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.

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