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Destinations for Culinary School Graduates


Chris Amirault
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Around here, we tend to focus on culinary school as a path to restaurant work. But there's a massive, non-restaurant food industry that draws graduates as well, to catering, restaurant corporations, hotels, resorts, on and on.

Until recently, I had thought that most culinary school grads aimed for those restaurant jobs. You know, interning, line cook for next to nothing, hopping from opportunity to opportunity, the whole romantic thing. But several conversations with chefs in town -- a town where Johnson & Wales is based, I'll add -- suggests something quite different.

Turns out they can't get interns very easily, and the ones that they do get aren't interested in restaurants after they graduate. I'm not talking about lousy joints here, either; I'm talking about award-winning places run by great (and, I think, mostly non-psychotic) chefs. Seems that the students they meet are more interested in vague concepts like "starting a catering business" or, yes, blasting into the Food TV stratosphere.

What gives? Can those in schools and kitchens both shed some light on this? Is the light from Giada and Tyler's pearly whites really that blinding? Is this a characteristic of J&W in particular, or is it happening in other culinary schools/programs as well?

Chris Amirault

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I remember in law school being surprised at what a low percentage of lawyers ever saw the inside of a courtroom. The overwhelming majority of my classmates did not go into litigation. Yet, in the popular imagination lawyers go to court. I think it's the same with culinary students. A lot more of them don't go to work in restaurants than is commonly imagined. At the French Culinary Institute, they have a book lying around called something like 150 Food Jobs. I have to find out exactly. Personally, I'd rather do almost anything else with my certificate than work in a restaurant kitchen. It' just too hard.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
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I graduated from culinary school in 1995. I had interned at a restaurant in Tribeca and realized that I was perhaps the lousiest line cook that ever picked up a saute pan. I mean, in school people asked me why I was even there; after all, I already knew how to cook.

The reality is I was just too damn old - even in 1995.

Then I moved into the catering world; first cooking and then sales and party planning. Was kind of fun, except for the psychotic brides-to-be and the mothers that accompanied them.

Now, I'm an eGullet host and a blogger. Cooking school served me well!

And I'm still a damn good cook. Chef? Never.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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IMH experience, I see grads going into fields like construction or driving a forklift in a warehouse @ $30./hr in order to pay off student loans. You gotta admit, the hospitality biz is one of the lowest paying industries..... Others find that they like the "life" and move up the ladder, many go on to positions in management in large catering outfits,(decent hours, actual benifits), into jobs as sales reps, (ditto, plus commision) and some take over a family business or start their own up.

Culinary schools in N. America are all "Front end loading" types. That is, the student is crammed with knowledge, some practical experience in a school atmosphere, and given a diploma. Many get "culture shock" when they actually work a solid 3-6 mths in the field after graduating.

Perhaps the schools should offer a new type of curriculum? Say, 3 mths of basic training, and a diploma. After 6-12 mths of working in the field, course ii is offered for another 3 mths of intense training. After graduating from this course, the grad has a "peg" to demand a higher wage, and after an additional 6-12 mths of working in the field, course iii is offered.

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But I'm not talking about whether they end up in restaurants. I'm surprised that they have no seeming interest in doing so. Unlike Mitch, who had to prove to himself on the line that a restaurant kitchen was not for him, these kids aren't wondering about it in the first place.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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IMH experience, I see grads going into fields like construction or driving a forklift in a warehouse @ $30./hr in order to pay off student loans. You gotta admit, the hospitality biz is one of the lowest paying industries..... Others find that they like the "life" and move up the ladder, many go on to positions in management in large catering outfits,(decent hours, actual benifits), into jobs as sales reps, (ditto, plus commision) and some take over a family business or start their own up.

Culinary schools in N. America are all "Front end loading" types. That is, the student is crammed with knowledge, some practical experience in a school atmosphere, and given a diploma. Many get "culture shock" when they actually work a solid 3-6 mths in the field after graduating.

