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Trading a useless degree for another?

post #1 of 11
Thread Starter 
I'm a fairly recent college graduate, I obtained a bachelors in interdisciplinary studies (no snickering!) last year. Well, being removed from the carefree realm of liberal arts student to the deep dark abyss of the real world, I found myself to be sufficiently disillusioned and unemployed with a resume that most people laugh at. Thus (after several months of soul searching at the wise old age of 20), spurning me on to ask the dreaded (though seemingly simple and innocent) and utterly impossible question - what do I want to do???

More soul searching and on advice from a friend, I came up with a list of things I have and do enjoy doing - outside of plotting world domination, I realized that most of my interests lay in creative fields. That was all well and good, but that still didn't narrow me down to a career. Being a professional clown could definitely count as creative, but somehow didn't appeal to me. Go figure.

Anyway, one day in the middle of preparing yet another (I have to say deliciously fabulous) meal for my gratitude-impaired family (being the sole unemployed member of the household, I automatically become the house slave) I realized that I actually enjoyed cooking. And it gave me more than mild enjoyment, it filled me with enthusiasm, excitement, and great pride in my work. And I realized that this was something I could do for the rest of my life, the question now was only where to begin.

Now, after this sudden revelation, I immediately (after the pot scrubbing, of course) plugged myself into the nearest computer and began my search. I would definitely need to go back to school, I knew. And so I began with looking at some of the "top" culinary institutes in the country. I slowly became more disheartened as I noticed that the tuitions to these schools were far more than I'd ever bargained for. Putting myself into debt by 40,000-60,000 dollars wasn't something I ever wanted to do, unless of course it was involved in some overly melodramatic plot line that linked me with the mafia and a Spanish lover. However, I meander. Back to the point, I was losing hope and was desperately trying to find a solution before my dreams were totally crushed. And so, I started looking for cheaper degrees, all I found were associates offered at the community college level. Now, obviously an associates degree at a fairly nice public community college is waaaaaay cheaper than a bachelors degree at a posh private culinary institute. But like most cheap things, is it lower in quality?

Now the first dilemma - should I potentially forsake the quality of my education for the cheaper, shorter degree and miss out OR do I take out loans and go to the posh school only to put myself in financial ruin with no hope of paying those loans off outside of robbing a bank? Criminal or culinary, I ask?

My second dilemma shortly surfaced as I was pondering over these financial matters. Speaking practically, would I (a) be able to find work in this field and (b) would that work be good with a decent salary? Would I be able to support myself more or less? A life in a hovel isn't exactly appealing. I mean, am I simply trading a useless degree for another one? One that could possibly be much more expensive?

And lastly, regardless of cost/education/my future in general, what attracts me the most to culinary arts is baking and pastries. I'm also independent and business-minded, a born entrepreneur. Ultimately, opening up a bakery or dessert shop would be ideal for me - absolute confectioner's heaven. With this career in mind, I would appreciate advice on the way to obtain it (and if its worth obtaining) from 'ye wise sages.

post #2 of 11
1. You might have a future as a writer.

2. IMO, culinary school is a scam. 40-60 grand tuition so you can earn 20 thousand a year? I don't even want to do the math to figure out how long it will take to pay off that kind of debt. It seems nowadays most fine restaurants are staffed with half culinary school grads, they just use them to peel carrots until they leave the industry, and then hire the next year's batch and do the same. Occasionally someone will actually 'make it', most won't however.

3. Just start working. Chefs look for cooks with the right attitude. Chain restaurants and golf courses are a great intoduction to the field, jumping strait into fine dining isn't always the best path. Ambition, willingness to learn and work like a fiend will get you far.

You can learn more in the field than you ever will in school - if you work hard enough people will reward you by teaching you. When I was an apprentice I used to come early so the chef and I could make a foie gras terrine together, he'd personally show me all kinds of other tricks just because he liked my attitude and work ethic (and this is a chef who was rarely ever in the kitchen....). Or a Japanese cook would show me how to butcher a fish if I helped him with something else, I'd do un-paid shifts in the pastry shop (which was run by an extremely talented cook from France, guy was a veteran of 30 years), etc....

If you're willing to go far and above your own job requirement, help others with extras (without being required to do so), don't be surprised if they share their knowledge ;)
post #3 of 11
Hmmm, this is actually only true with some Culinary Schools. The California Culinary Academy is sadly starting to become more of a business than an actual school, as many people stated in this forum. Fortunately, I'm attending the Professional Culinary institute and the tuition is only $21,000.
The $3000 scholarship they granted me made it easier for me :).

