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Choosing a Culinary School

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save your money stage in some GREAT restaurants...


The complexity of flavor is a token of durable appreciation. Each Time you taste it, each time it's a different story, but each time it's not so different." Paul Verlaine

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so what about not going to school at all.......it seems that it's entirely possible to get through everything without any formal culinary training. Everyone is so hopped up on going to "formal" culinary training when it seems (to me) like the best way to learn how to do any of this is to 1)read and 2)try try again. Almost everything I know comes from experimenting around and sitting down in my kitchen for a few hours with a bag of potatoes practicing with my knife. For example, I had been making something almost exactly like a Romesco sauce for a few years, and didn't know what it was until I happened on a recipe that looked like it in a cookbook I had just bought.

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Just to weigh in on this very intersting thread. I went to the CIA in Hyde Park for five months (became an MD instead).

The CIA will not make you a good chef if you are not one already.

They taught me knife skills and knife sharpening techniques that I could have not learned elsewhere.

Learning cost control and nutition is a must before opening a place of your own.

The rest you can pick up on the job.

Aside from the above, the CIA degree is a pedigree which helps open doors, nothing else.

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Just to weigh in on this very intersting thread. I went to the CIA in Hyde Park for five months (became an MD instead). 

The CIA will not make you a good chef if you are not one already.

They taught me knife skills and knife sharpening techniques that I could have not learned elsewhere.

Learning cost control and nutition is a must before opening a place of your own.

The rest you can pick up on the job.

Aside from the above, the CIA degree is a pedigree which helps open doors, nothing else.

And for some of us, the networking capabilities is worth its weight and then some in the tuition debt.


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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And thats really the point of any of the "top" schools, the supposed opening of doors. But I feel safe at this point as a chef that the degree only merits a special look during try out. I know that I speak for others when I say that often I spend alot of time deprogramming the little androids from the cult of their education, waking them up to the real world, that of learning to do things MY WAY. I don't care how you did it at where ever under who ever, in my kitchen, its how I do it. So more often I look at experience and teachability over where they went.

Again I must reiterate the overall value of estagiers, you are able to focus on the style of cuisine you want instead of generalizations and short overviews.


Edited by Timh (log)

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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.

My mistake. Thanks for the correction. :)

-Chef Johnny


John Maher
Executive Chef/Owner
The Rogue Gentlemen

Richmond, VA

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This is what it comes down too, connections.

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.

greystone is only for further education and classes. beautiful facility filled with bed wetters...

Seriously, the best school i have gotten my cooks from has been the military! Great work ethics and hard workers. to be honest, most of the kids coming out of cooking schools these days are not cut from the same mold they were in my days...

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I've had this discussion before, and for me it all comes down to your attitude. Knowledge is power, but it's how you use it after you get it that makes the difference. I attended CIA when it still had some minimum entrance standards, but I could see that those were on the slippery slope to nonexistence even then. J&W was an up and comer but not quite on the same level. Fifteen years later it seems like there is a culinary academy on every corner. I've worked with CIA and J&W guys who were great, and some that could F up boiled water. I now tell people who are curious about school to get some experience first, do some stages and make sure that you know what you're in for. Don't waste your money from the get-go. I wish I had waited a little while instead of going in fresh out of High School. I also recommend checking out some of the better community college programs around. There are some serious programs producing fine cooks. Atlantic County Cape Community College outside of Atlantic City NJ is one, Sullivan Community College in Southern NY is another. I've had employees from these places who were just as good as any "big" school, and they paid a fraction of the cost.

I would also tell people that if they are looking into Western Culinary Institute in Portland, OR to spend their money on a new car or vacation instead. This school cranks out some of the most inept "cooks" I've ever seen.


Edited by Joisey (log)

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IMHO i would either go with a community apprenticeship program or just foget culinary school altogether. I for one have went to a culinary school which supposedly great but once i got into the doors i found that as long as you had themoney to pay for it your were in!. As far as connections go, i think that if you were really passionate and persistant you could get into any restaurant or at least die trying. I went to france and just knocked on doors and resulted in a commis posititon and a few stages at some great michelin restaurant. You have to be fearless and it takes alot out of you but its really a question of how much you want it. Although I am currently no in the industry at the moment, (personal reasons) i for one think that the exspensive "top" culinary schools are useless. IMO...

