Rob Connoley | Chef and Owner: Bulrush
I’ve hired and interviewed a lot of people and have been able to see both sides of the equation—as a cook or chef, but also as someone who hires cooks and chefs. I completely believe in the value of culinary schools. It shortens the path to the outcome in many cases. Folks who have gone to culinary school understand the food science better, whereas I might have to look things up and do some studying on my own.
But is that worth the time and the money for culinary school? I think in some cases it can be. I tell all young professionals who come in to either work for me or interview, if you don’t have any experience, go work at a restaurant.
There’s this idealized vision of what being a chef is. No one envisions themselves as a cook; they all see themselves leading the army at some point and creating this magnificent restaurant. But the reality is the vast majority—just like someone entering the NFL—are going to be entry-level players and not have that leadership role. Still, there’s so much value walking into a kitchen, and being humble and patient and learning from the people around you.
If you have that culinary degree and walk in for an interview with me, I will absolutely give you quite a bit of time in my interview because I know you bring assets to the table. But, I’ve seen so many people with culinary degrees who still don’t have basic food-safety knowledge or have never exhibited autonomy in the creative process.
If I say, ‘Hey, we’ve got this zucchini; make me something with it,’ many people just stop right there and they can’t take it any further. They need someone to tell them what to do, or if it’s something that they did in culinary school, they go straight to what they’ve learned.
I think people who are self-taught—in my experience—have already been forced to figure things out. So if you’re having trouble creating a dish or plating a dish, you have to find resources to make it happen. They are bringing a different level of creativity that doesn’t have the same shackles on them because they were told this is how to do it. I also find people who don’t have culinary school backgrounds will question authority and standards and rules and kitchen expectations. To me, that’s a good thing. I want novelty and innovation. I want to run a kitchen that excites and challenges people. To do that, you have to give them some creative control with that nurturing hand.
I really value culinary school training, but so many people think it’s this golden ticket. Regardless of your experience, you should go in and say, ‘I’m here to learn from the people around me. Whether I think I know anything or not is irrelevant.’ Go to learn, and when there’s nothing left to learn, move on and that’s whether you’re in culinary school or a kitchen.