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Choosing a Culinary School


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Last year I finished my Master's degree, and while travelling through south-east asia I realised that cooking is my passion, and may be something I wanted to do with my life. So on my return I got a job as a cook, to see if it was something I really wanted to do. Well, it's been 5 months, and I still love it, so I'm thinking the next step is to go to culinary school in the spring. That leaves me to my problem...choosing a school. The one's I'm looking at are (in no particular order)

1. CIA (either California or NY)

2. California Culinary Academy

3. New England Culinary Institute

4. French Culinary Institute

They all look good on paper, but it's a big decision (and an expensive one), and I want to make sure I make the right informed choice. I want to cook at a high level, and want to make sure that the school I choose helps me to do that.

So any advice from eGulletters out there? Is one school better than the others, or is it really just what you put into it that matters? I keep hearing that the CIA is the top school, but the class sizes seem big, and I've heard form other chefs that while the CIA grads have tremendous book knowledge, their cooking skills aren't quite as good, due to the lack of hands on training (which I've heard that NECI is really good at). I'm planning on visiting the schools soon, but just wanted to hear some opinions.

Also does anyone know if there is a difference between the two CIA campuses?

Again, any help in this matter would be greatly appreciated, as I really do want to make the most informed decision possible.

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I am a recent Johnson & Wales University graduate, in June 05. Maybe Im a bit biased, but I feel the education that I got was top notch. I was accepted to CIA Hyde Park as well, and also toured both campuses. After much thought, research, and consideration, I chose J&W becuase it offered a great all around education, awesome kitchens, great classes and class sizes, and, at the time, the only ACCREDITED bachelors degree in culinary arts.

It was very very hard work to go the full 4 years but totally worth it. You not only get a great education, but also the networking possibilities are endless. The Chef-Instructors there are some world class chefs, hailing from the worlds greatest kitchens, as well as champion competition chefs. Right out of college, I was at The French Laundry, by way of one of my Chef-Instructors, Chef Rolando Robledo, who was the Chef de Poisson at TFL before coming to J&W to teach.

If you really are passionate about doing this, I would HIGHLY consider J&W. Its expensive, but you get what you pay for. Its a world class education that can take across the globe. I went to the Providence RI campus, the first one. Not as beautiful as the CIA campuses, since our money goes to chefs and our kitchens, not groundskeepers. Every year I was there, I was on the Culinary Competition Team, and every year we left the New York Food Show with Gold Medals against CIA.

And my $.02, the CIA are a bunch of kids that talk the talk, but definitly cant walk the walk. Ive been up to the CIA Greystone here in Napa, and its only 1 big kitchen for everything. One big open floor, with a "hot" side and pastry side. Thats it.

J WHAT? J WOO!!! (JWU) :)

http://www.jwu.edu

-Chef Johnny

Edited by ChefJohnny (log)

John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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First you need to think about your 5 and 10 year goals. Do you want to own a place or be chef of a big hotel? Maybe you will become a pastry chef or a sommelier, so take a few days and think long and hard about your ideal placement in 2016, what do you really want to be doing at that point then put it down on paper.

That will guide your school selection because these places have different strengths. I am a graduate of a culinary apprenticeship program at Delgado Community College in New Orleans but I have cooked with hundreds of grads of the bigger schools. Yes it is true that you get out of school what you put into it but I will step out on a limb and make a few broad statements concerning my observations over the years:

The cooks with the best pure cooking skills were the grads of NECI, hands down. Perhaps because they spent so much time huddled around those warm stoves because there was 30 feet of ice & snow on the ground but no matter.

Of the CIA guys I have known they came in all shapes and sizes and while some were wonderfully talented, others were woefully inadequate and carried just as much debt as the talented ones. The CIA guys did seem to be better connected than the other folks and that's probably because J & W puts out way more grads than CIA. I also think that the CIA graduates a lot of aspiring restaurant-chefs whereas J & W graduates a broader assortment of hotel & restaurant managers, hotel chefs, wine stewards and pastry chefs. Of course I could be wrong on that one.

My experiences with CCA grads is very limited.

FCI has a 6 month program..... enough said. If you choose FCI, you damn well better spend 2 years cooking for Daniel or Jean Georges.

The best education will be hands-on because when I am hiring a cook, first thing I want to know is where has this person actually cooked. If you see yourself owning your own place in 10 years then your hands on experience better be at a successful, independent, chef-owned restaurant and not a country club. If you want to be Chef of a Ritz Carlton hotel in 10 years then go out and get a job at a Ritz....you get the idea.

