The task of opening your own restaurant is both time consuming and expensive. When preparing for a life in the kitchen there are two distinct paths students usually choose - a culinary diploma or a business degree.
After recently opting out of the culinary arts program at Red River College (RRC) in favour of pursuing a business degree at the University of Winnipeg, aspiring restaurateur Max Frank has a fresh perspective on the choice.
“(At culinary school) you learn fundamental skills, but if you have those skills already you don’t have to learn from an instructor at the college, you can learn from work - it’s not necessary to pay money to learn to cook,” he said.
Having cooked in a local restaurant for four years, Frank felt unchallenged by the first year of his experience at RRC.
He believed that being better informed on the business end of the industry would help him keep track of money while opening a restaurant or keep business decisions in check if he was cooking at one.
Chris Kirouac, the general manager of St. Boniface hot spot In Ferno’s Bistro, agrees that there are many paths that future restaurant owners can take.
“I never went to culinary school or business management. ... (Going to school) could be easier in some respects, but it’s not necessary,” said Kirouac.
For Taisa Antoine, a second-year culinary arts student at RRC, it’s the final phase of the program that has taught her the most.
“First year is really basic, so it should challenge people who haven’t been (cooking) before, whereas people who have (experience) might find it boring or slow,” said Antoine. “By the time you get back from your first work term everyone is getting to the same level. ... The second year is a really an ass kicker and challenges you.”
She believes taking the time to gain skills in culinary school is an asset, providing students with opportunities they may not normally have.
“You have free range, it’s a lab and it’s an experimentation to do whatever you want. ... We also learn about planning menus and inventory,” Antoine explained. “Those things you don’t learn if you don’t go to school.”
Antoine notes that her bosses at The Lobby on York reflect the two sides of the debate, as one graduated with a culinary degree and the other did not.
Frank doesn’t deny the benefits to culinary school, but said the program wasn’t suited to him.
“I think the best thing you learn from culinary school is how to perfect everything, even if they’re tedious tasks. It makes you a better cook in the long run,” said Frank.
One of the biggest advantages to RRC’s program is that it prepares students to write their Real Seal exam, which nationally accredits tradespeople.
After their training, students are free to write the test whenever they feel ready, which tends to be different for everyone.
“I’m not going to go write my Red Seal test just because I have enough hours; I want to feel like I’ve earned it. You need to deserve to be called a chef,” said Antoine.
Frank is hoping to challenge the exam within the next few years when he has the required number of hours training under a certified chef.
Published in Volume 65, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 24, 2011)