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I am a instructor at one of the big schools mentioned, and my $.02..... Work for a year before you make that decision, IMO 5 months is not enough time to decide if you want to do this for a career. If you do decide to go to school they all have pros and cons, culinary school is what you make of it. I see students that I know will end up working in construction within 5 years, and I see others who will go on the grace to covers of magazines. Best of luck to you.

top three schools in my opinion

CIA= name, prestige but big classes

J&W= Academia but not as much real world experience

NECI= Small classes and hands on experience, but not as much academia

Those are my top three in no particular order.

John

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ChefJ,

I am not an instructor but started a post yesterday begging this person to take longer than 5 months to make their decision. I just finished an MA as well. By the end of it I was so burnt out that I wanted to get my hands at anything, specially something creative. I grew up cooking and loved to cook. I went to cooking camp when i was 14! What I really do enjoy are pastries. SO I decided to work first in cake decorating at a bakery. I visited the French Pastry School in Chicago, and was ready to apply. It took me 6 months to figure out I did not want to get a pastry degree as I had thought. The funny thing is that this did not occur to me until that 6th month. The first 5 months were bliss. Because I was so convinced I wanted to go to a pastry school, before getting experience, I declined acceptance into some of the best PhD programs in the US. Well, now I miss academia terribly. The story is not a bad ending one because I would not have been able to figure out what I wanted to do without this time away from school. So now I am getting ready to start school next fall and am happy for the hiatus. It truly showed me what I wanted to do…but it was not pastry school. LOL.

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To update you all, I have decided to wait for culimary school. I'm in the process of trying to get into a really good kitchen (the one I work in now is OK, but not the level I want something better). I think I do need to see more of the industry before I make the time and financial commitment of school.

I talked to a chef I really respected the other day, and he had similar advice. He also had quite the opinions of some of the schools which was helpful.

Thanks to everyone for their advice and recommendations, they've really helped a lot.


Edited by piperdown (log)

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Ive been cooking for 6 years now and I do know for a fact that this going to be my career. Im also 3 months away from having a university degree in the humanities. Im also a culinary school drop out. This is a set up to people who dont feel that the school you goes to matters. I addended a very basic community college in ontatio, a prorgam that had just started up. I thought that one school was as good as another, they all taught the same thing right? Of a class of 30 I was one of four people who had any sort of culinary backround. At this point I was 20. The instructors there were mainly from cafaterias or were sous chefs from local unnoteworthy restaurants. During lectures they would talk about low income, divorce and drug habbits. They also talked about emulsions and stocks and the like. During some practicals we would have a shortage of say eggs, so we would watch the chef instructor make a mayonaise and then say " so thats how you do that." A friend of mine won a measuring spoon set for his knife skills and the head of the program came up to us, pointed out the seaspoon and very mater of factly said "that is the perfect one for little bumps of coke." Of the 30 people in the program ( this was 3 years ago,) only 5 of them are now cooking. I beleive they are in some local unnoteworthy places a hospital and a prison. When I was there I would mention books like the french laundry and escoffier and always recieved blank stares. I left after 2 months, returned to full time studies at university. Since then Ive apprenticed under some very fine local chefs and have done stages during my summer holidays. In canada they have a trade certification program the red seal. I dont know what it is in america, but I am planning on wirting the test sometime in the next few months. So to anyone who doesnt think that that the choice of school is important I really beg to differ. You want to go to a school where the teachers are passinate and have established good names for themselves in the industry. Also look for a place that is selective about who they pick. Ideally a place with older students, who have been working in the field for a few years and want to solidify their skills, as well as atain a recognized degree. I have worked with many culinary school students and have seen many young people realize that after a year they dont want to doit anymore. I also find myself explaining basic concepts to the current students from time to time.

Im personally planning on attending Le cordon Bleu in Ottawa next winter. After seeing some lectures and talking to some Chefs there it seems like the right fit. The average age there is around 24 and they have a high level of success. They also have some very impressive hook ups for their students when they graduate. As well as sepcialized courses in pastry and ice carving. I hope my own story can be of some guidance to you.

