Learning to Cook: Apprenticeship or Culinary School?
David Chang is a Korean-American chef who is known for his unique combination of Asian food and French technique. After graduating Trinity College, Chang worked briefly in the financial services before embarking upon his career as a chef. Chang attended the French Culinary Institute and opened his first restaurant, Momofuku Noodle Bar, in Manhattan's East Village in 2003. Momofuku proved a resounding success; food critics as well as customers loved the restaurant's signature dishes, such as the Asian burrito and the kimchi and pork consomme.
In 2006, Chang opened his a second restaurant, Momofuku Ssam Bar. Chang was honored as both GQ and Bon Appetit's 2007 Chef of the Year. Chang is unapologetic about his food. "We do not serve vegetarian-friendly items," Chang has said. "Vegetarians are a pain in the ass as customers."
David Chang: I think apprenticeship systems should be instituted immediately. I don’t think school or high school is for everybody, though I’m pro education. But I think that not everyone is going to be a doctor or a lawyer. And the education system should probably encourage people to become cobbles, tailors or whatever. It’s like these are professions that are honorable, and there’s only one way you can really be great at it, and that’s learning from people who have done it a long time. And it’s difficult to find that.
Nobody wants to learn anymore. Nobody wants to take the time and do grunt work for a year, two years. But that grunt work is important to laying your foundation to learning your skill and your craft.
We try to implement the apprenticeship system as much as possible. The French have it with the brigades system where you are their _________ and your work for free for six months.
And if you do that, maybe you’ll become a __________ and you’ll prep potatoes, and stuff like that. And that just goes on and on and on, and you have a great appreciation for whatever you’re doing when you get to the level where you want.
David Chang: Working in restaurants and technique, I had to learn these things. I’m not an autodidact. I’m not going to read a book and teach myself how to julienne a carrot or something. I needed to see somebody do it, and you can learn that in a kitchen.
I always tell people too, if you don’t have the money go to Danielle, go to _________ and just do anything they say. Like that’s the best resume. I know nothing, but I’ll do whatever you ask me to do and I’ll do it for free. And you’re just going to have to be persistent and observe if they’re doing anything that you’re not going to see in a cookbook.
There’s only so much a cookbook can teach you. That’s pretty much it.
David Chang: It opened a lot of doors.
I know I’ve been critical of it at times, but at the end of the day it was awesome for me because I learned so much. And they give you the opportunities to do whatever you want cooking wise once you get to a certain level.
I was working at the same time. I was working at a place called the Mercer Kitchen because I could get out of school at 3:00 and start work at 3:30.
It was interesting.
You meet chefs that sort of tell you what to expect, but they won’t give you what really is gonna happen. And they open some doors for you, you know? They really do.
You could still do it without cooking school, but I would have found it a lot more challenging.
Recorded on: Nov 14, 2007
The apprenticeship system, Chang says, should be instituted immediately.
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