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Cooking and Culinary Arts School

Trying to decide whether you should take cooking classes?

Do you like to cook for your family or friends, but have never stepped into a real restaurant's kitchen? Have you found cooking jobs in cafeterias, bad restaurants or diners, and want to move into fine dining? Getting some chef training might help you find your way.

Home Cooking versus Professional Cooking
Working chefs double as qualified instructorsYou can probably find a restaurant job without attending culinary arts school. But you'll likely be in a fast food, cafeteria or diner-type restaurant. While these might be an okay place to begin (and you'll likely start out in a similar setting even after culinary arts school), without proper chef training, it can be harder to become unstuck from that experience.

Further, employers of entry-level cooks often prefer to hire those who have graduated from cooking classes. Why? Because even if you cook all the time, cooking in a restaurant is very different than cooking at home. Consider the following questions:

• How many times have you had 150 people over for dinner?
• Is your home's kitchen hot, like 130 degrees hot?
• How often have you cooked for eight hours straight?
• Have experienced chefs ever tried your entrees?
• How many knives and other kitchen tools can you use at a high speed?

Chef training will prepare you for all of the above.

Career Advancement
While no chef training can guarantee you culinary success, undergoing chef training should only help you professionally. The chef who moves his or her way up from dishwasher to prep cook to head chef, with no formal training, is rare: it happens, but not often. Most head chef positions go to those with years of experience and formal chef training.

Culinary arts school can teach you the latest culinary techniques and trends, and give you an insider's seat. Many culinary arts programs include externships, which place you in a restaurant to work with experienced chefs, which offers you invaluable hands-on training and contact-making.

Culinary Arts Techniques
Cooking classes can keep you abreast of culinary trends and techniques much more than watching the top cooking shows. These shows are largely for entertainment only. As Michael Smith, general manager of the Cooking Channel, told The Washington Post in 2010: "People don't watch television to learn how to make things."

Even if you're that exception, and you learn great things from one of those shows, it's just a hint of what you'll learn from a real culinary arts school, such as:

• Kitchen appliance skills, including knives. Cleaning, sharpening, cutting, chopping, julienning and mincing.
• That professional cooking is long, stressful and noisy.
• Trends are important to know, but they won't define your cooking. The latest trends include healthy meals and local or organic ingredients.
• You'll need thick skin, not for your chicken, but for yourself. There will be some harsh criticism of your cooking.

If you can't stand the heat...

Are you ready for a career that's intense, fast-paced, and will allow you to pursue your interests? Best of luck to you.

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