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Cut the Fat: A Taste Test of Culinary Arts Education

Do economics courses leave you craving a bit more crunch? Find yourself wanting to take a bite out of bio? Are your literature courses a bit too sweet, and your poly-sci courses a little too sour? Maybe a traditional liberal arts education isn't exactly your cup of tea... What is? Culinary study.The Call of the Kitchen If you'd rather spend time studying a cookbook than a chem book, you probably know it already - most culinary schools seem to have an inclination toward the kitchen before they graduate high school. What you may not know is that your passion can translate to a very exciting and lucrative culinary career."I spent my freshman year at New York University (New York, NY)," say Debbie Shure. "I had a kitchen in my dorm and I would always cook for my friends. It was a great hobby, but I never knew that I wanted to make a career out of it." Things have since changed, as Debbie recently graduated from Johnson ... Wales' (Providence, RI), a world-renowned culinary school, and now has a successful culinary career at Chocolatier magazine.The same held true for Nathan Rhodes, who worked in Enterprise Rent-A-Car's corporate office after high school. "I always had a passion for food, and I picked up on that early on," says Nathan, now 24 and studying at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA, Hyde Park, NY)."I was working a corporate job, because that's what I thought I was 'supposed' to do. Then I saw a television special on WOLFGANG PUCK [a famous chef and restaurant owner]. It inspired me to apply to culinary school, and now I love it to death!" Well - death by chocolate, maybe.Nathan was able to find just the right recipe for his culinary career dreams. How to start? By finding the right culinary school for you.Culinary Schools: Not Your Average Classroom You may have a knack for whipping up late-night mac n' cheese or adding just the right amount of cream and sugar in your morning coffee, but culinary school will probably be a bit more demanding."CIA's associate's program is about 85 percent hands-on learning," says Nathan. "The day starts with a lecture that reviews recipes and answers questions, and for the next five hours you're in the kitchen. Then there's a lecture to close the day."But the hard work pays off. "The thing about culinary school is you get out what you put in," says Debbie. "If you work hard, you'll learn a ton. Your instructors are completely willing to help you as long as you're motivated."The Real (Culinary) World As the recent reality show, "The Restaurant" showed, the day-to-day operations of a culinary career - particularly within a popular eatery - are frantic, fast-paced, demanding, and most importantly, exciting. Most culinary schools have some kind of externship program, where you work on site, to help give you a taste of what a culinary career is like."CIA's externship lasts 21 weeks and you can go to any of the 1,700 approved sites," explains Nathan. "It's sort of like a job application, where the restaurants are looking to hire students. You apply, go on an interview, and then hopefully get the position." For students embarking on such study, finding a culinary school that places great value on in-the-kitchen experience is vital to your future culinary career.A Culinary Career Smorgasbord Perhaps the most important thing to know about earning a culinary degree at culinary school is that it won't limit you to the kitchen. "The food industry is experiencing a huge boom right now, and there are many more jobs than there used to be," says Colleen Pontes, a CIA graduate and former Chocolatier food writer. "The popularity of MARTHA STEWART opened the door for food media and food TV, and the industry in general is generating so much excitement and interest at the moment.""We want to show people the culinary career opportunities that are out there," says Kathy Shaw, sales and marketing director at Le Cordon Bleu (Ottawa, Ontario), and graduate of the school's culinary school programs in Paris. "I started out wanting to be a chef, now I do the school's marketing. There are many ways to make this passion a career.""There are countless culinary careers beyond being a chef like catering, food TV, food writing, food art, event planning, food critic positions," agrees Nathan. "Even research and development at major food companies like Hershey's or Campbell's - all of the sauces, candies, soups and flavors those mega companies put out are designed by people with culinary abilities."And you'll never be stuck in one place. "When I first started, I wanted to be in the kitchen making desserts for people," says Debbie. "Now I realize I want to be a food writer, which will be great. I can combine all of my food knowledge with my writing skills and help Americans understand what good food is all about!"

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