.
The first thing no one told me about was in this rotation of classes, who you see is who you are going to be with for the next 11 weeks. (Our school had trimesters but now they want to change to semesters and be "like other colleges" which I have some gripes about). The first week was nice because we didn't know each other but soon you find out who had to retake the class, who is just plain old lazy, and who is the kiss ass that's going to be up chef's ass the whole eight hours of class telling them about all their DECA wins and culinary accomplishments. Don't get me wrong it's great to be good at what you do but sometimes the tone in which you say things makes you snooty.
Group work was a focus in many labs... in the real world however its up to you and only you to get your shit done. If you need help that is seen as a handicap. Or it might just be the places I've worked at. So I had to learn quick, fast, and in a hurry to carry my own weight. Let's say you can't perform... Your ass is grass. Many previous students have soiled the area by coming into establishments and saying they have graduated from our school only to have their skills say otherwise—making it hard for people like me to even get a foot in the door.
Another big point is your appearance makes a difference. Although, now my school is falling by the wayside in the fact that they no longer keep the same values that they once had about professional dress and uniforms. I feel that was the biggest thing that helped me in interviews. You need to iron your chef coat. (Although that was the bane of our existence and we tried many hacks to get over it) You need to have pens, sharpies, and a thermometer in your lapel. Once I came to one of my internships looking so crisp I made the guy that was already working there look bad with his dingy chef coat. Think of your coat as your armor. Can't go into battle without it and damn if it ain't a battle field out there.
Culinary school also doesn't prepare you for the fucked up things coworkers and chefs might say to you in the real world. When I started culinary school I was 18 and still naive. I had some real world experience. But nothing prepares you for sexual harassment and degradation. Yes I was yelled at by chefs for my performance but that was as a collective with the rest of my class. As an individual in my freshman and sophomore years, I stayed quiet and was humble to the point where I was almost invisible. By my senior year, when I decided to add on another associates along with the associates I already had and the bachelors I was working on I was already seasoned in the kitchen. I knew what went on in labs. But the most important point was I was confident. I noticed this confidence got me higher grades in my baking and pastry classes than my previous culinary classes. In all honesty the classes I didn't like during my culinary degree... I just tried to scoot by. I got a C in meat cutting because I felt there was no use in putting my whole effort in something I was never going to be... A butcher. In retrospect that's stupid as hell because it is less expensive to fabricate your own meat.
As a senior in freshman Baking classes I already had respect out the door. I had been here since 2013 and these kids had just enrolled in 2017. I was an old fogey. But a knowledgeable old fogey. I had done a little baking in my culinary classes, but we skimmed just the basics of it. So, I was just as green as they were. I did on the other hand have knowledge of flavor combinations and a vivid imagination for food ideas. This was familiar to me and I excelled.
In 2018, I graduated with a bachelors in food service management with a concentration in meeting and event planning. A mouthful of nice words that when I say it usually takes people aback but its going on a year since I've graduated and I still cant make more than $12-$13 an hour. No one tells you starting out you won't be making the big bucks. Or maybe they do. Very few people have been lucky enough to become executive chefs in their 20s. As nice as that sounds after working with one you need way more experience and maturity. Personally, I have never aspired to be an executive chef because somewhere along the way you stop cooking, lose your passion under paperwork and become a royal asshole. Or so I've seen.
Along with not making the big money they don't tell you that you may work at a grocery store or a fast food joint. Or maybe something less than that like an ice cream shop. They won't tell you that you'll get fired for lacking passion because you don't find cooking in a Turbo Chef (a BIG ASS MICROWAVE) fulfilling. Or because of this a seasoned chef will tell you that you aren't cut out for the kitchen and that you should "take a break from the kitchen and become a secretary for a while." Which will send you into an early quarter life crisis where you think you will loose everything only to be hired at another establishment three days later—where the chef finds the previous statements laughable.
In culinary school they tell you the sky is the limit and you can create new jobs that were never in the market before. All of that is true. Current trends are going away from brick and mortar places. E-commerce is more popular. But when you are a person like me who feels they are a jack of all trades its hard to settle down to one dream. It's been hard to not lose my passion when everything is pre-baked or preassembled. Or God forbid I have to use a box mix and I should "get used to it." Culinary school doesn't tell you that they have literally made robots to replace your job. Don't believe me see for yourself.
But just because they don't tell you all these things doesn't mean it's not worth doing. I have met some great people along the way as well as forged friendships over food. If this is your calling and your passion let no man steal your joy. Wake up every day with the sense that this new day will be better than the last because what they cant take away from you is knowledge.