After that, elements like cost control, purchasing and scheduling are best learned in a class room before being attempted in the real world.

As for accreditation....it may sound impressive but it will not count for anything in an interview. It does place J & W in league with other accredited general knowledge colleges & universities but it does not mean that your knife skills or sensibilities will be better than anyone else's.

When you interview at any prospective location, first and foremost your hands-on experience will be critical, school will be second. And if you paid attention in school and were passionate, curious and driven to excel like Chef Johnny then you will go far.

What ever you do...do not choose a school based on the recommendations of some Food TV type star!

Cheers!

John Malik

Chef/Owner

33 Liberty Restaurant

Greenville, SC

www.33liberty.com

Customer at the carving station: "Pardon me but is that roast beef rare?"

Apprentice Cook Malik: "No sir! There's plenty more in the kitchen!"

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A bit biased? What you must understand is that every school has its bunch of kids that are just there because they dont know what to do with their life and their parents want them to go to college. Im sure you dont want another bachelors degree as Chef Johnny might have mentioned since you have your Masters.

Personally you should consider a career in the food field not in the kitchen since you have your masters already. Im only saying this because by now you have probably figured out the money sucks and the hours are long. Are you deadset on attending a culinary school? I wish I had just started workign in the industry and skipped school and the 56 k I now owe.

As to defend the CIA, a culinary school is what you make of it. For those who drool over TFL it might be cool to be taught by a fish cook. Personally I know that the chefs at the CIA NY have Michellin stars, have run major successful restaurants, and have more connectins in the industry than any other culinary school. This is what it comes down too, connections.

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You know your from Johnson and Whales if you spend half your life explaining why you chose Johnson and Whales over CIA. To me that says it all.

You are at the French Laundry no? Well the recent Executive Pastry Chef Francisco Migoya left a little over a year ago to come teach at what school? CIA, thats right. I still remember his opening speech first day of class, he basically guilt tripped everyone in to trying harder because the only reason he was at CIA was because it was the best, and he wanted to be a part of it.

Every single Johnson and Whales graduate I have worked with felt the need to explain to me why they chose Johsnon and Whales after I mention I am going to CIA, or I am CIA. For some reason I never needed to explain myself.

Promote your school all you want, its great, but if your lead promotion is to balance out with the competition (as one from over there might think) then your not helping anyone's decision, you have just turned in political.

Always remember (for everyone), culinary school is just a base, a stepping stone, a starting block (that is if you have not already had one). Culinary school does not make you who you are. I give you an example, Sam Mason and Johnny Iuzzini, one Johnson and Whales and one CIA. They are both friends, incredible at what they do, and if you asked them their advice on school they would tell you school is school and to make sure you get what you need out of it. Trust me, school did not make them, years of pushing harder, studying on their own time, and great mentors made them who they are.

So piper, if you want to check out CIA I have a autobiography/blog you can see it here. I will be posting progression on my externship at The Breakers soon too.

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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This is what it comes down too, connections.

So true. And I made more connections on my years in the business, and on my externship, than I did at the CIA. Yes, it is what you make of it. There will be people who root for getting an education (or lack thereof). I've also wished CIA and J&W would put together some sort of football team, so there can be a clear winner between them at something!

I wonder what your chef says about your plans? Lots of the people on my team at school were encouraged by their chefs -- in some cases, they insisted. And not all of them were CIA graduates.

My experiences:

CIA and Greystone: Yeah, bigger facilities at Hyde Park. To me, though, Napa would be such a wonderful place to learn, in and out of the school kitchen.

FCI: In the city, and what a great faculty they have. I take supplemental courses there, and can see that they're working hard to improve and expand the curriculum.

NECI: Alton Brown went there! :laugh: Seriously, the people I've worked with who were NECI students or grads were pretty great. And, they can ski when they're not in class or at work.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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A bit biased?  What you must understand is that every school has its bunch of kids that are just there because they dont know what to do with their life and their parents want them to go to college.  Im sure you dont want another bachelors degree as Chef Johnny might have mentioned since you have your Masters. 

Personally you should consider a career in the food field not in the kitchen since you have your masters already.  Im only saying this because by now you have probably figured out the money sucks and the hours are long.  Are you deadset on attending a culinary school?  I wish I had just started workign in the industry and skipped school and the 56 k I now owe. 

As to defend the CIA, a culinary school is what you make of it.  For those who drool over TFL it might be cool to be taught by a fish cook.  Personally I know that the chefs at the CIA NY have Michellin stars, have run major successful restaurants, and have more connectins in the industry than any other culinary school.  This is what it comes down too, connections.

