Does Culinary School Matter?

Categories: Chow Bella

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 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.

Silvana Salcido Esparza
Chef and owner, Barrio Cafe

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.

Chef James Porter
Petite Maison, Big Earl's BBQ

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.

Pavle Milic
Owner, FnB

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.

Craig DeMarco, Owner
Postino, Windsor, Churn

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.

Akos Szabo, Chef de Cuisine
Top of the Rock Restaurant at the Buttes Resort

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.

Eric Flatt, Owner Tonto Bar & Grill & Cartwrights Sonoran Ranch House.jpg
Eric Flatt, Co-owner
Tonto Bar & Grill and Cartwright's Sonoran Ranch House

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.

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Shooter McGaven
Shooter McGaven

Many culinary schools are no better than the Sally Struthers correspondence taxidermy courses. Students go HUGE into debt, and lots of the students are doing a shit ton of drugs to cope with the bullshit. 


im a doctor and i didnt attend medical school.  i still do an adequate job, i mean most of my patients dont really know any better.  i just use some common sense and the internet to fumble my way along.  i have been showing up at the hospital and watching surgery alot so i will probably give one a try soon, whats the big deal?

Purebred baloney
Purebred baloney

  By and large, I think culinary schools have become puppy mills. They're selling pedigree but churning out countless young pups who'll never do more than chase their tails in the cooking trades.   

west valley chef
west valley chef

As someone who has attended culinary school in the mid 1990's and is a chef who makes a really good living. I agree culinary school pricing is out of control. For culinary schools to advertise that students will become chefs when they graduate is a travesty. Most culinary schools are just a big money grab and thanks to the food network it makes the culinary industry look like it is a glamorous industry. I had a great time going to culinary school and learning the history, origin and founders of the industry. I love knowing how to truss a chicken or doing ballantines and galatines. At my last job I had to show my previous Executive Chef how to truss a chicken. If you are going to stick with chef or an individual owned restaurant, than you don’t need culinary school. If you are looking to be apart of Corporate American or work for a major hotel etc, you probably should seek some type of culinary training. Just from speaking with my chef friends who are not formally trained about this topic, they have a harder time landing the big money ($90k+) jobs. That piece of paper is going to make it alot easier for you to get your foot in the door. Just like anything in life do what make $ince for you. If you have the money go to culinary school and travel the world and eat all food. For me culinary school was awesome and I wouldn’t be where I am today without.


Having attended SCI in the early 90's with dreams of becoming a real chef, I can tell you that attending culinary school is generally a huge waste of time. Leaving with your sweatearned diploma in hand you quickly realize that working the line just above minimum wage is not glamorous or going to pay your bills. Please read Anthony Bourdains latest book and his take on attending culinary school. He believes its a waste of time.  If you are looking to learn knife skills and how to make stock it works for that, otherwise if you truly want to become a real chef you have to start at the bottom in a real topline fine dining restaurant, preferably in Europe or NYC. The price of a culinary education is absolutely insane today. Save you money, intern and see if the life is worth it. You will never have a real life. You work when others are off. You will not see your significant other and the payoff, except for the lucky few is non-existant. The culinary trade school farce is not reality.  You will be on the bottom totem for many, many years at substandard wages trying to repay a huge loan.  

Purebred baloney
Purebred baloney

  So, you're equating a culinary school education to an advanced professional degree?

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