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Choosing Schools

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 
I know that this question has been asked before and I have read many of the posts on this subject but I haven't really seen a full answer. I am starting to look for colleges for my daughter (who is now a junior in high school). I have told her that I want her to get a bachelors degree and she has chosen culinary arts. The only school that I've heard of which awards a B.A. is CIA. They require 6 months of work experiance which would be very difficult for my daughter to get since she is in a private boarding school and her day schedule doesn't allow for a job.

I would also like to know what the "prestigious" culinary schools are. In other words, if someone is going for a job interview which schools are more likely to help get them the job (or even interview)? I know that "you get what you put in" to a school but there must be better and worse schools. Also, I've noticed that some schools are "Cordon Bleu" and I assume this means that they follow a certain curriculum but is it better than a non-cordon bleu school?

Lastly, and least importantly, what can a chef with a couple of years experiance expect to make? I don't mean a well known or highly acclaimed chef, just an average chef with a B.A..

Thank you in advance for any replies.
post #2 of 16
Here's my advice since you asked for it.

First off, I believe Johnson and Wales University also offers a B.A. in Culinary Arts. They have several campuses...some in New England, in Florida, and in Denver.

As far as "prestigious" cooking schools, well, the CIA is pretty much the most famous. J & W is highly regarded as well, as is New England Culinary Institute (NECI). There are other, regional cooking schools too, such as the California Culinary Academy, etc.

From what I can gather, talking with other chefs both here and in real life, and from books, magazines, etc...the cooking school isn't as important as character. Many chefs take immigrant dishwashers and teach them how to cook, rather than cooking school students. Why? Because you'd rather have someone who you know isn't going to call in sick, isn't going to be late to work, etc, than someone with less than adequate work habits but knows how to cook.

BUT, a degree from CIA, J&W, NECI, etc will most likely get her foot in the door, it won't necesarily get her a job. Those schools do have good networking and a boatload of chef alumni, so take that into consideration as well.

As far as Le Cordon Blue, that is based on a Paris (basically, the most famous cooking program in Europe) cooking program that now has "branches" in other parts of the world...like London, Australia, Canada, and now the US. Is it worth the high price? Depends who you ask. "Better" is such a subjective term I hesistate to answer it. It's kind of like a name brand. Is a "Nike" shoe really better than a non name brand? Maybe. But you are paying for the name, not the shoe. (hope that makes sense).

Also, your question of salary has a HUGE range of possibilities. Right out of school, she won't make much money at all. Most likely, she won't even be considered a "chef." And, if she does get offered and takes a chef's job, she'll be in way over her head. Most likely she'll be a line cook, or a prep cook, or something along those lines.

She may expect to make anywhere between 20,000 dollars and 30,000 dollars, depending on where she works and how generous the company is.

Now, like any career, she has potential to move up. Head chefs at large, multi-million dollar restaraunts can make 60, 80, 100 grand a year. MOST don't however. Tell your daughter, and yourself, NOBODY becomes a chef for the money.

Lastly, the CIA specifically requires 6-months working in a kithcen for a reason. Being a cook/chef is hard work. Very hard work. On your feet 8, 10, 12+ hours a day. 1 break if you are lucky. Your feet will hurt EVERYDAY. It's hot in the kitchen. Easily gets up to 100 degrees (burners on full heat, ovens, steamers, broilers, etc). You most likely work in cramped conditions, constantly squeezing by your coworkers. She will mostly work with, for lack of a better term, "*******" male guys, machismo filled dickwads who might grab her *** and make kissy faces at her. (Not all, but some may--be prepared). She'll have to be good at handling stress--people yelling at you for food, she may be working on a dozen or more orders at a time--she'll have to be organized and not panic. She'll be lifting heavy things, trays of food, meat, dough--whatever. She'll be squatting down and reaching into her low refrigerator for food to cook--about 100 times a night. She'll be bending, twisting, lifting, etc. Then she'll have to clean the enormous mess she's made. Scrubbing, mopping, wiping, polishing, etc. She'll work just about every night. She won't have Friday or Saturday nights off anymore. There's a lot of drug use, and alcohol and drug abuse in the culinary feild. It's hard to have a family and a social life with people outside of the business. It's extremely insular and disfuntional.

