Culinary Degree or Apprenticeship? Why You Need Both

Anchorage, Alaska caterer Cecelia Donelson feels that those who lack the broad chef school training miss some of the basic skills they get from study with "seasoned instructors." However, sous chef Denise Fullmer weighs in for apprenticeships, which expose students to real-life cooking. "A lot of culinary-school graduates who enter a big-volume restaurant for the first time have no idea how to pump out 300 dinners," adds executive chef and restaurant owner Rick Dodd.

Getting an Apprenticeship: The First Step in Your Culinary Career

Getting an apprenticeship isn't a given, even when your culinary education includes the possibility of one. You'll need some or all of the following to get a culinary apprenticeship:
  • Interview: Ideally, interviewing skills will be included in your chef school curriculum. If they're not, ask your instructors if they'd be willing to set up mock interviews that you can practice in. Practice with your chef schoolmates, and practice in front of your mirror, too.
  • Letters of Reference: The time to think about your letters is when you begin your chef school studies. Every instructor you have is a potential reference. Do your best, and glowing recommendations will follow. When the apprenticeship says letters are recommended but not required, get those letters!
  • Formal Application: You'll need to apply for an apprenticeship, just as you would for any job. Chef school gives you a big push, but remember, neatness counts.
  • An Essay: Tell your prospective employer what you bring to the apprenticeship, and let them know why you'd love to work for them.

Last of all, you may have to provide additional evidence of education to jump start your culinary career. Some apprenticeships require a math proficiency exam; others require a high school diploma or GED. Fortunately, you can prep for both online.

  • Peterson's Culinary Schools, 8th Edition. Thomson, 2005.
  • "Which is better: Apprenticeship or culinary school?" by B.T.F. Restaurants & Institutions 105.5 (Feb 15, 1995).