As well are there any LCB grads out there currently? Or some chefs who have hired alot of these people? It would be nice to get as many opinions as I can before I head back to culinary school.

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No matter what cooking school you go to, in the end you are 100% responsible for the level of knowledge, skills, and experience you will ultimately gain while in culinary school.

As a graduate of the CIA, I have seen fellow students who cruised through 2 years without any significant improvement. I have seen final year students who

still did not know how to saute a piece of fish or even handle a knife proficiently.

In other words, you have to decide what you want and need to learn during your time at culinary school and this involves extra effort on your part. CIA is an excellent school if you take the time and effort to take advantage of what it has to offer -- I think that this is the case for other well known cooking schools as well.

As a career changer with an MBA, I was in a similar situation as yourself when I was considering attending culinary school. You should probably think about the

opportunity cost involved in attending culinary school. Is the financial return sufficient enough for you to give up what you are doing now to spend 1~2 years without income (or drastically reduced income)? This question becomes even more difficult if you are married and even more so if you have kids to support.

Although passion and love of cooking are good enough reasons to pursue a possible career in this field if you are young and unattached, they are not sufficient enough reasons to make a drastic switch into cooking when you have had some real experience working and living in the real world (a career, marriage, etc...).


Edited by thdad (log)

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Lots of CIA grads on here, and as one of them I will say that I did learn more than just knife skills and basic cooking techniques at the place. If I didn't it would have been one big crock because I'd learned all that stuff in a high school vocational program that I had taken.

Again, there's a lot of pros and cons to going to culinary school, whichever one you choose, but I will say going there A) taught me a lot of book knowledge B) put me around a lot of like-minded individuals (those who loved to cook, but was just starting out) in which I grew with and was really able to relate to both during my time there and now after I've graduated. and C) gave me the necessary skills for me to start my culinary career and point me in the right direction of where I want to go. Going to culinary school will give you a lot of knowledge you need to know and probably also a lot of knowledge you'll never use in your life again, but either way going to culinary school will give you a great base that you may or may not get from working in restaurants (some places just don't have the time for you to feel your way through trying to get all the terms/techniques down) If you have a restaurant with a chef that's will you teach you from the ground up, then by all means, go for it. If you think that having a school education would be better where you can go as slow or fast as you want to go (in a block at least, haha), then do that.

either way, best of luck

And Chef Johnny: I know at least six people that had externed at TFL from CIA, one of which left a few months ago and one who is still currently there, so maybe the time you were there, there was just a dry spell, eh? I've worked for chefs who did come from CIA, and chefs that haven't and I have respected them all. None of them are what you would call "cut-rate" Either way we can all get a good education and good skills from any school as long as long as you put the work in.

And can't we all just get along?


Edited by tetsujustin (log)

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Any school (in any field) offers three things:

1) The opportunity to learn. Different schools will have different limits, but if you don't put in the effort to learn, the fact that you *could* have learned more at one school than another doesn't matter.

2) Professional networking. Different schools can put you into contact with people in the field, and open up opportunities. Consider someone studying Drama in New York or LA, versus someone studying it in North Dakota. One of these offers more networking opportunities than the other.

3) A credential. The credential (essentially a loan of reputation from the school to you) is a statement that the school considers you to have a certain set of capabilities. How much this is worth will vary based on the field, the school, and on the person considering the credential. If they have had good experiences with graduates from that program, it can be a big plus. If they have had bad experiences, it may be a major negative.

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I went Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, 1979, after working six years in restaurants here in the US: steak and seafood, continental, and French places. At the French place, I apprenticed classically for 18 months; working the last four years while attending college. After my degree in History, minor in French language, I went to Paris and to Le Cordon Bleu (then at the old campus.) I externed at Taillevent and Tour D'Argent. It made all the difference, you'll never learn how to really cook in the US.

I refuse to hire cooks from CIA: in debt up to their eyeballs; they hate to sweat; their food is so CIA-ee, booooooring. Example:

http://www.zootrestaurant.com/default.cfm?id=3

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I went Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, 1979, after working six years in restaurants here in the US: steak and seafood, continental, and French places. At the French place, I apprenticed classically for 18 months; working the last four years while attending college. After my degree in History, minor in French language, I went to Paris and to Le Cordon Bleu (then at the old campus.) I externed at Taillevent and Tour D'Argent. It made all the difference, you'll never learn how to really cook in the US.

