Tag Archives: culinary school

Unrealistic Expectations

Many thoughts went through my head when I read this story, that I was thrown for a moment on how to exactly comment upon it. For those too lazy busy to click on the link, the article is an in depth look at the Californina Culinary Academy and their application process. Here’s a quick snippet so you can get an idea on the jist of the story…

SF Weekly spoke with more than two dozen applicants, students, and graduates of CCA (California Culinary Academy), and found a pattern of serious complaints. Many former students say admissions representatives told them whatever they thought the applicants needed to hear to get them to sign on the dotted line. The students claim admissions reps said it was a prestigious school that they would be lucky to gain admission to, when it actually admits anyone eligible for a student loan. The graduates say they were misled about the terms of their loans; many have since realized that by the time they finish making payments, they’ll have paid more than $100,000 for just 15 months of school. Finally, the students and graduates we spoke to were told that a CCA degree virtually guaranteed them a well-paying job at an elite restaurant. In fact, the majority went on to low-paying kitchen jobs — and many soon left the food industry entirely in search of salaries that would pay off their student debt.

The activities of CCA discussed within the article are, quite simply, reprehensible, and quite possibly fraudulent. Career Education Corporation, who bought the school in 1999, have focused solely on short term gains while disregarding everything from the Academy’s reputation to simple ethics and morality, all in the pursuit of profits. Meanwhile dozens, if not hundreds of students are now deeply in debt with an education that is incapable of repaying said debt.

However, these were not the first thoughts that went through my mind while reading this story. What went through my mind was this – Have people become so enamored by what they read in the Magazines and what they see on Food Television, that they have become blind to the realities of the industry? Do people really think that upon graduation from any culinary school that they…

  1. …are a chef.
  2. …can open a restaurant.
  3. …that said restaurant will become sucessful.
  4. …that Food TV will come knocking on their door?

Am I misreading the upswing in the Culinary School enrollments? Do the majority of folks really know what the industry is like? Or are people looking for a different path to becoming famous? If people are only going to these Academies to become “SuperStar Chefs”, how much is the current food media culture to blame?

It’s difficult for me to begrudge anyone their celebrity, whether they are food writers, chefs, or even simple personalities like Martha Stewart or even Rachel Ray. I can’t think of any overnight success stories in the food world. Everyone who has status has seemingly put in the hours of work to earn where they are today.

But when I see shows like “Hells Kitchen” or “Top Chef”, I can’t help but think that the viewers of these programs start to believe that anyone can do this type of work. And it’s this point of view that is leading to the increase of applicants to various culinary academies.

…and sitting their waiting to take these folks money are institutions like the folks at Career Education Corporation, who hype the possibilities while downplaying the probabilities.

Does the food media unwittingly help set these unrealistic expectations? I think so to some extent. But it doesn’t take much research to quickly learn the reality of the industry. At some point, the responsibility of bad choices has to lay at rest at the individual who made them.

What is Culinary School worth?

I came across this story the other day:

SAN FRANCISCO — Cameron Cuisinier’s dreams of a catering career led him to culinary school. Now he’s unemployed and $43,000 in debt, and he’s not alone.

From TV chefs to reality shows where the winners get their own restaurants, it’s a hot time to be in the kitchen. Record numbers of would-be chefs are enrolling in culinary schools, some of which charge $20,000 a year or more.

At first glance, the obvious question that popped into my mind was “Are culinary schools worth it?”

But upon reflection, the value of the education that these schools provide is only one part of the education. The worth of anything is determined by the consumer of the product or service. The seller in turn only puts out a price that they know they can get. When taking this thought into account, my question then turned into “Do the students and graduates of these schools know what they are getting into?”

When investing in education, I was told to take into account how much I could expect in return, once I left school. Of course I majored in communications and ended up working in the software/aerospace industry, so what the hell do I know.

Still, I’m wondering what some of these students are thinking. If are aspiring to be head cooks or chefs, the numbers still aren’t in their favor. From the article:

The number of food service jobs in America rose from 9.9 million in 2001 to 10.8 million in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But a small fraction of those jobs – roughly 115,000 – are for chefs or head cooks, and that number did not change significantly during the five-year span.

That’s a one to one hundred ratio, for those of you working that out in your head.

This aspect doesn’t even take into account the moderate to low wages, the long hours, and in some instances the lack of benefits. It’s a tough gig, no matter how you slice it.

I’m not going to sit here and say “Culinary schools aren’t worth the money”, because clearly there are some who have benefited from these types of institutions. But I do ask “Are these places selling a lifestyle that is difficult to attain?” The folks I have met who attended various acting and music schools and programs were all told to expect little in the way of financial benefits from their chosen crafts. Do these culinary schools effectively communicate this reality to their respective students?

As a side note, I have found that several of the chefs I have talked with over the past few years have gotten where they are through mentoring and apprenticeship, a practice that Shuna over at Eggbeater highly advocates. Is this a better way to break into the industry, or simply a cheaper alternative?
Technorati Tags: Culinary Schools, Chefs, Cooks

So my question to you restaurant folk is this – Would you recommend culinary school to someone? If so, why?