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Culinary Spotlight: You Wanna Be A Chef, Ehh?

Photo by Hillary Ehlen

Should you do formal education or the school of hard knocks?

Three out of every five aspiring culinarians will opt for an alternate profession within two years of working in a kitchen. This statistic is based on a study I made up for this column!

I don’t have any idea what this statistic may actually be, but it can’t be good. From my experiences alone, I’ve seen so many cooks either crack from the pressure or simply say, “no thanks, this isn’t for me.”

As far as the never ending question of, “Should I attend culinary school, or simply work my way through the ranks?” I think we could easily sum it up with a simple quote from the late Anthony Bourdain. “I’m not telling you that culinary school is a bad thing. It surely is not. I’m saying that you, reading this, right now, would probably be ill-advised to attend—and are, in all likelihood, unsuited for The Life in any case. Particularly if you’re any kind of normal.”

Chef Bourdain had a way of articulating his thoughts far more effectively than I ever will. If you’re a relatively normal human being who possesses a desire to be around relatively normal human beings, then perhaps this profession simply isn’t for you, regardless of whether your preference of education is formal or on the job.

Do you like to receive over the top and sometimes unwarranted criticism at work? Do you like to go home from work with cuts on your hands and burns on your forearms? Do you love the never-ending aroma of onions and garlic on your hands? Do you desire the feeling of needing to wash the grease out of your hair before you dare set foot in a bar to enjoy a beer with co-workers after work? If you said yes to all of these, then you need to work in a professional kitchen!

If you’re seriously considering attending a culinary school, then here are a few suggestions to keep in mind, as well as a short list of local culinary schools.

RELATED: “Culinary Spotlight: The Midwest Vegan – A Growing Population

Learn more mouth-watering recipes from Eric Watson by clicking here.

Considerations Before Attending Culinary School

Culinary school can be expensive. It can also give you an advantage over your future co-workers. The school provides the resources. You need to provide the effort and discipline.

Culinary apprenticeships are affordable and provide much needed on the job training. Unfortunately, the closest one is in Colorado. (Or maybe that’s fortunate.)

On the job training is, of course, the most affordable option. Local restaurants typically don’t offer a broad enough training opportunity to take you to the top. You should use local restaurants as a stepping stone. Local restaurants will get your foot in the door in Minneapolis. Then New York. Then Tokyo. And so on and so on.

Culinary school won’t make you a chef! You have to work for a decade or more to accomplish that. School only provides the foundation to build upon.

There are a ton of culinary school options. Ask many questions and visit a few schools before deciding.

You’ll probably make between $12 and $15 hour after graduation. Make sure you approach school debt with a sense of reality. Money will come. Be patient.

Being a chef isn’t about being cast for Top Chef or being featured in magazines.  It’s about exploring a passion for cooking.

Culinary Schools To Consider In Our Area

The countries top-rated culinary schools can cost as much as $60,000 for a 2-year education. Local schools can provide a more affordable option. Contact specific programs for accurate tuition rates.

NDSCS or North Dakota State College of Science

  • 2-year program located in Wahpeton, N.D.

M State or Minnesota State Community & Technical College

  • 1-year program located in Moorhead

St. Paul College

  • 2-year program located in St. Paul, M.N.

Hennepin Technical College

  • 2-year program located in Brooklyn Park, M.N.

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Written by Eric Watson

Eric Watson is a monthly contributor for Fargo Monthly. He is the owner
of Rustica and Mosaic Foods in Fargo, and is also the founder and president of the Fargo branch of the American Culinary Federation.

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