Tips & Techniques

How 3 Culinary School Grads Found Success Outside of a Restaurant Kitchen

Sponsored
September  4, 2018

We've partnered with Le Cordon Bleu to share recipes, tips, and stories that celebrate the different journeys you can take after graduating from culinary school.

When you meet someone that's planning to go to culinary school, your first instinct might be to assume that they want to be chef. And why not? For those who spend months and years mastering both classic techniques and modern methods, a career as a chef seems like the natural next step.

But while a life behind the line can be thrilling and fulfilling for some, it's far from the only option; graduates from top-notch institutions go on to pursue a variety of jobs that have little, if anything, to do with restaurants.

Photo by Adele Shaw

Case in point: Adele, Sally, and Merrill. The trio met while completing the Diplôme de Cuisine, a professional program made up of three different levels, at the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school in London. On the first day of classes for the Intermediate level, they each happened to pick three stations all in a row and continued cooking next to each other throughout the course, forming a mini cooking "line" of their own—not to mention, lifelong friendships.

Shop the Story

Today, they each occupy very different spaces in the cooking world—a food stylist, an educator and a chocolatier, and the co-founder and president of Food52, respectively—but all agree they wouldn't be where they are today were it not for their culinary education. Here's how they got there:


Merrill Stubbs, Food52 Co-Founder

Merrill is the co-founder of Food52, an award-winning digital brand that focuses on cooking, home, and community.

That's Merrill on the left, standing next to her co-founder Amanda Hesser. Photo by Rocky Luten

Why did you want to go to culinary school? What did you think you'd learn?

Beginning my senior year in college, no matter what I tried to focus on, I always ended up finding my way into the kitchen: I put off working on my thesis to try a new recipe from the Joy of Cooking or host a dinner party; my first real job was as a second grade teacher, and I found myself teaching the kids a unit on cooking. I wasn't sure where cooking school would take me, but I wanted to learn the fundamentals of cooking, from the experts, after having taught myself what little I knew at that point, and then make something of it.

What made you choose Le Cordon Bleu, in particular?

It was far away from New York, which was wearing on me, and I was familiar with London because my cousins had lived there for years and I'd worked there one summer during college. I debated going to Leiths, but ultimately felt Le Cordon Bleu would give me what I was looking for—at the time, I really wanted to learn those classic French techniques.

What was the best part of attending LCB? What about the most difficult? Any memorable triumphs or disasters in the kitchen or in class?

The best part was the people. To this day, I consider my time at LCB to be the best year of my life. A lot of that has to do with the friendships I formed. I've never worked harder than I did that year; I was consistently exhausted both mentally and physically, but also totally fulfilled. When you share that kind of intense experience with other people day in and day out, bonds form.

One of my best memories is of a tradition our class embraced of heading to a nearby pub around 5pm most days; we planted ourselves at a big table in the corner, ordered beer and shandies and some salt and vinegar potato chips, and stayed there for hours, telling jokes and letting off steam. One of my less fond memories from LCB is when I was cooking for an exam and made the terrible mistake of adding tomato to a fish mouse: When I poached the mousse, the cream reacted with the acid and it got grainy and awful. Needless to say, I failed the exam.

Can you tell us a little bit about your job—what's a day in your life like? What do you love most about your job? Do you use anything you learned in culinary school in your current role?

My days are mostly a mix of conversations and meetings with lots of different people; every day is different. I love the constant sense of newness and progress, and being able to drive that as a leader. As one of the founders of a fast-growing digital brand focused on cooking and home, food (and all related topics) is the backdrop for everything I do. Unlike the early days of Food52, when Amanda and I were doing everything ourselves, I now spend very little time cooking for work, food styling, or writing recipes or food-related articles. We have an incredible editorial and creative team who produces incredible content all day, every day, and I get to the reap the benefits as a taster and consumer of the content myself.

How did you end up here? Did you see yourself ending up in this job when you entered LCB?

I didn't know what I'd do after LCB, except that I probably wasn't going to cook in restaurants; that lifestyle couldn't have been less appealing to me. I thought I might end up in catering, or maybe writing a book about my experience at school (which was a thing). At the time, digital food media wasn't something that everyone aspired to the way it is now (blogging was barely in its infancy), so it wasn't something I aspired to either until later on.

What would be your best piece of advice for anyone considering going to culinary school, or a job working with food in general?

Working in food isn't necessarily the next logical step beyond being obsessed with eating, or loving to cook. Just like anything, when food becomes part of your job it takes on a different role in your life. That's not to say you can't still cook to unwind (I often do), but it's hard to take a step back once you introduce the rigor of turning it into a profession.


Adele Shaw, Food Stylist

Adele styles for magazines, motion pictures, supermarket chains, cookbooks, and consumer goods packaging.

Why did you want to go to culinary school? What did you think you'd learn?

Photo by Adele Shaw

At the time, I thought I wanted to be head chef of my own restaurant. But the industry is so vast and I didn’t realize that working in food had so many different options. I wasn’t exactly sure what I’d learn—other than to be proficient in a kitchen—so I wanted to learn how to make everything. And we really did for the Grand Diplôme at Le Cordon Bleu, which includes both the Diplôme de Cuisine & Diplôme de Pâtisserie.

What made you choose Le Cordon Bleu, in particular?

It was important to me to find a quality program that included fine dining and was internationally recognized. Let’s be honest: Le Cordon Bleu’s name has clout. The most prestigious culinary qualification that Le Cordon Bleu offers, the Grand Diplôme, covered all the bases I was looking for. Another huge decision-making factor at the time was to get the show on the road, career-wise. I wanted an intensive chef program (that didn't involve going back to university) that would help me launch my career. LCB offered nine months of full-time study, as opposed to a one- or two-year program, so it was the best, most obvious choice for me.

