Important Lessons to Learn While in Cooking School

There are some challenges in the life of a chef that just can’t be taught within the confines of culinary arts classes.


As vetted culinary artists share, we don’t learn “everything” there is to know in cooking school. None the less, there are plenty of other skills that can come in handy that may surprise many culinary art school graduates. The chefs featured in the article below know a thing or two about being a chef, but they didn’t anticipate needing to know plumbing or maintenance (or even psychology) to work in the culinary profession.

“I had a guy throw a pan at me once,” recalls Scott Walton, 40, executive chef of Markethouse, 611 N. Fairbanks. “I’ll never forget it.

“It’s nothing they prepare you for in school. You can’t teach the emotions that run in a kitchen. For some reason, there’s a lot of ego in this industry. You put 10 artists in a room, and one of them’s got to be the boss. …”

“The big thing is the speed at which things need to be done,” says Chris Macchia, 32, chef/partner at Coco Pazzo, 300 W. Hubbard. While attending the Culinary Institute of America in New York, Macchia had a test that required him to debone a leg of lamb and fill it with herbs.

“I got a perfect score.”

So on his first internship at a Florida hotel when he was asked if he could debone lamb, he was cocky … until they pointed him at 10 cases of lamb legs for that night’s dinner. “There were these two guys from Cuba who had been working there forever. In the time it took me to do one, they had done almost all of them.”

Chef Jean-Louis Clerc, 40, from Waterleaf Restaurant in Glen Ellyn, says things were no different in France, where he graduated in 1994 after studies in Toulouse and Paris. “I wish they would have focused on speed of execution and pressure in the kitchen during classes like everyone experiences in the real field,” he says.

(Read the rest of the article at the Chicago Sun Times)

So, what can students entering a culinary arts school do about the potential “gaps” between cooking school and the real-world of fast-paced kitchens? Choose electives wisely and invest in seminars and conferences that train students (and professionals) about the challenges that are present in the kitchen. This is especially critical for students who intend to open their own business; it may be necessary to keep costs to a minimum, which means the owner could be the plumber, the refrigerator repair person, the person who cleans out the vents and ducts in the kitchen, or the guidance counselor that settles conflict among kitchen staff.

Related Reading:
6 Things Culinary School Won’t Teach You