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Culinary careers not easy as pie


Jmahl
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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.

Yes. They are starting even younger these days, too.

MASTER CHEF program is here  Must be a member of the Academy to participate in Master Chef Program.

Students will attend a weekly 1 1/2 hour cooking class.  At the end of the month, each young chef will earn a YCA patch.  Once all patches are collected, Young Master Chef is presented with real Chef Jacket and Graduating Diploma.

May theme

Chefs Club May Class Recipes -- Celebrity Chef?

Week of May 1st : Rachel Ray

4 Chese Stuffed Shells

Roasted Pear Shortcake with warm toffee sauce.

Week of May 7th - Parents appreciation week

SURPRISE

Week of May 14th Emiril Lagasse

Baby Bam

Talk about Taco Salad

Week of May 21st, - Paula Dean

Avocado Chicken Salad

Avocado Dressing

Creme De Menthe Brownies

Week of May 28th - Tyler Florence

Cheese and Herb Ravioli Filling

Ravioli Dough

Pomodoro Sauce 

Tsk, tsk, though. Somebody didn't do their spelling homework on learning how to spell "celebrity chefs" names.

Paula D E E N. (That will obviously reduce the grade point on their spelling test. :sad:)

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  • 4 weeks later...

Let the lawsuits begin.....

Burnt Chefs

Two former admissions representatives who worked at CCA confirm that students were misled. The former employees say admissions reps preyed on students' dreams of becoming celebrity chefs, and glossed over the painful economic realities of the industry.

CCA's parent company, Career Education Corporation, has faced similar accusations against some of its other schools — the corporation has recently been hit with eight lawsuits from disgruntled students around the country. Federal officials have begun to ask questions, too, and both the Education Department and the Justice Department have ongoing inquiries regarding Career Education.

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Let the lawsuits begin.....

Burnt Chefs

Two former admissions representatives who worked at CCA confirm that students were misled. The former employees say admissions reps preyed on students' dreams of becoming celebrity chefs, and glossed over the painful economic realities of the industry.

CCA's parent company, Career Education Corporation, has faced similar accusations against some of its other schools — the corporation has recently been hit with eight lawsuits from disgruntled students around the country. Federal officials have begun to ask questions, too, and both the Education Department and the Justice Department have ongoing inquiries regarding Career Education.

I read the full article. This seems to be a problem with the for profit vocational schools all across the country. Easy federally insured loans, hard sell by enrollment specialists (salesmen) low entry requirements and high tuition makes for a nasty mix.

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 attended a culinary school years ago. The school has since been aquired by another school in the area. I have mixed feelings when it comes to hiring culinary school graduates, which I suppose makes me a hypicrite having attended one myself. Book learning is one thing, but work ethics are another. I never miss work, never view one job as being lesser ( or greater ) than another. Many of the students and recent graduates I come in contact with seem to think certain kitchen duties are beneath them. they feel they are on the fast track to culinary stardom. Always complaining about long hours and wanting pay raises because " I have a degree after all ".

I do understand alot of this is due to youngness of age and having your ego stroked by instructors for 15 to 24 months. I know many people who never went to culinary school ( hell, many didn't graduate high school ) but they can work anyone, schooled or not, under the table. ( they do it to me every day )

I view every day as an opportunity to learn more.

The only difference I can recall is the first day I attended culinary school we had an assembly with all the instructors. They started off by telling us we must be crazy..."why would you want a career in an industry which pays very little? You're gonna hate it, you must like having no life, working all hours of the day everyday of the week. You're best friend getting married? Too bad you can't go to the wedding. You have to work! No holidays off, working all the hours most people are out enjoying themselves" .... And the badgering continued.

I ask many students if this happened to them. The response is always no. I think it was this brutal honesty which kept the truly determined to continue and those looking for instant gratification to realize this wasn't Star Search.

I feel like it is the same as any other school, you get out of it what you put into it. I think I learned alot from school. I sadly feel many others may not have. I hate to think I passed up a true star because of subconscience hypocricy. Just because many do not learn and develop does not mean everyone didn't.

sorry to run on like that.

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I love to cook, and have taken many culinary school short courses, including the Cordon Bleu in Paris. Friends are of course aware of this strong interest. But why do so many of them think I want to go into the industry? Must be Food TV or something.... I know better than to be a mid-life career switcher. My feet would kill me and I'd probably pass out long before I finished the first 12-hour day! :blink:

*****

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

*****

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I would love to see a statistic on the percentage of how many culinary school grads are still in the business. There are hundreds of culinary programs cranking out tens of thousands of hopefulls a year. How many bail out?

