Does Culinary School Matter?
Welcome to Chow Bella's Bites & Dishes, where each week Valley chefs and restaurateurs respond to a question or topic New Times food critic Laura Hahnefeld has on her mind. Have a question you'd like to ask? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Miss a question? Go here.
With the rise of celebrity chefs and TV cooking shows, it seems more people want to become gourmet chefs like never before. In fact, the Association of Private Sector Colleges & Universities, a group that represents for-profit schools nationwide, says enrollment at for-profit trade schools, which include culinary schools, has expanded by around 20 percent a year for the past two years.
So is it worth it? Here's what Valley chefs and restaurateurs had to say on the subject.
Culinary school was worth it for me. I was in my early 30s and needed a strong culinary foundation so I could play catch-up with others in my field. I walked out of culinary school an executive chef at ASU's University Club. There, I got to play restaurant!
My kid just turned 19 and is in his last week in culinary school. If he is smart (and he is), he will use his experience in my kitchen with his new knowledge and foundation learned at ACI to go out and have a beautiful career.
I'm all for culinary schools. Expensive as hell, but worth it. It all depends on you.
No trade should cost $45,000 to review books. On-the-job experience is critical. Quickness, cleanliness, accuracy, and imagination get you the job, not a piece of paper. A great apprenticeship is priceless.
Work in a restaurant first, then decide if you still want to pursue culinary school. No one should get into debt for thousands of dollars to learn how to make chicken stock. Get paid to learn. Go work in places you love and respect. Start at the bottom if you need to. If this industry is really for you, you'll know it. Get your feet wet in your local community, then fly away and work in different regions of the country. Go to Napa for a year, then go to Chicago or New York.
Culinary school is worth it if you're not adventurous enough to pack up and move to a big city, humble enough to take a job at the bottom, and tough enough to stick with it to work your way up.
Culinary students have an unrealistic impression that once they graduate with the piece of paper it officially makes them a chef. Although I went to culinary school, I feel I could have used that money to travel to Europe to work with different chefs and learn new techniques. There are plenty of chefs that have done very well for themselves and have not attended culinary school. It's sad to see kids coming out of school with thousands of dollars of debt that don't know how to make a good chicken stock or understand the importance of a sharp knife.
There was a time for culinary school, but I believe it's passed. Our linen delivery guy told me, "I love to cook and I just graduated from culinary school." I asked why he was delivering laundry and not cooking. He said after graduating, his student loan, with interest, was $80,000 and he can't afford to pay it at $12 an hour as a cook. Yikes! I could have taught him everything he needs to know in two years or less on the job.