The Culinary Student Roadmap

Suppose you are thinking about a career in the culinary world, whether it’s to become a chef or follow a related culinary career like food journalism. In that case, this article is for you.

It provides an A-Z roadmap to guide you along the culinary career path from when your interest in the culinary arts was first prickled to entering culinary school and beyond.

Let’s begin by answering the question: What is a culinary student?

A culinary student studies the art of working with food: its preparation, cooking techniques, and presentation because they want to become a chef or follow an alternative culinary career like food styling.

As laid out in this article, the culinary student roadmap is made of 1. Preparing for a culinary career. 2. Attending culinary school. 3. Entering the culinary world of work.

Preparing for a Culinary Career.

If you want to become a culinary student to pursue a culinary career, begin with things to do before culinary school.

1. Make sure this is the career for you.

With all the popularity that the culinary field has gained through the media and celebrity chefs, there has been a rise in the number of people wanting to become chefs. This is great, provided it is the career for you, and you are not just drawn by the glamour portrayed in the media.

Hence, ensure this is the right career for you by asking yourself the all-important question: Do I have a passion for cooking and working with food above all else?

The unanimous quality agreed upon by the various chefs we have spoken to in the culinary industry is that you must have a passion for cooking. This passion for creating and presenting food in aesthetically pleasing ways drives many chefs’ ambition and sustains them through the complex work challenges of being a chef.

There are other critical qualities to being a chef. Included is a willingness to work hard at becoming an excellent chef. Look at the list of qualities indicating suitability for a culinary career compiled and check which you have or may need to develop for success in this career.

2. Research the culinary field.

Find out as much as possible about a career in culinary.

Research topics like:

  • What a culinary career is all about and what it means to be a culinary chef.
  • What kind of work you’ll be doing as a culinary chef?
  • How you become a culinary chef.
  • the personal qualities and soft skills needed to be a culinary chef. A culinary chef, for example, is passionate about cooking and doesn’t mind the hard work and long hours that often accompany a culinary career.
  • The two main areas of working with food are hot food (cooking) and cold food (pastry and baking). Researching this may, for example, help you realise that you prefer a career in baking rather than cooking.
  • The different chef rankings, of which there are four levels. These range from an entry-level chef, known as a commis chef, to the highest chef ranking, an executive chef. Each level is linked to specific roles and responsibilities.
  • The cost of going to culinary school.
  • How much are you likely to earn working as a chef?

Reasons for your research:

  • It is an excellent idea to enter a career with a broad understanding of what it entails. This knowledge gathering aids you in making an informed decision.
  • You can make a career choice based on the reality of what it means to be a chef. Culinary shows featuring celebrity chefs may not give an accurate view of what it means to be a chef.
  • You can ensure that your decision to become a culinary chef is right for you.

Where can you gather information from?

  • Use the internet.
  • Speak to chefs you may know.
  • When attending functions, speak to the caterers on duty.
  • Visit a food establishment like a restaurant during quieter periods and speak to the chef.
  • Call up culinary schools and arrange to speak to a chef instructor. The school will be happy to do so in the hope that you may become a student.
  • Attend open days hosted by culinary schools.

3. Research the various culinary careers you can pursue

Knowing about the different culinary career paths you can follow gives you an idea of the available options and what may interest you.

Culinary careers can be divided into two groups:

  • Traditional careers in the kitchen like being a sous chef in a hotel restaurant.
  • Non-traditional culinary careers like being a private chef or a food journalist for a magazine company.

Any career path can be turned into freelance or entrepreneurial ventures. From working in a restaurant or a catering company, you can transition into owning one.

Research the various types of places you can work for in a traditional and non-traditional culinary career. For example, you can work in a fine-dining restaurant or as a private chef catering for celebrities.

4. Decide if you are going to culinary school or not.

Once you know for sure that you want to pursue a culinary career, the next step is to decide if the best option for you is to follow your culinary career by:

  • Attending a culinary school where you acquire a culinary qualification, allowing you to enter the job as a professional entry-level chef. From here, you build up your experience.


  • On-the-job training. This means finding a job in a restaurant and learning to become a chef through hands-on training. Some chefs started like this, obtaining work in a restaurant, where they may begin by waitressing, washing dishes, or as a kitchen hand and working their way up in the kitchen towards becoming a chef.

