Well, the first step obviously is that you need to learn how to cook. Because of this having an interest in cooking can be a pretty big advantage. A good palette can be important but isn’t necessarily required. The primary characteristic is just that you love food and are passionate enough about it to take pride in the food that you create. Should you do this, finding some level of success as a chef is relatively straight forward. Unlike most career routes however, there are two decidedly different routes into the industry. Each offers advantages over the other and which is best is debatable as I will now outline.
Skip Culinary School and Start at the Bottom
Before culinary schools became such a common thing, the majority of chefs would simply learn their craft by working. Of course without going to culinary school, you do need to start at the bottom but it means that straight away you are getting hands on experience of the pressures and fast pace of working behind closed doors in a restaurant.
This experience can be a better thing to have on a resume than completion of culinary school, as somebody that owns a restaurant will see that you can handle the pressure of a kitchen as opposed to somebody with a fancy qualification but no experience. There is also the rather massive advantage that you start getting paid immediately and you avoid expensive culinary school tuition fees.
The primary problem with this route is that the purpose of the kitchen is to prepare fine meals for the customers. The head chef has this as his primary concern and teaching you all about the dishes, why they work and their history is unlikely to be something that he has time for. As a result of this, you miss out on all of this type of information which you would have learned at culinary school. There is also the fact that you obviously start a lot lower both responsibility and pay wise than if you had chosen culinary school, of course you also start a lot younger.
Go to Culinary School
As mentioned in the disadvantage of on the job training there is truly a wealth of knowledge that can be obtained by going to culinary school. Provided effort is put in and a lot of people don’t put in this effort, you can learn all about not only what dishes taste good but why, as well where the dishes originated and the various techniques that can be used to cook them For example, a head chef will show you to cook something well, but he is not going to show you five different ways of doing it.
The subjects studied will obviously depend on both the culinary school that you choose and the specific courses but most include additional subjects such as nutrition, pastry and management, all things that you are unlikely to learn with on the job training. There is also the fact that while you won’t quite experience working in a real kitchen you will gain important experience of working as part of a team. Then obviously there is the primary advantage that you come out of it with a qualification. The fact that everyone gets to eat what they cook during their lunch breaks could be considered either an advantage or a disadvantage depending upon how far through the course you are.
The primary problem with culinary school is that everything that you are learning is theoretical. While the knowledge acquired is important, it is unlikely to impress a restaurant owner as much as practical experience as it does not at all demonstrate that you are capable of handling the stressful kitchen environment of a busy restaurant complete with a screaming chef. Another reason that culinary school is not as respected as on the job training is that there is an unfortunately high number of students who love culinary school only to go on to quit chefing when they realise that they cannot handle the pressure.
There is also the matter of cost. Not only are you not getting paid as you are going through culinary school unlike on the job training, the cost of the courses can also be pretty expensive. There are also a lot of extras such as books and cooking tools. Therefore your bank account will be in a completely different state upon completion than had you just started working at a restaurant.