For those who love food and have a desire to cook professionally, there are a variety of different career avenues available to you. You can start working in kitchens from a young age or right out of school, you can choose to go into culinary school to get formal training, or you can combine the best of both worlds and receive a formal education while also putting in the groundwork within a professional restaurant.
While it is possible to have similar outcomes no matter which avenue you choose, if you want to become a well-rounded chef it can be very helpful to combine restaurant experience with formal culinary training. Thinking about a career in a professional kitchen? Keep reading to learn more about the benefits of combining a formal culinary education with real-world restaurant training.
Why Are Both Culinary School and Kitchen Experience Important for a Well-Rounded Chef?
Kitchen Speed and Stamina
There is no better place to learn how to work as one important piece of an otherwise well-orchestrated machine than in a professional kitchen. While you can be taught how to prepare the most elegant and intricate dishes in culinary school, nothing will prepare you for the pressure of executing a flawless service each night than the time you spend gaining real-life kitchen experience. When you take the time to train in a restaurant kitchen, you’ll get a chance to build the stamina and speed needed to work in a high-pressure environment.
While it may seem like a great idea to some, there’s no role in the kitchen that has a cook completing one single dish every night or working at a single station for the rest of their career. Being a well-rounded chef means that you need to be versatile enough to jump in at any station in the blink of an eye. You never know what’s going to happen during any given service and if someone calls in sick or gets hurt at work, you should be able to assist at their station and keep the kitchen flowing as usual. When you work your way up through the various cooking stations in a restaurant, you’ll gain invaluable experience that will set you up to become a leader in the future.
We’ve all heard people use restaurant lingo on television and in the movies, but if you’ve never worked in a professional kitchen before—it can be difficult to really understand what the cooks are saying. However, restaurant terminology is essential for a well-coordinated kitchen to work properly. While you will learn many of these terms in culinary school, it’s important to put them to use in the kitchen as well.
Some people like to say that a clean kitchen and workspace is the mark of a true professional chef. And while your culinary school instructors will do their best to instill these good habits into you during your academic training, each kitchen that you work in will have its own set of standards to become familiar with. Learning about and maintaining a high set of standards in school is the best way to set your culinary career off on the right foot once you hit the kitchen.
Many people want to cook professionally so that they can one day create their own menus and command their own culinary team in the kitchen. But this isn’t a dream that will be achieved overnight. Whether you work in kitchens only, go to culinary school alone, or decide to combine both of these amazing learning tools to become a more well-rounded chef—you should be prepared to start your career close to the bottom of the totem pole. This is true even for those who have completed culinary school with flying colors.
However, if you already have a bit of real-world restaurant experience under your belt, you may be able to advance more quickly in your career. It’s common for those just entering the professional restaurant kitchen to begin their career as a line cook, then advance onto a sous chef, and finally, they may earn the title of head chef after many years of hard work and determination.
The Benefits of Training at Oregon Culinary Institute
At the Oregon Culinary Institute, we know first-hand just how important professional training is for a successful culinary career. However, we also know that nothing beats the first-hand experiences that are available to cooks who work in a professional restaurant kitchen. That’s why we are dedicated to helping our students get that real-world kitchen experience while studying one or more of our various programs with our student-run OCI restaurant.