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Culinary School for a Food Writer


Nina C.
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Although I am a relatively new food writer, I have quickly discovered that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I think one of the next steps for me should be to go to culinary school.

I've wanted to go to cooking school for a while because I love to cook, but I know I can do it faster and better. I'm almost positive that I don't want to work in a professional restaurant kitchen as a career. And, I have a BA in English from Smith College. So culinary school seemed like a dilettante's folly until

a)I got a steady freelance writing job (not food related) that allows me to pay the bills on a flexible schedule

and

b)I realized that most of the food writers working at magazines have been to culinary school.

But the question is, where to go to school?

*I want a school that will give me a solid foundation in cooking, so that when I am writing about historical innovations or new trends, or interviewing chefs, I will know what I'm talking about.

*Ideally, this school will offer/allow me to do an internship with a food magazine rather than (or in addition to) an externship at a restaurant.

*Ideally, this school will give me connections to people in the business, and be useful on a resume.

I'd like to stay in NYC, but I'm considering options elsewhere as well. (Since I live with my sweetheart, I’d still have to pay rent here no matter where I was. Thus, I’d have to really want to go somewhere in order to make it worth it.)

Here are the programs I’ve researched:

French Culinary Institute -

Classic Culinary Arts

9 months - $33,750

600 hours (469 hands-on, 131 theory)

12:1 S/T ratio

externships/internships not required, but career services can help you find placement. They are one of the few culinary schools that offers a course in food writing (although if I wanted to take that it would be additional $975) and they offer the "Bouchard Père & Fils-The French Culinary Institute Internship at Food & Wine." FCI is also the school I have most noticed in current food writers' bios.

CIA

Culinary Arts Associate Degree

21 months - 60 weeks + 18-week paid internship - $40,600

18:1 s/t ratio

I'd have to get 6 months experience in a professional kitchen before applying.

Since I couldn't commute, add $12000 for housing

Externship MIGHT be able to be at a magazine.

Institute of Culinary Education

Culinary Arts Diploma

$24,817 - length 7months-11 months (depends on schedule opted)

400 hours +210 hours of externship

13:1 S/T ratio; max class size 16.

They strongly prefer externship be in a restaurant, but it can be at a food magazine. Externship coordinators help you find placement.

The Art Institute of New York City - The New York Restaurant School

1 year (4 quarters) - $21,696

871 hours+198 hours externship (probably less because I have a BA already.)

Nothing about food writing on their website.

Shorter programs:

The New School

Master Class in Cooking

5 weeks - $2,510 (+$475 materials fee)

96 hours

12:1 S/T Ratio

no externship/internship possibilities

CIA Boot Camp

Boot Camp 1

5 days - $2000 + approx. $600+ in housing/transportation costs

For “enthusiasts”

So, the gist of this long post is, where would you go, if you were in my shoes?

The Kitchn

Nina Callaway

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I'd go to a small, cheap, excellent intensive short-program school like this one: www.nwcav.com (which I did) and then take the $20 - 40,000 I saved from not going to CIA or FCI and spend the next several months traveling, eating and staging (working for free) at restaurants and magazines to gain real-world experience.

With that kind of money, you could cook your way around the world. You'll be able to land stages on your own if you've got your head on straight, you're not shy and you're willing to work; you don't need the school to help you get 'externships'.

You'll emerge with a better culinary education than if you spent a year or two at one school, an interesting resume and an armload of contacts.

Then write a book about it and become famous, and Bourdain's your uncle.

Before you go ahead, spend a few days in a busy working kitchen, even if it's just washing dishes or just observing. If you can't handle that, you probably won't like culinary school (which is mainly about preparing you to work in a restaurant kitchen) and you certainly won't like pro cooking.

Hong Kong Dave

O que nao mata engorda.

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i'd quarrel with the statement that most of the food writers at magazines went to culinary school. i can't think of more than a handful. granted, the field is a lot more competitive than it was when i started, and if you don't have a solid grasp of fundamentals, there's no way you can compete. but I'd go with HKDave on this one. i don't see much point in going to a restaurant school to learn to write for home cooks (and, with the exception of art culinaire, that's who you will be writing for).

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Hi,Nina -- Just got time to weigh in on this thread.

