With all the industry talk about the value of culinary school, we thought we’d go straight to the source, and ask some well-known chefs about what they learned there.
“Every day I cook in my restaurants, I’m using techniques that I learned at ICC. Every day. And I always will for the rest of my life.”
Christina Kaelberer, Executive Pastry Chef at the Rainbow Room
“I went to culinary school, and just loved it. It was a breeze. Back when I went to culinary school, baking and pastry chefs, in America, weren’t really all that celebrated just yet. There weren’t pastry-specific programs, at least where I was going to school. When I graduated, two years later, they were starting off a pastry certificate program, and now they have a pastry Bachelor’s program. So I went back after I graduated to do a three-semester long pastry thing. [It] was really great.
“There was one class I really learned a lot from. My instructor set us up into four groups and we all had the same recipe, but it was: you’re going to use baking soda, I’m going to use baking powder, and we’re going to see the different interactions of the same exact recipe. If you ever mess something up later in life, like if you forgot to add the baking soda, or you put too much baking soda, then you would realize, ‘Well now I know, because I had learned that reaction back then.’ And then I’ve just been in restaurants ever since.
“I worked all through culinary school, which, for me at the time, was mostly just being financially stable. And then it was one of those things that really made sense, because you’re being able to apply what you’re learning in school in the job and you’re just propelled that much faster, you have that much more experience.”
“All of my research and development is grounded in the skills I learned at ICC. They taught me how to apply my creativity.”
Anthony Ricco, Executive Chef at Spice Market
“I learned that it wasn’t going to be easy in the restaurant business, I learned that I was going to work weekends, work holidays, work 14-15 hours a day. I learned that I was going to lose the arch in my feet standing so much, and I learned that most of my hair was going to fall out. That’s what I learned. That’s what my instructor told me, if you’re gonna do it, these are the things that are going to happen.
“I learned more than I know that I’ve learned. I learned more than I actually thought I did because I’m doing pastries again and I haven’t made half of these desserts in years. And I did it once. I got the base. I did them once, twice, three times in culinary school so I’ve got a basic knowledge. So when I was looking at the recipes that I have to create, I just realized I did this, I know this. It gave me a rounded foundation, and it taught me how to read a recipe. Once you know how to read a recipe, and somebody worked with you at a school, step by step, and you do it in your career, if you follow what the recipe says, you’re good. So I knew that I learned baking techniques in the past. I never utilized them in my career until now, but I can read the recipe and I know how important that is. That’s what I learned at culinary school.”
Bao Bao (Suchanan Aksornnan), Owner/Chef at Baoburg
“I went to the French Culinary institute. What I learned from culinary school was everything. You learn from the base. That is why I am not afraid to do fusion. Because I’ve learned from the root. To learn at culinary school is to cook properly. You have to know the rules before you break the rules.”
Ed Cotton, Executive Chef at Sotto 13 and runner-up on “Top Chef”
“What I learned in culinary school was to always ask questions and not be afraid to do anything. Step up and show your classmates that you mean business and you’re in this field for good and you’re not going anywhere. I was very excited also about learning about the origin of where dishes were made.”
Genevieve Meli, Executive Pastry Chef at Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse
“Professionalism is one of the number one things that I learned in culinary school. Always be respectful of others, and always – you’re not too old to keep learning as well. You know when you’re in your 20s and your teens, and you think you know everything? It’s really shown me that I don’t know everything, and I reiterate that in my head a lot. So now I want to learn from everybody. I learn now from my cooks. I have a cook now that knows a lot about vegan, so I make her do family meal and ask her to make it vegan so I can learn from her.”
Hung Huynh, Executive Chef at The General and Catch and winner on “Top Chef”
“There are so many things I learned! In culinary school, I learned the basics, history, and that camaraderie between chefs, cooks, and food. How we connect, and how we respect ingredients. And just being in that environment helps you become a better cook. Understanding because everyone in that building or that campus is about food and food-focused. They have nothing to talk about but food. So that’s why I enjoy and learned from culinary school.
“The immersion of the professors, of everyone obsessed with food, the immersion of being around people who are in the same field and that’s the only field, not like university, where you have friends that are in other studies. Culinary school is culinary school is culinary school and that’s it.
“Culinary school really gave me the diploma, but that’s what I really got from the degree is … now I can write a resume and have it be looked at, and have the credentials behind it.”
Melissa Muller Daka, Chef/Owner of Pastai and Bar Eolo in NYC
“Culinary school focused me. I learned a lot about time management which prepared me for not just the kitchen, but life. Knowing mise en place, technique, knowing what to do when. Every stop of the way changed me as a person, not just a cook. I opened my first restaurant at 22. It was tough, but I was prepared.”
Jonathan Borowitz, Chef/Owner of Café 48 in Tel Aviv
“I really owe a great deal to the school for forming within me the right state of mind to be able to understand and grasp how things are done. The focus on the WAY and METHOD, not just on the end result, are fundamental not only to cooking, but for other things as well. People always tend to say cooking schools are useless—find a job and you’ll learn how to cook. That is totally wrong.”