(DISCLAIMER: the above is a generalization. It's not all like that. However, she should be prepared to face some/all of the above throughout her career)

If your daughter is truly serious about pursuing this career, then I'm going to suggest something you won't like. First off...let it sit a while. She's a junior, you said, so in 6 months she may decided that cooking isn't what she wants to do after all. It's good you are getting a head start, but don't panic yet. Now, when it gets time to pick a college, if she STILL wants to be a chef, then I siggest she takes a year off from school (or, at least, the CIA mandated 6 months) and work in a kitchen. It will quickly tell her if she wants to do this for her career. She'll realize, sitting there peeling her 10th sack of potatos in one day, that she actually doesn't want to do this. She'll know. Hey, is it possible for her to get a weekend job? Maybe one of the chefs in town could use her Saturday morning to chop veggies or something? Something is better than nothing I think...

The reason to do this is so that she doens't go to the CIA (or wherever), spend a semester there (along with 30,000 dollars) and decides she doesn't like it. What then? You're out a lot of money and time. Or what happens if you guys force her to go to a traditional college, and she hates it and flunks out after 2 years?

It's important for her to know what she's getting into. Too many people are attracted by the celebrity chef image. They think it's all Emeril and Rachel Ray and think, "Hey, that'd be FUN! I can do that!" But then are quickly brought back to reality.

Of course, there are other avenues to culinary success. She could be a caterer, a private chef, a pastry chef, a R & D chef (you know, the person who works for Kraft and makes new frozen food entrees). Restaraunt work is but one facet of what you can do. But, most likely, either for her Cooking School externship or just for job related experience, she will need to put some time in on the line.

Hope I helped somewhat, and good luck to you guys. BTW, there are several books on the subject of cooking shools and cooking. THey are generally near the cookbook section in bookstores and have all sorts of great info. There are even Cooking School guides which list just about every cooking program in the country (including class size, price, coursework, admissions requirements, etc).

Good luck.

post #3 of 16
Thread Starter 


Thank you, Someday! That was very informative! My wife just suggested that we speak to her dean and see if she can work in the cafeteria on the weekends. Not what the CIA is looking for, I'm sure but it would help her decide if she wants to go this route. She does love to cook but I also wonder if she'll really be happy doing it for a living. I'm going to print and show her your post, thanks again it really is appreciated.
post #4 of 16
Hello Greg!

Im a 2nd year student studying culinary arts at Johnson and Wales University . Three years ago I had the same conversation you are having with your daughter with my parents.

First JWU does offer batchlor programs in Culinary Arts, Nutrition, Food Service Management, Food and Beverage Manage and over 100 other majors from the colleges of Culinary Arts, Business, Hospitality, and Technology. Second, my parents and I chose JWU because it is a full university, not just a culinary school. I take my English and math classes with criminal justice majors, baking and pastry majors, and accounting majors. We have everything from Greek life to athletics, so I am getting the "full" college experience.

Additionally, JWU does not require work experience, but it is suggested. Getting a part time job at a restaurant is a great start for anybody interested. That way your daughter will know for sure that she really wants to do this before the tutition is forked over.

I think Someday's salary info is a little on the low side. I am only a second year student and I make more than that. A great source of salary info for restaurant professionals can be found here

I hoped I helped, if you or your daughter would like more info about life at JWU please see KateW's posts further down this forum or I am always chatting to future culinary students on AOL instant messengar. my screename is: chefparsley. Good Luck!!