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I would love to see a statistic on the percentage of how many culinary school grads are still in the business. There are hundreds of culinary programs cranking out tens of thousands of hopefulls a year. How many bail out?

There might be statistics on that here (National Restaurant Association's research tool).

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It's a very interesting topic. I spent quite a few years as a corporate restaurant manager and I can tell you one can rake in the bucks doing that....but it is the most soul-sapping job I've ever had....I re-invented myself as a cook. I did a whole lot of reading. After about 4 years of hard work I suppose I know about as much as any graduate of any 2-year culinary school, and I for sure know what works and doesn't in the real world. I'm happy with this, although it is a definite fact as I see it that many chefs are prejudiced in favor of culinary school grads when hiring and promoting. But I do this for love, not money. I won't be doing it much longer. I guess what concerns me most about culinary school grads-and I've had the opportunity to see quite a few from various programs-is, they have very high expectations for the most part-and why shouldn't they? Culinary school ads usually portray folks in snowy white toques caressing ice sculptures, giving orders to ranks of obedient cooks, etc. The poor schmucks that graduate need to realise that won't be their reality for a LONG time, if ever....but far worse to me, is the almost total lack of any sort of management skills in any culinary school grads I've ever worked with. They're totally lost when given a position of responsibility/authority. The only management techniques they know are the ones they've picked up from watching their sous-chefs, the exec, etc. In all too many cases these are not the best people to emulate, unfortunately-it's a self perpetuating cycle of dysfunctional management all too often. Yes it is of course critical for a chef to be a superior cook-BUT equally important are superior leadership skills.

Edited by dave s. (log)
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It's a very interesting topic. I spent quite a few years as a corporate restaurant manager and I can tell you one can rake in the bucks doing that....but it is the most soul-sapping job I've ever had....I re-invented myself as a cook.  I did a whole lot of reading. After about 4 years of hard work I suppose I know about as much as any graduate of any 2-year culinary school, and I for sure know what works and doesn't in the real world. I'm happy with this, although it is a definite fact as I see it that many chefs are prejudiced in favor of culinary school grads when hiring and promoting. But I do this for love, not money. I won't be doing it much longer. I guess what concerns me most about culinary school grads-and I've had the opportunity to see quite a few from various programs-is, they have very high expectations for the most part-and why shouldn't they? Culinary school ads usually portray folks in snowy white toques caressing ice sculptures, giving orders to ranks of obedient cooks, etc. The poor schmucks that graduate need to realise that won't be their reality for a LONG time, if ever....but far worse to me, is the almost total lack of any sort of management skills in any culinary school grads I've ever worked with. They're  totally lost when given a position of responsibility/authority. The only management techniques they know are the ones they've picked up from watching their sous-chefs, the exec, etc. In all too many cases these are not the best people to emulate, unfortunately-it's a self perpetuating cycle of dysfunctional management all too often. Yes it is of course critical for a chef to be a superior cook-BUT equally important are superior leadership skills.

Dave, you really hit the mark here. Excellent point about lack of management skills.

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At the risk of sounding like a bit of a arse I'm loathe these days to even let culinary school externs do their externships in my kitchen. It seems to me that a large majority of the folks I see coming out of school are emotionally unprepared for kitchen work and across the board lack any kind of sense or urgency. I attribute this to school not being allowed to really show students what it's like in a kitchen (Rhulman covers this in "The Making of A Chef").

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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.

HA-LAY-LOO YA SISTER! My evil twin is going to school now. She's decided she wants to explore here professional cooking side :hmmm::shock::sad::wacko::angry::blink: ?

My story is a bit of a miracle story. Went to school, worked the line, moved to a food magazine as an assistant editor, I've just started doing some multi-media stuff within the company... I can pay my rent too.

I don't think I can say the same thing for most of my cook friends.

Not everyone wanted my dream though, some people really do want something less "glitzy" or public. Unfortunately, some people (my sister for example) see my success and think it's easy to do what I've done.

It took a lot of work. An enormous amount, and just as much luck.

I feel blessed.

