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Lessons For Rookies

What You Won't Learn in Culinary School

This has been the most difficult, yet educational pieces I have ever written.

Culinary Arts

Becoming a chef is hard work, and many of the more tough situations you'll be forced to deal with are beyond your control. You have to learn to adapt, carry on and-as always-improve your craft.

Lets get started from a same common ground shall we? All people are mammals and therefore bonded in some way, yet there are so many differences that make us unique. Our backgrounds, goals and philosophies differ, and nowhere is that more apparent than when we're all sweating it out in the same high-stress kitchen for ours on end. One of the difficult things you must learn to manage is the difference in people's personalities.

Butting Heads as an Asset

Conflicting personalities exist in all workplaces, but with the type of work we do as chefs, it is critical to be able to deal with every boss or coworker you ever have. It is not hard to recognize who around you shares a different type of personality. The #1 mistake people make is assuming differing personalities will lead to bad working relationships. Naturally, chefs have their own approaches to more or less everything, but we must find a way to communicate with one another on some level.

Young chefs must realize that they not only have to work with these people, but should LEARN from them! When I go into restaurants to help build teams, I don't only look for true leaders-I want chefs with different personalities sharing the same philosophy for success. This creates a team of people that work well together, but can solve problems differently. Learning how to manage our differences is an asset!

3 Rules for Becoming a Great Chef

I believe we all learn lessons along the way. I share a few that impacted me early on.

  1. Get Your Priorities Straight. I knew since I was a very young child I wanted to be a chef. Like most teenagers, I loved to go out, stay up late with friends-you get the idea! I quickly learned that to really be a great chef, I had to adapt my entire lifestyle to suit the kitchen. This job takes focus, dedication and 150 percent commitment each and every day.
  2. Make Hospitality a Lifestyle. Those new to hospitality, especially culinary business, quickly learn that it is never just a job-it's a lifestyle. The hours are long, tough, and at times mentally challenging. Know that you WILL WORK holidays and weekends, though other people are playing. This makes having a regular personal life a challenge. KNOW this going in!
  3. Learn to Multi-Task. My first chef once told me (as I was peeling asparagus) that having a full plate would make me a better chef. In a professional kitchen, multi-tasking is breathing-you must do it at all times to survive. I tell my cooks the sooner they get their mise en place completed, the more I will teach them. It is amazing how quickly they catch on. With a bit of practice, you'll get it to.

Lessons Culinary Schools Can't Teach

Culinary school is an absolute necessity. You not only learn how to cook, but how to work as a team. You learn a bit about working in the industry from your instructors, who will likely share their real life experiences with you. Unfortunately, there are some lessons that an only be learned through real work experience. Here are a few of them:

  1. Learn to Juggle. Staying organized while working on several projects at once is a critical skill only mastered through experience.
  2. Become a Master of Communication. This is the MOST IMPORTANT skill you can learn. Learn how to communicate with your peers, chefs, customers, and business partners.
  3. Understand Kitchen Politics. Let's face it, chefs are politicians. You have to know how to play the game, smile, and be genuine-but be smart. Sometimes others may be jealous of and try to limit your success.
  4. Buff Your Management Skills. Learn how to lead, motivate, and inspire a team. Good leadership encourages good employees.
  5. Manage Your Dough (and I Don't Mean Brioche). When you graduate from culinary school, you'll be eager to land a job-and a paycheck. Be responsible. I see cooks all the time blow their money, then starve until they get their next check. Set a budget.

Do as I Say, Not as I Did

This concludes my "lessons for rookies." I think this is a good start for anyone who is entering the industry or is new to it. I really hope you benefit from these little tidbits of advice. Trust me... I did not always learn them the easy way!

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            5 Program(s) Found
            • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef and Project Runway.
            • Has a team of about 4,000 faculty members focused on helping students tap opportunities in a marketplace driven by ideas.
            • Offers programs in design, media arts, fashion, and culinary.
            • Provides program coordinators who work with students to ensure they have the learning materials, assignments, facilities, and faculty to get the most out of the program.
            • Over 50 campus locations nationwide.
            Good for Working Adults
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            Baker College - Ground , Clinton Township

            Baker College is the largest independent college in Michigan with the most focused approach to education and training available. Our mission is to prepare you for meaningful employment.

            1 Program(s) Found
            • Ranked among the Best Online Bachelor’s Programs in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • Lets undergrad students try classes before paying any tuition.
            • Has an average class sizes of 18 for undergraduate and 13 for graduate-level courses.
            • Offers numerous scholarship opportunities that can help students save up to $750 per term on their tuition.
            • Tends to educate degree-seeking online and campus-based students who are adult learners with families and students who work while pursuing higher education.
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            5 Program(s) Found
            • Received the 2015 and 2013 “Cooking School of the Year” Award of Excellence from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
            • Externship opportunities are available at numerous famous New York City restaurants.
            • Campus is located near downtown Manhattan, within walking distance of many popular attractions such as the Radio City Music Hall.
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            • Students get real-world experience through the required externship at the end of the program.
            • Curriculum includes laboratory sessions, academic preparation and hands-on experience.
            • Program objectives are to provide students with skills needed for cooking wholesome, attractive, food preparations and to assist graduates in obtaining positions in the food service industry.
            • Accredited by the American Culinary Federation (ACF).
            • Has campuses in Melbourne, Sarasota, and Tallahassee, Florida
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            Salter College , West Boylston
            • Offers training programs in preparation for professional careers in business, health care, and computers.
            • Provides associate and certificate programs in medical assisting, massage therapy, culinary arts, and more.
            • Places students in externships to gain real world experience before completing their respective program.
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools (ACICS).
            • 2 campuses in Chicopee and West Boylston, Massachusetts.
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            3 Program(s) Found
            • Offers educational opportunities for the aspiring, career-minded chef.
            • Students are trained by professional chefs and spend the majority of their final term working in the campus restaurant to learn all phases of the culinary industry.
            • St. Louis campus offers new Food Truck Entrepreneurship courses.
            • Has a student-run food truck that tours around St. Louis.
            • All campuses have a public restaurant where food is prepared and served by students.
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