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Do You Need School to Be a Chef?

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Students prep vegetables at the California Culinary Academy in April 2009 in San Francisco, Calif. The Le Cordon Bleu affiliate is among 16 schools that closed this year.

There seems to be a new concept restaurant opening every day in Las Vegas, with chefs and sous chefs and line cooks jumping in elbow deep to work impossible hours.

Jamaal Taherzadeh is the executive chef at Border Grill at Mandalay Bay. He told KNPR's State of Nevada that it takes a certain personality to become a chef. 

The hours and the work required make it a tough job.

“The reality is that there is a huge difference between liking to cook and becoming a chef," Taherzadeh said, "You have to like to cook be a chef, but just because you like to cook doesn’t mean you’re going to like to be a chef.” 

Tom Rosenberger is the department chair of the Culinary Arts Department at the College of Southern Nevada.

He said the number of people interested in working in the industry has grown as the number of TV shows about cooking have grown. 

However, he'll send a student home who says "Bam!" while cooking.  

He agrees that working in the industry can be tough. 

“It’s work," Rosenberger said, "It's hard work." 

Rosenberger said when he worked as a chef at the Tropicana hotel-casino he worked 80 to 90 hours a week. 

He also said that when it comes to serving other people there is no such thing as having an 'off day.'

“In the hospitality business, we can't afford to have people have bad days,” he said. 

Both of the men agree that while a culinary degree can be helpful, there are more important factors to being successful in the culinary world.  

“A lot of times what moves you forward in a kitchen is a strong work ethic and creativity,” Taherzadeh said.

Taherzadeh's father is a chef, but he started as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Texas and worked his way up. Now, when he searches for people to work at Border Grill, he looks first at attitude, not culinary school accolades.

“More importantly, it’s their attitude and their demeanor and their hunger," he said, "Whether that means that I learned cooking through working my way up or I want to work my way up or I went I went to culinary school and learned that way.”

 

Jamaal Taherzadeh, the executive chef, Border Grill at Mandalay Bay;  Tom Rosenberger, Dept. Chair of the Culinary Arts Department, College of Southern Nevada

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(EDITOR'S NOTE: Carrie Kaufman no longer works for KNPR News. She left in April 2018)