I think people underestimate how difficult culinary school can be. There is much more to being successful than showing up in a floppy hat and learning a few new recipes. There is a lot of work that goes into learning this information and these techniques. First, I have a lot of reading. For Baking I this week, I had to read chapters six through nine. Granted the last two chapters were heavy on recipes, but I still have to be familiar with the recipes. The first two chapters, six and seven, had a lot of information about the process of making yeast breads. There is a lot of science in this information. A lot. In Basic Culinary Skills, we're taking two weeks to cover one chapter. Two weeks. We're covering stocks and sauces. This is really important information. In addition to learning this information for my lecture classes, I have to be able to make this stuff in my lab classes. I had to make a brown veal stock and a white chicken stock today. Had I not done my reading or paid attention in class, I couldn't have made these stocks today. I have weekly quizzes in all of my classes. I have to study extra hard because my department uses a seven-point grading scale even though the rest of the college is on a ten-point scale. Attendance is taken very seriously in my department as well. Being late twice counts as one absence.
Aside from the academic aspect of my program, I also have to be comfortable handling expensive and potentially dangerous kitchen equipment, like knives, gas stoves and ovens, steam jacket kettles, slicers, commercial garbage disposals, and the list goes on. I need to be able to stand for long periods of time, and longer periods of time once I graduate and get a job. I have to lift heavy things. I have to clean well enough to please the health department. I have to clean dishes and pots and pans that I didn't dirty. I have to wear a uniform with long pants, long sleeves, a hat, and apron even when it's 95 degrees out and 110 degrees in the kitchen. I have to keep my uniforms clean and pressed. In addition to bringing my books and notebooks to class, I also need to bring my knives and toolkit with me too. I have classes for 4 or 5 hours at a time. One class I will have next semester is nine hours long. I don't always get to take a potty or lunch break when I need to. My dough or sauce is the priority. I might get cut. I might get burned. I could get cut or burned by someone else who lacks practical kitchen experience.
I do this because I am passionate about food. I am passionate about making a dinner or dessert you will remember for years to come. I want to learn every bread baking technique. I will not be satisfied until I know how to make puff pastry. I will sit and read a cookbook like you read a romance novel. I want to know every difference between Northern and Southern Chinese cooking. I want to taste every funky tropical fruit I find in the produce department. I want to be able to make a perfect Hollandaise. I want to know everything there is to know about food and cooking. I understand that I will not be a chef when I graduate from school. I understand I will work six or seven 12-hour days in a row, or more. I know that I will not be able to celebrate New Years Eve with my friends or Valentine's Day with a honey because instead I chose a job that requires me to make your evening special.
If you feel the need to ask me which program I think you should follow, Culinary or Baking and Pastry, and "which one is better," you might want to reevaluate your career priorities. If it's never occurred to you to try Vietnamese food or think a dessert with a lime cilantro shortbread, tomato jam and avocado ice cream is "weird," you need to think long and hard about why you're taking these classes. If you can't stand for five hours at a time, carry hot and heavy pots and pans or have an issue being two elbows deep in a sink full of hot, greasy water, you will not be successful.
I am preparing for a career that will be physically and mentally draining. It will challenge me constantly. I will have to be creative and solve problems everyday, even if I don't feel like it. I will have to work with and taste foods I don't like. This also means I will not have to sit in rush hour traffic anymore. I will not have to wear a suit or be confined to a cubicle. This career will feed my soul.