Chef training- apprenticeship vs self-taught vs vocational school

I always thought it was very competitive to get into one of the French government catering colleges with far more applicants than places. Would school dropouts make it…?

Guy Matin, to cite an example, he doesn’t go through school, but learn his job from working as a pizzaiolo. Not to say this is an easy path to be self taught, but it is still possible.

Indeed so. One of my favourite chefs, working in the UK, is Michelin 2* Raymond Blanc. He came to work here as a waiter and is mainly self taught a a chef. 3* chef Heston Blumenthal is also self taught, working for Blanc for only a week.

On the other hand, my favourite Michelin restaurant, Northcote, is very keen on training. It takes on youngsters into formal apprenticeships, so they get on the job experience, as well as more formal education at a local college, leading to a National Vocational Qualification.

Our town’s college has a sizeable hospitality department, training students as chefs, as well as front of house staff - also to NVQ level. They operate their own restaurant, open to the public at lunch and entirely crewed by students. I suspect most diners in the area will have eaten a restaurant meal cooked or served by someone who trained at the college

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We visit one of these school restaurant here in America a couple times a year. The food is usually very well done and very affordable. Is it the same at your local college’s restaurant? The one we go to even has a European chef (sorry, too scared to ask him exactly where he’s from) yelling in the kitchen all the time. It adds to the atmosphere for us.

Happy Cake Day bmore!!!

Same with us. I’d say it’s sort of bottom end bistro restaurant standard - but cheaper.

You don’t get to see the kitchen but we always enjoy watching the front of house students work. It tends to be a mixed skill group. The very nervous sixteen year olds who are only allowed to serve you bread and who may not yet be in work, Then there’s the slightly older, more confident youngsters who actually serve you and who are probably earning their living in a local restaurant And finally you’ve got the twenty year olds, no doubt just finishing the top level of the qualification, who are actually managing the crew. There’s a member of staff who keeps an eye on things but is pretty much in the background. I presume a similar setup goes on in the kitchen. It’s a fun lunch.

Its very similar in France and I understand its quite tricky to get a booking at the school restaurants. In France they seem to have a much more technical focus on cooking with some very specialist courses i.e. patisserie.

The one difference I perceived was that catering college in the UK was considered the lower end of the technical education - you went to catering college if you couldn’t do anything else (Note: my mum did her City & Guilds qualifications in catering). In France it appeared to be far more competitive to get into similar colleges - maybe illustrates the two countries different relationships with food.

And I am certain there are other notable examples, but my understanding is that nearly all the apprentices in professional kitchens are going to the local college to get he CAP/BAC.

One thought. I wonder if the quality of the book is based on whether the “chef” is a chef or simply a media personality…?

Maybe the genuine chefs are more likely to produce something that reflects their ethos and style. Whilst the Saturday morning cooking show personality is more about image and a product for Christmas…and thus likely to be a poorer product and heavily ghost written.

Note: I am not certain Jamie Oliver was ever a fully minted chef. Certainly he cooked in his parents pub whilst growing up, and he did work in a junior role at the River Cafe, but I think he was picked up for TV before he went too far down a career in professional catering.

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He started out at Antonio Carluccio’s restaurant near Covent Garden. There he worked with Gennaro Contaldo, the guy he calls his “mentor”, before moving to the River Cafe. I don’t think he ever worked at Contaldo’s excellent restaurant Passione. And, yes, I think the story goes that he was picked up in background filming at the River Cafe - presumably as a “cheeky chappy” Essex lad.

There are several ways for French to become cook in France by studies:

1/ BAC Pro in restauration (3 years)
2/ BAC Techo in hotel (3 years)
3/ BEP Hotel and catering (2 years)
4/ CAP cuisine (2 years)
5/ Cooking schools - Grégoire Ferrandi ou Ferrières, both school has pre-BAC and BAC courses. Ferrières has post BAC courses, including master courses

Like what you have said, most apprentices go through schools.
Note that you can also home study CAP cuisine and take the examination. Usually these people are usually much older and are having career change. People can also take extensive adult courses in the Ferrandi school to speed up the courses into several months (4 months course + 4 months internship) in order to pass the CAP, for example.

I read from some recent interviews, some chefs complained that the TV chefs or media try over glamorised the life of chefs, many young were misled and ended up enrolling in cuisine schools not really understanding that cooking was a hard job requiring long hours, and needed discipline. Many end up quitting cooking schools after a year of study.

(post edited for correction)

I thought they were part of the Paris Chamber of Commerce and hence part of the state education system - I remember my wife having a tour and lunch there when we lived in Paris. On their web site they do seem to offer CAP/BAC entry level courses for French students.

I think they also have the private school for higher level courses and international students.

Thanks for correction, I have been mixing up the 2 cooking schools l’école Ferrandi and l’école Ferrières.

Cooking classes for international students in France:

Many chefs also offer schools / courses, to give a few examples:

Pastry chefs:

Students interested in sweets, there is also École Valrhona specialised in chocolate.

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold

Market stall in Lima
Credit: TXMX 2