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A Chef’s Education


See Also: Math & Science in Cooking
So You Want to be a Chef

I frequently receive questions from students, asking what types of subjects they should take if they want to become a chef.

Here is some information I have given others who have asked what kind of education a chef will need, in addition to their culinary schooling

Subjects that you should take: History, cultural studies, philosophy, math, accounting, biological sciences, economics, art, geography, politics, human relations - get a complete & well rounded education if you want to have a successful and rewarding career as a Chef!

Here are some examples of how these subjects relate to becoming a successful chef:

Chef Henri

History, cultural studies, geography, science, economics and politics.
A chef needs to know history and have some knowledge of other cultures and their philosophy to be able to understand why particular foods are used the way they are in different cultures. Such as why some cultures have developed meatless diets - some based on corn, others based on rice and legumes - and still others on cassava.

Why ancient cultures were able to survive on rice or corn diets, but when others tried this same diet without the culturally related processing techniques, they became seriously ill. An example is that the traditional Aztec and Mayan techniques of processing corn avoided the deadly disease pellagra, but European immigrants suffered from pellagra when they ate a diet based on corn without using these processing techniques.

Why some cultures eat beef, some primarily pork, and others lamb. Why and how some cultures use cow's milk, others sheep's milk or yak milk, some mare's milk; and some both blood and milk from horses. Why cheeses made from these various milks have the tastes and textures they do, and why some cultures never developed cheese.


math, science, biological sciences

How to increase or decrease recipe quantities - especially those for baked goods. How to adjust recipes for high, of even very low altitude cooking. At 10,000 feet, water boils at 192 degrees F - what effect does this have on baking, boiling etc.

math, economics, and even politics
How to figure out food cost, how to develop good food purchasing practices and methods. How to deal with food purveyors.  If you can't make a profit for the restaurant you will be out of a job sooner or later.

politics, human relations, cultural studies and again, economics and math (i.e. what will your solution cost)
How to deal with employees of varying cultures. How to deal with customer complaints. How to develop a menu for a wedding party at your restaurant whose members are: Kosher Jews; Romanian; Egyptian; Canadian; Creole, Cambodian, etc.

art, cultural studies, biological sciences
How to make food look as well as taste good and maintain good nutrition..

Bottom line: To be a successful chef you need a comprehensive education.  It is hard work, and for the dedicated, the pay can be very good to excellent. But do it for the love, not for the money.

Ask 100 chefs and you will probably get at least 25 different culinary schools that they feel are the best. Most college culinary programs are pretty good. There are a few that stand out - investigate each school you are interested in, and choose the one you feel most enthusiastic about.

You will get out of it as much as you put into it.

If you have a true passion for food (or any other field) you can be very successful and happy.

I hope this has been of some help.          Chef James

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