There are advantages and disadvantages to both. A culinary education gives you a solid knowledge base and practical skills for cooking and how kitchen operations work. Hence you start your work career with confidence.

In addition, you obtain real-life experience by working in a commercial kitchen as part of your training. A qualification moves your career along faster. On the other hand, a culinary education can be costly and needs time and commitment to complete.

To gain greater clarity and decide what’s best for you, read the following articles: Reasons why you should go to culinary school and the pros and cons of culinary education. The latter article includes a list of personal considerations you must make before deciding.

Our son, pursuing a culinary career, opted for culinary education. In our country, being a chef is a competitive career, so qualifying is an advantage. In our research, we met some chefs who started with on-the-job training and later returned to culinary school to obtain culinary qualifications to make themselves more marketable.

Going to culinary school is recommended but not necessary. It is good that there are alternatives, like on-the-job training to become a chef. For example, you may be passionate about cooking and want to be a chef but cannot afford a culinary education.

5. Build your culinary experience and knowledge.

You don’t have to wait to go to culinary school before you start cooking and acquiring culinary knowledge.

Building pre-culinary school knowledge and experience has advantages:

To help you, look at Is culinary school hard? How to prepare for it. This article includes practical steps for building your pre-culinary culinary knowledge and experience, like hosting small dinner parties for friends and family.

Watching our son, we noticed how confident and excited he was about starting culinary school. This, in part, was because he had built a pre-culinary school knowledge and experience. He would, for example, learn the correct way to hold and use a knife and put the ability into practice when cutting meat or chicken or preparing vegetables.

6. Make sure about the requirements for culinary school.

To ensure that culinary students are more likely to cope with the demands of culinary school and succeed at it, culinary schools have specific entry requirements that applicants must meet.

The general entry requirements for admission into culinary school include:

Age requirement:

  • To begin culinary school, you must be 18 years or older.
  • Acceptance of students younger than this, usually 16 years of age, must be accompanied by legal permission from parents or guardians.

End-of-school qualification:

  • Culinary school applicants must have an end-of-high school qualification or an equivalent, accredited school leaver qualification.
  • There are culinary courses that accept less than an end-of-high school leaver qualification.
  • For entry into a degree program, an end-of-high school requirement is needed. The degree program will also specify grade requirements that must be met for entry into the program.

School subject requirement:

  • Reading and writing proficiency in the language of instruction of the culinary school.
  • Mathematics

Subjects that may not be a requirement but are good to have could include:

  • Physical science
  • Hospitality studies
  • Consumer studies

Additional requirements may include:

  • An assessment to establish reading and writing proficiency in the language of instruction used by the school.
  • An aptitude assessment.
  • An interview to get to know the potential student, their motivation for wanting a culinary education, and gauge capacity for coping with the course.
  • A culinary school could request applicants to write an essay motivating their reasons for wanting to pursue a culinary career.

7. Find a culinary school that is right for you.

This is an essential step as there are many culinary schools available. It takes time and commitment to finding the right school.

This article: How to find the best culinary school. It has detailed guidelines to assist you in finding a culinary school that is right for you.

8. Attend to the funding of your culinary education.

Here are four ways in which to fund your culinary education:

1. Personal Funding.

Most culinary schools offer different payment plan options for students and parents personally funding a culinary education. These usually involve an upfront deposit with a monthly payment plan. Discounts are provided for once-off payments of the required fee.

2. An education policy.

If you do not yet have one, starting payment on an education fund may be suitable. An education policy can help to fund the whole or part of your culinary education, depending on the size of the policy.

3. Bursaries and scholarships.

Some culinary schools offer bursaries or scholarships to students requiring financial assistance, provided they fulfil the fund’s requirements. As you research different culinary schools, enquire about this.

Bursaries and scholarships for culinary studies are also available from companies within the hospitality and tourism industry, such as hotel groups or industrial catering companies. There are also art and culture groups that avail bursaries for culinary students.

Bursaries and scholarships are often awarded to students who perform well academically. Students may also have to compete for these by, for example, creating a new recipe using a specific food product of the funding company.

4. Student loan.

This is another way to fund your culinary education and is usually obtained from a banking institution. The disadvantage is that you start your career with a loan that must be settled. The advantage is that you get the culinary education you want.