Andrew Lynch

"Ladies and Gentlemen today is the first day of the rest of your life. You have choosen to educate yourself for a carreer where you must work harder, faster, and better than you did the day before. You must stand tall everyday because you are becomming a chef. We will settle for your best, perfection is our goal. Welcome to Johnson and Wales University." -speech given to culinary students on day one.
post #5 of 16
First off you are saying *you* want her to get a bachelor's degree. It's nice of you to let her pick her own major but forcing her into 4 years of school may backfire. My room mate last year has very forceful parents who are making her go to jwu for 4 years. They make her miserable, ruling her with an iron fist. Last year she was borderline slacker, missing school every once in a while and not really trying her hardest when she did go. This year it's twice as bad (thank heaven I'm not living with her this year) and it is all in defiance of her parents. So, while a BA is probably the best way to go, you want her to do it on her own will, not yours. And yes, let her think it over too. Have her take a year off after high school and travel, work, or do whatever she wants to do before she commits to something in college.
When I was looking for culinary schools I too came and asked which one I should go to. Well, I realize now there is no real answer. You have to sum up what is important to you--class size, classes and majors offered, scheduling, past experience requirements, cost, proximity to home, extracurricular activities offered, the area it is in, and more. There is no way we can look inside your brain and tell you what's best for you and it is even harder for us to tell you what is right for your daughter because we haven't heard from her yet.
post #6 of 16
She can go to UNLV and hang out in "Sin City" and get a degree in Culinary Arts Management. No 6-months experience required for admissions. Not to say anything about CIA (VERY nice school). If you are money conscious.......
Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

Mankind Enjoying Animal Tastiness
Talent hits a target no one else can hit; Genius hits a target no one else can see.
Arthur Schopenhauer (1788 - 1860)

Mankind Enjoying Animal Tastiness
post #7 of 16

more information

New England Culinary Institute also offers a BA program. You complete an associate's degree in either culinary arts or food & beverage management, then enroll in the BA. It is 3 or 3 1/2 years depending on whether you have a culinary or a management focus (management is a little longer). You are not locked into a BA from the time you get there, but the option is open to you.

I don't believe the CIA is really that strict about work experience anymore. They just tell people that because it is good to get it. Your daughter will most likely be accepted, experience or not. But I would second "Someday" that it is best to have the experience before school so she knows for sure if it is what she wants to do. A good culinary program (like NECI's) will be demanding enough that she will want to be sure this is what she wants to do before enrolling. Working in the school cafeteria would give her a start.

NECI runs full-time, full-service restaurants with students working the line, baking the goods, and running the front of the house (under guidance from instructors), so it really mirrors the industry. It requires 2 six-month work internships for both programs. By the time she graduates your daughter would know if this was really the industry for her, without having to first get a post-school job and learn about the "real" business. If she'd rather be a personal chef or a food writer or work in a test kitchen she will be ready to pursue that option, because she's already had the kitchen experience, not just watching demos.

I do work for the school, but not in admissions. I'd be happy to answer any questions you have (cheffan@hotmail.com). The best thing is to tour the schools with your daughter in her junior year to get a sense of which one would be right for her. The most well-known or "prestigious" schools are probably J&W (Providence only), CIA and NECI, although NECI is much smaller, and if you are in MA it would be easy to visit all of them.

Also, the "Cordon Bleu" is essentially a franchise. Some of them are better than others, they all follow the same curriculum, which is sort of based on the traditional Cordon Bleu school in France. My personal experience has been that they do not have a strong reputation in the industry.

I know many VERY proud parents of culinary school graduates, maybe you will be one of them! Another good resource could be Women Chefs and Restauranteurs, www.womenchefs.org.
post #8 of 16
Thread Starter 

Thank You

I just wanted to thank those of you who replied. The information is very helpful. We have narrowed the search down to J&W, CIA and NECI. We're planning on going to see each one (NECI first since it's closest and I think she'll really like Montpilier). I was going to wait and see how she likes cafeteria duty first but decided that seeing the schools couldn't hurt in any event.