What was the best part of attending LCB? What about the most difficult? Any memorable triumphs or disasters in the kitchen or in class?

The most difficult part was definitely the langoustines: We had to pull the intestine out while they were still alive. I couldn’t do it. I traded prepping all the mise en place for my station mate so that she would do it for me. And I can’t think of a specific disaster, per se, but I do remember burning myself quite regularly.

The best part was the camaraderie. We’d spend long hours all week at school and still go out in the evenings together because we were like family to each other. Each of my colleagues’ career triumphs brings me immense joy, whether someone has opened a restaurant or is travelling the world as a private chef. And I’m incredibly proud of Merrill & Food52; I get butterflies just thinking about her many accomplishments.

Can you tell us a little bit about your job—what's a day in your life like? What do you love most about your job? Do you use anything you learned in culinary school in your current role?

As a food stylist, a day when I’m “on set” actually begins a few days (or sometimes a week) before with a pre-production meeting so that everyone has time to prepare. We discuss what we are going to shoot to make sure everyone is on the same page, creatively and style-wise. Then I shop, source, and prep the food. When the day of the shoot arrives, we arrive on set early to prepare the food and discuss with the photographer and prop stylist the best way to shoot each food item. Keeping the brand integrity and the vision of the agency top of mind, we combine efforts to build different shots throughout the day.

Each day brings a different challenge: Some days are all bowls of pasta; sometimes you work on Christmas campaigns for several weeks, sometimes it’s just making the perfect cheese pull, caramel drip, or cream cheese swirl. I adore my job. I couldn’t think of a better way to combine my chef skills—problem solving, culinary techniques, attention to detail—with my desire to be creative.

I adore my job. I couldn’t think of a better way to combine my chef skills—problem solving, culinary techniques, attention to detail—with my desire to be creative.

How did you end up here? Did you see yourself ending up in this job when you entered LCB?

I didn’t even know that a “food stylist” was a job when I entered culinary school, so no, I didn't. It wasn’t until I’d been working for about a year as a cook when I found out that the person that writes the cookbook doesn’t cook the food for the photos. That blew my mind. And I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do. My mother is an artist and I went to an arts school for a decade so it was really the perfect combination of skills.

What would be your best piece of advice for anyone considering going to culinary school, or a job working with food in general?

Do it! Get all the culinary knowledge you can. I’ve recommended LCB to everyone I know. It really felt like a premium, intensive course. You get crazy good life skills if nothing else.


Sally Frey, Food Studies Professor & Chocolatier

Sally is a classically trained chef, wine professional, educator, and owner of S.K. Frey Chocolates & Confections. You can find her brand of chocolates at The Meadow in New York City, Adda Coffee & Tea House in Pittsburgh, PA, and Portland, OR.

Photo by Sally Frey

Why did you want to go to culinary school? What did you think you'd learn?

I went to culinary school to learn the fundamental techniques of cooking. I wanted to build my confidence in knife skills and the culinary basics, and also desired to know how to maneuver in a kitchen as a professional. I sought to build skills in cuisine, pastry, and wines so I could have a solid foundation as a professional in the field.

What made you choose Le Cordon Bleu, in particular?

I chose Le Cordon Bleu, London and Paris, because of their curriculum and network of alumni and restaurants. When I visited the Paris school as a prospective student, I watched a demonstration on egg cookery taught by one of the chef instructors. None of the recipes being presented were new to me, but I left realizing that I never even thought about how little I knew about eggs and how to cook them. After the demonstration, I was hooked.

What was the best part of attending LCB? What about the most difficult? Any memorable triumphs or disasters in the kitchen or in class?

Attending Le Cordon Bleu was one of the best choices that I ever made. Completing the Grand Diplôme provided me with the fundamental techniques of classic cooking, and the chefs and colleagues that I worked with instilled in me a lifelong desire to cook and learn about food. The colleagues that I met during my culinary school training are some of my closest friends to this day.

Can you tell us a little bit about your job—what's a day in your life like? What do you love most about your job? Do you use anything you learned in culinary school in your current role?

I’m a professor at Chatham University in Pittsburgh where I teach sustainable gastronomy courses for the Food Studies master’s and bachelor’s programs. My courses include: Sustainable Meat Production, Sustainable Fermentation, Wines, Cider and Mead, Culinary and Culture of Grains, International Cuisine, Sustainable Gastronomy, and The Politics and Pleasures of Chocolate. I teach using experiential learning so there is always a component of hand-on-training in my courses in addition to traditional academics.

My own practice as a culinary professional outside of Chatham includes running an artisanal, small-batch chocolate business called S.K. Frey Chocolates & Confections. My academic work and teaching are greatly informed by my time in the kitchen and my experience as an entrepreneur.

How did you end up here? Did you see yourself ending up in this job when you entered LCB?

During class one day, a Le Cordon Bleu chef quoted Julia Child: “Find something you’re passionate about and keep tremendously interested in it.” Culinary school made me tremendously interested in cooking and food, and I knew that I would make a career within the field.

What would be your best piece of advice for anyone considering going to culinary school, or a job working with food in general?

Watch, learn, travel, read, taste, and practice your craft.

The road after culinary school doesn't always lead to a professional kitchen. In partnership with Le Cordon Bleu, an international network of cooking and hospitality schools, we're excited to share the many different careers you can pursue, from food stylist to start-up founder, after a culinary education.

1 Comment

Sv September 5, 2018
I went to LCB, I know what one of those dish towels looks like straight out of the wash when you can’t be bothered to iron it. There are MANY other LCB grads who are running circles around this lazy so-called food stylist at this game. You should be embarrassed.