Additional options for funding your culinary education include:

  • Finding a full-time job and completing your culinary education as a part-time student. While this is challenging, it can be done. We’ve come across some students who are doing this.
  • Working a part-time job while being a full-time culinary student. You may, for example, work as a waiter. Of course, it can be challenging as you must cope with culinary school demands and your part-time work. Further, once you begin your apprenticeship part of your training, any part-time job will be difficult to uphold as you will be working full-time and shifts. You can also find part-time employment as a high school student.
  • Create work for yourself by taking on cooking or baking projects for small events, like birthday parties or selling food products like cupcakes and save towards your culinary tuition. This could grow into a business, and this way, you are also building experience.
  • Participating in culinary competitions. Look for local or more significant culinary competitions that you can enter as there is often prize money involved. Further, by doing so, you gain feedback that is helpful towards improving your culinary skills.

Attend Culinary School.

You are now ready to start your culinary training.

Your culinary school training is divided into two major areas:

  1. On-site training at the culinary school
  2. On-the-job industry training

1. Complete the on-site training at your culinary school.

What do you learn at culinary school?

You are referred to at culinary school as a culinary student or a student chef. Being a chef-in-the-making, you can be referred to as a commis-chef, learning the fundamentals of cooking and baking.

For questions about the culinary student, go to the culinary student: All you need to know.

The goal of culinary training is:

  • To provide students with theoretical and practical skills in food preparation, basic cooking, and food presentation.
  • To prepare students for the work-integrated part of their culinary education. As this involves working in a real-life work situation, students need to be ready to cope with the demands thereof.
  • To prepare students with the life skills necessary for success in a culinary career by:
    • Creating awareness of the demands of being a chef, like the long work hours or not being overly sensitive to criticism.
    • Developing the qualities necessary for being a chef, like professionalism, a high work ethic, discipline, and high personal hygiene standards.
  • To provide students with an accredited culinary qualification that empowers them to enter the workplace with the confidence and foundational culinary knowledge, skills, and experience necessary to build a culinary career.
  • Ultimately, preparing students to cope well and succeed in a career in the culinary world.

In sum, at culinary school, you will learn:

  • The theory and practice of cooking.
  • Managing kitchen operations.
  • Menu planning and food costing.   
  • Food and kitchen hygiene, health, and safety.
  • Personal development.

What is attending culinary school like?

At culinary school, you will be a student along with fellow students. You wear your chef’s uniform to school or change into it at school.

The life of a culinary student involves:

  • attending lectures where you do theory on topics like the science of cooking.
  • Attending lab kitchens where the theory is put into practice.

Is culinary school hard, and how can I succeed at culinary school?

Culinary school is not hard if it is where you want to be because you are passionate about cooking and your ambition is to become a qualified chef. This passion will motivate and sustain you during the challenging parts of your culinary training.

If going to culinary school makes you anxious and you have concerns about coping with its demands, look at the practical tips from chefs to make a success of your culinary school journey.

2. Complete your on-the-job training as part of culinary school

Once your on-site training at your culinary school is complete, your transition to the on-the-job part of your training which can also be called industry-based learning, an apprenticeship, or an internship.

Who places you for your industry-based learning?

It is the role of the culinary school with who you are registered to place you for your on-the-job training. They are partnered with various food establishments, and through this partnership, students are positioned to work under a head chef and complete the remainder of their training.

How long is the on-the-job training program?

The on-the-job part of your training is about half the length of your training at the culinary school. For example, if you complete a three-year culinary course, eighteen months will be at the culinary school, and the other eighteen months will be spent in industry-based learning.

These 18 months are broken up. For example, training in hot food where you learn the basics of cooking will be followed by industry-based training. Training in the cold kitchen, where you learn the basics of baking and pastry, is followed by a similar period in the industry.

What are the benefits of industry-based learning?

  • You experience what it is like to work in a real-life kitchen.
  • York under and learn from more senior and experienced chefs, like an executive chef and a sous chef.
  • You learn many tricks of the culinary trade, working in a real-life kitchen with experienced chefs.
  • You learn to adapt to the pace of work in a busy kitchen.
  • You get to put the training you received at culinary school into practice.
  • You can assess if you want to pursue a career in a kitchen as a culinary chef or explore a culinary career outside of the kitchen.
  • You can assess if a culinary career is really what you wish to pursue.
  • You can build networks that can further your career.
  • You may find a mentor that could become your life-long support as you build your culinary career.
  • You get to experience what it is like to work as part of a team in a real-life work situation.
  • Can grow personally. For example, you can become better at handling criticism.