Instead of going with Mikeb advice of just totally working and hoping for the best or going to school, why not do both? More importantly, you should do research of schools around your area for both the price and quality. It'd probably be best to avoid schools that do in fact charge you 40-60k for tuition, as even I agree that's robbery. Also read reviews or experiences from people of the schools you are planning to attend. Fortunately, you are already in this forum and there should be people to tell you their tales :smoking:.

No one in the food working industry is going to babysit or spend enough time with you to teach you the basics of cooking. Also to gain some shreds of knowledge or information, you would have to switch over many jobs before you slightly know what you're doing and by then you might even start to hate it. Experience alone just not going to cut it to rise up in the industry, as you may just end up as another chef working in a low quality diner like Denny's for the rest of your life.

You will need the knowledge from schooling to know what to do, to give you direction, and of course work to hone and harness your abilities. Working in a food related job while attending Culinary School gives you the chance to practice what you learned to improve yourself. All I can say is if you enjoy working with food, step it up all the way, not half arsed :cool:.
post #4 of 11
You're a culinary student, yet you think you know what the industry is about? Whoever told you that without education you're going to end up in a diner is wrong (most Denny's cooks around here are either 15 year old kids or 50 year old drunks). I've worked in many restaurants, including several that have won many awards. I've personally cooked for food critics (always a good review BTW), celebrities, politicians, etc.... The chefs at these 'elite' restaurants, you guessed it, no education whatsoever. Same goes for the majority of the staff. The culinary school grads would peel my vegetables, or get the MEP for my pastries.

Tell me, what culinary school did Pierre Gagnaire or Thomas Keller go to? Ferran Adria? Pierre Hermé?

Culinary school has nothing to do with success. Nor does apprenticeship. Success is about the individual taking charge of their life, setting a goal and reaching it. I'm not where I am because of my experience, who I worked for, who I learned from. I'm here because I want to be, what others couldn't teach me I taught myself. If I didn't know how to do something, I'd go home and figure it out before my next shift by myself so that the first time I did it at the restaurant it would be perfect.

Now, I've worked with some great cooks who did come out of school. Unfortunately there were only 3 or 4 of them, and dozens who couldn't cut it coming out of the school. School isn't necessarily bad, but it doesn't make a chef. Individual drive and passion do.

I've just re-read the original message. Seems I missed the part about baking.
I would suggest approaching several small bakeries (preferably neighborhood bakeries). Offer a resume, and you'll be surprised. You'll probably start off part-time doing some random labour (weighing out ingredients, assisting the bakers), keep at it, watch people around you. Eventually you'll start doing more and more complicated tasks, not to mention you get to see how a bakery actually functions for when you open your own (or you might not want to, either way it's good experience).

I knew one baker/pastry chef (a team Canada member in international competitions) who trained a dishwasher to become a very good pastry chef, all it took was a few years of apprenticeship and a willing student. If you're willing to learn, put in your dues, you can find someone to teach you.

Attitude is everything. I've trained quite a few cooks, some were just too hard-headed to learn (one culinary school grad comes to mind - kid thought he knew everything, eventually we had to fire him), and some I thought were hopeless actually surprised me (in a single summer I turned a 15 year old dishwasher into a decent line cook).

Reminds me of when I started in fine dining. I was working for an Executive Chef who had a reputation of being very unfriendly, very unforgiving and having unrealistic expectations. For the most part, these rumours were all very true. However, after a few months of working for him, suddenly he warmed up to me, and would personally teach me many techniques. It's not often that a commis gets to spend time with the Exec in a large kitchen, but I had the right attitude and got to spend quite a bit of time working with him. Once I moved up through the ranks, and myself became a 'core' member, my chef(s) would tell me that now it was my responsibility to pass along my knowledge to others. When my chef told me that, it was honestly one of the best moments in my career.

Real industry pros don't have time to teach anyone. We do however have time to teach the right people.
post #5 of 11

Great story.

I didn't necessarily trade diplomas but careers. Mine was a fairly easy move since (1) the job I performed before isn't a mainstream job and the only employers of those talents all had three letter abbreviation names and (2) I had some benefits which helped pay for my education.

That being said, I chose a 'name brand school' because it was local. Honestly, if there had been a junior college with the same program, I would have gone there. The point is, education is education whether you get it in a formal setting or from the guy next to you on the line.

Opinion: It's harder to break into baking/pastry because there's much less of it available. If you DO have a local bakeshop, so much the better! That's always a great option. You might also check with some of the large stores who have a bake shop. While not all restaurants buy breads and desserts from their reps, many just do not have the equipment, space or personnel to devote that that endeavor.