From what I've heard and seen, CIA Boot Camp is "foodies having fun."

The benefit of going to the CIA for a degree, is that you've gone there. I had been writing for many years on a local and regional level and wanted to take things up a notch. Without too much back story, I'd say that very little of the post-Externship experience can make you a better writer.

I had a reputation for thorough research and being very knowledgeable about my subjects (as a writer), but within a week of Gastronomy class, I realized how much I had yet to learn.

I loved all the research and applying it to food every day, and probably wouldn't get that type of concentrated experience anyplace else.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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Go to FCI. Period. It's in New York, it's very good, and prestigious (which is more important in the writing industry than in the "kitchen food" industry) and cosmopolitian. It's a very, very good school (especially for your needs) You need to know the terms and why things work, not nessecarily need the time to devlop all of the skills to execute elaborate presentation (CIA). If you were planning to cook on the hot line this would be a totally different conversation.

I went to FCI, Then I worked for a year and change in a Michelin starred restaurant, Now I'm about to begin working at a major publication as an assistant food editor. See? Flexibility. If I had wanted to be a head chef I may have gone to fci as well, but for different reasons. Good luck, I enjoy your posts and hope to see the in the craft of food writing soon.

-Emma

does this come in pork?

My name's Emma Feigenbaum.

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John, you should know that nothing is as it seems.

I am paying 28,550 a year, not including interest on my loan.

the people behind me are paying more because they had an increase in supplies charge.

Once you get the bill, then do the math.

Dean Anthony Anderson

"If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly" ~ Herve This

Pastry Chef: One If By Land Two If By Sea

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Wow - I don't know how I hadn't seen that there were replies to this thread. I thought it sank like a stone.

These are good thoughts to hear.

Russ - From obsessively reading bios, it seems like the very-well-established food writers/editors didn't go to culinary school - (the Ruth Reichls and Jeffrey Steingartens of the world. ) But the ones who are in their 30's or those whose writing is known but they're not quite a household name - (the Amanda Hessers, the Kate Kraders, the Maile Carpenters of the world) -- they've been.

The question is, is it necessary? Is the field getting so crowded that you now need the advantages of a degree? Would a certificate program like La Technique be enough?

And, the major question is - what do I want? Do I want a staff position at a magazine, where degrees matter more? or do I want to stay with freelancing and thus I need more life experience, travel, etc.?

I don't know these answers, but I'm still trying to figure them out. Because of commitments, I probably wouldn't go until next summer, which leaves me enough time to find new paths, and to explore the choices.

But everything you all have said is very interesting to hear.

Thanks.

The Kitchn

Nina Callaway

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HKDave's advice makes a lot of sense to me. I'm all for education -- from year to year, I alternate between applying to med school or cooking school just for the fun of it (yeah, I'm nuts!) -- but to put myself in that kind of debt so I could write about health or food? -- yikes. It seems to me you could spend half that money and give yourself a fabulous education that would make you a better food writer. You could travel the world and see things you wouldn't see in formal degree program. You could pick up the technical knowledge along the way while giving your writing some color and life. Just my .02. :-) (P.S. I'm a Smith grad too, minor in English.) :-)

Diana Burrell, freelance writer/author

The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock (Marion Street Press, Nov. 2006)

DianaCooks.com

My eGullet blog

The Renegade Writer Blog

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  • 5 months later...

Nina C.:

I would have to concur with HKDave, and russ parsons. Chiantiglace's point about debt is quite poignant. Can you afford those expensive aforementioned schools? Can you relocate to attend those schools? If you were considering attending FCI, why not attend the school that it tries to emulate--ESCF?

If not, then how about attending the local community college such as NYCTC? Their Hospitality Management A.A.S. Program seems to have international exchange programs.

If you want to read the textbooks that most culinary programs in the U.S.A. use, then buy: On Cooking by Sara Labensky, The New Professional Chef by Mary D. Donovan, Professional Cooking by Wayne Gisslen.

Spending a small fortune to attend any school is a rather sizable commitment. Take your time to evaluate all of your options. Good luck in your decision.

Buttercup: You mock my pain.

Man in Black: Life is pain, Highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.

-- The Princess Bride

If the women don't find you handsome, they should at least find you handy -- Red Green

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