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All-Star Chefs Drive Demand for Cooking Schools...But Is that Good for Students?

Aug 18, 2011

The life of top chefs can seem pretty glamorous when they're seen on television shows. But are these shows giving future culinary students the wrong impression of what the field is like?

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By Jessica Lyons

food

Chefs as Celebrities

For many interested in the culinary field, when they think of chefs, they think of those they've seen on TV - Emeril Lagasse, Anthony Bourdain, Curtis Stone and even Julia Child. Reality television is more popular than ever now, and many of those shows focus on the culinary field. Tune into the Food Network and you can see chef and host Sunny Anderson demonstrating cooking solutions for the everyday person on 'Cooking for Real.' Flip over to the Travel Channel and you might see chef and author Andrew Zimmern visiting cultures all over the world trying unique foods on his show 'Bizarre Foods.'

Many of the culinary shows make it look alluring. Chefs are all smiles as they give cooking demonstrations, tour the world or take part in food-related contests. Viewers get to see a lot of positives and not many negatives to working in this field.

There are some shows that take a look at a harsher side of the industry, like 'Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares,' where star chef and restaurant owner Gordon Ramsay tries to rehabilitate failing restaurants. Viewers see chefs dealing with poor equipment, owners trying to handle debts and very dissatisfied customers. While shows such as this illustrate how hard it really can be to be a culinary professional, it still can look almost like a game as Ramsay yells, makes drastic changes and gets customers happy again.

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The Real Reality

While it may not always come through on the television screen, working in the food industry can be very demanding, particularly for those just get started in the field. As the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes, those who work in kitchens as chefs or head cooks will be in crowded, hot spaces where they could get injured by being burned, cutting themselves or slipping on wet floors. Additionally, they could work long hours, possibly up to 12 hours a day, including mornings, nights and holidays. The BLS also explains that these jobs can be high-pressure and fast-paced as chefs rush to put out quality dishes in a timely fashion to meet the needs of customers.

What potential culinary students might not realize is that, before they can be the stars of their own shows, there are a lot of dues to be paid. They'll have to start off in entry-level positions and keep working extremely hard to climb the ranks before they can even think about becoming an all-star chef. They'll also have to prove themselves to others in the industry to gain the respect of other chefs so, should they pursue having their own restaurant or television show, they'll have the necessary credentials and reputation.

How to Decide if Culinary School is the Right Choice

If watching some of these chefs on television has made you think that you might want to become a culinary professional, there are a few steps you can take to help verify you're making the right decision. First, try signing up for a cooking class being offered by a local community college or some other organization. This will give you a chance to see if you truly like the process of learning about food and how to cook, while also giving you the opportunity to get some hands on experience that could help with your decision.

You might also want to see if there is a restaurant that will let you observe the kitchen in action during a dinner service so you can see what it's really like. This might help you determine if it's a work environment you'd want to be in and could handle. You should also try talking to other chefs and cooks to find out about their experiences to get a more complete picture of what it takes to do well in the field.

Finally, think about your motivations for wanting to become a culinary professional. Is it because you want to be famous and on television, or because you truly love the work involved and want to create tasty food for people to enjoy? If it's something you really love, then you're entering the field for the right reason.

Are you seriously considering becoming a chef? Check out these careers in cooking.

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