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Community College Culinary Programs


Wesley1
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I am considering culinary school and am wondering about the difference between a community college offering a program and a more prominent one(C.I.A/JWU). Most people say you get what you want out of your schooling,so if thats true wouldn't working at a nice restaurant while going to comm. college provide an equal if not superior education?

I'm also interested from the employers side, does it matter if someone goes to a famous college or not, are you more likely to choose that person?

And if anyones gone to community college for a degree in culinary arts whats your suggestion?

Edited by Wesley1 (log)
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A lot depends on what you want to do. Going to a community college is a good way to go, less expensive, more casual environment, local; going to the CIA, Johnson & Wales, LeCordon Bleu is more expensive but the CIA and J&W offer bachelor degrees (4 yr) vs. AOS's.

If yoiu go the community college route with the school to make sure the 1) all the credits are accepted elsewhere should you decide to go for a bachelors degree and 2) are they ACF accredited.

Keep in mind that starting out the hours are lond and the pay is lower than you will expect with or without a degree or certificate. School should teach you the basics in food, theory and operations then you will need to go out and pay your dues.

Hope this synopsis helps.

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Good questions. I've hired many cooks over many years. Some of the best have never set foot in a school of any kind. School will give you the language and basics of the industry, but no where near all the skills. Your bank account will be better off with the community college and restaurant experience. If someone else is footing the bill, the high end CIA type education is gravy. If you feel like you need more credentials after you've been in the business, the CIA has a continuing education program at Greystone in CA that is great, fun and looks good on a resume.

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I went to a community college for 1 semester before I enrolled in a higher end culinary school, just to make sure that I wasnt throwing my $ down the drain and that getting an education was worth t he money i was about to fork out. There were many aspects that were quite similar between programs, but to be honest, I wouldnt be the same cook today if I stayed at the CC. Going to an acredited culinary school not only taught me the basics and more advanced, it allowed me to network and get jobs where I wouldnt have had the same ease of getting just because of who you know. Networking is huge in this industry, and going to the higher end school was worth it in terms of the relationships i made alone...

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

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I'm a community college grad, and I got a great education for very little money. As with anything, school quality varies no matter what the cost, so it's best you check out the votechs and private schools yourself before making any decisions. Talk to the students, and have meals there. It's a definite plus if they will also do transfers towards an affiliated F&B management degree.

In addition to my restaurant jobs, I also do temporary contract catering work via an agency. This means whenever I have a spare day, I get sent out all over the place to help out a day here and a day there at different catering outfits, corporate kitchens and such.

Anecdotally, I've yet to see any votech cooks other than myself, but I do see plenty of high end culinary school grads (yes, including CIA, J&W, LCB, AI, etc.) who end up in those outfits full time because they got burned out and couldn't manage the crazy debt load. Our hourly wage is the same no matter the pedigree, but my day to day money worries are much less.

Make sure you know this is what you want to do; if nothing else, you won't have plunked down 40k+ first before deciding reheated mashed potatoes in a bag is where your future lies.

As far as networking goes, I've never had a problem getting into good kitchens, no matter where (or even if) the chef attended school. It's always been a matter of keeping up with restaurant news, asking for a stage at places which interest me, then going in and doing my best. Even if they did not have a place for me, sometimes they'd send my resume onto other places and I'd get calls that way.

Even if you already have a job, it's still a good idea to do a stage elsewhere every now and then, just to do your own networking, as well as get exposure to new learning and how different kitchens do their thing. Then when it comes time to leave, you have options you can call on.

In the end, it really does come down to your own sense of inner curiosity, willingness to be taught, teamwork and enthusiasm in the face of grueling work conditions. And no matter how much money you end up spending, be ok with being called to help out in the dish pit, or empty the grease trap, or whatever else needs doing.

There's plenty of work for responsible competent cooks, no matter where you come from.

