What you really learn in cooking school

Whether or not to attend cooking school is a huge decision aspiring chefs have to make. Some people argue that restaurant experience and natural talent will take you farther than a culinary degree ever will. Others say that a cooking school degree is a necessary credential for the most desirable positions in the industry. Before you decide for yourself, consider that what you will learn in cooking school is not just what you’d find in textbooks or restaurant kitchens. Here are five life lessons that cooking school will teach you that make earning a culinary degree a valuable investment.


1. In cooking school, you learn if you have what it takes to work in the hospitality industry.

The hospitality industry is both physically and mentally challenging, particularly for aspiring chefs. Chefs work long hours on their feet performing extremely physical tasks. It’s not uncommon for kitchen staff to have burn scars and knife nicks all over their hands, and a chef should be as comfortable in a walk-in freezer as she is leaning over a hot stove. Add a wait staff that needs things right away, managers who try to cut corners, and owners who want to save a buck, and that’s a lot of stress. Cooking school simulates that environment and prepares students for what they’ll experience in the workplace, so they can decide if it’s the right career path for them.


2. In cooking school, you learn if you have a lifelong passion for cooking, or if it’s just a hobby.

Because the industry is so demanding, cooking school does a great job of helping students decide if they’re really, truly committed to becoming chefs. When students enter cooking school, they do it because they love to cook. Some say they are naturally gifted at experimenting and creating new dishes. Others say they love the social aspects of cooking and that it feels good to prepare a meal that others will enjoy.

While those are excellent reasons to earn a culinary arts degree, there’s a huge difference between loving to cook and needing to cook. For some, a love of cooking might just end up being a weekend hobby. Others learn in cooking school that they couldn’t imagine themselves doing anything else for the rest of their lives.


3. In cooking school, you learn what you’re good at.

One of the best aspects of cooking school is that students learn about all the different career possibilities in the culinary field. While a desire to be a chef might initially draw students in, once in cooking school, they may learn that they excel at restaurant management, garde manger, baking, or even food criticism. With each class students take, many discover interests in culinary positions they didn’t realize existed before.


4. In cooking school, you learn about all aspects of the business, whether you want to or not.

In addition to cooking, culinary school teaches students food safety and sanitation, budgeting, menu creation, supply ordering, and customer service. In short, you’ll learn how a restaurant should run from top to bottom. While most cooking school students don’t start out thrilled about learning accounting, when they graduate, they discover that they’ve learned all the skills necessary for opening their own restaurants someday.


5. In cooking school, you learn how to network and make connections in the industry.

Culinary programs are run and taught by people who have worked in the hospitality industry for years. Some have been chefs, others have been entrepreneurs, some have been bakers and caterers, but they have all been professionally employed in an industry where who you know matters.

In addition to making valuable connections with your instructors (who can write recommendation letters for you), most cooking schools run an on-campus restaurant. There, you’ll work with fellow students and have the opportunity to get resume-worthy work experience before you graduate. Your peers who land jobs before you can be instrumental in your own job search, and the cooking school’s career services center will be actively communicating with area restaurants about their employment needs. In short, cooking school is a great place to meet people who can give you a leg up in an industry full of strangers.

To find out more about what you’ll learn in cooking school, check out these culinary arts degree programs.