Perhaps the schools should offer a new type of curriculum? Say, 3 mths of basic training, and a diploma. After 6-12 mths of working in the field, course ii is offered for another 3 mths of intense training. After graduating from this course, the grad has a "peg" to demand a higher wage, and after an additional 6-12 mths of working in the field, course iii is offered.

30 bucks an hour driving a forklift? Give me a number so I can call to see if they need anyone.

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I graduated from culinary school in 1995. I had interned at a restaurant in Tribeca and realized that I was perhaps the lousiest line cook that ever picked up a saute pan. I mean, in school people asked me why I was even there; after all, I already knew how to cook.

The reality is I was just too damn old - even in 1995.

Then I moved into the catering world; first cooking and then sales and party planning. Was kind of fun, except for the psychotic brides-to-be and the mothers that accompanied them.

Now, I'm an eGullet host and a blogger. Cooking school served me well!

And I'm still a damn good cook. Chef? Never.

Mitch, my brother did something similar. He went to Culinary school to eventually own his own place. He did his externship as well as his first job out in Los Angeles and realized that it wasn't what he wanted at all. He HATED it.

He works in Music now. But he is still the best cook I know.

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He works in Music now. But he is still the best cook I know.

Exactly. I'd always been a good cook (imho), and I wanted to see if I could hack the business. It didn't hurt that I had a lot of friends who for a lot of years told me I should open my own restaurant...to think, I'm still friends with all of them :smile: .

As to hacking the business - I couldn't.

And great chefs - guys like Ripert, Boulud, Jean-Georges, Bouley, Keller, et.al...they practically grew up in the business...culinary school or no.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Around here, we tend to focus on culinary school as a path to restaurant work. But there's a massive, non-restaurant food industry that draws graduates as well, to catering, restaurant corporations, hotels, resorts, on and on.

Not sure whether J&W offers both BS's and Associate degrees, but either way I'd expect that students going through two year or four year programs would more often than not seek out the corporate route complete with fringe benefits, shorter work weeks, better pay and better opportunities for advancement.

Personally I stumbled into a Hotel/Restaurant school education. I was interviewing at Cornell's engineering school when my father suggested checking out Statler Hall, home of the hotel school. Wandering the halls, we ran into Dean Beck who sat me down, talked for about an hour, and sent me on my way with an admissions packet and a new career path that I had never considered. I'm guessing most/many 16 or 17 year olds who choose a hospitality program, especially a chef's training program, have little idea what they are getting into and at some point start looking for less severe hospitality career options than the restaurant kitchen.

Holly Moore

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A millon or so year ago when I was F&B manager at a resort hotel we had interns in the kitchen from Johnson and Wales. Some guy in the corporate office was a big mucky muck alumni of J&W.

One of the things I noticed was how little most cared about food. I mean they worked, and worked hard. But mostly they were not into cooking and food.

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Perhaps the schools should offer a new type of curriculum? Say, 3 mths of basic training, and a diploma. After 6-12 mths of working in the field, course ii is offered for another 3 mths of intense training. After graduating from this course, the grad has a "peg" to demand a higher wage, and after an additional 6-12 mths of working in the field, course iii is offered.

My son is studying to be an electrician and this is sort of how it works. Two semesters in class, 16 months of co-op, out in the field, and then a final two semesters in class culminating in writing the apprentice ticket.I think it makes sense. After 16 months in the field, he's going to know if he's cut out for this or not. Same would go for would be culinary students.

As for me, I studied hotel and restaurant management at college. I worked full time at a restaurant at night while going to college. By the time I was done, I swore I'd never work in another restaurant again.

Edited by Marlene (log)

Marlene

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Yup, that's where I stole the idea from.

Me? Id id a 3 yr apprenticeship in Luzern, Switzerland. One day a week, every week you go to school, the rest of the time you work like dog. Lot to be said for such a system, and the pay is something that you can acutally live on too. I've cousins who are plumbers, auto mechanics, even a pharmasist, who all apprenticed the same way.