Pat

"I... like... FOOD!" -Red Valkyrie, Gauntlet Legends-

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I would second Sleepy_Dragon and also suggest asking people you may know who work in the industry in your area if they have any knowledge of your local community college's offerings. Many community colleges offer excellent programs at low cost -- that's certainly true for Community College of Philadelphia where I live -- but as with everything else, programs vary from place to place; do a little research before you enroll.

A less prestigious but still highly regarded program with excellent industry connections, such as the hospitality management school at my employer, might be another option--we've turned out some very good chefs working all over the country.

--Sandy Smith, Writer/Reporter, Office of University Relations, Widener University

Edited by MarketStEl (log)

Sandy Smith, Exile on Oxford Circle, Philadelphia

"95% of success in life is showing up." --Woody Allen

My foodblogs: 1 | 2 | 3

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  • 2 weeks later...

I'm currently a student at the CIA. It's very expensive, but you get what you pay for. This has certainly been the most amazing 3 months of my life. The facilities are amazing and the chef instructors are encyclopedic in their knowledge, not to mention their experience. My Meat Fabrication chef started his butchering apprenticeship in 1957! If you can afford it, come here. You will not regret it.

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of course you get what you pay for, that said there are people/chefs come out from a community college that are great at their trade. i think it all depends oh how passionate you are in your field. again of course you learn alot more in a shorter amount of time at CIA or JW than community college. you would have to put in more time and sweat into learning what you did not get to learn at community college. we also have to remember that no matter where we go to school, when we graduate we all need to put in time as an apprentice/commis chef for some time before we can become chefs. i vote for the chefs who don't look at what school they come from but what they can give me in the kitchen....and also i think that attitude counts too...some student's think that they are better than others just cos they went to a better school....

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I recommend that you check out a book titled "Becoming a Chef" by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Hayes. Its very interesting to know what made these Chefs stand above the rest. There are just some things that you can't learn in Culinary school. However, education is always important, and there is a chapter in there on that subject as well.

It is also important to plant yourself in a city where people appreciate good food, and are willing to pay for it. NYC comes to mind. If you are young, its a great place to cut your teeth in the culinary world. Traveling to Europe will also help you to understand food, if you can financially swing that. It will make a big impact in the way you approach food.

Good Luck in your endeavors,

Stevarino

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I'm going to come at this from two angles - first as a student, and then as someone who taught restaurant business management to chef training students.

Way back when I graduated from the Cornell Hotel School. Doesn't get more prestigious for hotel or restaurant management. My sense is that CIA would have the same impact on chef training students. Here is what I found:

1. Prior to graduation I had six job offers from the top of the line companies in the business - I ended up joining McDonald's but that's for another thread. Point is, graduating from the CIA your employment opportunities out of college are probably better than graduating from any other chef training program.

2. About seven years out I found myself stranded in Stevens Point WI and looking to get out. It's lonely out there, and companies aren't that eager to go to the expense of flying in people from Wisconsin for an interview, much less relocate them. I contacted the alumni placement officer at Cornell and within a week got a great job from a Cornell alum after a 15 minute phone interview. Ended up back in the NY area. Two points here - the alumni network is strong and the opportunities that flow through the placement office are top notch.

3. Other than Wisconsin, Cornell on the resume always got my resume read. Same with CIA, I'm sure.

4. Great parties at the hotel show and the restaurant show. Great rooms at Statler Hotel (the student run hotel) when you return to campus. Great hospitality from fellow hotelies as you travel around the world.

5. The impact of "Cornell" declines the longer you are in the business. Three or more jobs out from college, experience and achievements on the job start playing a bigger role in the interview process than education - except perhaps if a fellow Cornell grad is in on the interviewing. CIA on your resume ten years from graduation won't be that great a factor except, perhaps, as a tie-breaker.

From an instructor's point of view - I taught restaurant business management to both restaurant management students and chef training students at Philadelphia's "The Restaurant School." With the chef training students, a percentage of them were there on Pell Grants. And a good percentage of them seemed to be mainly treading water as opposed to pursuing a good education and training. My gut feel is that a greater percentage of students at CIA or Johnson and Wales are going to be highly motivated and that is going to impact on your learning experience.