I refuse to hire cooks from CIA: in debt up to their eyeballs; they hate to sweat; their food is so CIA-ee, booooooring. Example:

http://www.zootrestaurant.com/default.cfm?id=3

Tell that to Grant Achatz.

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I would love to hire a culinary school grad, but everyone of them that has walked in the door for a job seems to believe they deserve to start at the top, as if school equals experience and talent. I agree with earlier comments on the value of traditional apprenticeships to learn the craft. Living and working in a culture of food(France, Italy, etc)is an intangible that just doesn't exist here. After school(Johnson & Wales,SC) I apprenticed for two years in Japan and then another two years in Paris. Even after that, when I returned to the states, I still stepped back in at mid to high level line position and subsequent pay.

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First, I opologize for being rude in the above post. I have, and will again, hire CIA grads, but WITH restaurant experiece. As for the food, there has been a leveling of style and quality that lacks imagination from cooks from all schools, which I call "text book food". I would like some sort formal curriculum that creates great cooks, like everyone else, but it just doesn't happen. Cooks need to be in a restaurant inventing dishes, creating menus, seeing what patrons will and won't eat. I will say, for sure, that the schools are an advantage to the industry as they do raise the bar overall. So... I'll hire a CIA grad, with two years experience, start in the pantry. :biggrin:

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First, I opologize for being rude in the above post. I have, and will again, hire CIA grads, but WITH restaurant experiece. As for the food, there has been a leveling of style and quality that lacks imagination from cooks from all schools, which I call "text book food". I would like some sort formal curriculum that creates great cooks, like everyone else, but it just doesn't happen. Cooks need to be in a restaurant inventing dishes, creating menus, seeing what patrons will and won't eat. I will say, for sure, that the schools are an advantage to the industry as they do raise the bar overall. So... I'll hire a CIA grad, with two years experience, start in the pantry.  :biggrin:

So what are you cooking that isn't "text book" food?


Rico

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OK I'll make this fast and try not to bruise egos.

(in no order)

1. Don't underestimate the graduate of (insert respected school here)'s desire to effectively create "value" for their school. They "bought in" to this school and want their education to have as much value as it can bring into the marketplace (especially after dropping 40 grand). I should add that the networking power (read: fraternity/sorority) should be respected at each respective school and might come in handy.

2. Go to school in France

3. Stage

4. Work off the clock

5. Work for free

6. Be friendly with graduates of above schools, thus receiving "invitation" to their "fraternity/sorority."

7. Pray...

good luck

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I am new to this eGullet so forgive me if I do something wrong. Look I think all culinary schools are important in their own way. Me, I am a CIA grad. I chose the school after looking at lots of places. I am a career changer, being in the real world for 10 years before making a switch. The CIA for an older student is the only school. See the CIA helps older career changers because it is considered one of the best in the world...now I am not saying that FCI, NECI, JW are not fine schools they are and you can make the best of any situation. I wanted the best foundation because I don't have as much time as some of the kids in typical culinary classes and I wanted that wow factor on my resume... I went in in March and my class only had a couple of HS grads - everyone else had degrees. Of the 15 after we split up after the first few classes with all of the students that was amazing....Our class was the one mentioned in Michael Ruhlmans new book Reach Of A Chef, in which he specifically mentions all of our careers and even me by name. CIA had more to offer in several areas. Not only world class chefs - but as someone else said contacts - HIGH contacts. My resume has not been questioned as I just moved and been looking for a job a week or so. I had 4 CMCs - and a CMB (Baking) in my rotation. They are amazing to see and watch - but demand excellence. I did my extern in Boca Raton Fl at a high end club. The Exec Chef, Sous Chef and Banquet Chef were CIA. They told that they had lots of externs from the FCI where I think they told me that the majority of staff were CIA grads - well since I graduation I have had no trouble - the CIA is a great thing to have on your resume - I have never had to explain my decisionto go to the best to anyone - nor should anyone else going to other programs - difference - yes - but when it all comes down to it - we all love food.

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