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But I'm not talking about whether they end up in restaurants. I'm surprised that they have no seeming interest in doing so. Unlike Mitch, who had to prove to himself on the line that a restaurant kitchen was not for him, these kids aren't wondering about it in the first place.

Why are you surprised by that? Restaurant work is, typically anyhow, a labor of love. If you don't LOVE working in restaurants, it will never be for you. Working with food/being in the food business is a lot different than being a line cook.

You make it sound like the only reason to get a culinary education is to go work in a restaurant. Lots of people study art who have no interest in becoming an artist...this is true of many different fields of study.

A lot of people, especially on a board like this, seem to have some romantic image of a restaurant chef and/or cook as being the high point of a career in food. For many, many people it is not.

I think that the number of people who want fame and fortune on FoodTV is still relatively small, but it is growing. And you know what, it's not like it was 10-15 years ago. Being a great chef with a great restaurant or two is no longer a path towards TV Cooking. It has more to do with being good in front of a camera and being able to market yourself. On almost any of those "new" crop of cooking shows, the cooking is secondary to just about everything else. I don't need to cite examples, I'm sure.

Here's a statistic for you: I've been cooking for about 8 years and I've yet to crack the $40,000 a year mark. I might do it this year or next. We'll see.

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For 2010-2011, J&W's tuition & fees is $24K...I think it's pure economics. No one paying $80 grand for an education is looking for a line cook's job or the typical kitchen position w/o benefits. The realities of back-of-the-house hospitality jobs have little to do with private cooking school tuition rates. Heck, all of my undergraduate & graduate education cost way less than $80K, and I wouldn't have worked for kitchen wages right out of school.

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Qwerty, you make a lot of good points. But, to answer your question:

But I'm not talking about whether they end up in restaurants. I'm surprised that they have no seeming interest in doing so. Unlike Mitch, who had to prove to himself on the line that a restaurant kitchen was not for him, these kids aren't wondering about it in the first place.

Why are you surprised by that? Restaurant work is, typically anyhow, a labor of love. If you don't LOVE working in restaurants, it will never be for you. Working with food/being in the food business is a lot different than being a line cook.

Right -- got that. But I'm surprised that none -- none of the J&W interns at restaurants here in town -- are interested in working in restaurants. Not general students, mind you. The ones who interned in restaurants.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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Right -- got that. But I'm surprised that none -- none of the J&W interns at restaurants here in town -- are interested in working in restaurants. Not general students, mind you. The ones who interned in restaurants.

All that proves is that J&W is pumping out students capable of doing math.

PS: I am a guy.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Im currently at Liaison College here in Canada. We do a cook basic program thats 6 weeks of Theory and 10 weeks of Practical. After that we do an advanced program thats the same length. Im just about to graduate basic, and move into advanced. I really like how the school is laid out. It focuses on the practical. Our theory mark is only 30% of our overall. Were taught things that help us in the realworld. Working clean, Being fast, being precise. We learn about Mise en place. Prepping for working on a line (aka doing soups a day before or day of and reheat to serve). I did a lot of research before plunking down 15k for school, and I think I made a great decision to go with Liaison. Ive already got a ton of experience (nearly 6 years), working in fine dining, so I find that experience helps a lot, and I would like to go work with Chef Keller, or Chef Blumenthal at some point.

Alex

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But I'm not talking about whether they end up in restaurants. I'm surprised that they have no seeming interest in doing so. Unlike Mitch, who had to prove to himself on the line that a restaurant kitchen was not for him, these kids aren't wondering about it in the first place.

. . . .

You make it sound like the only reason to get a culinary education is to go work in a restaurant. Lots of people study art who have no interest in becoming an artist...this is true of many different fields of study.

. . . .