What I'm not sure of is whether a person learning in classrooms, be it the CIA or a community college, is going to be better prepared if he/she had apprenticed at one or a few great restaurants. However, in his post, WisoNole was very persuasive as to the caliber of the instructors at a place like the CIA. Beyond WisoNole's post, a good culinary education will likely give you a much better knowledge of the restaurant business and the front of the house.

Holly Moore

"I eat, therefore I am."

HollyEats.Com

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Another option would be to call or write The Cullinary Institute of America, Kendal College, etc... and ask what employers are paying for their employees fees.

North Western Hospitals would be a good example of one here in Chicago. Don't laugh these people don't just make hospital food they cook for the professionals that work there too, world class stuff really.

"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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It is all what you make of it - I am a CIA grad and I got offers everywhere I applied but one and it was mutual at the end of the interview. Anyone that tells you not to go to school be it a community college or whatever is nuts. Yes - lots of great cooks come out of the ladder - but I don't care what type of school - everyone should look into education and further themselves. Business, medical, law whatever - I have a bachelors degree in business - worked 10 yrs in the non food world before going to the CIA for a 2 yr AOS and let me tell you that piece of paper is huge and with my business degree - that is why I was offered everywhere education. Look at the salry information posted every year in Forbes. People with degrees after 5-8 yrs make more than people with no degrees.

If you have a chance or the opportunity go to school.

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I really like this thread. Plenty of genuine debate, emotion if that's the right word. I can't help but think we have scared poor Wesley1 into an accounting program or something though.

"And in the meantime, listen to your appetite and play with your food."

Alton Brown, Good Eats

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I agree -- this is an interesting topic, even to one whose professional experience, such as it was, began and ended in his college's cafeteria. However, I see several parallels to my profession (clinical psychology and education). As other posters-- especially Holly Moore -- have mentioned, the contacts one makes in school can be a major factor in determining the job one gets post-school. And -- justified or not -- the bigger the name, the bigger the impression your résumé will make and the wider your geographic options.

That being said, though, community colleges can provide an excellent culinary education and excellent value. You'll just need to do some research, as there are good programs and not-so-good programs. Here in Grand Rapids, for example, Grand Rapids Community College has a first-rate Hospitality Education Program. The facilities are spectacular; the chef-instructors are highly regarded (including the two authors of the IACP award-winning Modern Garde Manger); students have opportunities to participate in national and international competitions and travel; the ACF-accredited and NRA-honored program articulates with baccalaureate programs at two state universities; and the program's restaurant, The Heritage, is one of the best in the city.

Edited by Alex (log)

"There is no sincerer love than the love of food."  -George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman, Act 1

 

Gene Weingarten, writing in the Washington Post about online news stories and the accompanying readers' comments: "I basically like 'comments,' though they can seem a little jarring: spit-flecked rants that are appended to a product that at least tries for a measure of objectivity and dignity. It's as though when you order a sirloin steak, it comes with a side of maggots."

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And if anyones gone to community college for a degree in culinary arts whats your suggestion?

I went to the Academy of Culinary Arts in Mays Landing, NJ, which is part of Atlantic Community College. I like to think I got a good education out of it. :wink:

When I was at the Vo-Tech in the area I used to live in, I took a couple of groups of students to some of other cooking schools in the area, and everyone (myself included) found themselves more impressed with ACA than with the others.

But perhaps my experience was atypical?

Sincerely,

Dante

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it is what you made it - if you soaked in lots of info - now go out and work your way up the ladder. I was a career changer - I needed a resume standout and could afford the CIA. But I looked at NECI, JW and LCB and they were all great. Community Colleges were not in my mix becasue I needed a standout on my resume. If you are young and have the "time" to work your way through and up it is a great thing. It is what you make it. Standout and shine...do more - ask more - and like the reply said above - cut chop flip and do everything so you standout.

