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Culinary careers not easy as pie


Jmahl
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In today's San Antonio Express News an article entitled "Culinary Careers Not Easy as Pie"similar to one recently in the NYT, talks about the arrive of a CIA offspring in San Antonio Texas, and the cost of attending culinary school in the US with the resultant low wages in the early years, high loan balances owed and long and difficult working conditions.

Perhaps some of the questions should be:

Are Cooking Schools being oversold?

Is it worth it?

Should the uninformed by warned?

What do you think?

Jmahl

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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Are Cooking Schools being oversold? 

What do you think?

Jmahl

Most likely yes, based on anecdotal evidence. But of course an alter argument could be made.

Long term, the schools as they are being structured are edging the work of cooking towards being a profession rather than a trade. The financial payoff that a profession offers has not seemed to follow as quickly or surely as the aspirations, though.

Is it worth it?

That's for each individual to answer. Sometimes financial rewards are desired or neccesary. Sometimes either they are not, or they are not the primary goal.

Should the uninformed by warned?

It's always good to hear all sides of any situation, as much as possible, don't you think? :wink:

What do you think?

I think that there are no guarantees for anything in life. A degree in any field, from any school, is not an assurance of employment.

When I was exec chef for Goldman Sachs I had one dishwasher with a Ph.D in psychology. Another dishwasher with an advanced engineering degree. Three cooks out of ten with M.A.'s, two cooks who graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, one more with a culinary degree from some technical school in Brooklyn.

One of the CIA guys was "let go" within several months. The other I promoted to exec chef when I became a corporate drone in the form of VP for all foodservices. The next best guy in line for the exec chef position, in my assessment, was the guy with the tech ed culinary degree.

So there were people in that kitchen with degrees in their fields who, for just some reason, did not or could not get jobs in their field of study - regardless of their educational credentials. There were two people in that kitchen who each had expensive culinary educations, who came out on totally opposite ends of the performance spectrum. Then there was the guy with the inexpensive culinary tech education who was a very close runner up to the guy who I did promote to exec chef, and the only reason I didn't choose him was not due to education or skill level but maturity level (which I assume in later years, he found).

And then there's me with no education beyond one year of high school.

So what I think is that it's a gamble to spend a lot of money on an expensive education with the idea that it will guarantee a certain life-style or a certain job.

Bottom-line, though, any education is great if you can stand it, if you enjoy it, and if you can afford it, without screaming or having panic attacks about the future when it might or might not "pay off" in ways "expected" or implied.

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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Heck I was a music major and ended up in the software industry. I'm still glad I got the education.

Maybe the Food network should post a disclaimer after every show - something like, "You too, may NOT be the next Rachel Ray!"?!

*****

"Did you see what Julia Child did to that chicken?" ... Howard Borden on "Bob Newhart"

*****

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"Are Cooking Schools being oversold?"

I would not say they are. After all, they serve a demand in the education marketplace, and create job opportunities for accomplished professional veterans.

"Is it worth it?"

Ask the successful graduate, and the answer is "yes."

"Should the uninformed by warned?" I have warned every young Bobby Flay wannabe that has ever worked for me.

What do I think?

I think about it all the time. I will say that I understand a pleasure that most other Americans will never experience in their lifetime. You can't taste what's on TV.

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I guess the question is what "over-sold" means. My guess is that all well-run culinary schools (including mine) provide a solid baseline education; and that's a good thing to have. Let's face it, no matter where your career leads, you will be cooking and eating your whole life.

In terms of return on investment for education, my guess is that culinary schools are on the low end of return. For example, law school costs a fortune, but the lifelong income of someone with a legal degree is typically far greater than most people without them.

Given that wages in the restaurant world are fairly low, except for the very few elite at the top, I doubt the payback on a culinary degree is as strong.

Getting back to the over-selling thing, everyone in the US should be aware that all for-profit companies are there to make money and usually do things that err on the side of making more money (hence "over-selling" or at least zealous selling).

I personally don't think you can ever go wrong getting more education, and, if you are passionate about the experience you should walk away with - not only an education - but lots of new friends and contacts you never would have made otherwise.

-mark-

---------------------------------------------------------

"If you don't want to use butter, add cream."

Julia Child

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Maybe the Food network should post a disclaimer after every show - something like, "You too, may NOT be the next Rachel Ray!"?!

There are probably lots of people who would be made *very* happy to hear that, if they did post it, based on commentary about Rachel one can read. :wink:

I'm not sure anyone would want to turn down her bank account if it were offered them, though. :rolleyes:

P.S. Did Rachel go to "cooking school"? Does anyone know? And if she did, did what they taught her or did the credentials she carried away from it make her who she is in terms of her success?

"Are Cooking Schools being oversold?"

