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By Justin Chao

Many famous chefs, such as Heston Blumenthal from the Fat Duck, never went to culinary school and have found great success in the restaurant industry. In fact, I’ve heard many people say that going to culinary school is a waste of money. In my experience, however, culinary school was very useful and has helped me to become a better pastry chef.

 

Although going to culinary school worked out well for me, some of my classmates from culinary school did not end up becoming chefs. Many of them did not like the long hours, the stress, and the physical demands of working in a kitchen. In addition, the pay for working in a kitchen can be low when first starting out.

 

If you have the time and money, I think that culinary school can give you a big head start in learning technique as well as finding a job. However, I advise people to try to find an internship or a job in a kitchen before going to culinary school. By getting some work experience before culinary school, you can see if you like working in a kitchen before you invest a large amount of time and money.

 

In addition, I noticed that those who had professional experience got more out of culinary school. They were able to concentrate on learning the fine techniques—while I was concentrating on learning the basics.

 

One of the advantages of going to culinary school is that you get to dedicate a large chunk of time to learning the craft in stress-free environment. In addition, many culinary schools also will set you up with internships at prestigious restaurants. This can be a large advantage when looking for your first job. The disadvantage of culinary school is the large investment of time and money. Many people leave culinary school with a large amount of debt.  

 

What do you culinary school graduates think? Was culinary school a worthwhile investment?

 

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 By Justin Chao

I learned a lot in culinary school in Paris, but the bulk of my culinary training began when I left the safety of Bellouet Conseil (my culinary school) and started working at Le Meurice

 

I won’t lie: working in a French kitchen was difficult.  The first day I walked in to the kitchen, I was absolutely clueless.    I made all the rookie mistakes like using my apron as a napkin.  I even spilled a whole pail of pastry glaze on the floor.  I’m pretty sure I looked like a fool, mostly because my co-workers didn’t hesitate to let me know.  While my French was good enough to get around Paris, it wasn’t good enough to communicate in a fast-paced environment.  I remember being really stressed out and that people were yelling at me.  One guy even slammed a knife down on the counter right by my head. 

 

Even though it was really long hours and physically intense, I kept going back because I was learning skills that I could not learn anywhere else. From the first day, I was making desserts that were going out to customers who were expecting the world-class quality.  The level of care and skill that went into each dessert was mind-blowing, and I have not seen that level of craftsmanship since I’ve left Paris.  I decided to stick with it and work really hard.  If there was a skill that I could not master at work, I would go home and practice. 

 

By the end of my internship, I was just as fast as my co-workers.  More importantly, I had gained their respect and friendship.  Having worked at such a highly regarded kitchen, I feel like I can work anywhere and thrive. 

 

Taking the first step to work in a kitchen is hard.  Luckily for me, it worked out and I continued to have a career in the field.  Looking back, I should have tried working in a kitchen before I moved to Paris and invested a lot of money and time in culinary school.  I guess I was lucky that it worked out.

 

For anyone who is interested in going to Paris to learn about pastry, I highly recommend Bellouet Conseil.  One of the best parts of going to Bellouet Conseil is that you have a choice of where you would like to work in Paris.  I would also recommend taking advantage of any internship program that your culinary school offers.  Staging (interning) is an intense experience, but the confidence I gained by working in a high-intensity environment is invaluable.

 

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By Justin Chao

This was an interesting article in the New York Times last week.  The author, Michael Moss, explains why food companies in their quest for increasing their profits and market share are driven to add more salt, sugar, and calories to our food.

 

Please click on the link below to read the article:

"The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food" by Michael Moss


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Bruges

Feb 25 2013 | 0 comments

By Justin Chao

Bruges canal 

What's not to like about Bruges?  It's got incredible beer and incredible chocolate shops.  I stopped by De Halve Maan, the only active family brewery in the center of Bruges.  I decided to take the tour.  The tour guide walked us through all the steps that it takes to brew beer, but the highlight was being able to taste the beer at the end.

Copper pots at De Halve Maan Brewery 

After the brewery tour, I wandered around Bruges and found a store with loaves of nougat.  I couldn't resist and bought some salted caramel nougat.  It was delicious!  I'm tempted to try to make some when I get some free time.

Loaves of Nougat in Bruges 

That night I had more beer at De Garre.  Located down an alley, De Garre was very difficult to find, but it was well worth the effort.  I had the Garre Tripel which is uniquely served at De Garre.  It was served with cheese which I needed since the beer is 11% alcohol.  The beer is so well balanced that you don't taste the alcohol.  

