Culinary Education Vs Internships

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I want to address the one question that burns in the mind of every aspiring chef – do I need formal education to get started in the kitchen?

Simple answer? You don’t.

But will it help? Definitely!

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While there is no right or wrong path to take as you journey towards your dream of working in a professional kitchen, having a formal education can definitely give you a leg up.

Yes, it might take you a little longer to climb up the kitchen ladder. But this is an industry where you can peak at 30, 40 or even 50. So, do you really waste those extra years that you spend honing your skills?

Again, as I said, there really isn’t a right or wrong path. What worked for me may not work for you. So, to help you make up your mind, I’ve broken down the pros and cons of both – Getting a culinary education and starting off with an apprenticeship.

Here’s what you need to know about getting formal culinary education:

Pros

  1. You get enough time to learn from the beginning even if you are an extreme novice to cooking but are fascinated by the field.
  2. You learn about more than just the kitchen. The best schools hone your skills in all forms of the food business.
  3. A formal degree could also help you in the future to get up the ladder in your career from sous chef to head chef and then to executive chef.

Cons

  1. Culinary education can be expensive, which may make it inaccessible to some.
  2. You will spend 2 to 4 years studying, most of which may be spent in a classroom environment
  3. A classroom environment may not adequately prepare you for the stress of an actual professional kitchen

Here’s what you need to know about starting off with an apprenticeship:

Pros

  1. You may get the opportunity to meet inspiring chefs and leaders, and see how they work
  2. You will learn on the job, helping you pick up skills and techniques faster
  3. You will get first-hand experience of all the different sections of the kitchen

Cons

  1. Internships are often sheer hard work without any expectations. Being the junior-most on the floor, you will be expected to dedicate prolonged working hours, do all the small and big errands etc.
  2. Culinary internships are often low paying and even at times pro bono when compared to a culinary school graduate. This makes your life difficult with the current expenses in a big city.
  3. An internship doesn’t guarantee you a job in the same restaurant/kitchen

I hope this will make it easier for you to make up your mind. Remember, no matter what path you choose, it is your determination and dedication that will take you to the top. 

And trust me when I say that no amount of formal education will help prepare you for the chaos that is service time.

Nigel J Lobo
Nigel J Lobo is currently the Executive Chef and Group Culinary Administrator at the Royal Orchid Hospitality Group in Dubai. Prior to this, he was the Chef de Cuisine at The Eloquent Elephant at the Taj Dubai. Nigel holds a Bachelors degree in Tourism Studies and a Post Graduate Diploma in Kitchen Management from the renowned Oberoi Centre of Learning and Development (OCLD). He spent his formative years training at Miramar under Michelin star Chef Paco Perez, at Compartir under Chef Mateu Casanas in Spain; Attica in Australia under Chef Ben Shewry, La Vie under Chef Thomas Buhner in Germany and at a local tapas bar in Valladolid-La Tahona under Chef Jose. Nigel remains passionate about Modern European cuisine and being born and raised in the UAE, he has harnessed the locally available produce to create successful menus which he has rolled out across all the group’s outlets. Keen to share his experiences to educate and guide young chefs or students who are looking at starting a career in the Food & Beverage industry, Nigel recently launched his website (www.nigeljlobo.com) which has different sections breaking down complex F&B terminology into simple, understandable lingo. A career that started in his late teens, Nigel has developed his skills over the years and currently oversees the operations for ten of the group’s restaurants – from efficiently controlling the logistics of services and supplies, pricing the menus for various segment and portioning the plates, to training staff and maintaining consistency in product offering across all restaurants. A sports and music enthusiast, Nigel enjoys playing squash in his free time and has been a lifelong supporter of the English football club Arsenal FC. Nigel is also a trained pianist and now admits that playing the instrument, something that used to be a chore whilst growing up, is now his best remedy to unwind and destress.