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your $0.02

post #1 of 34
Thread Starter 
am in my late 20s, working in IT for past 7-8 years, graduated with a CS degree from a pvt univ. and am at the doorstep of a 3rd layoff.

my experience in the food industry involves working at a Subway in various shifts including closing, opening, prep, clean, sweep, mop and clean toilets ...

without any kind of training even tried to run a home-catering business which failed miserably.

love for cooking arises from my love to eat and love for the why, what, where, when, how, etc. for food... and a thirst to cook.

always been a closet-chef (using the term liberally here). see foodtv a lot. seems like I am enchanted with the prospect of being a cook / chef...

have done some preliminary research in the Chicago area and have come up with Kendall, Robert Morris, CIA, Chic.
And these are from online searches, nothing in person.
One demoralizing factor is $$ which I have heard will range from 15 K to infinity... and just got off student loans from my ug.

would any / all of you like to drop your $0.02 and help me suggest college / course work. I know degree might not be for me. So certificate / assoc. might be a way to go. But don't know if these schools are worth it or just have a good marketing engine...
post #2 of 34
You start at under $10/hr. Don't mean to be blunt. It's different if you're 18 and you don't have bills. My suggestion: MBA from Loyola, indulge in your passion at 36 without worrying about student loans. :)
post #3 of 34
Thread Starter 


though I agree with you but I really want to have a feel for it right now.
for example, I had persued a PhD during my UG in Computer Sci. only to find out it was not for me. The experience left me wise but I know I don't want to go down that path again.

right now, I am enchanted with cooking. and was quite happy managing the subway restaurant too. it was a lot of work and sometimes it was quite thankless (when one customer would spoil it for you for the rest of the day / night).

the reason I want to persue some school work is to see if it is for me or to get dis-enchanted (if there is a word)

am trying to find some genuine school and would like to feed off the experience of the community here.
post #4 of 34
Are you wondering if school is right for you or if working in the industry is the right thing for you? They're two totally different things. Some people thrive when working under good chefs and with people who share the same passion.
Also consider this. You're going back to school to hang out with a different age group. Think college freshman type. Can you deal with that? Have you read some of the other threads on the same subject? There are at least two or three in some guise or other on every page.
post #5 of 34
Thread Starter 


hanging out or working with freshman doesn't bother me. and yes working in the industry will be different from learning in the classroom.

I believe what I am seeking for is knowledge - of cooking. from being random haphazard to being methodical and goal oriented. like everyone can have a webpage or blog but not all can find joy in programming.

guess have done blogging-type work in cooking / kitchen. now, want to do the programming equivalent. want to see if that will suck out the fun of cooking or not. and if it doesn't, then is it something that I will have fun doing for a career (change)

that is why I need help in looking at a good school - practical school and for now I have a list of following in the Chicago area:
Robert Morris

so I guess I am looking for help in finding a good school amongst the list (or more) with practical approach to learn skill of cooking.
post #6 of 34
I didn't go to school. I just learned along the way. I've hired people from Kendall College and from Elgin CC. Both were seriously lacking on the fundamentals and practical side. A friend of mine went to CHIC but I've lost contact with him.

I think, whatever you do, try to get on the culinary team. Given that you have a good coach, this is the ultimate culmination of all you learn. You go to class, you have lab, and then you have team practice all semester long where you reiterate what you learn in class and lab. You learn a little bit about pressure (not real world of course, worse in a hot kitchen) and a little (more) about working with people.
post #7 of 34
Thread Starter 


wow - that was nice of you Kuan, your insight is really helpful.
I appreciate your time spent in guiding me.

So from what you have said - it wouldn't matter what school I go to but what would matter would be what I pick up from the opportunity.

And from the reviews and discussions on this forum, I have gained that CIA and CHIC are for real and not publicity/marketing driven places. Kendall seems like a reputed institute in the chicagoland area. and robert moris is fairly new.

so for what I need to do, anyone (or even community colleges as you have suggested) would be fine.

I might sound stupid in asking - what is a culinery team?
are you aiming at actually working in a restaurant??
post #8 of 34
There's only one Cordon Bleu branded program in America that I'd trust, that's the Cordon Bleu in Portland, OR.

