What Makes a Good Cooking School Student?

If you read the memoirs of accomplished or aspiring chefs, you will learn that a professional kitchen is a challenging environment (in more ways than one!) and that the first asset of a good chef is a thick skin.

Cooking school is not for the faint of heart – literally. You need to be in good physical condition to endure eight hours or more on your feet every day. You need to be able to lift heavy objects (bags of flour, large joints of meat, trays loaded with food, etc.). The work can be repetitive and boring and the clock is merciless. If you are not paying close attention, the work of an entire afternoon can go up in flames in less than a minute.

  • So, why do it? Because you have a passion for cooking and a deep-seated love for really good food! Because you want to be the one who makes someone’s dream come true on her wedding day, or on his perfect vacation. Maybe you have enjoyed such a moment yourself and know how truly special a great meal can be.
    What are some other signs that you have what it takes to succeed in cooking school? You do not panic in moments of crisis. When something goes wrong, you calmly assess the situation and come up with a plan to fix it. If you can keep a cool head when others are falling apart, you may have the makings of a great chef.
  • Picture this: you have just plated a magnificent main course for a table of four, but a nervous server dropped the tray on the way into the dining room. Disaster? Yes, but the show must go on. You quickly decide to send a couple of appetizers to the table (on the house) and get back to work making the order again. Things like this will happen all the time. You need to roll with the punches.
  • How creative are you? Do you find yourself trying to recreate meals someone has made for you? Do you stray from, embellish, and “improve” recipes all the time? Are you always on the lookout for new ingredients and new combinations of flavors? Will you try anything once? Then you may have what it takes to succeed in cooking school. Chefs need to constantly try new things to keep their customers and staffs from getting bored.

But creativity alone is not enough. You need discipline to make it as a chef, and especially to survive cooking school. Can you face the prospect of doing nothing but hulling strawberries for an entire morning? Are you perfectionist enough to pipe icing onto cakes and cupcakes in delicate swirls and flowers until your hand aches from squeezing the bag? Can you knead enough bread dough to feed a 500-person banquet? Do not underestimate the repetitive nature of many of the tasks chefs perform every day. You will need the discipline to practice your skills every day to succeed.

Cooking school is not only physically and mentally demanding, but can also be an emotional roller-coaster ride. Tempers can run high in a professional kitchen. When someone yells at you because you are running behind or because a dish was not quite up to snuff, how will you react? Will you quietly take it? Will you yell back? Will you try harder? The only thing that you absolutely cannot do is walk away. You will need to be tough enough to handle criticism. But the good news is that no one expects you to be perfect. They will, however, expect you to learn from the criticism and not fall apart.

One more trait you will definitely need at cooking school is the ability to multitask. If you are the kind of person who likes to be busy, who gets bored doing one thing all the time, or dislikes constantly standing or sitting in the same place – cooking school might be perfect for you. You will need to keep an eye on (and a hand in) several things at once. Let’s say you have been assigned the task of making lunch for your classmates. You may need to make fresh bread, whip up a lovely homemade soup, bake a couple of pies, and have it all ready in two hours. You will be very busy mixing and kneading, chopping and stirring, cleaning and prepping! But if this sounds like something you would do for fun, then cooking school you might make a good cooking school student.