Unfortunately, a lot of people go to art school because they/their parents figure 'Junior isn't academic, but should go to uni. So... art school it is!' This is not just me being judgemental or making a guess, either: My parents are both artists, and it was just 'understood' that I would be, too; I had the aptitude and the parental support, and did, in fact, end up in an art programme at a university for three years (at which point I decided I'd had enough, and switched to biomed.), during which I made the unpleasant discovery that art school is considered one of the staple options for those who aren't, well, particularly academic (I'm not talking about places like RISD... as much). Out of hundreds of students in the programme, I can think of exactly one who was both interested and skilled enough to make a career of something art-related (he does something in the film industry, now, as far as I can see). This isn't unique to the programme I was in, either, since I worked in NYC as a an artists' model for about a dozen years, and saw the inside of virtually every art school and division in the city (the people at sketch groups are another story, but you don't get a degree for that, and these days, a degree counts).

I also went to the Swedish Institute, and saw the same attitude towards studying massage (in case anyone is wondering, yes, my student loan debt is colossal), so I'm wondering whether this might not part of the problem with many of the uninterested students at culinary schools.

I remember in law school being surprised at what a low percentage of lawyers ever saw the inside of a courtroom. The overwhelming majority of my classmates did not go into litigation. . . .

I'm not certain that the comparison to law school-graduates not entering practice is quite the same, however, since the education you get there gives you both the skills and the credibility to work in many other fields where legal knowledge (or habits of thought) are valuable.

Michaela, aka "Mjx"
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Time for a J&W alum to chime in, I guess. Class of '80 2 degrees in 4 years; AS culinary arts, BS hospitality Mgnt.

I guess things were different 30 years ago. I can tell you that most of the culinary students there then were very engaged and motivated to excel. And they weren't just aimless kids fresh out of high school either (well, some were, myself included). I'll bet a third of the students in my class were in their mid- to late 20's and a good number more in their 30's and up.

Most of those guys and gals came there with some food service experience. Some had folks who owned restaurants and who wanted to get a management training or a broader base of experience from which to work. Some had recently gotten out of military service and were using the GI bill to build on their KP training (just kidding but there was one guy who had just finished a tour as the chef for a general).

Everybody also had different ideas about what they wanted to do with their education. Lots wanted to own their own restaurants "someday", some wanted to become private or personal chefs, some wanted to work on cruise ships or follow the seasons cooking at ski resorts in the winter and beach resorts in the summer. One guy in one of my "groups" (about 25 students who were grouped together for the trimester and rotated through the various kitchen assignments together) was headed for much bigger things... (can I name drop here?) His name is Emeril.

Anyway it seemed like almost everybody there was serious about their chosen field and was really working at it. The school schedule was set up to accommodate night and weekend jobs (classes ran 4 days a week: Monday-Thursday) and students were encouraged to get out there and learn everything new they could. I don't think there were more than a few hundred culinary students there at that time but I remember looking for work and it seemed like all the better places around had all the J&W workers they could handle. I had a friend working in Warwick, a roommate working over the state line in Seekonk MA and knew a classmate who drove to Boston every weekend for his job. It seemed like there was a lot of commitment to the craft and willingness to work hard .

Longevity on the job after graduation is another matter. I did not keep in touch with very many of my alum-mates but (not counting Emeril, of course) only 3 or 4 out of a dozen or so are still in any type of food service related work. I know for a fact that at least 4 quit the business completely after only a couple of years and never looked back. One runs a bowling ally in PA and is happy as a clam.

I had the opportunity in the late 1980's, while working at several different places in CT/MA/NY to hire quite a few culinary "externs". A couple were from J&W but most were from CIA in Hyde Park. They came in all different shapes, sizes, colors and levels of experience but were all hard and dedicated workers and reminded me a lot of the students I'd worked with at J&W.

Your query is interesting and, if wide spread and common, possibly indicative of an upcoming problem for the industry. It's not a business where slackers are going to last long.

