We asked chefs for their take on the chicken vs. egg question at the annual benefit for the Careers through Culinary Arts Program, which funds scholarships for students who aspire to be in the kitchen.
“If you have experience before you go to school, I think it gives you an edge on learning so you can absorb things that you may be familiar with but not quite confident in. Start with school, get the tools you need and remember that the on-the-job training is really how you learn what the industry is all about.” Michael Lomonaco, Porter House New York
“It’s important to go to school. Actually, if you can combine both, like working during a school break, it’s even better. School is supposed to teach you the basics. The chef [will] teach you to connect what you learn. Nowadays I think it’s important to study first, then go.” Matteo Bergamini, SD26
“I recommend culinary school first. It gets you prepared in the sense of seeing the reality of what you’re going into. It also helps you understand a lot of culinary terms that we use.” Yuhi Fujinaga, The Sea Grill
“I think it’s great to go into a restaurant to make sure it’s actually something you want to do. Culinary school’s a pretty big investment in time and money.” Marc Murphy, Landmarc
“Work in a restaurant. It’s about whether you like it or not. If you don’t love it, you’ll never make it. You have to live it, eat it and breathe it. And when you go to school, you learn things, and you learn a lot, but you need to see whether you’re suited for it. And you can’t tell until you get out there and work in the field.” Sarabeth Levine, Sarabeth’s
“Working at a restaurant gives you all the tools to learn before you get [out] there. I worked in a restaurant first, and the moment I got to culinary school I felt like I had the biggest head-start in the world.” Kelvin Fernandez, The Strand, American Bistro
Q&A: Do you even need to go to culinary school?
“I went to culinary school and I dropped out. … I’d say like 80 percent of my cooks are dropouts or they didn’t go to school at all. Thomas Keller did not go school.” Kyung Up Lim, Michael’s
“You don’t need to go, but I do think for some people it is worth it. It depends on the person. I personally didn’t go to culinary school.” Sam Yoo, Torrisi Italian Specialties
“I would say no. It’s all about if you can do 80 hours a week and do 12 hours a day and get burned every day — that’s when you know you want it. It’s not necessarily you go to school, you learn it and you come out and be a chef — and that’s what a lot of the schools make it out to be. There’s a lot of really hard work before that happens.” Joseph Fortunato, Extra
“No, by no means. I’ve wasted a lot of money just going to school and then [realizing] it’s not what it’s like on the Food Network.” Chris Wyman, Scarpetta
‘It depends on the person’
“Culinary school gives you the knowledge — even how to hold a knife, which is very good. But also, [at a] restaurant, if you have a very good chef, like a teacher, [it’s almost like how] the culinary school teaches you.” Maria Loi, Loi
“I think it depends on the person. I did not go to culinary school, but I know some very good cooks that did and I really think it depends on how you learn. I just went to a restaurant and asked if I could work for free, and that’s how I learned.” Sam Henderson, wd-50
“I think culinary school gives you a great basis to learn the things that you really need to know to get started, but there’s nothing really like restaurant experience. Working in a restaurant is definitely going to enhance your skill level. But culinary school is a great basis and I would never not recommend going to culinary school if you have the opportunity.” Sean Quinn, Chadwick’s