Good luck and enjoy the business. It's one of the few where you can actually eat your mistakes.

Order In/Food Out ~ It's NOT magic.
- * - * - * - * -
"It's not getting any smarter out there. You have to come to terms with stupidity, and make it work for you." Frank Zappa
Order In/Food Out ~ It's NOT magic.
- * - * - * - * -
"It's not getting any smarter out there. You have to come to terms with stupidity, and make it work for you." Frank Zappa
post #6 of 11
Hello there,
Having myself just graduated from a community college culinary program, I have some feelings on this issue. Now, I recognize that all schools are different, but the particular school I went to had very few outlets for the food we were to make. Consequentially not a ton of food was produced. This meant that kids had to really work hard to experience a variety of stuff. That being said, I still believe that a community college in a metropolitan area would be better than throwing retarded amounts of money into a school like CIA or CCA or some crap like that. Not that those schools are bad, I have worked with many people from those schools and some were awesome, still others flopped. I believe that the amount of effort that you put into reading your textbooks, touching and doing everything you can get your hands on, and learning concurrently (maybe after a semester or two) in the feild can be a fast ticket to a solid education. Whether or not you make serious money in the industry depends on a few factors: being in the right place at the right time, how stellar your work is, how you sell your ideas and yourself, who you know, etc. This is coming from a cook who makes little more than minimum wage, but I have had a couple of years in the industry to watch the world around me change. Good luck and no matter what have fun!
post #7 of 11
I know chefs that have been in management for 15 years that are still writing a check to culinary schools. dedication and hard work with the right attiude and you will make it to the top.
post #8 of 11

At 20...

I don't know what your current responsibilities are but you might want to seriously look into working at a National Park, like Yellowstone. I was on hire but my current situation messed up my plans.

The pay won't make you millions, BUT you get a very generous break on housing and food and you get to train in a large commercial kitchen in some of the most beautiful places in the US. (I ADORE Yellowstone)

The great part is you are exposed to all aspects of a large volume commercial kitchen that feeds thousands of guests per day. You get trained in pantry, prep, line, baking, buffet...depends on where your strengths are. The even better part is you walk out the door at the end of the day and it's YELLOWSTONE!

(Of course there are other parks but I happen to love the geology and forest nature aspect of it. You could always work in Furnace Creek in Death Valley...LOL :eek: )

I highly recommend it for anyone that wants a hands-on experience in a kitchen. You essentially get paid to train.

No, I'm not affiliated with them. I am very upset that I couldn't get out of this situation here to get there.

The season just started and many applicants don't cut the mustard (where that saying came from I have NO idea! <but I suppose it's appropriate :D ) early on so the next wave of hiring will be about now.

Have a look at the Yellowstone website and see if it might be for you.

At least it will give you an idea first hand if being a cook is where you want to go. At worst you're have a great vacation.


post #9 of 11
I didn't know you were in Yellowstone April. I was just there over Thanksgiving weekend last year. West Yellowstone of course.
post #10 of 11

Ah, lucky you...We've been stuck in So. NV.

I'm sure a lot of people don't share my views, but being in the So NV desert is the armpit of America. The only thing it has going on is the "come here and we'll take your money massive tourism industry". LV now has the distinction of having not only one of the higest crime rates but also car thefts and real estate prices...It sucks.

I'm trying desperately to extract us from this area. It's like a black hole.
(please don't get me started)

So how did you like it? We went through West Yellowstone on our way here a year ago last December. It was like heaven. That gorgeous snow, flakes mutating out of clear air, it was only 20 but I understand a few days later it got down to a static 45 below. Our little horsies would have been popsicles. I understand a few of the places there are hiring. Like Three Bear Pancake house...

<sigh> Ah, the simple life...

Did you manage to get into the Park at all? I wouldn't necessarily recommend the cuisine (I'm not working there yet...BAHAHAHA!)

Over the years the menu's have mutated into dishes that I would have NEVER associated with an area like Yellowstone. I mean, you think basic, steaks, chicken, salads, trout, hearty foods...when I was there it was goat cheese salad, and quail with huckleberry vinegrette type stuff...hmmm <?>. I did hand make biscotti for Mammoth Hotel upon request (I'm so proud) :bounce: .

I'm working hard to dig our way out of this situation and get back up there. I understand they now have a program with the ... (Oh, heck it's late and my brain isn't working...) ACI?

(Surely you saw old faithful?) :)

post #11 of 11
1. Read Mikeb's posts.
2. Re-read Mikeb's posts.
3. Follow Mikeb's advice!
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