A culinary education is definitely a feather in any young cook's cap, but it isn't for everyone. For every testimonial that's all "Hooked on Knife Skills worked for me!", there's an army of line cooks who can tell you where to stick that diploma.
To get the dirty truth on why it might be best to skip the frying pan lessons and head straight into the fire, we talked to a master chef that used to teach at The Culinary Institute of America, a dropout of Le Cordon Bleu who is now the sous chef at one of Bravo's Best New Restaurants, and a DIYer who oversees the kitchens at a genre-busting chain with locations in 10 states. Read on to learn the advantages of skipping school and why pocketing that tuition money could be a better option.
Depending on the pedigree of your institution, you could leave owing $50k. Prepare to be eating only staff meals for the next 10 years.
2. You could be getting paid to learn
An entry-level kitchen job isn't going to stock your pantry with caviar, but at least the outcome is income.
3. You can still learn by doing
In the long history of people feeding themselves, cooking schools are actually a new thing, whereas apprenticeships are tried and true.
4. You're still doing grunt work
Your entrance to the industry will still be entry-level, which means plenty of chopping onions and peeling potatoes. Sure, you're going in with a larger knowledge set, but you're also going to be right next to guys who have an extra $50k in their pockets.
5. Schools teach error-proof methods
Rules aren't made to be broken, but the best results come from bending them. When many chefs leave school, they get bogged down with theory and don't know how to improvise. And unlike at a comedy club, bad improv isn't tolerated in a kitchen.
6. They don't teach specialized skills
You might de-bone a fish once in culinary school, or have a single session butchering a goat, but until you've done it 100 times you won't be proficient enough to hang in a real kitchen. Skip the middle-man and go straight to the source.
7. You won't see the world
A culinary instructor can do a great job of explaining French cooking, but until you've tasted the Mother sauces while overlooking the cliffs of Normandy, you won't get it.
8. A great chef is built on intangibles
It's not the dots, it's how you connect them. Greatness isn't taught, it's learned. Whether or not these maxims sound straight off motivational posters, they're true in the kitchen.
Dan Gentile is a staff writer on Thrillist's National Food and Drink team. He burned a frozen pizza during the making of this story. Follow him to terrible knife skills at @Dannosphere.