I don't want to sound like a broken record, but it _really_ is up to the student. I can say that all the colleges you mentioned with the exception of Robert Morris are good. I don't know about Robert Morris. Too many TV ads for me to take them seriously. It's almost like those ambulance chasing law firms which advertise on TV... Larry Parker got me 2.1 million! ;)

Culinary teams compete in culinary competitions. Many schools have student teams and they compete in the student team category. Each student is responsible for one dish, like dessert or entree. They have a limited amount of time to finish four plates of each. They compete in locals, then regionals, and then off to the nationals.
post #9 of 34
I think you really need to get into a professional kitchen and see if this industry really is for you, before you drop bucks on schooling. That's really the only way to see if this industry is "right for you". Schooling doesn't really give you any sense of what a restauant kitchen is like on a Friday and Saturday night. Most anyone who really enjoys cooking will enjoy attending culinary school. You get to learn all about different foods, different cooking techniques, etc., but that is a world away from applying those skills in a hot, stressful environment that most of us chefs live in. As for the money aspect, Kuan is right. You will be lucky to make $10 an hour. The most I have ever paid someone fresh out of culinary school is $8.50 an hour and I think you will find most places to be about the same.
post #10 of 34
Hey liv4fud, heres my $0.02. I've taken some recreational classes at the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC. In the classes there is an instructor and an assistant. The assistant is a student from the professional chef program. They are working off their tuition by giving their time back to the school. If you are willing to relocate to NYC its definitely worth looking into. You should check out their website.
post #11 of 34
Thread Starter 


Money could definitely be a factor based on the input from Kuan and Pete.
That is one of the reasons I wanted to go for a certificate / assoc. course.

Yes I enjoy cooking - seemingly my favorite passtime.
I know how hectic it can get even at a deli-joint type of a place - Subway - during lunch rush periods. However, imagining that rush in a hot kitchen doesn't seem to bother me.

I have found a restaurant in one of the suburbs who is willing to let me hang out there (its more of a catering place). But I have no formal training in the kitchen. And coming from a culture where males are traditionally considered to stay out of the kitchen, didn't help my development either (in terms of cooking skills).

So I guess I am looking to find out if a kitchen in a restaurant type setting is for me and pick up a lot of skills - basic ones.

And with a family - I don't think I will be able to move to NY. But if you can guide me in IL especially the Chicago land area where I can get decent education / skills for not an exhorbitant amount of money, it would be great.

But I do appreciate your time and your suggestions will stay at the back of my mind before I take the plunge.
post #12 of 34
In my opinion, liking food and cooking is only a part of the equation when it comes to being successful in the restaurant industry. Restaurant kitchens are hot, stressful places. Depending on where you are in the country, anywhere from a ten to ninety percent of your coworkers won't speak a lick of English. People yell. A lot. Sometimes in English. Sometimes Spanish. Maybe French or Italian.

While I'm still pretty young, I've seen several career changers walk into kitchens I'm working in and flee in terror. The last thing I want to do is talk down to you, but it seems some people just aren't clear on what they are getting themselves into. Right now I'm finishing up my time at the CIA. The career changers that have made it this far with me are all awesome. More than any other students, they are incredibly focused and intense. They have to be - fair or unfair, more is expected of them. When I started cooking as a teenager it was as a promotion from dishwasher - when I made mistakes the chef usually blamed them on my immaturity. You'll have no such scapegoat.

Good luck.
post #13 of 34
Believe me, your lack of experience won't hinder you from finding a place to "hang out" in. Chef's often love to have someone inexperienced come and learn (especially for free or pretty darn close to that). And free is what you will have to do for a little bit, probably. Just long enough to get the basic jist of a professional kitchen (a month or 2 a couple nights a week). From there you might even be able to find a job, and think about schooling later. There are many chefs out there who love to take on inexperienced cooks. I have always said I would rather staff my kitchen with inexperienced, but passionate cooks, rather than unmotived experienced cooks.
post #14 of 34


I'm with Pete here; I Hire for attitude and Passion not skill. I can teach you the skill but I can't give you the drive to succeed.

I have watched quite a few students go to culinary school and then realize that this wasn't for them.

I guess what I am saying is go to a good restaurant and talk to the chef; I mean really talk to the chef don't start out with I'd like to get a job with your establishment, to him and see if you can come in and trail a line cook or even just observe for a busy night. You really need to see what it's really like in a high energy kitchen before going into it head first.
post #15 of 34
Thread Starter 


so I guess from Pete's and Sarge's messages, skill is something that can be learnt?

