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Hands-on learning and group projects are ways you might learn in your cooking classes

by Olivia DeWolfe
CulinaryEd Columnist
February 15, 2011

Group work is common in culinary school.You know you love to cook, but will you love culinary-school classes? Your culinary degree program should be designed to provide you with what you'll need to develop a successful career. Here's what you're likely to see in your courses:

1. A focus on hands-on experience versus academic work

Depending on your program, you'll have a little or a lot of hands-on cooking classes. An intensive-certificate program in baking and pastry arts may have you covered in flour most days and allow for only a few hours of lecture about using math in baking. The hands-on classes in an advanced culinary-degree program may occupy about two-thirds of the curriculum, with the other third focused on academic classes such as menu-planning, restaurant design, cost-control and food safety.

Online culinary-degree programs, on the other hand, tend to focus on subjects, such as business and management, that are best learned on the computer. Although there are exceptions, an online degree means you are more likely to spend your time reading and writing rather than cooking.

2. A focus on individual work versus group work

Most culinary-arts training occurs in group settings. This could mean critiquing recipes made that day, learning about wine or preparing consomme. However, you still should be asked to practice and demonstrate your newly-acquired skills on your own. This can be a way to evaluate your own abilities.

Though some culinary-school graduates, like personal chefs, work alone, most are part of a team. The ability to learn with and from others is a critical part of your education.

3. A focus on required classes versus elective course

Many advanced culinary degree programs offer standardized curriculum that does not allow you to individually select your coursework. Of course, there are exceptions, but those usually come in your final year. There are, however, certificate and diploma programs available to you that might help you pursue your specific goals. Some of these programs focus on nutrition, food-writing, restaurant design and wine studies.

Getting a sense of what culinary arts classes are like may help you to decide whether culinary school is what you want to do and whether it is the thing that you may be seeking in your life.

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