People should enter any profession excited- but wary. I used to watch a hell of a lot of ER but I didn't consider med school....

does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

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I saw this thread, read it and just thought I would throw in my $0.02.

I am a non-traditional student (read - just turned 50 with a BSJ) currently enrolled in a Culinary Arts program in the Midwest. I have over 20 years of food service experience - started washing dishes in 1973 at 16 and last cooked professionally in 1994. I have been to the "mountain" so to speak by attending some Boot Camps at the CIA, Hyde Park and have some Continuing Ed. credits from them as well. So I think that I have some background to speak from.

Just because you went to Culinary School doesn't mean you are a good cook, chef or manager - the school just gives you the base to build on. If you do the work your education will give you the basics- technique, an understanding of flavor profiles, how to do the paperwork, nutritional aspects of food and hopefully a clue if this is what you want to do. If you came out of the program thinking that you are the next bif TV Star Chef then you might have forgotten to park your ego at the door. Because after school's out it is time to start paying your dues and building a reputation. What that reputation will be is totally up to you - work hard and apply yourself and jobs will always be there at the end of the day. Slack off and act like you know it all and are better than the staff and you will get that reputation.

So I am sorry you dropped $40k on tuition, but did you look at local community/junior colleges with Culinary Arts programs? I pay about $80/credit hour and when I am done I won't be "done" as I am considering a Masters in Nutrition, but the problem there is the $500/credit hour tuition. So it is what yoiu make of it. For anyone considering this field I would say get a job at a local establishment for a minimum of six months before starting any Culinary School to make sure this is something you enjoy.

Hopefully this makes some sense, but the feeling I got was that people felt ripped off after paying all this money in tuition only to find out that the degree or certificate only got them in the door for an interview or stage.

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I would love to see a statistic on the percentage of how many culinary school grads are still in the business. There are hundreds of culinary programs cranking out tens of thousands of hopefulls a year. How many bail out?

One of my chefs at school recently said 90% are out of the business after 10 years.

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I would love to see a statistic on the percentage of how many culinary school grads are still in the business. There are hundreds of culinary programs cranking out tens of thousands of hopefulls a year. How many bail out?

One of my chefs at school recently said 90% are out of the business after 10 years.

God bless the other 10% of us then...

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From time to time, I have taken on culinary externs, Even offering full time employment after the externship.

The reality of the kitchen can be a real eye opener, but it has worked.

Learning to integrate with the spanish influenced kitchen culture can be challenging for them, but necessary in the California restaurant scene.

The work ethic and stamina, and keeping up with a highly productive staff is the other challange.

They do have the advantage of their culinary knowage from school, and that is a big plus. All they need is the work experience.

I really value and enjoy the employment of a new graduate, and I will do what I can to help mentor them to succeed in the kitchen, but it really depends on that individual. It's getting harder and harder to find that person.

The cost of a culinary school education and the beginning pay is completely upside down, but with the right atitude and perseverence, they are bound to complete their goals very fast.

I do have a pay scale that would be desirable for them, but it does require skills, responsibility and leadership.

Getting started without a culinary education, would be extremely difficult.

A community collage culinary program with an AA degree, and a combination of work experience can be just as useful as a $50,000 culinary school, with the right person.

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I saw this thread, read it and just thought I would throw in my $0.02.

I am a non-traditional student (read - just turned 50 with a BSJ) currently enrolled in a Culinary Arts program in the Midwest.  I have over 20 years of food service experience - started washing dishes in 1973 at 16 and last cooked professionally in 1994.  I have been to the "mountain" so to speak by attending some Boot Camps at the CIA, Hyde Park and have some Continuing Ed. credits from them as well.  So I think that I have some background to speak from.

Just because you went to Culinary School doesn't mean you are a good cook, chef or manager - the school just gives you the base to build on.  If you do the work your education will give you the basics- technique, an understanding of flavor profiles, how to do the paperwork, nutritional aspects of food and hopefully a clue if this is what you want to do.  If you came out of the program thinking that you are the next bif TV Star Chef then you might have forgotten to park your ego at the door.  Because after school's out it is time to start paying your dues and building a reputation.  What that reputation will be is totally up to you - work hard and apply yourself and jobs will always be there at the end of the day.  Slack off and act like you know it all and are better than the staff and you will get that reputation.