Also interesting to note, "for those who drool over TFL," that TFL Keller never went to culinary school.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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A bit biased?  What you must understand is that every school has its bunch of kids that are just there because they dont know what to do with their life and their parents want them to go to college.  Im sure you dont want another bachelors degree as Chef Johnny might have mentioned since you have your Masters. 

Personally you should consider a career in the food field not in the kitchen since you have your masters already.  Im only saying this because by now you have probably figured out the money sucks and the hours are long.  Are you deadset on attending a culinary school?  I wish I had just started workign in the industry and skipped school and the 56 k I now owe. 

As to defend the CIA, a culinary school is what you make of it.  For those who drool over TFL it might be cool to be taught by a fish cook.  Personally I know that the chefs at the CIA NY have Michellin stars, have run major successful restaurants, and have more connectins in the industry than any other culinary school.  This is what it comes down too, connections.

Also interesting to note, "for those who drool over TFL," that TFL Keller never went to culinary school.

Many people his age didnt.

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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You know your from Johnson and Whales if you spend half your life explaining why you chose Johnson and Whales over CIA.  To me that says it all.

You are at the French Laundry no?  Well the recent Executive Pastry Chef Francisco Migoya left a little over a year ago to come teach at what school?  CIA, thats right.  I still remember his opening speech first day of class, he basically guilt tripped everyone in to trying harder because the only reason he was at CIA was because it was the best, and he wanted to be a part of it.

Every single Johnson and Whales graduate I have worked with felt the need to explain to me why they chose Johsnon and Whales after I mention I am going to CIA, or I am CIA.  For some reason I never needed to explain myself.

Promote your school all you want, its great, but if your lead promotion is to balance out with the competition (as one from over there might think) then your not helping anyone's decision, you have just turned in political.

Always remember (for everyone), culinary school is just a base, a stepping stone, a starting block (that is if you have not already had one).  Culinary school does not make you who you are.  I give you an example, Sam Mason and Johnny Iuzzini, one Johnson and Whales and one CIA.  They are both friends, incredible at what they do, and if you asked them their advice on school they would tell you school is school and to make sure you get what you need out of it.  Trust me, school did not make them, years of pushing harder, studying on their own time, and great mentors made them who they are.

So piper, if you want to check out CIA I have a autobiography/blog you can see it here.  I will be posting progression on my externship at The Breakers soon too.

First of all, spell it correctly. Johnson & WALES. Secondly, how does one post about my school, that was not mentioned in the original post, count as "spending half my life explaining..."

You dont have to explain why you chose CIA, because you went to a lesser school. People ask why someone chose a Ferrari. I doubt anyone would care to ask why you chose a Honda Accord.

Its great you have TFL's Pastry chef. The entire time I was at TFL, the only CIA people in the kitchen were from tours from Greystone. Unlike myself, who was invited to come, through hard work and diligence. I have since left TFL, with one of the sous chefs, Ryan Fancher, to open up a new restaurant in Sonoma. With us, we also have The Exec. Pastry BEFORE Francisco.So the only reason you have Francisco, is because Octavio left. So be glad. Of course he is going to give you the whole "CIA is the best, thats why Im here." I dont think he would walk into class the first day and say that its not. Hes paid for that.

By the way, you know youre from CIA if you spend half your life DEFENDING it against J&W.

-Chef Johnny

John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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A bit biased?  What you must understand is that every school has its bunch of kids that are just there because they dont know what to do with their life and their parents want them to go to college.  Im sure you dont want another bachelors degree as Chef Johnny might have mentioned since you have your Masters. 

Personally you should consider a career in the food field not in the kitchen since you have your masters already.  Im only saying this because by now you have probably figured out the money sucks and the hours are long.  Are you deadset on attending a culinary school?  I wish I had just started workign in the industry and skipped school and the 56 k I now owe. 

As to defend the CIA, a culinary school is what you make of it.  For those who drool over TFL it might be cool to be taught by a fish cook.  Personally I know that the chefs at the CIA NY have Michellin stars, have run major successful restaurants, and have more connectins in the industry than any other culinary school.  This is what it comes down too, connections.

My mistake, I totally missed the whole Masters Degree thing.

-Chef Johnny

John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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A bit biased?  What you must understand is that every school has its bunch of kids that are just there because they dont know what to do with their life and their parents want them to go to college.  Im sure you dont want another bachelors degree as Chef Johnny might have mentioned since you have your Masters. 

