Culinary School Advice!


Thinking of taking cooking classes or traveling abroad to learn how to cook? Here are some tips to help you determine the best plan for you.

By Kathy Oberman

 It wasn't too long ago that you only had two choices if you wanted to learn to cook: you could take a local cooking class or you could sign up for professional culinary school.

Times have changed. Nowadays, you can take a class specifically on knife skills, or one on basic bread baking. You can travel to another country to learn the regional dishes, sign up for a cooking and wine-tasting trip through nearby vineyards, or take a cruise with a focus on cooking.

You no longer have to train to be a professional chef to delve as deeply as you want into the culinary arts. On the other hand, if you have a passion for cooking as a hobby, there are plenty of opportunities to satisfy your curiosity without investing a lot of time and money.

Know What You Want
Are you interested in learning how to cook for the first time? Do you know how to cook but would like to learn pastry and bread baking?

Perhaps cooking inspires you deep in your soul and so the idea of traveling to the source of your favorite food thrills you. Think about a culinary vacation in Europe, Asia, or here at home.

Are you an experienced cook searching for some professional techniques? Or are you thinking of turning your passion into a career?

Cooking 101
For basic training in cooking - if you need to learn how to boil water or roast a chicken - you probably need go no further than your own backyard.

Adult education programs and community colleges offer classes. So do gourmet shops and some restaurants. Consider taking courses in a small, home-based cooking school.

Flip through the Yellow Pages, talk to caterers and specialty food shop owners, ask your friends. It shouldn't be too hard to find a good school where you can learn the ABCs of cooking.

Vacation Fun
A passion for cooking often goes hand in hand with a passion for traveling. This makes both extra rewarding.

Opportunities abound for culinary travel. You can spend a week at a chateau in France or a villa in Italy - or you can explore Morocco, Mexico, Thailand, or Vietnam. There is sure to be a trip for whatever appeals to you.

Check with a reputable travel agent, keep an eye out for advertisements and write-ups in culinary and travel magazines, and ask your cooking teacher for suggestions.

The Professional Chef
You might want to pursue the dream of cooking professionally. For this, look beyond small schools and investigate accredited schools that offer professional courses.

These can vary from full-time courses of study to selecting only the classes you feel you need to polish your skills. Decide how important a culinary degree is to you.

Most cooking schools offer a variety of programs to fit busy schedules. With a little tenacity, you will find the course that works for you.

Before you sign up, ask yourself a few questions: How long is the program? Is it affordable? How qualified is the faculty? Is the school accredited? Is a real-world experience part of the program? What textbooks and course materials are provided? What kind of job offers can you expect?

If you are serious about being a chef, read Becoming a Chef by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. It's a good introduction and resource for anyone considering a culinary career.

The Shaw Guide to Cooking Schools is another indispensable source. You can find it online at www.shawguides.com or in your local bookstore. Also, www.culinary-edu.com, reviews culinary schools.

Whatever you decide, increasing and deepening your knowledge will enrich your life - and make everyone who comes for dinner very happy!