So I am sorry you dropped $40k on tuition, but did you look at local community/junior colleges with Culinary Arts programs?  I pay about $80/credit hour and when I am done I won't be "done" as I am considering a Masters in Nutrition, but the problem there is the $500/credit hour tuition.  So it is what yoiu make of it.  For anyone considering this field I would say get a job at a local establishment for a minimum of six months before starting any Culinary School to make sure this is something you enjoy.

Hopefully this makes some sense, but the feeling I got was that people felt ripped off after paying all this money in tuition only to find out that the degree or certificate only got them in the door for an interview or stage.

craig001 got it right.

Before I would consider help finance my son's culinary education I required him to work in the industry. After some months, cutting himself, burning himself and proclaiming that he enjoyed taking out the garbage I thought he was ready. He went to France for two years and got an excellent education.

So, craig001 got it right. Work in the industry, learn spanish, don't expect to make big bucks - put in the years -- and then maybe.

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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Hopefully this makes some sense, but the feeling I got was that people felt ripped off after paying all this money in tuition only to find out that the degree or certificate only got them in the door for an interview or stage.

I agree with the career advice part of what you posted. But IMO the initial question that started this thread had as much to do with the ethics of the schools as anything else. In cases cited in the articles students were directly lied to about the kind of money they could expect to earn if they signed on the dotted line. That is a truly sad statement about the ethical stance the schools have taken. I personaly think that the suits alleging fraud have merit.

On the other hand for me following this thread is purely academic (no pun intended) because I realized long ago that the professional kitchen was someplace I would never survive and as such I sit in my cubicle and run my computer to earn my bucks.

Edited by Porthos (log)

Porthos Potwatcher
The Once and Future Cook

;

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I saw this thread, read it and just thought I would throw in my $0.02.

I am a non-traditional student (read - just turned 50 with a BSJ) currently enrolled in a Culinary Arts program in the Midwest.  I have over 20 years of food service experience - started washing dishes in 1973 at 16 and last cooked professionally in 1994.  I have been to the "mountain" so to speak by attending some Boot Camps at the CIA, Hyde Park and have some Continuing Ed. credits from them as well.  So I think that I have some background to speak from.

Just because you went to Culinary School doesn't mean you are a good cook, chef or manager - the school just gives you the base to build on.  If you do the work your education will give you the basics- technique, an understanding of flavor profiles, how to do the paperwork, nutritional aspects of food and hopefully a clue if this is what you want to do.  If you came out of the program thinking that you are the next bif TV Star Chef then you might have forgotten to park your ego at the door.  Because after school's out it is time to start paying your dues and building a reputation.  What that reputation will be is totally up to you - work hard and apply yourself and jobs will always be there at the end of the day.  Slack off and act like you know it all and are better than the staff and you will get that reputation.

So I am sorry you dropped $40k on tuition, but did you look at local community/junior colleges with Culinary Arts programs?  I pay about $80/credit hour and when I am done I won't be "done" as I am considering a Masters in Nutrition, but the problem there is the $500/credit hour tuition.  So it is what yoiu make of it.  For anyone considering this field I would say get a job at a local establishment for a minimum of six months before starting any Culinary School to make sure this is something you enjoy.

Hopefully this makes some sense, but the feeling I got was that people felt ripped off after paying all this money in tuition only to find out that the degree or certificate only got them in the door for an interview or stage.

craig001 got it right.

Before I would consider help finance my son's culinary education I required him to work in the industry. After some months, cutting himself, burning himself and proclaiming that he enjoyed taking out the garbage I thought he was ready. He went to France for two years and got an excellent education.

So, craig001 got it right. Work in the industry, learn spanish, don't expect to make big bucks - put in the years -- and then maybe.

Jmahl

I wish you and your son the best of luck.

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I agree with the career advice part of what you posted.  But IMO the initial question that started this thread had as much to do with the ethics of the schools as anything else.  In cases cited in the articles students were directly lied to about the kind of money they could expect to earn if they signed on the dotted line. 

I agree with much of what you've said, Porthos. When investigating culinary schools, I heard things like "seven jobs per graduate!" and when asked to be more specific, the school was vague. I was just interested in their take on things; I've figured out that there are probably 1000 jobs for me right now, but not all of them are things I want to do.

One school in particular tells even the AOS candidates that they're being trained to be managers, to run the kitchens. The teaching chefs are much more realistic, and then they're perceived as "meanies" for shooting down people's aspirations and dreams.

