Why do people want to become Chefs? After all, until a few decades ago the Chef was really the Cook and considered a domestic servant. There are some of us who simply LOVE to cook for and feed other people. Some are satisfied with cooking for their families and friends. Some take it a step further and share their knowledge of cooking by giving neighborhood or family classes. Then there are those of us who want to take it a step farther.
I was working as a volunteer for Project Angel Food in Los Angeles. (Project AngelFood provides daily meals for people homebound or disabled by HIV/AIDS in Los Angeles.) I found out that my favorite cousin, who lived in Austin, Texas, had AIDS and that there was no service to make hot meals available for him. On the spot, I determined that I would get my Culinary Arts Certification so that, if the occasion arose, I would be qualified to set up my own version of Project Angel Food wherever necessary.
Having decided this, I then had to look at the options for schooling. The expensive and well-known schools were, at the time, located in New York and San Francisco. However, there were rumors of a new high-end school starting here in Los Angeles with Master Chef RaimundHofmeister at the helm.
At that time, Chef Hofmeister was an award-winning Culinary Olympian and veteran executive chef of Westin’s flagship Century Plaza Hotel, and had for years been an outspoken critic of big-tuition culinary institutions whose curricula are long on theory but short on practical experience. He was leaving the Century Plaza to start his own school, the Los Angeles International Culinary Institute. The L.A.I.C.I. would cost $12 million to launch in a refurbished, 80,000-square-foot space atop the historic Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles. As things turned out, however, the school opened at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center.
There was a three-month introductory class offered for which I wrote a letter of intent to enroll. Then, I had to submit an essay to accompany my application for admission stating my reasons for want to attend the class. I also had to furnish two letters of recommendation. (With application fee) Upon acceptance to enroll, I had to send in an acceptance deposit, my resume, and results of my SAT.
This type of school has a very strict uniform dress code, and, of course, I had to buy all my own uniforms and tools. By the time the textbooks and accident insurance and all the other fees were paid, that three-month course came to more than $3000. Although it was a fine school, it was not accredited, and it did not last. I found myself starting over (because none of my credits from this school were transferable), and looking for another way to get my Certification.
I discovered an alternative that had been there all along, LA Trade Tech. Los Angeles Trade Technical College has been educating Los Angeles since 1925. At the community colleges, California residents pay a low cost, state-established tuition based upon the number of units carried (18 per unit). Non-residents of California are required to pay out of state tuition ($130 per unit or current rate). This is, you might note, considerably less than at L.A.I.C.I. The Culinary Arts section was already filled, but I enrolled in Professional Baking in the middle of the Fall term. When space in the Culinary Arts program became available, I started in that area.
As with all things in this life, a person can work hard or a person can take it easy. I’ve always enjoyed school, so I happily applied myself. I was on the Dean’s List and the President’s List and I graduated with a 4.0 average.
Culinary Arts is ALL hands on. You cut yourself, burn yourself, and live on adrenalin. Working in a kitchen is unbelievably hard work; but if you love it, go for it, because being a Chef is also powerfully satisfying.