Does culinary school help someone become a chef? This question seems to be the hot topic du jour. I have mixed views on this issue as I think that an educated population is very important, but from what I can tell going to culinary school often times doesn’t seem to make much of a difference on getting hired. I can’t tell you how many culinary school graduates that I meet who are working at the gym front desk, but left to pay off steep school loans.
Many working chefs agree that culinary schools churn out uncreative and lazy cooks. When hiring, even in the most prestigious restaurants, it has been said that having a culinary degree makes no difference at all. Working chefs just don’t seem to care about academic training when deciding to hire someone or an employee’s ultimate success. Someone who wants to become a chef can get a job washing dishes and work their way up into prep all the while gathering basic skills to work on the line, master each station and eventually become a head chef. That said, today’s students learning the basics and how to clean a fish which is nothing to sneeze at.
Most culinary schools charge tuitions that are between $20,000 to $30,000 per year. Le Cordon Bleu and The Art Institutes are for profit schools that are owned by Fortune 1000 companies. Le Cordon Bleu U.S. franchise is licensed by Career Education Corporation. The Art Institutes are owned by Education Management Corporation which 41 percent of is owned by Goldman Sachs. CIA (Culinary Institute of America) and Johnson & Wales are both not-for profit institutions. Graduation rates tend to be higher at not-for-profit culinary schools. CIA has a requirement of working in the restaurant business for 6 months as an admission requirement. This requirement is designed to weed out non-serious students. There seems to be a big complaint, however that these schools don’t really foster creativity, radical culinary ideas or experimentation.
I would never tell someone not to go to culinary school, but I think it is worth considering if one wants to end up with a mountain of debt while working for low wages. The average salaries for food workers are: Head Chef $44,780; First-Line Supervisors $31,770; Cooks $23,260; Dishwashers $18,680; Fast Food Workers $18,540. Total tuition to graduation: Le Cordon Bleu $39,900; International Culinary Center (ICC) $41,625; Kendall College $43,092; Art Institute (AI) $44,561; Johnson & Wales $47,910; Culinary Art Institute (CIA) $49,980; New England Culinary Institute (NECI) $51,140.