Personally you should consider a career in the food field not in the kitchen since you have your masters already.  Im only saying this because by now you have probably figured out the money sucks and the hours are long.  Are you deadset on attending a culinary school?  I wish I had just started workign in the industry and skipped school and the 56 k I now owe. 

As to defend the CIA, a culinary school is what you make of it.  For those who drool over TFL it might be cool to be taught by a fish cook.  Personally I know that the chefs at the CIA NY have Michellin stars, have run major successful restaurants, and have more connectins in the industry than any other culinary school.  This is what it comes down too, connections.

The "fish cook" you refer to was just an example of ONE NEW chef that we got. If you want to compare, we also have starred chefs, chefs that have run multiple successful restaurants. Youre comment "we have more connections" crap, you and your buddy Chiantiglace should get some cold hard facts before you go rant.

My $.02

-Chef Johnny

Just curious, what second rate restaurants run by second rate chefs do you work at? Or maybe its a hotel restaurant. I take you both as the "union" type of people. In the lack of interest to make a seperate post, this is directed to yourself as well as Chiantiglace.

John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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One more thing, I never intended my original post to "bash" one school. Since J&W wasnt listed in Piperdown's original post, I thought Id add my school to the list. Just so everyone knows, all the crap thats being said now, has nothing to do with me. Im just defending my position on the topic. Thanks.

-Chef Johnny

Edited by ChefJohnny (log)

John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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No one is attacking you Chef Johnny. you might want to spend a little more time thinking about what you post before you post it. A lot of people here get affended, mainly because you can't put tone of voice in type.

Also, if you had read my post properly, at no point did I attack Johnson and Wales, nor did anyone else. You have to stop taking your school so seriously. And so what you think TFL has no CIA students, what does that mean? We can go on all day giving examples of great restaurants of CIA students and Johnson and Wales students. like Charlie Trotters and Alinea, but full of CIA graduates. Also Jean-Georges and Daniel Boulud. It really does not matter at all.

All that matters is what we do in life, and how we do it. It's wonderful that you worked at TFL, and now are doing your own thing, but try not to come off so arrogant about it.

And you can't say CIA is a lesser school, because you have no grounds to say that. Thats like a Yale student saying Harvard is lesser, it doesn't matter. You constantly thinking Johnson and Wales is better than CIA is not going to make you a better cook. So next time when giving someone advice, don't start off by saying anything about how yours is better, people take an offense instantly even if they agree with you. Try to list all the goods things aboutyour experience without bringing something or someone else down. If you took interpersonal skills, or even a resume class, or hell a speech, they would say very early in the discussion to never bring up downing points to the opposite party(s). It just makes there opinion of you diminish instantly.

you will probably get offended by some of the things I said, but I took my time to try and make it as gentle as possible. I know you are new to this soceity, try not to be so forward from here on out. I know I have gotten into trouble with that, and I didn't even realize I was being forward.

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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I'm sorry, I never meant for this to turn into a pissing contest about culinary schools. I just wanted to know why people chose the schools that they did, were you happy about the choice and what schools offered what. I also kind of wanted to know peoples opinions about schools based on the quality of people working beside them in the kitchens.

That being said I do appreciate all the information so far, it has been quite helpful. As to Johnson and Wales, the reason that they weren't on my list is because I hadn't yet recieved the information I requested. I just got their package yesterday though, so I'll read what they send in the next day or two. It does sound interesting though, and I know Rhode Island does have some great restaurants, which would make it easier to find employment while going to school.

I guess I should also mention some of the reasons I'm thinking of going to culinary school. I've always cooked, and always tried to experiment with new things. That being said I don't think I have the technical skills to really make it in a good kitchen right now. Being somewhat older, and just starting out, I feel that culinary school would give me a quick solid base, so that I could go into a real kitchen and start learning properly. I'm not one of those people that think I'll be a high level cook straight out of school. I pretty realistic about what it's going to take, and what I'll have to put up with to get there. This summer working in a restaurant was one of the hardest yet most fun of my life. I worked 65-70 hours a week, did 200-300 covers a day, and all for less then I was making stocking shelves in High school. But again I looked forward to coming to work every day.

So thanks again for all the information so far, and if people have more keep it coming, I really do appreciate it.

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I don't hear any discussion about schools in France or Italy. Is language the problem?

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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Le Cordon Bleu in Paris or London is not a bad way to go.