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I am in school now, but only after quite a bit of experience in the restaurant industry did I finally decide to go to school. I have to say, alot of my fellow students have a pretty warped idea of what restaurant life really is like. I went in knowing the hours, the lifestyle, the people, etc. I think the "newer, kinder gentler youth" wouldn't hack it behind the line day in and day out. I think the majority of my class is interested in catering, nutrition, private chef work, etc.

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  • 10 years later...

It's all the same stuff you've been trained to do, just at a much higher pace and more of it at the same time. Not gonna lie, it's an adjustment, but if you stick with it (and are prepared mentally for some stress during the adjustment period) you should do okay.

 

Also, even if things don't work out for you on the restaurant side of things, there are a LOT of other opportunities within the foodservice/cooking world. I ended up writing about food (and other things) after folding my restaurants. Classmates of mine went into food styling/consulting, teaching, or institutional foodservice management (she's probably the highest-paid of us all, which is nothing to sneeze at). One operates a spa with her yoga instructor/personal trainer partner. 

 

...and that's just from the handful I've kept loosely in touch with. There are plenty of other options as well.

 

ETA: Also, welcome to eG! There are some very talented and knowledgeable people in this community, and I learned a TON from the group here when I was a student and new graduate.

Edited by chromedome (log)
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“Who loves a garden, loves a greenhouse too.” - William Cowper, The Task, Book Three

 

"Not knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition...The first rule of the Dunning-Kruger club is you don’t know you’re a member of the Dunning-Kruger club.” - psychologist David Dunning

 

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On 11/26/2021 at 1:08 PM, chromedome said:

It's all the same stuff you've been trained to do, just at a much higher pace and more of it at the same time. Not gonna lie, it's an adjustment, but if you stick with it (and are prepared mentally for some stress during the adjustment period) you should do okay.

 

Also, even if things don't work out for you on the restaurant side of things, there are a LOT of other opportunities within the foodservice/cooking world. I ended up writing about food (and other things) after folding my restaurants. Classmates of mine went into food styling/consulting, teaching, or institutional foodservice management (she's probably the highest-paid of us all, which is nothing to sneeze at). One operates a spa with her yoga instructor/personal trainer partner. 

 

...and that's just from the handful I've kept loosely in touch with. There are plenty of other options as well.

 

ETA: Also, welcome to eG! There are some very talented and knowledgeable people in this community, and I learned a TON from the group here when I was a student and new graduate.

Thank you for the advice 

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On 11/26/2021 at 4:47 AM, Umar Abraham said:

Just finished Culinary School and now I am nervous because now I have to work in a real kitchen which I have never done before. So I am nervous and excited. Can't wait to see what the future has for me.

So, there we were in Lyon, eating at the Bocuse restaurant/training center in the Hotel Le Royal (I love how pretentious that sounds) several years ago.  Our trainee server was a very nervous (but personable) woman in her 20s, who was trying to get everything just right but finding everything way too stressful.  Wrong silverware, some almost dropped food.  We were supportive... really.   Next thing we know, our soup is being delivered by the Manager/Trainer.  When we inquired as to where she was, he hesitated but then revealed that she had quit on the spot, saying that Front of House wasn't for her.  Maybe I'm imagining it, but I think that this came with a look from him that could've been translated as "what the hell did you do to her"?!  I prefer to think of our role as one of "career counseling".  😎

You'll be fine.  Happy holidays! 

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Welcome, Umar, and wishing you happy adventures in cooking.  The first few years, you adjust to the long hours and physical aspects of the job (get good- and I mean REALLY good shoes.  Compression socks are your friend :) ) recognize that you are being paid to learn your craft.  Don't take criticism personally (and, don't let anyone mistreat you as can be the habit in a lot of kitchens.  There's a difference between practical jokes and being abused) and acknowledge that everyone can teach you something.

 

Enjoy yourself and keep us posted!

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