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12 Painfully Practical Lessons I Wish They'd Taught Me In Culinary School

Some things you gotta learn the hard way.

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Culinary school is great — you learn TONS of genius cooking tricks, life lessons, and (most importantly) how to run a kitchen.

But there are plenty of things they *don't* teach you in culinary school, too.
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But there are plenty of things they *don't* teach you in culinary school, too.

So here are 12 practical things I wish they'd taught me in culinary school:

1. You'll probably have to work a TON of hours for the first few years of your career.

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Restaurants are known for having demanding work schedules, and culinary students don't need to be taught that (trust me, they know) — but it would be nice to learn how to remain balanced.

2. How to pay your student loans off...

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Culinary students are taught the harsh realities of working in restaurants (including the low starting salary), but they need to start teaching how to set budgets and plan for the future. Culinary grads have the potential to make good money, but it often takes years of working to get there (and that means years of tight budgets).

3. And that the food industry still makes people "pay their dues" (aka start at minimum wage and work their way up).

Unlike other industries, the food world still makes you pay your dues and often overlooks education, and a lot of culinary grads (despite years of experience/training) will enter the workforce getting paid minimum wage.
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Unlike other industries, the food world still makes you pay your dues and often overlooks education, and a lot of culinary grads (despite years of experience/training) will enter the workforce getting paid minimum wage.

4. That social media has changed the food landscape, whether chefs like it or not. To get ahead, you have to know how to use it.

Instagram: @jesseszewczyk, Getty Images

Working in a kitchen can be isolating — you may not come into contact with customers and it can be hard to get noticed. One thing I wish they taught me was how to highlight my work and network. Posting your work on Instagram, Twitter, and other social media outlets (if done smartly) is a great way to get people to notice your cooking style and is something that most culinary schools don't talk about.

5. That working in restaurants isn't your only career option.

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A lot of culinary grads feel like they're stuck working in restaurants the rest of their life, and this is not true (unless you want it to be!). There are several untraditional career paths where a culinary degree can come in handy, like food styling, food marketing, recipe development, and sales — to name just a few.

6. That you're not a chef yet (and it'll most likely take you years of working to become one).

Being called a chef is something that comes with many years of work experience, and a culinary grad shouldn't expect to be called one right after graduating. I'm not saying that *all* students expect this, but in my experience, it's a common misunderstanding.
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Being called a chef is something that comes with many years of work experience, and a culinary grad shouldn't expect to be called one right after graduating. I'm not saying that *all* students expect this, but in my experience, it's a common misunderstanding.

7. How to stay up to date on food trends and stay ~in the know~ (because just knowing the classics won't cut it anymore).

Instagram: @artrprnrmgzn, Instagram: @whoislisaberlin

Staying relevant is not just about staying up to date on foodie social media accounts and chef trends (although those are important). Attending culinary conferences, networking parties, and restaurant openings are just some of the ways you can keep up with trends without having to spend money on eating at fancy restaurants.

8. That lots of successful food professionals didn't go to culinary school (and that you don't necessarily have a "leg up" just because you did).

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The reality is this: Culinary school isn't a golden ticket. Some kitchens will love that you went, and other kitchens will actually see it as a negative. It's all subjective.

9. The importance of being fluent in kitchen slang as well as boring hospitality jargon.

Fox

"Hot behind", "86", and "yes, chef" are all terms you need to understand, but it's also important to be able to confidently speak with management in a professional manner. Learning how to speak the super-important kitchen slang as well as professional jargon (like how to negotiate a raise) are two different but equally important skills, and I wish I'd learned more of the latter.

10. That some kitchens are literally 100 degrees and you'll have to learn to take care of your body to stay healthy.

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Culinary school *is* hot, but restaurant kitchens can be SCORCHING. Be prepared to work in the heat and learn tricks for dealing with it in a healthy manner (and, TBH, learn how to find a new job if it gets out of control).

11. The proper way to knock on the back door of a kitchen (aka how to ask for work the old-school way).

CBS

A stage is just a fancy name for working for free to gain experience or try out for a job. Most kitchens will take a stage (who says no to free work?) and consider it a serious source of talent. Culinary school does stress the importance of staging, but it doesn't really teach how to ask for a stage in a professional manner. If writers learn how to send pitches, chefs should be taught how to stage.

12. How (and when) to be creative.

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Culinary school does a great job of teaching technical skills, but it doesn't teach creativity (and, to be fair, that's not why you go). The food industry values creativity, and it's important to learn how (and when) to be creative.

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