De Garre Tripel beer
 

On my second night in Bruges, I stopped by Bar Azar because I heard that they have a nice garden there.  I'm not sure what I was thinking because it was the middle of January, but I decided to sit outside and enjoy the garden.  While I was there, I started talking to the people next to me.  Before I knew it, they had brought me a large box of chocolates from a chocolate shop named Pralifino.  I bought several boxes of chocolate in Bruges, but this was by far the best box chocolates I brought home from Bruges.  I don't think that it's typical to receive large boxes of chocolates from strangers in Bruges, but I found people in Bruges to be quite friendly.

Pralifino chocolates






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By Justin Chao

 Last week in my sustainability seminar class at CSUN, we took a field trip down to the CSUN food garden.   Apparently, it took three years to convince the university to allow the CSUN Institute for Sustainability to cultivate this small plot of land.  After my visit, I am looking forward to helping out in the garden so that I can learn more about growing vegetables in my yard.  Occasionally, master gardeners come to the garden in order to educate the community about vegetable gardening. 

If you are interested in volunteering or participating in some of the workshops, please visit the CSUN's Institute for Sustainability website.


cauliflower

romanesco


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By Justin Chao

Petits gateaux at Bellouet Conseil 

Individual cakes at Bellouet Conseil.

 

 

Since launching my website, I’ve had a lot of people ask me questions about my culinary training in Paris.  Choosing a culinary school was a tough decision.  I researched culinary programs in the US, but none seemed to fit my needs. I had talked to a few culinary professionals who told me that--while culinary school was a great experience, you only really learn your craft when you start working professionally.  With this in mind,  I decided that I would like to do an intensive short program in order to get my training and start working as soon as possible.  I visited the Cordon Bleu in Pasadena and the San Francisco Baking Institute, but neither of these schools really fit my needs.

For me, it was a logical choice to go to France to train.  Training in France would differentiate me from my peers.  In addition, I was already familiar with living in France because I had done an exchange at HEC Paris when I was in business school.  From my perspective, I had only one chance to go to culinary school, and I wanted to choose the best program for me.  With this in mind, I decided to go to France in order to see the schools I was considering.  I considered four schools:

 

 

Ecole Lenôtre near Paris

While all of these schools were excellent choices, I thought that Ecole Lenôtre was too large of a program for me.  I was looking for a small program where I could get personal attention. 

 

Ecole National Supérieure de la Pâtisserie (ENSP) in Yssingeaux

I was very impressed with ENSP’s program, and I really liked what the program director had to say.  Unfortunately, at the time, they did not have a general program for a beginner like me.  However, I have checked their website recently, and they have added a general 20-week pastry course. 

 

Olivier Bajard in Perpignan

I also visited Olivier Bajard, but I thought that Bajard’s program was not really tailored toward a foreign student like me. 

 

Bellouet Conseil in Paris  

Bellouet Conseil in Paris was the last school I visited, but as soon as I walked in the door, I felt very comfortable.   It was a small school with classes of just five to six people which would provide me with the personal attention I was seeking.  More than anything, my gut reaction was that this was the program for me. 

Ice cream cakes at Bellouet Conseil 

Ice cream cakes at Bellouet Conseil

 

My classmates and I in front of the entremets we made 

My classmates and I at Bellouet Conseil.

 

My experience at Bellouet Conseil

Going to Bellouet Conseil was one of the best experiences of my life.  I was excited to be living in Paris, one of my favorite cities--learning a craft that I loved. 

My teachers were experts in their field.  In fact, the school’s director Jean-Michel Perruchon is a Meilleur Ouvrier de France (MOF).  The MOF is one of the highest honors an artisan pastry chef can achieve in France.  MOFs must demonstrate a mastery of all of the skills needed to be a pastry chef--only a handful of pastry chefs have achieved this honor.  

I also really enjoyed the curriculum.  Within a few weeks, I was producing beautiful pastries that I never thought I could be capable of making.  It was a 12-week course, and each week we learned a different pastry skill.  For example, one week we learned chocolates and the next we learned about how to make ice cream.  I was very impressed by the amount of knowledge that the teachers had from working in the field, and I feel like I learned a lot just by being around them.

One of the best parts of going to Bellouet Conseil is that you have a choice of where you would like to work in Paris.  I would recommend taking advantage of any internship program that your culinary school offers.  It is an intense experience, but I really feel that it gave me confidence in my skills.  After my internship, I knew that I could work in any setting and do well.   


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