I completely understand cooking for fun (on weekends and with friends) would be way different than cooking in a real kitchen with organization, deadlines and team work.

But the skills, I mean you see the chefs cut veggies - chefs like Yan - they handle a cleaver and do things with it that I can't do with a paring knife.
Did you see in the recent food network - next great star series - (moderator please edit the names if they are in violoation) - one of the competitors nearly wiped out their finger.

so things like that are pushing me to go to a school (in the chicagoloand area) and get some skills. think of me like the kid who put the ball in a basket on the father's garage door - who wants to go to a basketball camp.

and yes, I definitely will pay heed to your suggestions - to go to an actual restaurant on a busy night and find out the way that they handle things.

but in the mean time, if someone can suggest a good program to get some basic skills (certificate type program) in the chicagoland area - I will really appreciate.
post #16 of 34
Why are you so fixated on having to go to school to get the basic skills you need? I know many, many chefs and cooks who never went to school, and their basic skills are fine. You don't need school, at least not yet. Do some stages in a few places, learn how to handle a knife (chefs will be more than glad to teach you), learn how to handle yourself in a kitchen, and learn what this professional life is really like. Then, if you are still interested, it is time to go to school. Trust me, you will get more out of school if you already have some experience and some of the basic skills down. In fact, some schools won't even accept students who don't have some experience in this business.
post #17 of 34
Thread Starter 


seems like all of you have had a nicer experience in staging.

the place where I go - is a catering type of business - ran mostly by home cooks. there is one chef who's about 40+ and has been cooking since he was 9. he's really good and doesn't mind sharing his art. his belief is that if you get something out of it - he'll be happy that his legacy continues.

the problem is that he's only there for about 15-20 % of times - most of which I can't be there for. that's when I have to be with the other members and they are worried about me stealing their jobs. they don't divulge the spice mixture, jump through processes, leave out spices and add them when I am not looking, etc... I don't blame them as it has happened (due to the nature of the business) that the recipes that were divulged earlier were used for other orders without knowledge of the cooks - who were not there for that day.

but I guess some of you are restaurant owners - so I will definitely give it a shot at atleast one or two more places.
I totally agree with Pete on your suggestion that you get more out of school after being in the real world. so I will try and see if I can pull out a better experience.
post #18 of 34
Before I decided to go to culinary school I thought it'd be best for me to work in an actual kitchen so I could really see what it was going to be like. That's exactly what I did. I've been working at the Cheesecake Factory for about 6 mos. now and I still love it. We are extremely busy there too. (My store is averaging about 270k a week)

I highly recommend for you to work in a restaurant before you decide on going to culinary school. Especially before you spend all of that money. It would be a shame for you to go to culinary school and get put in a restaurant and you realize that it's not for you.
post #19 of 34

So Much To Learn!

Why would you not apply for a diswasher position? That is all you qualify for. I hope people are reading this. Just beacuse you went to school etc. Does not qualify you for anything. As a graduate of a culinary school. An small time owner is going to struggle to pay you to get your feet wet MANAGING SOMEONE IN THE SAME POSITION YOU ARE. LOST AND UNEXPERIENCED. Although you might have cooking skill. That is all you have. In order for you to develop into a better chef. You will have to develop those new sets of skills you just bought from a cooking school. You will have to learn to cook on a professional basis. Meaning learing many types of cuisine. From Asian , Malaysian, Tropical, French, European. You might not realize that some positions do not pay the money you want as a cook. Also, it takes more than years to specialize in any cuisine fluently rather.

