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Should I Take Culinary Classes?

Many people learn to cook from their parents or grandparents, picking up basic cooking skills informally and learning family recipes at the same time. Some people develop such a love of cooking from these informal lessons that they want to become professional chefs, or at least highly skilled home cooks.

In the US and Canada, many cooking schools and cooking stores offer a range of classes tailored to both beginning and expert cooks. For example, Sur La Table has entry level classes at all of its stores throughout the US, including California, Florida and Texas. Sur La Table also offers private cooking classes and, for adventurous cooks looking for a fun evening, many of their stores offer date night cooking classes. Recreational cooking classes in NYC are offered at many schools and stores, including the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) and Sur La Table. Both ICE and Sur La Table also offer cooking classes for children and teens who may be considering taking culinary arts courses in college.

The informal, and short, cooking classes offered by local chefs are often the gateway to more specialized culinary training at one of the professional culinary institutes in major "foodie" cities such as New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Seattle. Many community colleges also offer a two-year Associate of Arts (AA) degree in Culinary Arts, often at a lower cost than a private culinary institute, but without the same pedigree.

The educational track you take ultimately depends on your goal. If you view cooking as a hobby, intermittent short culinary classes at local cooking schools may be your best option. If you want to become a professional chef, you'll have several career tracks. Some chefs specialize in French cuisine, others become bakers or nutritionists. Still others focus on the restaurant business holistically, with the intent of becoming a restaurateur and hiring chefs and sous chefs to manage the daily back of house tasks while they build a solid clientele of happy diners.

Many professional chefs find that they work the line early in their culinary careers and move into side businesses as they become more experienced later in their careers. Some professionally trained chefs, like Alton Brown and Emeril Lagasse, build successful culinary based businesses that include cookbooks, television shows, kitchen product lines and celebrity appearances, in addition to the more obvious restaurants.

With the possible exception of Bobby Flay, no professional chef is an overnight celebrity, but it is a career field that is full of rewards, along with a fair amount of risk.

So, to answer the question, yes, you should take a cooking class if you are just beginning to consider cooking for a living, and you should explore taking professional culinary training if you are serious about making the restaurant business your lifelong career. Whether the first class is taught by a local chef in a group setting, a nutritional expert at a cooking shop, or by a highly trained instructor at a culinary institute, having someone teach you hands on skills necessary for cooking will make the learning process go more quickly. Plus, you'll get to eat the results of your lessons.

By: Brenda Kohlmyer
Brenda is a freelance writer and web content specialist based in the Seattle metropolitan area.





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