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New England Culinary Institute


Pros: small class size, very hands-on, great location

Cons: very expensive

First off, a disclaimer; it has been 20 years, this year, since I graduated from NECI (New England Culinary Institute) in 1994.  In that time the school has changed a lot.  The restaurants I worked in no longer exist, but in their place newer, more high tech kitchens have been built.  The school has also expanded their offerings.  When I was there your only choice was their Associates degree.  At the time they did not offer a pastry and baking concentration, nor did they offer a Bachelors degree, both of which they offer now.


Two things that drew me to NECI, and which are still important tenets of the education system there, were the small class sizes and emphasis on hands-on training.  Unlike many culinary schools, you don't spend a lot of time "in the classroom" learning theory.  Instead you are thrown into the world of restaurant cooking, and all the pressures and stress that can come with that.  That's not to say it's a sink or swim situation.  The chef instructors are there to guide you, teach you and educate you all through the process, and with such small class sizes you are guaranteed a lot of one-on-one time with your instructor.  When I was there class sizes were 7 students per instructor, today class sizes are 10 students per instructor for hands on training and 30 students per instructor for classroom work.  This is still quite small and allows for plenty of student-teacher interaction. 


Since all the school's food outlets (restaurants, bakery, catering, and business dining cafeteria) are all "for profit" businesses, students get to experience real world conditions and the pressure to perform under, sometimes, less than ideal circumstances.  I find this a great part of the learning experience as it helps to separate those with the drive and passion to cook from those that want to get into the business because TV chefs make it look so glamorous.  The latter group doesn't last long here as they quickly discover that restaurant cooking lots of hard work, under stressful conditions and that glamor is virtually nonexistent.


Another of the great things of going to NECI is it's location in the heart of Vermont.  Montpelier, the capital of Vermont is very centrally located, which means that almost everything that Vermont has to offer is within 1-2 hours drive.  In fact, Montpelier basically is the campus for the school, with many of the restaurants located right downtown.  Love to ski, and are attending school in Winter?  There are 3-4 major ski resorts within 1 hour, plus a number of smaller ski resorts?  There in summertime?  Vermont hosts hundreds of festivals and fair all summer long, and just ask any 2nd year student where the great swimming holes are and they will point you to 4 or 5, all within a short driving distance.  And let's not forget that Vermont is a great agricultural state that has constantly been on the forefront of many culinary-agricultural movements such as craft brewing, artisan cheese-making, and farm-to-table restaurants.  Yes, Vermont has a lot to offer the students of NECI, not that you will have a ton of downtime to take advantage of it all, but you will find the time and then the state is open for your exploration.


Of course, this all comes at a price.  NECI is not cheap.  Cost of tuition, room and board, and books per year is approximately $32,000.  That's a lot of cash especially when most beginning cooks barely make above minimum wage.  When asked what I think of culinary school educations, I tell people that culinary school won't make you a chef, and you are sadly mistaken if you think you can graduate from school and take on a chef job, but what it does is fast track your career.  You effectively get the experience, in 2 years, that it would take you to gain in 5-8 years in the outside world,  helping you jump start your career.  Is it worth the price?  That is a question you will have to answer yourself, but for me it was well worth it.  Not only did I learn a lot and have a great time both on, and off, campus, it opened doors, for me, that probably wouldn't have been open without the name of NECI behind me.

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New England Culinary Institute

Small classes, hands-on learning and personal attention — for over 30 years this unique apprenticeship model has been the New England Culinary Institute’s recipe for success. With over fifty faculty members serving a student body of less than 300 students in residence, NECI students receive a level of personal attention and instruction that inspires them throughout their careers. Since 1980 NECI has grown from seven students in our first graduating class to an accomplished group of nearly 4,000 alumni. Throughout this time our commitment to small classes and intense real-life experience in a caring and personal community has never changed. Our unique and rewarding education is defined by students working side by side with skilled, dedicated chef-instructors in our celebrated teaching restaurants.

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