Is industry-based training hard?

Many students admit that industry-based learning is the hardest part of their culinary training.

This is because:

  • The work hours are long, and you may have to work shifts.
  • The pace of work is fast and pressurised, especially in a busy kitchen and during busy periods. Responding to the demands of working in such an environment can lead to feelings of anxiety and stress.
  • As a commis-chef, you may find yourself doing menial tasks, like only preparing vegetables or cleaning, and not enough of what you were trained to do, which can be upsetting. This is possible primarily if you work in a big kitchen with several chefs above your ranking. You may end up doing the least favoured jobs.
  • It may be challenging to deal with criticism, primarily when delivered harshly. This is especially so if you are soft-spoken, shy, or sensitive.
  • It may be hard to adjust to a busy kitchen’s high noise and high-pitch tones as orders are issued.
  • You may struggle to get along with or relate to the rest of the kitchen staff.
  • You may struggle to adapt to the authority structure in a real-life kitchen and find it hard to accept orders from those ranked higher than you.
  • As you may end up doing your internship during a peak holiday season, you may have to forego going on holiday or attending family functions.

Making a success of your on-the-job training.

Entering your industry training with the right mindset and attitude, marked by a willingness and flexibility, is what will make your industry training a success.

In our article on making a success of culinary school are guidelines from chefs for thriving in the apprenticeship part of your training. Following them can help you gain the most from this time.

Post Culinary School: Entering the World of Work.

You are now ready to enter the world of work and begin the next part of your culinary career: gaining experience, refining your culinary knowledge and skills and earning a salary.

By now, you should have an idea about the culinary career you may wish to pursue after completing your culinary training.

If you are still unsure, peruse our article on different kinds of culinary careers, which may help you decide. It includes descriptions of the various culinary jobs available in and outside the kitchen and salary prospects.

Finding a job

Armed with your chef weapons: culinary qualifications with some work experience, you are ready to find a job. Doing so helps you know how to optimise your skill set and increase your chances of getting the job you want.

To do this, you need job-seeking skills in three areas:

  • Your resume or CV (curriculum vitae): Setting up a high-quality, truthful CV.
  • The culinary interview: how to prepare and conduct yourself during a culinary interview.
  • Your work portfolio.

The resume or CV for a culinary student

Your curriculum vitae must:

  • Be an accurate reflection of yourself.
  • Prove that you can perform the job.
  • Reflect on your training, skills, and experience relevant to the role.

The culinary interview

There are two parts to a culinary interview:

  1. preparing for the interview
  2. knowing how to conduct yourself during the interview

In addition, as an entry-level commis chef, your job interview may include some food preparation and cooking a meal. Be prepared and go to the interview with your chef knives. Make sure these are sharp.

Pointers for preparing for the culinary interview:

  • Gather information on your prospective employer. Research the company, find out their culture, the values of the food establishment, the set-up in which you will be working, the size of the establishment, the position you are applying for, and the roles and responsibilities it entails.
  • Come up with questions you are most likely to be asked and how you will answer them. Examples: What qualities do you have that will make you a good chef? Why are you the best person for the role you are applying for?
  • Role-play how you will answer the questions, especially if you have little or no interview experience.
  • Know your strengths and areas for development. Focus not only on your technical culinary skills but also on the softer skills required to work in a culinary career.

Conducting yourself during the culinary interview

  • Pay attention to your posture and body language. Walk and sit upright without seeming stiff. This helps you feel more self-assured while conveying the same message to others. An open stance while slightly leaning forward suggests that you are approachable. Maintain eye contact without staring. This also indicates openness and a self-assured attitude.
  • Answer questions in a clear, concise way. Avoid being unnecessarily wordy.
  • Give examples as proof of your experience and skills.
  • Clarify when you don’t understand a question.
  • Prepare questions that you would like to ask about the role you are applying for or the food establishment.

Keep a work portfolio.

A work portfolio is a portfolio of evidence of the various culinary projects you have done. It includes, for example, visual presentations of dishes you have made and plated in, recipes created by you, or catering projects you have undertaken or been a part of.

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