“Does my daughter need to go to a “big” named culinary school?”
Because of the number of popular culinary schools I have posted on my web site, a lot of email is sent my way from high school students and their parents wanting to know more about attending culinary school.
One of those emails was from Vicky, whose daughter is interested in going to culinary school for pastry/baking. Here’s what she wrote:
Hi RG! I have a 16-year-old daughter who’s interested in cooking school. We’ve started to look at this a bit and are curious if it’s necessary/best to go to one of the “big” schools–such as CIA or Le Cordon Bleu. She’s interested in pastry/baking and her goal would NOT be to work in a big name restaurant, but probably something smaller. Do smaller schools, tech schools allow people to get the necessary skills–and a job! — or is it a situation where you must go to a “name” school. Thanks for any thoughts you can share.
I immediately sent this email to Chef Leslie Bilderback, Certified Master Baker and author of Success as a Chef. Not only did she attend a “big name” culinary school, but also taught at the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, CA and then was the Executive Chef at CSC when it partnered with Le Cordon Bleu.
As she mentions in her response, her book Success as a Chef was written with questions like this in mind. I really appreciate her honesty in her reply. Chef Leslie doesn’t candy coat a career in the food industry. Just the opposite, she comes right out and states culinary school is not right for everyone and “most students are not the right type” to go to one.
Read her response to Vicky to see why and whom the “right type” is who will do well in culinary school and be successful in the food industry.
From Chef Bilderback, Certified Master Baker
Dear Vicky, first, without seeming like I am pushing my book, I really wrote it exactly for this situation, so if you get a chance to look at it, I think you should. There is a lot of pertinent information for just this occasion.
I have a couple of points to make. First, here is the low down on culinary schools: They are expensive, and they do not necessarily prepare you for the real world. Big or small, the education is generally the same. Cooking skills don’t change much. And the name of the school will only get her in the door. It’s her skill that will get her the job.
Please understand, I went to a big culinary school, I taught at one, and I was the Executive Chef of one. They can be terrific for the right type of person. But most students are not the right type.
The right type knows exactly what their dream culinary career entails. They have researched the job market, including job availability, salaries, and competition. They know from experience what a food-service job entails, because they have already worked in food service, and they love it. (They love the sweaty heat, the tired aching feet, the foul language, alcoholism and drug abuse, low pay, no paid vacation or health insurance”¦unless they join a union.)
They are comfortable working for someone else; they know how to take direction, and criticism. Also, the right type of culinary student has no delusions of grandeur. They know, and are comfortable with, the fact that very few culinarians become rich and famous. (Most barely make it a year in the industry. Some hang in for 2 or 3 years before giving up.) The success rate of small restaurants and bakeries is pretty low, too.
The culinary schools are not packed with these kinds of students because they have little criteria for entrance. We use to joke that all a student needed to get into our school was a checkbook and a pulse. I know there are schools out there with integrity. I’m just not sure which ones they are. (In my book, I have lists of questions you should be asking these institutions).
My second point is that the best pastry chefs are good cooks first. It is better for a career to know it all, and then specialize. You are more marketable, more versatile, and more respected if you have a culinary degree, not just a pastry diploma. It’s like going to high school and only taking electives. You won’t get very far.
One last thing…
As a food service professional, and a parent, I strongly encourage kids to at least get an AA degree, if not a full on BA. If this means a couple years at the local JC, (perhaps while trying out a food service job) it’s totally worth it in the long run. Many, many things change in the future, and no one gets very far, even in food service, without a degree.
And FYI mom, culinary school aint cheap. And student loans are hard to pay back with a $9/hour bakery job. Be sure to look into that end (also covered in my book).
Sorry to be kind of a downer. It is a problem in our industry, thanks to food TV, that too many of the wrong type are flooding the market. They graduate school, get a job, decide it’s not for them, and then quit. The restaurant is then saddled with more recruitment and training costs, which in turn keeps overall salaries down. We will never raise this industry to the level it deserves unless this stops. So people out there”¦be sure it’s what you want!!
And if it is Best of Luck!