Book Review: 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Going to Culinary School By Regina Varolli

by Emily Bell
September 2012


Difficulty Level: Beginner

Gems of Wisdom Among the 99 Things:
“You go to culinary school to learn the basics.” (Bobby Flay of Mesa Grill – New York, NY)

“You need to really believe in yourself beyond the normal self confidence. But at the same time, if you’re not the executive chef, you better button that shit up because they just don’t want to hear it!” (Duff Goldman of Ace of Cakes – Baltimore, MD)

“I keep close ties with my alma mater. I go to campus as often as I can, I help them with fundraising, and I do everything I can to add to the quality of education Johnson & Wales students are getting year after year.” (Emeril Lagasse of Emeril's – New Orleans, LA)

“You’ve got to work for at least 10 years to understand things like slow cooking, timing, patience, and the stages of preparation…Too many people in this generation don’t want to work so hard, and it can make them impatient, unfocused, and frustrated.” (Susur Lee of Lee – Ontario, Canada)
99 things you wish you knew

Hindsight is 20/20, sure. But it also tends to come just a bit too late. Fortunately for those considering a career of the kitchen kind, Regina Varolli’s gathered the hindsight of a variety of culinary pros, transforming their regrets and revelations into 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Going to Culinary School. A tidy addition to the 99 Things series, Varolli’s book isn’t just tips for the academy bound (there are those, too). It’s written, in large part, in response to the lapse between culinary student expectations, costs, and career prospects that may or may not quite line up at the end of the day (or semester). As she says in the intro, “With this book, I aim to arm today’s generation of culinary hopefuls with the knowledge they’ll need to never get fooled again.” Roger Daltry would be proud.

As much as she dives into the hard stuff—and you’ll be glad she does—Varolli doesn’t skip over intangibles like “Camaraderie,” which she emphasizes as a supportive element in school and professional kitchens alike. She also doesn’t traipse around the psychological discipline required to endure hours of mindless “Grunt Work” as a freshly minted, and inevitably frustrated, graduate.

The book is divided into sections, from the basic “Why Go” to “Where,” and the all-important “How” ($$$). Of course, if culinary school isn’t in your sights, but you’re still kitchen-bound, Varolli offers a chapter on alternatives. And if you’re coming in from a non-culinary world—hop-scotching from civilization to the kitchen—there’s a stocked chapter for “Career Changers.” Last but not least, Varolli dispels any wide-eyed dreams of instant culinary rockstardom. In lieu of daydreams, she serves up the truth: being a chef means work, passion, and achievable success—and this book gets you 99 steps closer to it.