Who Needs an Education?
It’s a loaded question, especially in the culinary industry! I’ve worked for many chefs in the industry, including those who have never stepped foot inside of a classroom. I have always found myself willing to throw myself in front of the bus for any of them. They have all inspired me with their knowledge and ability. In my mind, the question is not whether or not we need a culinary education. The question becomes how do we get that education? What’s the best way to ensure that we are preparing ourselves for an ever-changing industry while at the same time respecting the centuries of tradition behind us?
Many of us in the industry tend to think culinary school graduates are arrogant, or inexperienced or combination of both and I’m sure that’s true in some cases. I would like to argue that in some cases, school can instill a sense of humility in students and can set them on a path towards filling their dreams more quickly than they might have otherwise done. When I’m talking to students, I often ask them to imagine where they could go or what they could do and try to break down the boundaries and stereotypes that are imposed by society. Education helps us to do that because it helps to inform how we look at the world - and how the world looks at us! Education expands horizons. Education ignites curiosity. Education allows students to tap into potential that they didn’t even know they had.
When I’m teaching my students, I encourage them to research thoroughly before writing the menu or creating a concept or generating a budget statement so that they understand the background behind those tasks. Don’t just do it because the instructions say to do it – think about it, interpret it, do it because it makes sense to do it that way! I don’t want them just to fill in the blanks on a multiple-choice worksheet! And I definitely don’t want them to think that they know all that there is to know and I’ll call them out every time they try to pass something off on me. Part of a good education is learning how to research and how to find more information when you obviously don’t know enough. Part of a good education is looking at those around you and recognizing when they have knowledge that you don’t and knowing how to ask them to share with you. Just like recipes are only guidelines to the final product, so too is a formal education only one pathway to success.
I feel pretty strongly that the more nuanced we are with our knowledge of the world, the more depth and detail our food will have. When we know about the little things that make a difference, whether it’s technique or a seasoning or perhaps a spice that might not be referenced otherwise, we have to potential to focus on bringing out the absolute best of the dish. Formal culinary education gives students the basics allowing seasoned chefs to fill in the gaps and deepen a student’s understanding.
Finally, I’m also am a firm believer that because educational settings allow students to work with more than one chef at a time, students will have the opportunity to internalize several different ways of doing things. Instead of having to start from the very basics, hopefully you can spend less time telling a culinary school graduate what you are looking for as opposed to having to school them from the ground up on how to make your variation of mashed potatoes.
The most important aspect of any education is to teach the students humility and respect. Our industry is constantly changing and evolving and we need to do the same. Education whether it’s in the form of a degree or continuing education classes or even just some professional development that you pick up by doing a stage with another chef is critical if we are to stay vibrant and continues to develop our strengths as individuals and contributing members or our food world.