How to Start a Cooking School
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Cooking schools range from prestigious, established institutions such as Le Cordon Bleu to informal kitchen gatherings geared toward building skills for home cooks and even children. This wide range of possibilities offers diverse opportunities for food lovers interested in sharing their knowledge and passions. Whatever your specialty, you can design a cooking school program that showcases your individual culinary skills and teaching style.
Craft a clear, compelling message and focus for your cooking school. Because there are so many competing culinary programs, yours is more likely to stand out and attract students if you effectively communicate its unique strengths and offerings. Design marketing materials that emphasize your professional experience, expertise and credentials, giving students a reason to enroll. For example, if you grew up in a family that traveled and experienced a wealth of international cuisines, and you later incorporated this knowledge into your work as a professional chef, you can develop a program that shows off this diversity.
A cooking school requires a kitchen where students can learn. Whether your program offers hands-on or demonstration classes, you must have a user-friendly space equipped with the appliances and tools you'll need for teaching. A home kitchen may suffice for a small, informal cooking school, but if you aim to start a larger program with growth capacity, you'll need to outfit a space with work surfaces, ovens and stoves. Clarify your long-term vision before designing and outfitting a space for your cooking school, and then create your teaching kitchen accordingly.
Keeping it Legal
Because cooking schools prepare and serve food, they are usually regulated by local health departments. Regulations vary by state and by city, but your cooking school will most likely require some degree of health department oversight. This may involve constructing your facility to comply with health department regulations such as separate dishwashing and hand washing sinks, or being subject to routine inspections. Contact your local health department before proceeding with your plans to start a cooking school, especially if you intend to operate out of your home kitchen, which is not allowed in some areas.
Market your cooking school by targeting the types of students most likely to appreciate or benefit from your offerings. If you'll be teaching gourmet techniques, reach out to food aficionados at farmers' markets. If you'll be teaching cooking classes for children, market to parents via ads in family-oriented publications. Research cooking schools in your area and emphasize the features that make your approach different. For example, if an existing cooking school in your area focuses on classical French cuisine and your cooking school targets home cooks, emphasize the easy, accessible aspects of your approach.
Devra Gartenstein is an omnivore who has published several vegan cookbooks. She has owned and run small food businesses for 30 years.