Those chefs on the Food Network make food preparation look so easy, but life as a professional gourmet has plenty of challenges. For starters, the aspiring chef has to break into the field. For some cooks, culinary schools offer a way into working at the best restaurants. But in a profession where formal education is technically not necessary, each potential chef must decide if facing the struggles of culinary school is ultimately work the investment.
The physical demands of culinary schools mirror the demands of the culinary profession. Students will be on their feet for long periods, which is hard on the body over time. Culinary majors should be in excellent physical shape, as bending to open ovens, reaching to get supplies and carrying heavy loads are all part of the job description. The heat in a kitchen used for training, as in a professional kitchen, can be unbearable for some people.
Cuts, Burns and Overexertion
Cuts and burns are an occupational hazard for the culinary arts student. Would-be chefs must work with a wide array of kitchen equipment and utensils that have motorized blades, serrated edges or glass that could potentially break and shard, causing serious cuts. Ovens, grills and torches present a constant threat of burns. Chef work involves lifting heavy objects and opening large and difficult containers, and these activities can cause sprains or other injury.
Schools with an academic focus are staffed by scholars, but culinary schools employ professionals who work in the field. These professional chefs are not known for tact and delicacy in delivering criticism; students will likely be evaluated as harshly as if they were already working in the field. Culinary student Elizabeth Palmer Starnes, writing on The Everygirl website, said that while in school she heard her lobster sauce described as tasting like "the runoff from the gutter after it rains." Students of the culinary arts should have thick skins.
Value of Training
As chef Anthony Bourdain says in his essay "So you Wanna be a Chef?" the $40,000 to $60,000 spent on culinary training will lead to a job that will likely only pay $10 to $12 an hour for the first few years. Some fields require professional study -- law and medicine for example. But some leaders in the culinary field think a potential chef is better off spending two years getting cooking experience in a chain restaurant than going into debt for culinary school. According to these experts, the rewards of formal training may not be worth the investment.
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