But honestly, tell some of these students that they're not going to be the next big thing before they're thirty? Hah! More students than I care to remember would say, "this is why I'm coming to school here -- because I don't want to be the one cleaning up and doing prep for three hours a day. I am going to run the place!"

I don't think it's fraudulent, though. You wouldn't sue a realtor for telling you your house will appreciate X% a year if it doesn't. I just wish more people would think before leaping. If I were an intellectual type,I'd add that Latin phrase for letting the buyer beware. :hmmm:

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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caveat imperator, there ya go :)

:smile: Whoever said chefs weren't smarty-pantses? (Oh, wait. I did. Once. Heh.)

I'm non-traditional in that I'd been working in the industry for years and years, and going to CE classes around the country, before I got the degree. When I did go back, there were lots and lots of students who were taking their severance pay from IT-type jobs, and using it for tuition. All of them were going to open their own places after graduation. Failing that, they were going to be sommeliers.

Dissuading someone from doing something they're not really good at or suited for, is a lot different than crushing their hopes and dreams. The similarity is that you can't really crush a dream, and you can't really tell someone who thinks they're the next Daniel Boulud that you worked for Daniel Boulud, Daniel was a friend of yours and you, sir/ma'am, are no Daniel.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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I have worked with a few CIA graduates in recent history (four to be exact, all pretty fresh out of school; one being the chef who was 21), and it was with mixed results. The chef and sous-chef were awesome, very cool guys who cared about what they were doing. The other two didn't have much previous experience and used schooling as an ego boost and to make themselves look better than the rest of us line cooks.

So I think that it puts the decision on the individual, and what their reason for putting on a jacket was in the first place, whether or not culinary school worked for them.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I never stepped foot into a professional kitchen prior to attending Culinary School. I had always known what I wanted to do for a living, but i never took the initiative to go to school until my back was against the wall so to say. I went to school and worked my ass off to learn as much as possible, and got a job while still in school. I will tell anyone interested in a life in culinary arts to first get a job then go to school. Because coming from the classroom to the kitchen was an enourmous kick in the ass. The restaurants world is 10x faster paced than any classroom can prepare you for. I will say that of the culinary peers I started with in school, a handfull made it through the program, and even less are in the restaurant industry still. I came from never stepping in a kitchen and knowing nothing about food to working in 3 star restaurants and soon a 3 michelin star restaurant in London in a 2 year period. Its all what you make of it. Anyone can just "float" through school and get a degree if they really want, and thats not just in culinary schools that applies to any degree you pursue. But with hard work, dedication and a passion for what you do, you can be successful. Its all about how hard your willing to work and how much your willing to sacrifice to reach your goals. What they should teach you in culinary school is that you will be underpaid, overworked, and have relationships with friends family and signifigant others put completly on hold, for the first 5 years of your career. This job has cost me relationships, $, pain, and mental stress beyond belief, but I wouldnt Trade a second of it for anything. Food is my life.

"Its never to late to be what you might have been" - George Elliot

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I never stepped foot into a professional kitchen prior to attending Culinary School.  I had always known what I wanted to do for a living, but i never took the initiative to go to school until my back was against the wall so to say.  I went to school and worked my ass off to learn as much as possible, and got a job while still in school.  I will tell anyone interested in a life in culinary arts to first get a job then go to school.  Because coming from the classroom to the kitchen was an enourmous kick in the ass.  The restaurants world is 10x faster paced than any classroom can prepare you for.  I will say that of the culinary peers I started with in school, a handfull made it through the program, and even less are in the restaurant industry still.  I came from never stepping in a kitchen and knowing  nothing about food to working in 3 star restaurants and soon a 3 michelin star restaurant in London in a 2 year period.  Its all what you make of it.  Anyone can just "float" through school and get a degree if they really want, and thats not just in culinary schools that applies to any degree you pursue.  But with hard work, dedication and a passion for what you do, you can be successful.  Its all about how hard your willing to work and how much your willing to sacrifice to reach your goals.  What they should teach you in culinary school is that you will be underpaid, overworked, and have relationships with friends family and signifigant others put completly on hold, for the first 5 years of your career.  This job has cost me relationships, $, pain, and mental stress beyond belief, but I wouldnt Trade a second of it for anything.  Food is my life.

BRAVO.  Count yourself among the few.  BRAVO.

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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