Chef Travis Brust, CEC, began his career in the kitchen at 14-years-old.

“Growing up, I had this vision that I was going to become an orthopedic surgeon,” he says. “After I got my first job in a kitchen, I found out I had this amazing knack for cooking.”

In 1999, Brust became an apprentice at the Balsams Grand Resort in Dixville Notch, New Hampshire. During those three years, he worked in kitchens across the country.

“I got to travel around and absorb all these great cuisines. It was a really good foundation,” Brust says.

A viable path

While that story may seem like a fantasy for many culinary students, there are thousands of current and former apprentices with similar experiences. As the restaurant worker shortage continues and the cost of attending a college rises, combining on-the-job training and classroom instruction seems more important now than ever.

“The ideal apprentice is one who has more passion than ability."

A 2017 study by the Office of the Washington State Auditor found that jobs in skilled trades sit vacant as students are steered toward getting bachelor's degrees. In that same study, it was noted that 37 percent of members of the National Restaurant Association said labor recruitment was their top challenge. Apprenticeships can help fill these vacancies while providing training to the new generation of professional cooks.

Hands-on experience

Of course, a kitchen isn’t a classroom, and things move quickly when the pressure is on. Those who learn better in a classroom setting might be better off in culinary school. But a student who’s ready to jump in and learn by doing may prefer an apprenticeship.

“The ideal apprentice is one who has more passion than ability,” says Brust, who is now the executive chef at the Colonial Williamsburg Resorts. “They want to be chefs. They want to change how people look at food. They want to feed people and make them happy.”

The restaurant industry is a notoriously tough one. Those who want the title of chef must be dedicated, creative and motivated to become professionals. Apprenticing in a real kitchen under an experienced chef with all of these qualities — not to mention a few good recipes to share — is a great way to get there.