IN THE OLD DAYS the road to chefdom was paved with miles of painstakingly chopped carrots, years of hand-pure'ed pike, thousands of fluted mushrooms, all produced for slave-labor wages by young apprentices who had been delivered to the kitchen barely out of nursery school to learn the art of cooking.

The young apprentice (and it was always a he) did what he was told, put up with the sometimes cruel pranks of his older colleagues, murmured "Oui, chef" in a humble-but-willing monotone, and, if he was smart, paid careful attention to what was going on elsewhere in the kitchen.

Today, even in Europe, things have changed. And in the United States there have been drastic reroutings of the old road.

Gone are the decades-long apprenticeships, the all-male kitchen crews. More college-educated people go into professional cooking, and many go into cooking from other careers. With American's palates becoming increasingly fine over the last decade, incipient chefs in 1983 America have many more opportunities for learning the trade efficiently and advancing quickly.

Everybody agrees the jobs are out there waiting. But how does the embryonic chef go about getting them? Sometimes it seems like the old chicken-and-egg routine. You can't get the job without experience and you can't get the experience without the job.

Gerald Mauri, executive chef at the Old Ebbitt Grill and former chef at Vincenzo's, advises, "Get your hands dirty and do anything in the kitchen. If you're willing to make that commitment, then go to school."

But where? There are several possibilities in the Washington area, and more for the student who can afford to travel. Professional culinary schools are the ones most often mentioned by chefs and others in the food business. The American Culinary Federation also administers an apprenticeship program that emphasizes on-the-job training.

Many of the professional schools, while they teach fundamentals of cooking that could travel to any kitchen, are organized to train chefs for large restaurants, hotels or institutional kitchens. A smaller number of schools teach the basics of fine cuisine for small restaurants or catering businesses.

These schools, which offer programs lasting from six months to three years, all require high school diplomas, are fairly expensive and can virtually guarantee employment in the food service industry partly because there are so many jobs available.

Two of the three major professional schools in or near Washington, Baltimore's International Culinary Arts Institute and the Culinary School of Washington, can train students for larger establishments, although they don't aim to do this exclusively. The third, L'Academie de Cuisine in Bethesda, gears its program exclusively to small-scale, fine cuisine.

The Baltimore International Culinary Arts Institute is a private, nonprofit school located near the Inner Harbor. The second-oldest professional cooking school in the country, Culinary Arts has about 300 students, 12 kitchens, a restaurant, gourmet carryout and a catering store.

The students are spread out over five floors of kitchens and classrooms, some making bagels, others cakes, epigram of lamb, ice cream, stuffed zucchini or black bean soup.

Advanced students work in rotation in both the dining room and kitchen of the school's L'Ecole restaurant (open Monday through Friday, noon to 1:30 p.m.). Some, dressed in elegant black and white, are waiters, waitresses and bartenders, others are in the kitchen preparing orders.

The Culinary Arts restaurant skills program--the basic cooking course--is divided into four 12-week terms spread over one year. There are 32 1/2 hours of class every week, divided into lab work, which in this case means cooking, and lecture. Lecture periods, which cover such topics as nutrition, sanitation, business math and supervision, take up about 180 hours of the total 1,560-hour program.

The idea at Culinary Arts is to make students learn in a way they won't forget. "We're trying to teach them when something calls for a blond roux they don't have to look at page 24 to see what a blond roux is," says executive director Roger Chylinski. He knows what training is all about, being a graduate of the granddaddy of culinary schools, the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and of Johnson and Wales College in Providence, R.I.

At the end of six months students must pass a practical examination. They also have regular written tests with a 70 percent average required, and must produce a 90-percent attendance record.

If all goes well, students then move on to the second six months, when they learn refinements on the basic techniques, with forays into classical French, Italian, German, American and other cuisines. They learn the dining-room operations from napkin folding to bartending, and how to produce a gorgeous buffet complete with ice carvings and other decorations. In order to graduate, students must design and produce a menu from beginning to end including costing, requisitioning and producing it.

Total cost--including daily meal, knives, uniforms and books--for the year's 1,560-hour program is $7,877, and would be higher without proceeds from the restaurant, the store and the catering service, as well as government and industry help. Financial aid is available from a variety of sources. The school has no dormitories, but provides out-of-town students with a list of housing sources.

School records show that virtually everybody who wants a job at graduation is able to get one, either through personal contacts or through the school's network of contacts.

Culinary Arts also has a six-month baking and pastry skills program. It is operated more or less like the restaurant skills program except it deals exclusively with the fundamentals of baking and pastry. The cost is $3,947 for the 780-hour program.

If the Baltimore school can train cooks to produce good food in larger quantities, the philosophy at Bethesda's L'Academie de Cuisine is to teach students to produce exquisite meals for a fortunate few.

In fact, if students are looking for hotel or larger-restaurant training, Francois Dionot, L'Academie's owner and master teacher, might send them to Baltimore, or to the Culinary Institute of America.

However, students who dream of cooking on a small-but-fine scale are very likely to stay in Bethesda. "I'm not interested," Dionot says, "in recipes that call for 25 pounds of flour to turn out 250 somethings. What we teach here is quality cooking for small restaurants."

Though L'Academie has over the years offered a part-time professional course and various intensive cooking and pastry courses for professionals, this year for the first time it will offer a full-time professional training and apprenticeship program.

L'Academie, which has been touted by Julia Child as one of the best cooking schools in the world for small-scale restaurant training, will be offering a program in two 36-week segments, the first segment being full-time study five days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., October through June. Over the 36 weeks students will learn the foundations of cooking with the emphasis on French theory and techniques that can translate to all other cuisines. Theory lectures and demonstrations will alternate with practical cooking experience in the kitchen.