Do some real resaearch. You will find that most of all the successful Chef's today spent years researching and learning how to fluently practice there trade.
post #20 of 34
Thread Starter 

seemingly bitter

seems like you are really bitter against the new blood joining the industry.
while I understand that one would need to be the waterboy to get on the playing field, your posts are constantly against the new comers who apparently don't know a bit (in your opinion).

don't know if you have had a bitter experience or you are worried about the dilution in the field. I have seen something similar in the IT industry. and if its dilution is what you are worried for, then I appreciate your concern. But then its no point if someone does have the skill to leave them washing dishes.

there is a concern when a fine dining restaurant in chicago states that its has steak in rare and well done but not medium. when asked why not cook rare, we were told that it comes pre-cooked. this was quite disturbing as to the level of chefs in the kitchen. I am sure something similar might be happening at all the chain restaurants.

though the level does not need to come down - as in the above case, one needs to get a hand or proper guidance for them to come up to a level. and I don't see how doing dishes for nearly 2-3 weeks (or whatever time you are referring to) in a row is going to help.
post #21 of 34
We must have eaten in the same restaurant. 45 mins for a steak. :)
post #22 of 34

Concern -vs- reality

Dear Current Readers,

I have hoped to embark on a culinary expliantion of my only seemingly cruel comments to help those embarking in the new career areas as well as to give back to the industry that I love. It is only part of my duty to give back to the industry that lead me to the position I am in today.

This is not an ego boosting stigma for me. I am very highly trained and run one of the most popular restaurants were I am currently living. I shall tell you these things only because they are true. If you see them to be bitter then so be it. However, understand my knowledge and training among this industry is among the best to offer. Again, it is my duty to play the real picture not the fake image of what you want it to be.

I have posted on some other threads listed on this website. I do not mean to come across negative or cruel. That is not my intention But, if honesty of how it really is what you want then I can give real world examples.

I am the lucky chef that has had the opportunity to be apart of many different culinary adventures.The grandest of explinations comes down to this. If you want to work in a restaurant, then by all mean go for it. But, why would you not start at the bottom and if you make it to the top then you do.What would give any aspiring untrained person to aquire a position within a kitchen or knowledge they hardly know to start their training in the Chef's office.

If I were asking to get the advice from a Chef. I would train abroad. The traing and contacts you make are far better than you would imagine. However, if you wanted to get into school in America. I would only consider CIA.
post #23 of 34
Thread Starter 


truth is always welcome chefoncall!

and I appreciate the concern that you have
and I definitely don't mind beginning at the bottom.

that's what I have been doing in the semi-staging gig that I have at the catering place.

as far as CIA is concerned, no campus in Chicago area - I was confusing it with Inst. of Art's Cullnary program.

any experience in the chicagoland area to comment on the schools here?
post #24 of 34

Come **** or Highwater

I had a grand opportunity of sitting down and having lunch with a well respected Chef here in North Carolina.To discuss the very same topic you and I are challeging. As well as background checks. Cooking is for those that dedicate and love it not for those whom need a paycheck. The unemployment office has there requirements as well. I am a somewhat local popular Chef among the Chef's here. But, understand and realize this. I this ocean I am happy to swim among the Ducasse's, Burke's, Savoy's, Keller's and Sakai's. These men are the big tuna's.Got me!

A staggering fact to understand is that Chef Sakai trained 151 apprentices last year alone. Not to mention how many applied for the Keller apprentice.The odds of having the right person for the job are very unique. Chef's training today need to realize how much more effective they will be utilizing the very basic skills rather than the very advanced. Basic cooking is very underutilized for sake of the "one dish." The one that was fabulous and cancels out my cleaning detail. Na! Do not think so.

There are many above dying to show of there very talent. When honestly all it takes is a good work ethic and some small amount of discipline. I did not say you were only worthy of scrubbing pots. But, understand in our kitchen you start there. Then from there on to other areas. Therfore at the right time we all in the kitchen know how to effectively keep the flow of the establishment properly staffed and utilize everyone in the right position.

It is hard to bring in a new "culinary student" that is fresh from school. They walk in and almost start demanding. I have line cooks that started as dishwashers. Also, speak fluent Spanish and English. When these men are taking extra study time away from a busy schedule to learn another language to speak English to them in an foreign country helps us the managment promote those bilingual cooks.