I would not say they are. After all, they serve a demand in the education marketplace, and create job opportunities for accomplished professional veterans.

Interesting thought. I always did wonder if universities were set up to create job opportunities for teachers. But then I decided that really, they were rather, set up to create job opportunities for football players. :smile:

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I don't think that cooking schools are overselling our profession.

But there are a lot of naive people that enroll in culinary programs, they have no experience in our field and have the impression that getting an executive chef position is easy.

Hey Carrot Top, nice Carl Larsen picture.

-------------------------

Water Boils Roughly

Cold Eggs Coagulating

Egg Salad On Rye

-------------------------

Gregg Robinson

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Are Cooking Schools being oversold? 

Is it worth it?

Should the uninformed by warned?

What do you think?

My dad spent thirty years as a high school guidance counselor who specialized in college admissions. He has always maintained that most technical and trade oriented schools oversell the warm and fuzzy prospects for graduates. But then again.... how many liberal arts graduates of four year schools get a good paying job or advance to one quickly after graduation without a graduate degree, some good connections made via family, friends, internships etc.?

Bartending "school" is a rip-off - no doubt. But I have yet to speak with a graduate of CIA or J&W who thought their culinary education was oversold or misrepresented. I'm sure such people are out there but I haven't met or heard of any yet.

I do know people who've gone through such programs and discovered later that the stress and long hard hours of kitchen work weren't compatible with the kind of life they wanted to live. But I know far more college graduates with four year degress who either never worked "in their field" or moved away from to something else after a few short years.

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I don't think that cooking schools are overselling our profession. 

[ . . .]

Hey Carrot Top, nice Carl Larsen picture.

:smile: Looks enough like me to pretend it is, Gregg. Less a couple of years. :biggrin:

To be slightly serious again for just a moment again, I think it depends on the school. Cooking as a profession is "in" now, so abuses of potential student's trust might be expected to occur in some cases, some places.

Maybe part of any first week at a cooking school should include field trips to several kitchens of various sorts of restaurants in the area(s) - unanticipated visits, mid-dinner time. That would be educational, certainly. :wink:

............................................................

I hate to see people this age (assuming we are talking about a first career and not the career-changers of later years) go out into the world with massive debt already on their shoulders *before* even having started their economic lives. Particularly considering the average salary of many who work in kitchens and the fact that standard medical benefits are often lacking as part of an employment "package". It's just plain scary and worrisome. I would be pretty sure that most schools do not paint an accurate picture of this to their potential students. If I were them, I would not really want to if I wanted to continue to attract students to the field. :sad:

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I'm very interested in this discussion as I'm currently considering going to culinary school. However, I have no desire to work in a restaurant or cater--I'd like to work in a test kitchen for a food magazine or maybe even the food network. I feel like I already have all the skills I need to do this kind of job well, but I don't know how realistic it would be to think that I could get it without any professional training or experience. That said, I do have a degree from NYU, which cost a lot and I have never used. I don't want to waste my money, which is in very short supply. As an aside, does anyone know what you might expect to earn doing the kind of jobs that I'm interested in?

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I am a CIA Graduate(1986), although it was much more affordable then, $15,000. Many young people, including myself, choose culinary school as an easy way to a college degree. I didn't do well academically in school, but saw culinary school as a 2 year investment to get a Chef's job. I was a line cook before school, and almost immediately sought a Chef position. That was a mistake, but I wanted to make some money quick. I survived the burn out, but could've done much more had I been more patient.

Live it up asked if it is a good move for her. I think that if you have a degree from NYU, and are a strong reader, have good writing skills, organization skills, and have a passion for food & wine, you can do it.

Success is really about the individual. Carrot Top posted the article about the kid with the $705 a month loan, working for $10.50 an hr. If he is smart enough to work tables, he could work in the kitchen in the morning, and work the dining room at night. I guarentee that he knows more about the product than most servers. When I was a Chef in NYC, it was very painful to know that the waitstaff made more than me. I guess I was Stupid? No, I just wanted to use my education in the role it was intended for.

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Question remains: is there truth in advertising? I've spoken to a number of instructors at the schools I attend recreationally-e.g. ICE, CIA. Just out of curiosity, not because I have any intention of switching careers. My feeling is that they don't want disgruntled graduates, that they want them to succeed-esp. the career-switchers. Yes, many of the beginning students think they will be the next star, but they don't want someone switching careers unless they have a good idea ahead of time what they are getting into. Many of these schools have courses for potential career-switchers and I've been told they try to dissuade the romantics. It's the old story, of say, the lawyer or whatever who becomes a cook, baker, etc. and is asked how they like it. "Other than the long hours, back-breaking work and low pay, I love it." One instructor told me that, however, there may be a good percentage who go back to what they did before-maybe now they think that being a six-figure professional isn't so bad after all and at least now they can cook well. But I did not get the impression that the schools lead anyone on or gave false hopes or illusions about what they might be getting themselves into.

