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post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
Happy New Year!
Just read this and thought it might be an eye opener for some:By KIM CURTIS, Associated Press Writer
Celebrity chefs boost culinary schools
SAN FRANCISCO - Cameron Cuisinier's dreams of a catering career led him to culinary school. Now he's unemployed and $43,000 in debt, and he's not alone.
"From TV chefs to reality shows where the winners get their own restaurants, it's a hot time to be in the kitchen. Record numbers of would-be chefs are enrolling in culinary schools, some of which charge $20,000 a year or more. But the restaurant business has always been a tough way to make a living, and many graduates find themselves saddled with debt and working long hours at low-paying, entry-level jobs.
When they're trying to get you enrolled in these programs, they tell you you're going to come out making top dollar," said Cuisinier, a recent graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco. "I've just been way disappointed."
Industry observers say celebrity chefs like Rachael Ray and Emeril Lagasse — with his trademark exclamation, "Bam!" — helped launch the craze. The rising popularity of cable TV's The Food Network and reality shows like "Top Chef" and "****'s Kitchen" are fueling it.
"It looks really fun on TV," said Tim Ryan, president of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., one of the country's premier training grounds for chefs. "You've got an audience adoring you. You say, 'Bam!' and throw some stuff on a plate and everyone goes nuts.
"That's not what happens," he said. "The work is long and hard. There's a lot of pressure."
In 1996, there were 269 career cooking schools and 154 recreational cooking schools in the U.S., according to ShawGuide's "The Guide to Cooking Schools." By 2006, those numbers had risen to 446 and 503, respectively.
Attendance also is rising. At CIA, 2,757 students were enrolled last year in a full-time, degree-seeking program. That's up from 2,012 in 2001, Ryan said.
The number of food service jobs in America rose from 9.9 million in 2001 to 10.8 million in 2005, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. But a small fraction of those jobs — roughly 115,000 — are for chefs or head cooks, and that number did not change significantly during the five-year span.
The vast majority of food service jobs are held by fast-food workers and wait staff, and the industry's average hourly wage was $7.73 in 2005, according to the Labor Department statistics.
"****'s Kitchen," featuring the rantings of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay, introduces viewers to some of the stresses of restaurant work. Not so the sunny ramblings of Food Network host Rachael Ray, or Lagasse, whose show features a live band and studio audience who enthusiastically cheer his every move.
The Food Network now reaches 87 million homes and is watched by half a million people per day. And these aren't your mother's cooking shows. Television chefs, from Bobby Flay to Giada De Laurentiis to Anthony Bourdain, are hip, young and attractive — bona fide celebrities.
While the increased visibility is a boon to the industry, Ryan is careful to intercept prospective students who seem more interested in hosting a TV show or writing a cookbook than running a restaurant.
"We spend a lot of time before we admit students to make sure they understand the realities of the industry and don't come in all starry-eyed with unrealistic expectations," Ryan said.
Sociologist Krishnendu Ray says the elevated profile of the culinary arts has made cooking careers seem more glamorous than they really are. "It's becoming rarer to cook amongst young, urban professionals," he said. "We're watching TV and reading books about beautiful food."
Creating beautiful food was part of the attraction for Heather West, a 26-year-old New York native who recently won the second season of "****'s Kitchen" on the Fox network. When her mother got breast cancer a few years ago, she started cooking for her mother and creating her own recipes.
"If you like free time and if you like holidays with your families and time with your friends and ... you like your feet not hurting, this is the wrong business for you," said West, who's now senior chef at Terra Rossa, an Italian restaurant at the Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa in Las Vegas. "When you see that plate go out and you see that person smile when they eat your food, it's totally worth it."

