Ask a Chef: Too Late for Culinary School and the Kitchen?

Is it ever too late to go to culinary school? I'm 50ish and in a position to start a new career. I've loved cooking and food my whole life and could work another 15-20 yrs (Lord willing ~ I'm now in good health). Would love to do something I love. How realistic is it to change careers now? Thanks for answering.

- Suzie from Portland, OR

This question popped up in a recent Ask A Chef Twitter chat, and it deserved a longer explanation than was possible in a rapid Chef2Chef Twitter dialogue. In short: no, it’s never too late to go to culinary school. I graduated from The French Culinary Institute in Manhattan, which hosted a diverse range of students of all ages, races and backgrounds. My class ran the spectrum from 18 to 60′ish, with plenty of career changers in every stage of office disillusionment. But whether it’s realistic or not to change careers and become a cook at 50 is a trickier question. So let me elaborate.

Professional kitchen work – whether it’s in a restaurant, catering business or school setting – is incredibly rigorous, as you’re probably aware. Combine long hours on your feet with a hot, pressure-filled environment, and suddenly the rigors of preparing meals at home seem like youthful play with an Easy-Bake Oven. It’s an invigorating environment in many ways (“dinner time rush” has a double meaning in a working kitchen), but it certainly wares on one after awhile. Even my 25 year-old cook friends are immobile-on-the-couch exhausted after a week of work (granted, they’re nighttime chefs at a popular i.e. slammed Manhattan restaurant). I’m not writing this as a deterrent to anyone. It’s just that the unique physical and mental pressures of the professional kitchen are necessary to know before you shell out thousands of dollars for a culinary arts degree, and the only way to know them is through experience.Before filling out an application, I think it’s essential to intern (or “stage”) in the industry area you’d ideally like to work after c-school graduation. And this doesn’t mean you have to tackle the night shift, where you’re slogging home at 2 am. There are plenty of sectors in the industry that are friendly to older cooks with families (or those who simply like to get 8 hrs of sleep and see the light of day). Catering, cafe kitchens, corporate/school dining and the lunch or prep shifts in restaurant kitchens are all good options.

What becoming a cook ultimately boils down to is whether or not you can do the work. Pretty much anyone with two hands and enough money can attend culinary school, and while over-45 students aren’t the norm, they’re certainly not an anomaly. But in terms of using that degree in a professional setting, it really depends on the individual’s capability and drive. If you’re a 50 + year old kitchen whiz who’s cooking 25 year-olds under the table (or even just an average cook holding your own), no one is going to care. And a lifetime passion for food certainly gives you a leg up. So if you’re interested, test the waters in a real world setting and then, if you take to it, get the degree. If you can cut it, you belong in the kitchen, no matter your age.

All of your culinary questions can be addressed by a wide range of professionals in the Ask a Chef forum, so send them along!

Browse Culinary Arts Schools & Colleges

Refine School Matches
Hide filters
  • SUBJECT Clear All

    See More

  • DEGREE

    See More

  • PROGRAM TYPE

  • START TIME

    LOCATION
    Please enter valid US or Canada Zip.
            Results open in new window

            Searching Searching ...

            Matching School Ads
            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
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            5 Program(s) Found
            • Hands-on culinary education with focused attention on each student
            • An ACCSC School of Excellence with multiple “Best Vocational Cooking School” awards*
            • 15,000 graduates, including celebrities like Bobby Flay, David Chang, and Christina Tosi*
            • Programs in Culinary Entrepreneurship, Professional Culinary Arts, Professional Pastry Arts, and much more
            • Campuses in New York and Silicon Valley with nearby housing available
            Show more [+]
            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.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            2 Program(s) Found
            • Ranked among the Best Colleges in the South in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • Ranked the 13th  Best College for Veterans in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • A private institution founded in 1977 with a current total undergraduate enrollment of over 15,00.
            • Its student-faculty ratio is 12:1, and 89.3% of classes have fewer than 20 students.
            • Has students attend one class at a time to ensure easy access to faculty and a more hands-on education.
            Show more [+]
            2 Program(s) Found
            L'Ecole Culinaire , Kansas City
            • 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.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            3 Program(s) Found
            • Culinary Arts program includes the 3-week Farm To Table® Experience, where students gain a direct, in-depth look at where food comes from.
            • Numerous scholarship opportunities and financial aid are available to students who qualify.
            • Accreditation from the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET), and the Council on Occupational Education (COE).
            • 2 campuses located in Boulder, Colorado and Austin, Texas.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            2 Program(s) Found
            • Instructors are typically real-world professionals with many years of experience in their career fields.
            • Ranked #3 in Best for Vets: Career & Technical Colleges 2014 by Military Times.
            • Presents the full tuition cost up front. In most cases, even textbooks are included in the total price.
            • Provides career services associates to help students review their resume, provide career counseling, help with job searches, and more.
            • Has 27 campus locations across the southern United States, plus offers online degree programs.
            Show more [+]
            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid