What Culinary School Doesn’t Teach

What culinary school doesn't teach

Editor’s note: What Culinary School Doesn’t Teach was originally published in January 2016 and most recently updated in May 2022.

Many of the Only Chefs team have been to culinary school in the UK. Time spent learning to be a chef was greatly enjoyed. But time spent in commercial kitchens afterwards quickly highlighted there’s plenty culinary school doesn’t teach you or tell you about what it’s really like to work as a chef.

What culinary school won’t tell you

On its own a culinary degree will not make you a chef

But on graduating you be a well-trained cook who is able to add some value to a commercial kitchen team. It should help you get a foot through the kitchen door when you’re looking for that first job. But only hard work and focus will move you on in your chef career.

You won’t leave with a recipe bank of dishes

At culinary school you learn foundational skills, not full recipes. You’ll learn how to comprehensively cook different ingredients, but you will not be extensively taught a rulebook of how to put ingredients together to make winning recipes.

Social media has changed the food landscape

To get ahead as a chef it’s important for you to know how to use social media to your advantage.

Posting your work on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms is a great way to get people to notice your cooking style, but it’s not something that most culinary schools will talk or teach you about.

Read: Get a Blog to Land That Next Chef Job

Being a junior chef isn’t glamorous or well paid

You need to be passionate about food and a creative, hardworking team player that wants to deliver to standards that will excite and delight customers.

It doesn’t come with a rock star salary. Your pay progression is directly linked to the work you put into the kitchen and the time you spend learning culinary skills.

For 99% of the profession being a chef doesn’t culminate in celebrity chef status, TV appearances and book deals.

Working in restaurants won’t be your only career option

There are less traditional career paths where a culinary degree can come in handy, like food styling, food marketing, recipe development and sales – to name just a few.

Read: Chef Jobs Outside of the Restaurant Kitchen

Lots of successful food professionals didn’t go to culinary school

Culinary school isn’t a golden ticket to guaranteed career success. It’s a place to gain technical competency in the skills needed to be become a great chef.

What culinary school won’t teach you

You need to communicate clearly and quickly in the kitchen

Professional kitchens are often busy, pressurised work environments that are fast paced. Part of your job will be to keep up with that pace and not slow down the line.

Learning to communicate quickly, clearly and in keeping with the language/slang used in your kitchen will be very important.

What culinary school doesn’t teach – prioritise mise en place

You’ll get an overview of mise en place in culinary school, but in a commercial kitchen you will quickly learn its real value. Every product you throw out comes at a cost, and your employer will be fastidiously counting that cost. Mise en place helps you maximise the value of foodstuffs, and is the foundation to a smooth service – so it’s something to prioritise for a quick win in the kitchen. The devil is in the detail.

Quick prep saves valuable time

Small delays impact table turnover at restaurants, and a slower turnover means less profit. So it’s safe to say that you’ll learn a lot about shortcuts in your first job out of culinary school.

Self care in the kitchen is important

Yes, culinary school kitchens can be hot, but restaurant kitchens can be scorching.

It’s vitally important for any commercial kitchen newcomer to learn how to take care of their body (and mind) to stay healthy at work.

What culinary school doesn’t teach – forget about personal space

In a commercial kitchen every square foot of space is accounted for to give maximum productivity. There’s never enough room for everyone working on the line, so you will often need to deliver your best work in small spaces.

A commercial kitchen is a pressurised working environment

The way staff act in the kitchen can reflect that and it’s important to see things through the lens of the working environment and not take directions or comments too personally.

Everyone is trying to work towards the same service goals.

A kitchen can NEVER be too clean

No matter how well you think you clean or how much cleaning happens in culinary school, you won’t understand what clean means until you start in your first chef job.

No matter how often you wiped down counters in class, it will not compare to the requirements needed in a continuously used commercial kitchen. So it’s helpful for any chef to instinctively be a clean freak!

What culinary school doesn’t teach – conclusion

Being a chef is about continuous learning. Having the drive to continually learn and grow will ultimately help shape your success much more than whether or not you went to culinary school.

Keep pushing chef!

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