In the last decade, the culinary arts have become hugely popular. As a result of this growing trend, many people consider attending a culinary arts program or school, either because they want to pursue a culinary career or because they just want to learn to cook for their own enjoyment. Sometimes, though, people can be skeptical about whether a specialized culinary education, or even a few cooking classes, is really necessary. If you are in the latter group or considering which path to take for your culinary education, here are some important things one will learn when attending a culinary school.
Culinary programs begin with the basics of the kitchen. One of the first lessons someone will learn is about kitchen safety such as handling knives and what to do in an emergency such as a fire. Students will learn basic food preparation guidelines such as what temperature is acceptable on meats. Students will learn basic accounting, computer skills, inventory management and even some psychology. Culinary arts schools want their students to have a diverse background because the workplace is so diverse.
Culinary school will also teach students how to work together as a team, since no kitchen can be successfully run by just one person. Possibly the most important thing one will learn is nutrition. Nutrition is about more than what the label on the back of a package says. In fact, food labels can be extremely misleading. The human body needs a host of vitamins and minerals every day in order to maintain its good health, as well as other things such as calories and fiber. Unfortunately, food labels are usually geared to sell, and can sometimes confuse and mislead consumers.
Think, for example, about the subcategories listed under the total carbohydrates: sugar and fiber. Often, these amounts don’t add up to the total carbohydrates. What does this mean? How do sugar and carbohydrates differ? In addition to confusing packaging labels, one has to worry about how to ensure that their family is getting the necessary amounts of nutrients, even though many of the vitamins and minerals we need aren’t listed on most food labels. How does someone make sure that a meal is nutritionally sound, yet still delicious and satisfying?
These are the kinds of nutritional questions that an education from a culinary school can answer. A cooking education will also teach students about chemistry. Not traditional chemistry, however, such as what we learn in high school. At a culinary school, a student will learn about applied chemistry. Every time something is cooked, whether it is meat, vegetables, or pastries, a chemical reaction happens. That chemical reaction can change or enhance the flavor and texture of the food.
For instance, the chemical reaction can be as simple as the softening of tough vegetables when you boil them in water, or as exotic as lighting the top of a pie or an alcoholic drink on fire. Being able to control these chemical reactions is an important part of being a good cook. A culinary school will teach students different ways of cooking foods, and how each method can affect the taste and texture of the food. Spices are another critical part of cooking. Still, many people never venture beyond salt, pepper, and maybe some basil and parsley.
Cooking with spices is an art, however, and can be used to change and enhance the flavor of food in any number of ways. There are dozens of different spices to choose from, though, so how does someone know what spices go best with what foods, let alone with each other? An education from a culinary school will teach how to use spices to the food’s best advantage, enabling you to enhance flavors in ways you never dreamed were possible. It has been said before that cooking is an art. Well, the culinary arts are about more than simply preparing the food.
It is also about how the food is arranged. The visual presentation of a dish can make a difference between basic restaurant food and an exquisite dining experience. Visual arrangement is a vital skill for professional chefs. A culinary school can teach how to arrange food to look the most pleasing and artistic, delighting your guests and enhancing their enjoyment beyond mere taste sensations. Even if someone isn’t going to pursue a career as a chef, however, food arrangement can be a valuable skill.
Connoisseurs know that the ability to match the perfect wine to an exquisite meal is one of the finest culinary arts. Choosing wine is a study in subtlety, as every wine has a slightly different taste. The minor variance can make all the difference in whether a wine goes better with fish or pasta, steak or chicken. It is vital for anyone in the culinary industry to be knowledgeable about wine, but many people are interested in wine regardless of their cooking skills. Wine has always been a symbol of culture, with connoisseurs attending wine tastings and collecting exotic wines in their own homes.
Taking classes from a culinary school is the best way to learn all about wine, its subtleties and how to match it successfully with different foods. Culinary school can last anywhere from two years to four years and that is not including any apprenticeship that may need to happen after graduation. It really depends on what your end goal is. If you want a diverse background with regular education courses to better help you prepare for graduation you may want to take a look into a four year program.
If you are just seeking the basics such as sanitation, knife skills and rudimentary cooking you can look at shorter certificate programs. How long you go is entirely up to you. Clearly, an education from a culinary school has value for many people, whether they intend to pursue a culinary career, cook for their own pleasure, or provide delicious and balanced meals for their families. People can sign up for just a few cooking classes, or for the specialized degree, but either way they are bound to learn things that they never knew before.