There are many many many threads on culinary schools you can find if you do a search. Every month someone seems to bring this topic back up, which may be a good thing because you constantly get new people chiming in.

Malawry also did a report on Le Acadamie De Cuisine in Washington DC. You can find that in the egullet fridge I think.

I guess a lot comes down to how much time and money you are willing to put in, as well as moving.

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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--By the way, you know youre from CIA if you spend half your life DEFENDING it against J&W. --

Funny, in the 15 years I've been out I've never once had J&W come up in conversation about serious cooking schools.

Really, then what schools come up (or came up) in conversation?

The most typical ones for me were J&W Providence (no other), CIA, Cordon Bleu (Paris), and FCI, also FPS for pastry. The J&W in Norfolk was an absolute horror story as well as a few of the Cordon Bleu's in America, thats why only the Paris and Providence are noted in my conversations with people.

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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Piperdown, I graduated from the CIA, so I highly recommend it to anyone. It was the right decission for me to go there, I learned a lot, got a lot of things to put on my resume and had a blast. However, that's my experience. Cooking school (even the CIA) can be a cruise if cruising by is all you're up to. It can also be very hard and time consuming if you are willing to volunteer, work and do more stuff with the instructors.

I think spending a great deal of time and money is an important decission. I don't want to get in this "my-school-is-better-than-yours" argument. I think i's better if you do some research. The CIA sells itself well, only by name, so they can afford to have a small section on thei webpage dovoted on choosing the right culinary school. Also, if you call, thay will be glad to send you more information like this (I've seen some brochures thay have).

Here's some of what it says:

Choose a college that will give you the greatest possible chance for success

Choose a school that emphasizes hands-on, in-kitchen learning and real restaurant experiences

Choose a school with a large faculty of experienced, diverse, and accomplished chefs

Choose an accredited college offering both associate and bachelor's degree programs

Choose a college offering a vital campus community and access to career and cultural resources

Choose a college that offers superior value, backed by a complete financial aid program

For the link, clickety here

Also important, choose the school you can afford and see if the location is convenient. Hyde Park is in the middle of nowhere, in a nice location by the hudson but far from many things. Sure, you're close to "the city" (about 2 hours from NYC) but you may want to work some on weekends, and when you get out, there's only two or three mediocre bars around.

Hope this helps

Follow me @chefcgarcia

Fábula, my restaurant in Santiago, Chile

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I graduated from one of the schools and have worked with and supervised graduates from all of the top schools, as well as students from local programs. I think that for most of the schools they are all the same, teaching the same technique and method. The brand name is only important to the current student and the recently graduated , and for those that culinary was the height of their accomplishments. Once you enter the field, it doesn't matter where you went, and no one really cares, its all about what you can do.I find it quite boring when someone years removed still wears their choice of school as a medal, as opposed to what they have accomplished.

So pick someplace that you can afford, in a region thats interesting and offers some opportunities for you. One of the better plans is offered at the Greenbrier, You work and take classes and after 2 years have a degree, all the whille climbing the ladder and making money, as opposed to just paying out and working when your schedual permits. Or just go and do a series of estagiers, go to the source.I also did this after school and it was way more educational than school.

Edited by Timh (log)
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I graduated from one of the schools and have worked with and supervised graduates from all of the top schools, as well as students from local programs. I think that for most of the schools they are all the same, teaching the same technique and method. The brand name is only important to the current student and the recently graduated , and for those that culinary was the height of their accomplishments. Once you enter the field, it doesn't matter where you went, and no one really cares, its all about what you can do.I find it  quite boring when someone years removed still wears their choice of school as a medal, as opposed to what they have accomplished.

So pick someplace that you can afford, in a region thats interesting and offers some opportunities for you. One of the better plans is offered at the Greenbrier, You work and take classes and after 2 years have a degree, all the whille climbing the ladder and making money, as opposed to just paying out and working when your schedual permits. Or just go and do a series of estagiers, go to the source.I also did this after school and it was way more educational than school.

TimH, I thank you for your common sense and objectivity. I think this is what piperdown was looking for in the first place. I heartily second your comments. I went to school after first working in a restaurant and deciding that it was what I wanted to spend some money on. Ultimately, you take from school what you put in (as in most things in life). It gives you time to play around with food and use ingredients you won't have time for or be allowed to play around with once you get a job. The only time I ask where someone went to school is when I see that they are a terrible worker and I ask, incredulously..."you went where? and spent how much?" of course, I'm saying that somewhat tongue-in-cheek :wink:

piperdown, if you've been working in a restaurant for a while and can see yourself doing it for at least another ten years, then school might be the right thing for you. just protect yourself from burning out (as this business can certainly do it to you), but at least you have your other education to fall back on if it doesn't work out :raz:

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--By the way, you know youre from CIA if you spend half your life DEFENDING it against J&W. --

Funny, in the 15 years I've been out I've never once had J&W come up in conversation about serious cooking schools.

