As a chef instructor I have seen many students struggle with the transition into culinary school. Some are overly confident in their skills while others are quite uncertain of their place within the professional kitchen. I have listed 5 ways the emerging culinarian can survive culinary school and thrive.
1. LEAVE THE EGO AT THE DOOR
Whether you are a young and confident student fresh out of high school or a an older career change driven student, remember to leave your ego at the door. The chef instructors you encounter in the classroom have earned their status. Nothing aggravates an instructor and other students more than a know it all who believes they are going to be the next Top Chef! Take this opportunity to learn from others and practice humility. Even though you may have a faster way to De-bone a chicken, remember the chef will be showing you classic methods that are time tested and expected when you are out on internships or a job.
2. RESPECT THE UNIFORM
Albeit the customary checkered pants, chef coat, apron and toque may not always be flattering, they serve a purpose. The toque keeps your hair out of the food and the height of the hat increases with your level of experience. The jacket’s long sleeves protect you from burns and cuts. The white coat and apron help you to maintain a pristine appearance and to be contentious to the cleanliness of your work area. The checkered pants minimize the appearance of stains and show your place in the kitchen below the head chef who customarily wears black pants. Remember to purchase non-slip shoes that are appropriate for the kitchen, not grungy sneakers you wear to the mall.
3. DO YOUR HOMEWORK
Culinary homework can include a variety of readings, memorization and practicing knife skills. Make your self familiar with the culinary lingo you will hear in the classroom. This includes being able to identify ingredients, identify equipment and knowing the knife cuts. The more you know and practice, the better the grades you will receive. When I was in culinary school I practiced my knife skills daily when making dinner with julienne carrots or apple swans for my children’s snacks. I found flashcards where the best way to memorize the terminology. Finally, the best way to learn about ingredients is to smell it, taste it raw if possible and cook with it.
4. BE PROFESSIONAL
Professionalism is not only expected once you don the uniform, it should become part of who you are. This includes leaving the piercings, jewelery and flashy nail polish trends for your personal life. I know many chefs who have a unique style when it comes to their culinary uniforms after their time in culinary school. While in school follow the masses, keep the excessive jewelry off not only for appearance sake but for sanitary purposes. ServeSafe recommends wearing no more than a a plain wedding band, non-dangling earrings and a watch that can be cleaned properly. Ladies remember no fake fingernails or nail polish in the kitchen. These things are not intended to take away your personality, they serve a purpose for a safe kitchen and to help you in the future job market.
5. MISE EN PLACE
This means “everything in place”, a way to be prepared to create your recipe before you begin the cooking process. This begins with thoroughly reading the recipe you are assigned before you jump in. Gather all your equipment first including knives and pans, turn on necessary ovens or fryers, and select dishes for plating. Next weigh and measure your ingredients properly with each item being placed separately into mise en place dishes. Follow the recipe instructions precisely. Be sure to never leave the dish unattended while on the stove. Taste your dish throughout the cooking process and season accordingly. Do not fear seasoning and spices, start with a small amount and add as needed.
Best wishes for a successful culinary career!
Chef Susan Brassard