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I'm currently attending a program at a local community college and absolutely love it--I'm in pastry/baking. Before deciding that I wanted to do this I spent a week at CIA (Greystone) in a career discovery program. I was really impressed with the facilities and chefs I met at CIA. Were I much younger and not married I probably would look at one of the more prestigious schools here or abroad. That said I'm going into my second career and I'm married and a homeowner and don't plan to leave the Pacific Northwest anytime soon.

One of the things I did was meet with a number of local pastry chefs and asked around and 90% of the people I spoke with said that if I wanted to stay in Seattle the community college in West Seattle was the way to go. After I heard that enough times and visited the school it was a no-brainer for me. I'm finishing up my 3rd quarter this week and am stunned that I'm halfway through the program, it has gone so fast and I have learned so much.

I guess what I'm trying to say is it all depends on what you're looking to get out of it and what your goals are.

I should probably say that I do believe in the whole networking thing because I did go to a prestigious liberal arts college on the east coast so I know what kind of doors that can open. Having said that I don't think I'm up for spending another $100k on schooling!

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  • 2 weeks later...

Does anyone have any thoughts on the (pastry) program at Vancouver Community College i.e. curriculum, instruction? Tuition is decent @ $5000 for 10 months of schooling and they say it'll get you job ready for entry-level jobs (where else?)...

I've pretty much narrowed my sights down on this school... but some affirmations would certainly be lovely...

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Dante,

I worked with more than a few ACCC grads during my time in Atlantic City, and believe me you guys more than held your own against the more "prestegious" schools, IE J&W & CIA (I'm an alum, 1991). I will always recommend at least looking at a CC program. Atlantic Cape is an excellent one, another really good one is Sullivan County Community College in the southern tier of New York State; those guys were doing fantastic work at the food show competitions that I attended. On the flip side, I work in a city with a "Cordon Bleu" accredited program and 3/4 of the cooks we hire from there don't know which end of a knife to hold. Do your research, you can save a lot of money and still get a quality education.

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Dante,

    I worked with more than a few ACCC grads during my time in Atlantic City, and believe me you guys more than held your own against the more "prestegious" schools, IE J&W & CIA (I'm an alum, 1991).  I will always recommend at least looking at a CC program.  Atlantic Cape is an excellent one, another really good one is Sullivan County Community College in the southern tier of New York State; those guys were doing fantastic work at the food show competitions that I attended.  On the flip side, I work in a city with a "Cordon Bleu" accredited program and 3/4 of the cooks we hire from there don't know which end of a knife to hold.  Do your research, you can save a lot of money and still get a quality education.

Dante,

I worked with more than a few ACCC grads during my time in Atlantic City, and believe me you guys more than held your own against the more "prestegious" schools, IE J&W & CIA (I'm an alum, 1991).

Thank you. Very nice to hear. Always good to hear other people say things like that. :biggrin:

(hm- and we both seem to have attended our respective schools around the same time.)

I was quite pleased with my education there and, in fact, when I did a brief (unofficial) stint as a teaching assistant at one of the area vo-techs I took a group of students on a series of trips to several of the cooking schools in the area and it only validated my opinion that I'd made the correct choice in choosing ACA, and all of the students agreed that, if they wanted to continue their education at an area school, that ACA was the choice that they would make. It was very interesting to see how my little community-college training stacked up against the other places.

I've heard a few good things about the Atlantic Culinary Academy up here in Dover, NH.

On the flip side, I work in a city with a "Cordon Bleu" accredited program and 3/4 of the cooks we hire from there don't know which end of a knife to hold.

Yeah- we did visit one place like that- I was listening to high-school-age vo-tech students whispering to each other about the mistakes they'd spotted second-year professional culinary-school students making.

Do your research, you can save a lot of money and still get a quality education.

I wholeheartedly second that. :smile:

Sincerely,

Dante

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