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Photo: David Lewis Taylor
Q: "I have been in academic research for more than eight years, but food is my passion. I'm ready for a career transition—can you offer any insight?"
— Piia Hanson, St. Louis

A: We spoke to three insiders in the culinary world and asked their advice:

"People who have unrelated careers can combine their love of food with their current job. Yes, you can be an executive chef, but we have graduates in culinary photography, food research, and menu development."
— Rachel Birchwood, director of admissions, Culinary Institute of America

"I never went to culinary school, and I don't think it's necessary. To get experience, intern for a bakery, a caterer, or a restaurant. Tell them, 'I'll help out wherever I can.' I would be impressed by someone who really wants to learn."
— Alison Mesrop, owner of New York City–based Alison Mesrop Catering

"If you're thinking about culinary school, do your research! You should ensure that any institute you're looking at is the right fit in terms of course offerings, the approach to cooking, and the duration of the program."
— Merle Brown, vice president of Natural Gourmet Institute for Health & Culinary Arts

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