Really, then what schools come up (or came up) in conversation?

The most typical ones for me were J&W Providence (no other), CIA, Cordon Bleu (Paris), and FCI, also FPS for pastry. The J&W in Norfolk was an absolute horror story as well as a few of the Cordon Bleu's in America, thats why only the Paris and Providence are noted in my conversations with people.

J&W Norfolk and J&W Charleston closed and both merged into one in Rawleigh NC. I happen to agree that Norfolk was absolutly terrible. Charleston was OK (I did a few competitions there) but the facilities were quite old. J&W NC is all brand new, and quite an incredible campus.

-Chef Johnny

John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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J&W Norfolk and J&W Charleston closed and both merged into one in Rawleigh NC.

Whoops--I'm pretty sure you meant Charlotte, NC--a good distance from Raleigh.

I attended L'academie de Cuisine in Gaithersburg, MD because I didn't want to move for culinary school, I didn't want to spend 2-4 years in culinary school when I already had a degree, and because it was a solid option. I am a big fan of my own alma mater (really, who isn't?), but I think the fit is the most important thing when choosing a school. If I'd been single and hadn't had a mortgage I probably would have tried for FCI since it's only a 9-month program and I would have enjoyed spending a year in NYC working while going to school. But that's not how my life was set up, and really, it hasn't hurt me.

I would seriously consider the length of the program when you choose a school. You've already been in school for, what, 6 years if you have a master's degree? Do you really want to devote another 2-4 and take on that much more debt to go into a poorly-paid field? I was in and out of my program in 1 year with 6 months of paid externship experience, which was great and got my foot in the doors where I needed it to be. I don't personally place much value on an associate's degree for an adult returning student. And nobody has really cared that I don't have an associate's--not even the community college culinary school where I now teach, which only cared that I had a BA plus my L'academie certificate and ServSafe certification.

I hope you can visit any serious contenders. Keep in mind that most students love where they go. You're probably more interested in the school's devotion to supporting its alumni--I have maintained close ties with the alumni director at L'academie, which is a fulfilling relationship that has paid off for me years after completing my certificate.

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Yes, this site has people with some serious self-confidence problems. I personally could care less about the CIA where I went to school. That being said I could also care less about J&W and the rest of them. Someone early said it correctly...you learn so much more outside of those confines of making antiquated food at culinary school in a single week in the biz than you will learn in two years at school.

Chef Johnny, just remember..its always the people who have to defend themselves and their skills who are the worst at what they do. This is especially true in the kitchen, I dont care where you worked.

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Someone early said it correctly...you learn so much more outside of those confines of making antiquated food at culinary school in a single week in the biz than you will learn in two years at school

I agree with this. Now thay are more relaxed, but at the CIA (and other schools too, I'm sure) they used to require six months working experience before you join. I agree. The actual "working" in the food business you will learn working, not schooling. So I think you have to taka full advantage of that requirement.

That being said, it's not a bad idea to go to school. Again, it's how you deal with it and the amount of work you are willing to put into that. In school you will learn the fundamentals. Some of them, I've never really used in the business, but I know them. And you really get a good base if you talk to all your instructors. After all, each one might add something to what you already knew, or even teach you a different way of doing it. The problem is the many students who go with a "I-already-know-this-stuff" attitude, and don't care to listen to what the chef says. Cooking school is not for everybody. A lot of people go and spend a lot of money, but they don't invest it, because they don't learn anything new. It's up to you how much you learn.

It's a great tool to have a lot of professionals to talk about cooking, and methodology, and fundamentals, and general experience. Yes, you will learn a lot more from a good chef wherever you are working, but s/he won't take the time to go over fundamentals like your instructors will. You will eventually pick up tha way your bosses want you to do things, but will not get rhe amount of imput you eill get at school.

I recently interviewed the executive chef at the Grand Hyatt, in Santiago (Chile), and we talked about culinary schools and the learning process. Him, being Italian, gave a good example. It's fantastic to have many people teach you ten different ways to make Pasta, because then you can make an educated decission on what techniques suits you best for each situation.

Follow me @chefcgarcia

Fábula, my restaurant in Santiago, Chile

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