The culinary arts present young men and women today with an irresistible draw. Food is an integral part of life, and for many, it is also a passion. Just as people love to eat delicious meals, others love to immerse themselves in the preparation of fresh ingredients and creation of appealing dishes. Given the consistent need for cooking professionals as well as our natural love of food, many people decide to turn what they love into a career.
Becoming a chef isn’t as simple as working your way up from a busboy, though. Competition in today’s professional food and beverage industry is tight, and even apprenticeship programs often fail to meet the needs of students for a solid, fundamental knowledge of culinary techniques. Chefs and restaurant owners agree that in the current market, the best way to develop your skills as a chef is to graduate from a culinary arts academy program, then practice, practice, practice.
The Advantage of a Culinary Academy Education
Professionals in the food industry often assert that it does not take much to see the difference between formal culinary school training and apprenticeship training. After students have undergone formal training, they are prepared to work in a number of settings, use a wide array of equipment, prepare food from a raw and unprocessed state, butcher and carve meats, execute dishes with clean and stylish presentation, as well as demonstrate a number of other fundamental and necessary skills.
None of these are guaranteed in the informal training of apprenticeships. Instead, young chefs may find themselves relying on pre-made foods to create dishes, including buying in desserts, sauces, pre-cut vegetables, and other components of the meal. Also, taught only the skills needed to create the menu dishes they are assigned, apprentices may not have the technical knowledge and ability needed to creatively solve unexpected problems in the kitchen.
Culinary academies provide ideal learning environments for up-and-coming chefs. Students are given the time and materials to learn the fundamentals of cooking. Instructors work with students to constantly improve and build on their skills instead of letting them get by with “good enough” results. It’s these basic skills that enable chefs to set themselves apart and define themselves as professionals. Students who find they gravitate toward certain areas of the culinary arts also have immediate resources within culinary programs to hone specific skills in those areas.
Formal culinary programs also attract some of the industry’s best to become instructors. These professional chefs have a passion for food, and they take to heart the concept that the best chefs emerge from culinary academies.
Ultimately, the advantage of formal culinary education can be summarized as the ability for the learning environment to shape itself to the needs of the students. Educators are able to identify problematic areas in a student’s training and focus on those skills accordingly. The facilities themselves incorporate the latest and most advanced equipment so that students gain the flexibility to work on any apparatus within a given setting. They are also exposed to a range of dishes and cooking styles, from American classics to ethnic delicacies.
Qualities to Look for When Choosing a Culinary Program
Students should look carefully at a prospective program’s curriculum to make sure it covers the fundamentals such as knife skills and cooking techniques, safety and sanitation, and global cuisines needed to succeed. Classes should not only teach culinary skills, but include kitchen management skills, menu planning and pricing, ordering supplies and ingredients, nutrition, and inventory. In other words, a culinary program worth its salt not only teaches cooking skills but equips students with overarching knowledge of the ins and outs of kitchen and restaurant operations.
Students should conduct thorough research on the program instructors and directors as well. Career programs should rely on teachers with rich, professional industry experience so that they can best prepare students to take on the challenges they will face in the field by sharing personal experiences.
Take a first-hand look at the classes, too. Tour the campus. Talk to students. Walk into a kitchen and watch the chef instructor in action. Shadow a culinary class to observe how the instructor teaches and corrects mistakes, how large or small the class size is, and what equipment and ingredients are available for students to use. It is important that students enter into an culinary classroom that will teach them to build a solid foundation in fundamental culinary skills as well as adapt to the variety of kitchens, restaurants, resorts and hospitality environments they may face as professional chefs.
Working as a Culinary Professional
People from a range of backgrounds are drawn to culinary professions. These individuals often share a passion for food and a desire to please others. Life as a chef undoubtedly demands hard work, but many also find it incredibly rewarding work.
Many types of establishments require the talents of professionally trained chefs, including:
- Hotels and Resorts
- Catering Companies
- Country Clubs
- Casinos and Recreational Centers
- Food & Beverage Companies
- Entertainment Venues
- Cruise Lines and Airlines
- Private Chef
There are many opportunities within the field of culinary arts for those who are willing to work hard and invest time in their foundational training. While formal education is not the only way to get started working on the line, it provides students with the skills they need to work their way through the brigade system and into the position they eventually desire in a professional kitchen or hospitality establishment.
Offering a comprehensive program of culinary fundamentals and classical cuisine, the American Academy of Culinary Arts (AACA) at PTI provides hands-on skills development in its new Culinary Arts Center kitchens and dining lab. AACA students benefit from PTI’s college-wide student services, campus events, and wide range of activities. It is headed by Executive Chef Norman Peter Hart, a professional and educational leader in culinary arts. The academy is stocked with state-of-the-industry cooking equipment to help students become intimately familiar with the instruments and supplies found in restaurants and kitchens around the world. The program also features an internship in a working kitchen so students benefit from both an educational environment as well as practical application within a restaurant setting. To request more information about the Pittsburgh-based AACA Culinary Arts program, visit aaca.pti.edu
Pittsburgh Technical Institute is a career college that offers technical training and 2-year degree programs in a number of fields, including design, healthcare, hospitality, HVAC, information technology, electronics, trades technology and more. Visit www.pti.edu.