Mark A. Bauman

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There's one really interesting and great thing about becoming a chef (which means "chief" of course, top dog, head honcho, lead banana, or fall guy take your pick) as opposed to becoming the same thing in many other fields. Aside from the plain old "I love food and I love to cook and I am doing something wonderful for the world" part of it all heh heh.

In many places, many kitchens, you do not *need* a degree to become this thing. As a matter of fact, many "top chefs" do not have degrees in "the culinary arts".

What you do need is to be able to cook. Well. Better than the other guys, or if there are other guys who can do some things better then you have to have superior knowledge of some *other* ways of doing it that they don't know. You need to know your business. You need to be able to perform well under all sorts of pressures and in various situations, some having to do with food, some having to do with people. All things best learned in the kitchen, some of them only learned in the kitchen, not in a classroom.

What you do not need, in many cases, in many places, is a degree, to do this. Unlike in many other businesses or careers.

The door to the kitchen is still cracked open in this way. And isn't it wonderful, really.

This may be changing in some places. But not all places.

I'd really hate to see the culture of the professional kitchen become as formally-educationally-credentialized as most of the rest of our culture.

That would really suck, to my mind. What a loss.

Edited by Carrot Top (log)
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Wonderful comments everyone. I am very pleased that I started this thread. I think there is some truth in all of it.

Thanks again,

Jmahl

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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I don't think that cooking schools are overselling our profession. 

But there are a lot of naive people that enroll in culinary programs, they have no experience in our field and have the impression that getting an executive chef position is easy.

I consider my greatest asset from school was the skills to learn, I now own a cheesecake bakery, where I have learned everything from trial and error, something I could have never done without my degree. Its amazing to see where the friends I graduated with have gone, what careers they have now chosen. It does seem that the couple of us still in the industry (5 years later) are doing alright, either by pay or what we have learned. I always try to tell people the real truth of the job, and tell people to try the job for a couple of years before dishing out 50k for school.

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I'm very interested in this discussion as I'm currently considering going to culinary school. However, I have no desire to work in a restaurant or cater--I'd like to work in a test kitchen for a food magazine or maybe even the food network. I feel like I already have all the skills I need to do this kind of job well, but I don't know how realistic it would be to think that I could get it without any professional training or experience. That said, I do have a degree from NYU, which cost a lot and I have never used. I don't want to waste my money, which is in very short supply. As an aside, does anyone know what you might expect to earn doing the kind of jobs that I'm interested in?

It seems counterintuitive to get training as a professional so that you can test recipes being prepared for amateurs to use -- you won't catch the mistakes because you're too good to screw up the way we will. :laugh:

FWIW, the restaurant critic for the Washington Post got his start as a glorified intern/gopher testing recipes for the Post food section years ago. Might be worth your while to explore a route towards your chosen field that pays (if not exorbitantly) rather than charges $20K a year.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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I think anyone who is deciding to drop $$$ for culinary school should trail at a restaurant for couple of weeks. After all culinary school will teach you all the techniques but enduring 12+ hours in a kitchen is another story.

Leave the gun, take the canoli

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I have a culinary degree. I do not work in the industry simply because I absolutely can not support myself on $10 per hour (or less!). Would I rather be cooking? Of course! But entry level marketing at Biotech firms pays so much better. And I don't have to go into forbearance on my loans or live with my mother to save on rent (what many of my culinary school collegues are doing). I also have benefits and work a sane forty hour week.

Do I regret it? Yes and no. I don't regret leaving my dead end, much hated job to do it. I would still be there otherwise. I don't regret moving to a livable city to do it. I don't regret the friends I made, and I CERTAINLY don't regret the many valuable lessons that I learned. I also got very lucky becuase I had family education money that paid for well over half of the tuition, and my hence loans are small and managable.

On the other hand, my admissions councelor told me to expect to earn $35,000-$40,000 upon graduation which we all now well know was complete and utter bullshit. I will be the first to admit that I should have researched industry salaries more carefully myself, but at the time why shouldn't I have taken the admissions counselor at her word? Why should I have been skeptical? I guess I'm one of those shallow, stupid, naive, idiots who go to culinary school thinking I would have a wonderful career afterward, but why shouldn't I or others like me believe that if that is what the schools are telling us? I never thought I would be the next Rachel Ray or Giada, but I did think my career would be more exciting than it currently is. (For the record, I never intended to cook in restuarants. I wanted to cater, to private chef work, and write about food on the side.)

