There are many very reputable culinary programs at really great colleges and universities all over the U.S. And I totally respect the venerable C.I.A. (Culinary Institute of America) as the Harvard of culinary programs. In fact, I’m proud to have a relative who graduated from a C.I.A.-Cornell combined program for a B.S. in Hotel & Restaurant Management.
However, I find it appalling that some of these private school chains work more like over-priced basic training facilities than institutions of higher learning. Many of these schools are charging exorbitant tuition by feeding off of people’s love of food along with their star-struck excitement of seeing superstar chefs competing at the top of their game each week on television.
What they don’t tell these students is their 4 year degree means they know enough of the basics for salad prep, or garde manger at best. No matter what great grades they got in ice carving or meat deboning, no great restaurant is going to risk putting them on the line when the restaurant needs to quickly bang out consistent quality dishes for the dinner rush. No matter what accolades they got at school, nobody wants their opinion, and don’t even think about suggesting any changes on the menu. The students really need to have an incredible passion for food, to learn to work precisely with a great sense of urgency, and think quickly on their feet.
And finally the worst disservice, is neglecting to tell these students that they’re going to have to work lower wage jobs to pay off their student loans. By lower, I mean lower on average than students graduating with degrees in other disciplines like teaching, business, and computers. In 2010, restaurant chefs on average, made less than $24,000, and head chefs made less than $45,000. And worse yet, they will work 10 – 14 hour days on their feet, including weekends and holidays towards student loans for up to $70,000. Sure there are chefs out there who go on to open great restaurants, cookbooks, TV shows, etc., but they are the exception. Becoming a star chef is as difficult as moving from high school to pro sports – – it can be done, but very few make it. To get to that star chef level requires a lot of very long hard hours of not making it.
For those who have not been swayed by these Dept. of Labor statistics, I would advise you to look into the culinary programs of various community colleges. You may be surprised to know that several community colleges have actually put in respectable showings and beaten teams from nationally acclaimed culinary schools at national American Culinary Federation (ACF) competitions. So at the very least, you don’t have to start your culinary career with a huge debt looming over your head.
Much of the this article’s information was courtesy of Leah A. Zeldes a freelance writer featured in the Chicago Sun Times. http://www.suntimes.com/lifestyles/food/11424848-423/what-i-didnt-learn-in-culinary-school.html