Below are answers to the my most frequently asked questions about culinary school. If you have any additional questions that I haven’t answered, please feel free to leave them in the comments or send me an email.
What made you decide to go to culinary school?
After six years working at the same job I’d had since graduating college, life had grown a little stale and I no longer felt passionate about what I was doing. I had become very interested in food and nutrition, and decided that I was ready to take a risk and try to turn my passion into a career. Casey also gave a lot of nudges in the right direction. :) When I first decided to go back to school, I was torn between getting my Culinary degree or a Nutrition degree. In the end I decided I would rather work with food and people, than talk about food with people.
How did you choose Johnson & Wales?
While still debating the Culinary vs. Nutrition decision mentioned above, I was researching programs for both all over the country. At the same time, Casey was looking to go back to school for medicine (he later changed his program to Math). He found a school in Miami, Florida that he wanted to attend, so I started looking at schools down there as well. I found Johnson & Wales, and saw that it was listed as one of the top-rated culinary programs in the country. In addition, they had a program that was a perfect fit for me called Garnish Your Degree – specifically crafted for people who held previous Bachelor’s Degrees in other fields. When I originally applied to JWU, I was enrolled at the Miami campus. Crazy, huh? Two months before we were supposed to move, I had a major panic and freak out about moving all the way to Miami, and we quickly had to change our plan. JWU had another campus in Charlotte, and Casey was able to get a last minute application into UNCC. The rest is history! I often wonder how different life would be if we had made that move to Miami. I am so glad we ended up in Charlotte!
Did you have any food or restaurant experience prior to school?
No, absolutely none! Before I started school I had this weird idea that everyone in school was going to be a budding Top Chef contestant with years and years of experience, and I would be crying in the corner still trying to figure out how to sharpen my knives. I was completely surprised to find that over half of the students were actually scared 18 years olds just out of high school, with even less experience than me! Obviously some students there have been in the industry for a bit, but for the most part everyone is inexperienced and clueless. One of the best parts of being in school has been meeting such a diverse group of people from different backgrounds.
What is the hardest thing about being in culinary school?
There is nothing particularly hard about being in school, but there are definitely things that have required a bit of an adjustment. First of all, the schedule is very different from a normal work-day schedule. Classes start at 7:00am, and it is recommended that you get there early. I wake up at 5am every to get ready for school and be there on time, so I usually fall asleep around 9pm now! Also, adjusting to having large amounts of homework has been hard for me. I worked at a desk job for six years and was very much used to having my evenings free to workout, cook dinner, and relax. Now I do online modules, lots of homework reading, and writing papers – very strange at 29 years old! But I get all my work done, and I am determined to graduate with a 4.0 GPA.
What is it like to be a vegetarian in culinary school?
Being a vegetarian in school is not easy – I’m not going to lie. While other students gobble up hearty, free lunches every day, I typically pack my lunch or wait until I get home to eat. I have been somewhat disappointed that vegetarian cooking is such an under-represented component of our curriculum, because I feel it is such an important part of global cuisine these days. On the other hand, I feel that my presence as a vegetarian in culinary school has made a big impact on my classmates, and even some of my teachers. Many of my classmates have altered recipes so that I could share in the tasting, and have shared with me that my influence has taught them to think about vegetarianism and cooking in a different light. To me that is the best compliment of all!
What is a typical day like in culinary school?
Well I have many posts (see above!) that give you a general sense of what we do all day. But in general – class starts at 7am, and usually begins with an hour or so of lecture. Then we break into teams and do production (which means cooking!) for the next several hours, usually until 11am. During the next hour we break for lunch, and depending on what class we are in, we either eat the food that we made (in addition to serving another class plus staff), or we eat in another classroom or dining room. After lunch, we spend the last hour scrubbing the classroom from floor to ceiling – literally! Class is over at 1pm, and at that point I am usually exhausted and ready for a nap. :)
What do you plan to do when you graduate?
Ahhh the million dollar question that I wish I had a better answer to! To be honest, I never had a real “plan” for what I would do post-college. My hope was that by going to school, I would figure it out along the way as I got to know my strengths and interests a little better. My hope is to work in a vegetarian kitchen – restaurant, catering, cooking classes, etc. – and eventually get a job in the nutritional education field. I would love to some day teach healthy cooking classes and use media as a way to educate others about living a healthy lifestyle. I am also considering doing an online program this summer to get a Certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition from Cornell University.
Have a question that I didn’t answer above? Feel free to leave it in the comments!