In the end, I'm glad I did it, but wish I had had a bit more information going in. Also, if anyone wants a personal chef and is willing to pay a living wage, I am avaliable. :cool: I would gladly give up my uber-boring marketing job for a job in the industry if I could live on the salary.

-Sounds awfully rich!

-It is! That's why I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness!

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Rachel Ray does not have a cooking degree. She is part of that whole movement at the Food Network these days where they're bringing in people with good screen appearance and sex appeal as opposed to people with solid cooking skills. It's about infotainment more than anything else.

Maybe the Food network should post a disclaimer after every show - something like, "You too, may NOT be the next Rachel Ray!"?!

There are probably lots of people who would be made *very* happy to hear that, if they did post it, based on commentary about Rachel one can read. :wink:

I'm not sure anyone would want to turn down her bank account if it were offered them, though. :rolleyes:

P.S. Did Rachel go to "cooking school"? Does anyone know? And if she did, did what they taught her or did the credentials she carried away from it make her who she is in terms of her success?

"Are Cooking Schools being oversold?"

I would not say they are. After all, they serve a demand in the education marketplace, and create job opportunities for accomplished professional veterans.

Interesting thought. I always did wonder if universities were set up to create job opportunities for teachers. But then I decided that really, they were rather, set up to create job opportunities for football players. :smile:

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Thanks. He was one hell of a cook.

Jeff Mahl

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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"One hell of a cook" says many things, Jeff. And each thing that it says is good. Put together in a sentence, or in a person, what exists in those words is a natural stature of self in some way. And to be "one hell of a cook" to my mind, there must be great love offered in the food cooked. This is no small matter, and is something to be rightly impressed by when it happens, for it is not just technique.

I seem to remember that you started a fund for a culinary scholarship in Philip's name. This is no small matter either, for within this offering someone can learn and grow and go to school who otherwise might not have that opportunity for one reason or another.

The opposite of "oversell" is to give. And the opposite of things that are not easy, such as culinary careers, is the magic of people who care to be kind. :wink: And that, makes the pudding of any culinary school, proofed, and a fine thing indeed, for the one who has that chance to carry it all forward.

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"One hell of a cook" says many things, Jeff. And each thing that it says is good. Put together in a sentence, or in a person, what exists in those words is a natural stature of self in some way. And to be "one hell of a cook" to my mind, there must be great love offered in the food cooked. This is no small matter, and is something to be rightly impressed by when it happens, for it is not just technique.

I seem to remember that you started a fund for a culinary scholarship in Philip's name. This is no small matter either, for within this offering someone can learn and grow and go to school who otherwise might not have that opportunity for one reason or another.

The opposite of "oversell" is to give. And the opposite of things that are not easy, such as culinary careers, is the magic of people who care to be kind.  :wink: And that, makes the pudding of any culinary school, proofed, and a fine thing indeed, for the one who has that chance to carry it all forward.

Well said Carrot Top.

I am impressed that you remember some of my postings - Bravo and well taken. However, what I have organized is the building of a community kitchen in my son's home town to promote cooking, good eating, and food education all in Phil's name. I plan to post the development as we go along.

All in all I am very pleased by the reaction this thread has taken. Some very thoughtful people have lent their ideas. It would serve young people well who are thinking of going into the Bizz to read the comments.

Jmahl

The Philip Mahl Community teaching kitchen is now open. Check it out. "Philip Mahl Memorial Kitchen" on Facebook. Website coming soon.

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I graduated from culinary school just last year. I would say when I started, I had no clue what I was getting into but I don't regret a single moment of it.

For those just entering culinary school (of course it depends on the school), it's all about taking advantage of what the school offers. If you do that - drilling teachers with questions, asking for before or after school help, badgering instructors to show things not in the syllabus, joining clubs or competitions - it will all pay off.

I heard from some people after graduation and many of them decided it wasn't their cup of tea. The financial strain was hard on them but it was also a life lesson ..

As long as you make the most of it, school can never be a waste of time. :smile:

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The AP also ran a story about this last January:

Cameron Cuisinier's dreams of a catering career led him to culinary school. Now he's unemployed and $43,000 in debt, and he's not alone.

From TV chefs to reality shows where the winners get their own restaurants, it's a hot time to be in the kitchen. Record numbers of would-be chefs are enrolling in culinary schools, some of which charge $20,000 a year or more. But the restaurant business has always been a tough way to make a living, and many graduates find themselves saddled with debt and working long hours at low-paying, entry-level jobs.

"When they're trying to get you enrolled in these programs, they tell you you're going to come out making top dollar," said Cuisinier, a recent graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. "I've just been way disappointed."

The full article can be found here.

Todd A. Price aka "TAPrice"

Homepage and writings; A Frolic of My Own (personal blog)

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