The second-year students will spend a little time in the classroom, but their main work will be apprenticing in restaurant kitchens. As testimony to Dionot's connections in the Washington food world, he has made arrangements with Jean-Louis, Le Bagatelle, La Colline, the Four Seasons, the Jockey Club and others to take L'Academie's apprentices into their kitchens after they finish their first year of training. Apprentices will work full time for the minimum wage.

Dionot, who was trained at the famous Lausanne, Switzerland hotel school, will be the chief teacher. Other experts, including White House pastry chef Roland Mesnier, are expected to conduct special classes occasionally.

Fees for the course are $9,000 for the first year, $2,500 for the second. L'Academie is not eligible yet for federal financial aid, but the school does have a payment plan.

L'Academie offers professional courses other than the full-time training program. Mesnier teaches a part-time professional pastry course that meets on Monday evenings and Saturday afternoons for six months. It is full this year, but there is a waiting list for 1984. A six-month, part-time professional cooking course, also meeting twice a week, runs continuously. Other professional courses are offered periodically.

The Culinary School of Washington was estab- lished in 1979, says president Mary Ann Kibarian, "as an alternative to the standard academic education. We thought it would be beneficial to the community." About 75 percent of the school's graduates go into hotel kitchens, the remainder into restaurants, institutional kitchens or catering, according to Kibarian.

Kibarian and her husband, Barkev, the Culinary School's dean of students, now have 15 classes of 15 to 20 students each. Some classes take place in the school's kitchen on MacArthur Boulevard, while others meet in kitchens at Abbey Road restaurant, the Black Tahiti restaurant and the Shoreham Hotel. Classes meet 22 hours each week for four 15-week semesters spread over two years.

The school's operating hours vary from class cycle to class cycle, which has caused problems for some students. New four-semester class cycles begin every month, with each new class scheduled for a different time. Class locations--whether at the main kitchen or a restaurant kitchen--are dependent partly on what time classes meet.

The class that begins in September will be held from 3 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday. The class that begins in October meets from 5:30 p.m. to 11 p.m., Monday through Thursday, the one beginning in November from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Saturday and Sunday, the December class 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

Although neither Kibarian has a professional food background, the school has a number of full-time staff members with a roster of part-time guest chefs such as James Littlejohn, chief baker at the Crystal Gateway Marriott and Roberto Donna, chef at Romeo and Juliet.

Cost for four 15-week semesters (1,320 hours) is $7,380 with a one-time charge $300 for a set of knives, books, equipment and uniforms.

The Culinary School also offers a 30-week, two semester pastry program, plus a similar program in catering.

A different type of program is offered by the Washington-area chapter of The American Culinary Federation. It administers a chef's apprentice training program that involves three years of on-the-job training at regular wages, plus one day per week of classroom time.

According to Forest Bell, executive chef at Congressional Country Club and president of the Washington ACF chapter, after applicants are admitted to the program they are placed in one of the area's restaurants, hotels, country clubs or other food-service establishments, where they rotate responsibilities so that at the end of the three years they have 6,000 total hours of experience in every aspect of kitchen work.

Classes meet once a week at Pimmit Hills School in Fairfax County for 32 weeks a year but employment is full time. Cost of the three-year program is just under $500. More information is available through Fairfax County Schools.

Besides the Washington area's local resources, there are two culinary schools that come up in nearly every discussion of professional training. These are the Culinary Institue of America (CIA) and Johnson and Wales College. It's not unusual for executive chefs from Washington to go on recruiting trips to these establishments, so solid are their reputations.

CIA, founded in 1946, is the oldest culinary school in the country. It has 1,800 full-time students who take a 21-month program divided into two 15-week semesters of course work, one semester of salaried work in a food service establishment, then another two 15-week semesters of course work. About 30 percent of CIA's graduates go into hotels, the rest to private restaurants, catering or other food service fields.

The school has four restaurants and dormitory space for 1,000. Cost of the program is $10,630, which includes two meals a day, books, uniforms, laundry and cutlery. Housing is extra, running $400 to $700 a semester. Many students work while they are in school, the school providing some employment with its catering service. Financial aid is available.

Besides a high school diploma, CIA requires one year of experience in the food-service industry. There are 16 entry dates per year, but right now there is an 11-month waiting period. CIA reports that it has 4 1/2 job offers for every person it graduates.

Johnson and Wales College has about 2,000 students in its culinary division, which includes programs in cooking, pastry, and hotel and food-service management. All three programs run for two years, each divided into trimesters. Classes meet seven hours a day Monday through Thursday from September to June.

The school combines classroom and lab time with required on-the-job training at one of its two restaurants. Students spend six weeks doing a variety of jobs in each facility.

Johnson and Wales requires a high school diploma and prefers some experience for entrance. Tuition for each program is $4,200 per year, plus a lab fee of $1,347. Room and board is $2,100 per year.

How to choose?

Take a tour of the facility and ask a lot of questions about classroom and lab time. Ask about the school's philosophy.

Ask for literature. It should list specifics about the program, the school's hours of operation, facilities and faculty with their qualifications. Beware of glossy literature that gives little information.

Ask about placement at the end of the course. Find out where recent graduates have gone, talk to them if possible. Ask people in a position to hire where they look for prospects and what they look for.

Finally, talk to the people who run the schools. They should have a lively interest in food and be able to talk about it with enthusiasm. Mauri says that when he interviews a prospective cook for the Old Ebbitt they talk about food for a while, and then he watches to see if the applicant's mouth starts watering. That's probably not a bad trait to look for in someone who operates a culinary school either.