What I am really saying is too be realistic. If you happen to land a good gig. Keep it.
post #25 of 34
I completely understand where you are coming from liv4fud! I too am thinking of leaving the business world and have already enrolled in the Culinary Institute where I live. I for one, don't really appreciate the negative feedback that you are receiving. I, unfortunatley, am not able to help you decide which school to attend, but I would like to throw my support your way for wanting to go to school. Yes, you cannot beat the experience that you would receive in an actual kitchen, but that does not make our way wrong either. I am going to Culinary School to learn the ends and outs of cooking. If I am good enough, I will maybe one day get on with a catering company. But for right now, I want to do it for me! I am one of those weird people that enjoys being in school and absorbing every ounce of knowledge out of my instructors. And that is what I hope to do in this adventure! I have been listening to everyone else's opinions around me, which for the most part have been very pessimistic. But I finally came to the realization that this is my life, my money, and my decision! I recently got married, and my husband made me realize that I have nothing to lose! So I would like to tell you that you have nothing to lose!!! Good luck in whatever it is that you decide to do with your career!
post #26 of 34
From my experience... CHIC is over-priced, to many wanna-be Emerils willing to pay the outlandish tuition now ( $ 40,000? come on )
I've seen CHIC graduates walk into the kitchen where I work and not know how to make gravy. And ya just have to love that "deer in the headlights" look when things get busy, LOL.
Of course, as it's been said already, It's what you make of it. School is fine, but until you have that sweat running down your neck with flames in your face and tickets up to your knees, you just won't know what working in a kitchen is like.
BTW... I did attend CHIC for a year while working full time in a kitchen ( Ann Sather on Belmont), go for the actual kitchen, thats where you really learn.
My 2 Cents
"Isn't it a pity, Isn't it a shame, How we break each others hearts and cause each other pain" George Harrison
"Isn't it a pity, Isn't it a shame, How we break each others hearts and cause each other pain" George Harrison
post #27 of 34

Willing to Learn!

Seems overkill. However, lets get down to it since we have all drawn to our own conclusions. Bottom line. Culinary graduates are slightly educated in the business of Cheffing a kitchen. We have mentioned the types of schooling avaliable in America and abroad.

Truly, sometimes a chef can walkin straight from school and do his thing rare, but it could happen. If I were new. I would try to find me a Chef or apprentice program someone willing to teach someone willing to learn. Because education is so very important to surviving and succeeding. As chefs in our industry we have to be leaders. Meaning setting good examples. Not believeing we know it all when we do. Have an open mind try something new. Give it all a shot.I would. However, know your place do not have problems with authority. Be willing.
post #28 of 34
Thread Starter 
I do believe that some form of schooling is important. Though there are a few who would like to bring someone up from scratch, nowadays it does seem like there is a need for some basic training.

May be the reason you point to beginning as a dishwasher (chefoncall) is because they would learn to pick up the 'lingo', dealing with authority, speed and technique in between the washes - which can be like learning under fire.

Though some of you do attribute it as the only learning, it does tend to be disheartening if one can find themselves out of place based on the things like the language of the kitchen. I mean I know how to cut the veggies and arrange the platter for cooking later, but don't know what mire en pace meant.

So I guess it brings me back to my original question about possible good / decent schools for the money in the Chicago land area.
post #29 of 34
Mise en place. Don't worry, half the people who graduate from culinary school don't know either. :) LOL!

Everything is overpriced except for the CC's bud. IMO of course. Forgetting money, I'd take Kendall College first, then AI, then CHIC. There are something like three ACF chapters in the Chicagoland area. I'd look into joining one and volunteering at their monthly events. Pick the most active one.
post #30 of 34

Learning From Scratch


Reading the last thread note brings me back to a conversation tonight I had with a guy, and maybe a friend I work with talk about frequently. He is a Sous in the restaurant we both work in.

What happens in most of the better restaurants is that you will see many different styles of personalities and egos. So, again I do not want to sound like a jerk. If you re new in a kitchen and you are not the chef or one of the Sous. Work and ask questions. Please.

Kitchen work is for working only. Yes we like to ocassionally have a few laughs and a joke in the kitchen. But, we deter really any kind of serious horseplay and any type of systematic ego. We want to get to know the person. We do not want someone that immulates another or saw another cook do something stupid. (Example) Wrapping your cooking surfaces in plastic. Why? I have a new line cook that wraps his small prep area with plasctic then lays down his knife and transfer plates.

Any type of particular code BS like that is very unorganizing in a kitchen. Please when working a station just wipe down the station when you are done. That we be all.

Anytime in a professional kitchen that more people pitch in to help deter any negative ego's the better. Everyone needs to be upon level ground. However, do not expect a cook to take any crap off a dishwasher for not doing the job right. We all hate how dishwashers always want to leave early because they have somewhere to be. Bull.
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