Being a Culinary Student Tips

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Why are voluntary internships so important?

Making the Most of your Culinary Education with Voluntary Internships

Your entire culinary education builds toward the ultimate goal of working in the real world. As a student of The French Culinary Institute in New York City, you get the added benefit of gaining practical work experience in the campus's onsite restaurant, L'Ecole.

L'Ecole is far from a fast food joint. This restaurant is frequented by a sophisticated clientele and has been given top ratings by critics. In addition to L'Ecole, students of the French Culinary Institute are encouraged to seek voluntary internships to add to their resume. As an apprentice chef, it's important to get as much experience as possible. As a student living in New York City , the options are endless. Students have the opportunity to seek internships in restaurants, wine stores/wine departments within restaurants, and various other culinary businesses. Don't be surprised if you're asked to make a commitment. Expect to be there anywhere from six weeks to three months. Do a great job and you may find yourself facing a job offer.

Need help securing a voluntary internship? No problem! Check with the school's student services department for help. Your instructor will be able to provide recommendations for voluntary work placements as well. One thing's for sure, in a school like The French Culinary Institute, staff and faculty will be there to help you with all aspects of your culinary education, including placements.

How could I ever quit my job to get a culinary education?

Nine Months to Career Rebirth

How do you know it's time for a career change? Well, sometimes it's obvious. If you're working as a car salesman and you can't help but break into show tunes (and maybe a tap dance) every time you make a sale, maybe you ought to think about getting into theater. Likewise, if your pastries are the reason your office even has a break, maybe it's time to think about attending one of the top culinary schools. Seriously! When the thought of change, especially career change, first entertains our thoughts, it's easy to brush them aside. Who doesn't have dreams, right? But hey, this is the real world and you can't just quit your job so you can make fluffy pastries for a living. Or can you?

Let's say you really can't afford to quit your job, but the more you think about a culinary education, the more you begin to salivate. Don't give up just yet. Some culinary schools offer entire programs (full-time!) in the evenings. In about nine months you can either, a) start a family; or b) start a new career. Will it be easy? Probably not. But the best things in life are never easy. Nine months isn't a long time and it could be all you need to redirect your entire future.

What are the benefits of getting a culinary education in New York City?

Getting a Culinary Education in New York City

If you've been thinking about attending a college or university, consider the type of classroom activity offered and what that will mean to you in your learning. Classes that focus on individual learning are great, but the best way to learn is to interact as much as possible with other students. By working in groups, you get the benefit of the student teaching experience. Everybody has something important to bring to the table, and we can all learn from each other.

Top culinary schools don't get that designation by allowing their students to stagnate behind cooking books. They get the students out on the street where they can meet restaurant owners, pastry chefs, sommeliers, etc. Once a student becomes an apprentice chef, the learning goes that much deeper because now the student is getting some real-world experience.

Some learning takes place in the classroom, but top culinary schools understand that so much more learning can take place outside of the classroom. Hands on practical work is what it takes to become a top chef. Mentoring from the best of the best and having access to culinary diversity is where true learning comes from.

If this is the kind of learning style that interests you, don't overlook New York City as a place to get your culinary education.

How long will it take to complete my learning in culinary school?

The Learning Curve of the Apprentice Chef

As a student working towards a culinary education, you no doubt have big dreams. Of course, you know the old saying, “You have to learn to crawl before you can walk.” For an apprentice chef, nothing could be truer. Like any professional, there's a certain amount of time required to learn the ropes. Graduates of top culinary schools know the classic core techniques but may not have the life experience behind them to develop the kind of confidence required in this profession.

That's why the top culinary schools build practical experience into the curriculum gradually. Students progress through various levels of core techniques, building on each one in the kitchen and eventually moving into a real world restaurant setting. The French Culinary Institute of New York City offers that training in their on-site campus restaurant, L'Ecole. Other colleges may arrange to send their students to work placements in the field. Work placement is probably one of the most important credits in a culinary program. In fact, most colleges require a work place completion as a condition of program completion.

As an apprentice chef, be open to suggestions and mentoring from industry professionals. Chances are they've been at it for a while. If they've got something they want to share with you…listen up! Even if you're fully employed as an apprentice chef, you can still benefit from advice and/or suggestions.

Do part time students have the same benefits as full time students?

Part Time Course - First Class Student

Have you ever been made to feel like a second-class citizen because you didn't spend more than you were expected to in a retail store, asked a car salesman a ton of questions but never actually made a purchase, or walked into a college campus to inquire about a one day course? Ask a lot of people the latter question and they'll probably tell you they were treated just fine. The question is, did they have access to the same high quality resources, classroom space, equipment, instructors, and curriculum as the regular full-time (i.e., full-time paying) students? There's a chance they didn't.

For students interested in testing the waters of culinary school, there are a select few top culinary schools where they can be assured of the same high quality of education as anyone else walking their corridors. “Part-time” should never mean second class. Students should have the same access to cooking books, text books, teacher time, student services, etc. A student should be a student no matter how much they're paying for tuition, or how many hours they're spending on campus.

If all of these things are important to you, make sure to check with the campus before registering for part-time studies. A few questions to ask could include:

  • Can part-time students attend lectures and/or workshops by visiting chefs?
  • Is there a fee for part-time students to attend lectures?
  • Are full or partial refunds available if you're not satisfied with the course?
  • What other on-campus activities and resources can you take advantage of as a part-time student.
If you're just taking a one time course for the fun of it, you may not be interested in asking a lot of questions. On the other hand, if your goal is to eventually sign up for a full-time program, or if you're just checking it out by starting with one night course, asking a few extra questions may go a long way in helping you make a final decision.

How will I make it through culinary school when times get tough?

Remembering the Joy of Cooking

When Jill was about six years old, she'd watch her mother bake cookies, pies, chocolate cake with boiled icing, and homemade doughnuts. Her mother (who worked full time) designated Wednesday nights for baking. That was “her” night, she said. In a way, it was Jill's night as well, because she got to taste the delicious baked goods. The smell of cinnamon and vanilla clung to the moist air and a layer of flour covered the counter. But the one thing that really captured little Jill's attention was one page of one particular cookbook. That one page captured the joy of cooking for Jill, although she didn't know it at the time. It was a simple photograph of petit fours. Jill didn't even know what that meant. All she knew was that those little morsels looked incredible! Each piece was frosted in the colors of Easter…soft pink, baby blue, pale green, and creamy yellow. The photograph popped from the page, as if you could reach into the paper and pull one out.

Are you a Jill? Has the joy of cooking been introduced to you from a young age? If you're considering a culinary education, remember what it was that inspired your joy of cooking when times get tough. Any of the top culinary schools will put you through your paces, but if don't lose sight of why you chose the career in the first place, you'll make it straight to graduation day and beyond.

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Patricia Walters-Fischer