Experts Talk the Benefits of Attending Culinary School
Higher Education Three experts share their experience attending culinary programs, as well as advice for those wondering whether a food industry career is right for them.
How did culinary school enhance your career? Do you think you would be where you are without it?
Brian D. Peffley: I was very fortunate to attend a well-run secondary program during high school. That program and competing in SkillsUSA launched my hospitality education, and I attended an American Culinary Federation (ACF) apprenticeship program at the Hotel Hershey in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Working hard, I advanced to become the executive pastry chef at the Hotel Hershey at the age of 24. After a total of 10 years of service there, I went into the retail bakery business for three years and then onto teaching for the past 22 years. There is no way a kid from rural Pennsylvania could be able to attain all of this without varied educational experiences. It is not one experience but the wide range of varied educational experiences across the country that gave me such a rich and deep education. And those experiences I am now blessed to share in my classroom.
Miles Mitchell: The exposure to ingredients and cuisines from around the world and the professional network of alumni have been the greatest career enhancements I received from being a culinary school graduate. I’ve worked with chefs from around the globe, and the wide base of knowledge I obtained in school gave me an advantage when I stepped into their kitchens for the first time. I was familiar with the culinary influences from various chefs’ regions of the world and was able to keep up in fast-paced environments. With regard to alumni, being a member of an engaged network of fellow graduates has proven invaluable both personally and professionally.
Lauren Kroesser: Culinary school was a huge opportunity for me that opened many doors. I went from being a decent at-home cook to a well-respected chef, teacher and business owner. During culinary school, I made connections with chefs that led to multiple job opportunities down the road. The great thing about attending Boston University is that many of the teachers are actual Boston chefs who might hire you.
What is a piece of advice you would give to someone who is considering a culinary career?
BD: I strongly recommend young students who are considering the hospitality industry as a career path to shadow at multiple places and work with a wide range of chefs in different establishments — resorts, independent restaurants, country clubs. This will allow the young professional to see if this industry is right for them and see if their gifts and talents can be fully maximized in this industry. If you do enter this hospitality profession, surround yourself with talented chefs who are willing and eager to share their love and passion for food with you.
MM: Participate and ask questions. It’s really that simple. Culinary education must be experienced first-hand by the student. No one else can do the work for you, and you cannot just read about making a hollandaise and truly understand the process without doing it yourself. Try, learn from your mistakes, do better next time and ask questions along the way. Culinary faculty come from all areas of the industry and each will be able to impart a unique perspective on food and what it means to be a chef.
LK: First of all, I would recommend working in a kitchen for a while before attending school. A kitchen is a very unique work environment and is not for everyone. If you're uncertain whether or not you want to make food your career, a professional kitchen will help you decide. Once in school, I would tell students to soak up every second. Take notes – lots of them – and pay attention. Your teachers are chefs and every technique, no matter how small, could help you in a practical kitchen.
What did you like best about the culinary experience?
BD: The best culinary experience is working in exemplary facilities with great mentors willing to share their craft with me. Now I serve on the ACFEF National Secondary Board representing the Northeast region, assisting other schools across the country and beyond to attain programmatic certification through ACF.
MM: I studied at the Culinary Institute of America, and the single greatest aspect of my education was starting down a never-ending path of culinary exploration. Food culture offers limitless possibilities for knowledge. I value the chance to extend similar opportunities to our students at Escoffier.
LK: I was trained at BU's culinary certificate program. The best part about BU’s program is how dynamic it is. One day we were working with Sara Moulton of the Food Network; another we were cooking for an event with Jacques Pépin. The amount professional connections I made during my short time there was incredible. It really opens up the world of food and shows students how they can personally get involved.