back to top
Food

14 Life Lessons I Learned In Culinary School That Didn't Involve Cooking

Some of the most important lessons had nothing to do with cooking.

Posted on

Hello world! I'm Jesse from BuzzFeed's Food team and I recently shared some of the best cooking tips I learned in culinary school.

Advertisement

But beyond those, my years at The Culinary Institute of America also taught me a ton of lessons that had nothing to do with cooking.

Bravo

Sure, I spent most of my time learning the fundamentals of cooking, but I also learned a ton of valuable stuff that helped me become a better professional (and person).

So here are 14 of the best (noncooking) lessons I learned:

1. Respect every coworker.

Getty Images

The first thing you should know about working in kitchens (and attending culinary school) is that the dishwasher has a lot of control over your success. Everybody should be treated like a chef — it's simply a sign of respect. Anthony Bourdain actually talked about being a dishwasher and said it taught him "every important lesson of my life.” Treat every coworker like they're your superior, and never overlook the people underneath you.

2. Time management is the single most important skill to master in your professional life.

Food Network

In culinary school, there's always something productive to do — and they've even got a saying: "If you've got time to lean, you've got time to clean." Teachers set up classes like a real job, and you've gotta learn how to organize your tasks in order to accomplish everything. Map out your days, and think about what takes the longest — if a braise (or an expense report, if that's more your style) takes two hours to complete, then knock that out first and go from there.

Check out even more ways to organize your time here.

3. And prep lists = the OG bullet journal.

Instagram: @gchappie

Part of mapping out my classes included writing a daily prep list, and I still do this today. Writing an aggressive (yet practical) list of things I had to accomplish helped organize my thoughts and seamlessly move me from task to task. To this day, I have a running list of posts I want to write and things I need to accomplish. Keeping a prep list is much like keeping a bullet journal — it's the easiest way to keep your shit together.

Advertisement

4. Always keep a tiny notebook on you at work — and jot everything down.

Instagram: @cosiclana

During class, if a chef was talking and I wasn't taking notes, it would be considered disrespectful. Instead of having to remember everything they said, I would jot it down into a pocket-sized notebook and review it later. To this day, I still use this technique and take notes during meetings so I have more head space to be creative instead of trying to remember everything. (It's also been proven that you remember more when you write stuff down, so it's a win-win.)

5. Mise en place is life — and it's not just for food.

Instagram: @madcrushwinebar

Chefs live and die by mise en place — there's even a book dedicated to it — but the term means so much more than just cutting up your veggies. Mise en place roughly translates to having everything in its place, and this goes beyond the kitchen. In culinary school, students would be expected to arrive early and get everything set up before the class even started. Get everything in its place before you do any actual work and the end product will almost always turn out better.

6. Don't be afraid to knock on doors. (Just be respectful about it.)

Getty Images

If there's a job or person you look up to, don't be afraid to reach out. In school we were literally taught to knock on the back door of kitchens and ask to speak with the chef. This kind of personal contact can be the difference between an email getting overlooked, and landing a job. One teacher told us a story about a student who camped outside of their dream job until the manager gave them attention (seriously) — although this technique is probably not the best in every situation, it made a point.

7. Never show up to work with a stained uniform (even if this means you have to soak them in Borax the night before).

Instagram: @jp1lung, Getty Images

In school, if your whites were stained, you were sent home for the day. Every night we would soak our whites in a mixture of hot water and Borax. No matter what insane stain-fighting concoction students came up with, this classic mixture always proved to be the best. This taught us to be clean, put together, and presentable at all times. See how to do it here.

8. If you mess something up, that's OK — just fix it so your colleagues don't hate you.

Instagram: @destincapri101

In school: Burning food was inevitable, and everybody did it — but not everyone cleaned up after themselves. If a student messed up a pan and handed it straight to a dishwasher, it would not fly. Instead, we scrubbed it out with Bar Keepers Friend and moved on (it really is the best for removing burned bits). The noncooking takeaway? Everybody makes mistakes; just make sure you fix them before they mess up others.

Advertisement

9. No matter how upset you are at work, keep things moving.

Fox

There was a rule at culinary school. Even if you were mad at your teacher, all you could say was "yes, chef." Not only is this a sign of respect, but it showed that you can take direction, are easy to work with, and can move on. If you said anything more that that, you would risk being thrown out. If you're ever upset with a coworker or boss, just remember "yes, chef" and move on.

10. Work starts as early as you need to get it done, not when your schedule says.

memegenerator.net

Culinary classes look pretty manageable on paper, but the hours posted don't always reflect the actual amount of time you have to put in. Sometimes you'll arrive an hour early just to get everything ready, and that's not uncommon for real kitchen jobs.

11. (Over)communication is often the key to team work.

Getty Images

In movies and TV shows, you'll often hear chefs yelling out times and orders. This isn't because they like to yell, it's because communication is key to keeping things organized. Most managers won't dock you for overcommunicating, and doing so can guarantee that everyone's on the same page.

12. Criticism can teach you how to be better — so don't let it upset you and always be open to it.

Fox

In culinary school, your grade would sometimes rely on the help of others. This taught us to be honest and straightforward with each other. People who don't ask for feedback will never grow, and people who get upset by it are turning down the opportunity to improve.

13. Realize that you'll never know everything about your field...

Instagram: @farmwithtable

One thing culinary school stresses is to not walk into a job thinking you know everything. Food is an endless subject, and you can never know it all. Once you realize this, you're able to grow and learn from others.

14. ...and that everybody has a different way of doing things.

Getty Images

It doesn't matter if a fellow student uses a peeler to peel potatoes while you use a paring knife, as long as you get the same results in the same amount of time. There are different ways to reach the same successful outcome — and they're all equally valid.

Promoted

Every. Tasty. Video. EVER. The new Tasty app is here!

Dismiss