It’s Foodie Friday, and the topic today is culinary school. There is an ongoing debate in food professional circles about the value of, and need for, culinary school educations and I think it’s a discussion that has broader implications for those of us not in the food business. Basically the debate boils down (should I say “reduces” since we’re discussing cooking?) to this: is it preferable for new cooks to learn in school or learn by working?
Some very high-profile chefs have weighed in or either side of the question. Some such as Daniel Boulud feel that a formal culinary school education is indispensable. Other such as David Chang think that path is overrated and that the time is better spent working in a professional kitchen. Or as he puts it:
If you look at all my heroes, the chefs around the world, most of them never went to cooking school. What they did is they had a great mentor. You name a chef that’s awesome and people want to work for him, I’d say a majority of the time they never went to cooking school.
He goes on to make a point that culinary school students will learn skills in a very elementary fashion without any frills or shortcuts that they might learn in a professional kitchen, which is also a great broader business point and that’s my focus today. I’ve worked with people who went to business school and with those who spent the time working. While there was no question that the B-school folks knew what to call certain types of analyses, many of them had a totally unrealistic view of what business was about. As many of you know, it’s not exactly as it appears in textbooks.
Technical training is valuable. I think, however, it’s most valuable in fields such as law or medicine where there are standards to be met. Most other businesses have no such standards – the food world certainly doesn’t. I think a young person is better served working in a profession and, and Chang says, finding a great mentor. Coming out of a culinary school or a B school laden with debt affects how you can approach your career – and life – every day going forward. Is it really needed?
I suppose it’s Twain‘s reference to schooling vs. education or maybe it’s just seeing vs. doing. I come down on the side of doing. Where do you stand?