Again, Thank you for the great replies!
post #9 of 16
One thing--she might love cooking but hate cafeteria duty...I've never worked in a cafeteria but it doesn't look like a whole lot of fun nor does it look like anything she might be doing when she gets out of school.
post #10 of 16
I dunno Kate. While I understand your point, a job in a cafeteria would give her at least a small taste of life in a kitchen. While I doubt it's where she wants to end up, it's probably a good start. Many famous Chefs start out as dishwashers or other equally "low" posistions, don't they?

Greg, I would just remind her that it won't always be like that.

post #11 of 16
NECI has a reputation in the business for turning out well-trained people with a good head on their shoulders. They don't come out feeling they are "too good" to do prep, or wash dishes, or whatever else needs to be done. One chef I worked with from there was terrific, very knowledgable, and had great attitude (he would have been the first to tell you that he wasn't a chef until years after he finished school).

As for cafeteria duty as a jumping-off point: ANY kind of hands-on experience now is good. Who knows what she'll be doing when she finishes school? Not everyone goes into restaurants, or even into kitchens. A good school will help her figure out which aspect of the food business is best for her. It could be cooking in a restaurant or institution, or testing recipes, or research and development, or nutrition, or writing/editing, food styling, or manufacturing -- there is so much more to life in food than cooking! (I know, because I've done several of those since I graduated 7 years ago.)
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
"Notorious stickler" -- The New York Times, January 4, 2004
post #12 of 16
Right, I just meant that her like or dislike of that particular job may end up meaning nothing in the end. Like Suzanne said, there are so many different aspects of cooking and the food industry that one cafeteria job won't really tell you if culinary is right for you.
post #13 of 16
I would just like to say as a johnson and wales student and working with a executive chef from the neci he says that neci is a school only driven for money and not toward the student which is why he switched to the scottsdale university wich is better it is geared more for the students but I personally like J&W but it is your decision


post #14 of 16
Some people don't like NECI because it is very intensive --- your friend may be one of them, it sounds like he is because he transferred. I can tell you for a fact they are definitely not interested in the money...you won't see any fancy cars in the administrative parking lot here. It is a tough program to run because of the balance between running the outlets as professionally as possible and educating the student, but they are upfront about that to prospective students.

I have heard the same thing (that the school is only interested in your money) about J&W from people who have gone there, so it just shows that you need to talk to many people. You really learn the most from those who are positive about the school, not negative.

Talk to people who loved their school and ask them why. A NECI student might tell you they loved the sheer toughness of the program, and the amount of time they got to spend with their chefs. A CIA student might tell you they loved the academic challenges or the beautiful campus. A J&W student may tell you they loved only going to school 4 days a week! Then decide which one sounds more like you...and that will be the right school for you.
post #15 of 16
Well there are some really discouraging things about JWU that make it seem like they are in it for the money. Like when they overbook the dorm rooms so much that 20 people are living in the rec room for 2 weeks, or people who attend culinary have to live downtown or vice versa. Or when the AC breaks for 3 days in the beginning of September or they switch over to the heat and then we get a week of temps in the 70's.
But then you get a really awesome chef who makes up for whatever's lacking, or you learn something really valuable, or you realize you can carry over what you're learning to that job of yours...
You can go to whatever awesome perfect school you want, the one that makes you wake up at 3 in the morning every day and go to your classes 5 or 6 days a week or whatever, with only 2 days of break per year but if you aren't into it and you're not learning you might as well teach yourself to cook because then you won't be wasting other people's time and your money or the money of whoever is paying for your "Ivy League" cooking school.
Yes, I love the fact that JWU has 4 days of school. It gives me more time to work hard and play hard on the weekends. It gives me time to work on projects instead of starting them the night before, or the morning of the due date like most of the people I know. Yesterday I had a project due, a quiz, and I was sous chef of the day, and I pulled it all off, even after chef said he didn't expect great quizzes because we'd be busting our *** on the project. I got a 100 on the quiz.
Sorry for the rant
:D :D :D
post #16 of 16
You are exactly right. Schools are tough to run and some students are quick to criticize. The most successful students will be those who find the positives in their program and make the most of them. You definitely get out of it what you put into it.

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