But few culinary school graduates find themselves in West's enviable position. It's increasingly likely they'll end up like Cuisinier, who recently got his $857 monthly loan payment deferred because he's unemployed.
Ida Eng, 28, wanted to design wedding cakes and spent two years training at California Culinary Academy. She worked at two of San Francisco's top restaurants during school but couldn't find a job after graduation that paid enough for her to stay in her adopted hometown. Now she works as a cocktail waitress and isn't even sure she wants a kitchen job anymore.
"They work people to death," she said.
Officials at California Culinary Academy didn't return calls for comment.
Michael Ruhlman, who attended CIA in 1996 and wrote about the experience in the book "The Soul of the Chef," says the boom in culinary school enrollment is a byproduct of an increasing emphasis on the bottom line. Restaurants and chefs are finding new ways to make money — through cookbooks, live appearances and television — and that's raising the profile of the industry. "It's become fashion, rather than art now," Ruhlman said. "It's become commerce."
post #2 of 24
Yeah, I read that too, thought it was very interesting and to the point..got into the restaurant business quite by accident 29 years ago..a friend needed some help during the summer months..loved it and had found my niche...have worked many holidays..have not become rich or famous...but have gained so much over the years from some exceptional people. I love my line of work and wouldn't trade it for anything..most times it is a thankless job.
:beer: Cheers to all and Happy New Year!
post #3 of 24
And that's the other side of the argument, and I would guess the people here at Cheftalk are in agreement for the most part. We understand the realities of the business, but love the food and actually love cooking. Unfortunately to be able to do what we love to do we have to put up with the business aspect of it. Sad though that there are so many who have been blinded by the celebrity light that they go way deep into hock chasing the limelight they thought would be handed to them at graduation. This is nothing new. When I graduated back in the stone ages it was the same thing, albeit not to quite the degree it is now. I'm glad to hear what Tim Ryan at the CIA said, but I wonder how many other schools actually screen like that. (And do they really??:rolleyes: ) I was told by NECI that I was one of the few people that they actually accepted into the program. Reading between the lines I think that what they were saying was that I got my check in before the others :D.
I loved cooking, and understood the obligations. I crafted my career to be able to put my family first without suffering "too much". Unfortunately my health got in the way, in part due to my career. But I do hope that this article is widely read by those thinking about going into the biz so they too can come up with a catch phrase like Emeril. I had a catch phrase too when I was cooking! It went something like this: "OH S%&*"!!!!:D
My latest musical venture!
http://www.myspace.com/popshowband "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
My latest musical venture!
http://www.myspace.com/popshowband "I'm at the age when food has taken the place of sex in my life. In fact I've just had a mirror put over my kitchen table." Rodney Dangerfield RIP
post #4 of 24
George Brown here in TO has 1/3 of their 1200 culinary students drop out ending the 1st semester, the half way point for those taking the chef training program. The reality is all too clear but for some schools, its a blessing for them because that money is non-refundable after the first month and even then you only get part of the money back. GBC has started a slew a new ads stating and I quote "90% of George Brown graduates are hired within 6 months of graduating"...I mostly see their chef ad on the public transit, nice number clouding that only 1/3 of that 1200 actually graduates.

I love this thread and hope it becomes a sticky on this forum.
post #5 of 24
Great artical.
And so very true it hurts.

According to my state's employment department, the completion rate for state funded culinary programs is around 25%.

I saw many that lasted only a day or two.

I knew all the facts about the biz going in. I did months of research.

I still did it, overall don't regret it, but from time to time....meh.:eek:
post #6 of 24
Still amazes me that people are gullible enough to think that if they spend 5 grand for a course and no previous experience, that, upon graduating, they'll be swamped with high paying jobs....
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #7 of 24
I took this from the CIA's website section of Admission Requirements.

"The CIA requires that you gain about six months of hands-on food preparation experience in a kitchen in which at least 50% of the food is made to order on the premises. "

I think that if more schools made previous experience necessary, that would weed out alot of prospective "chefs" that really don't have their heart into it 100%. Of course, this is a conflict of interest for the schools, as they are a business, and a business is supposed to make money.

When a student asks the Chef Instructor how many days they can miss and still pass the class with a "D", you know this student really isn't going to survive in this field.

I realized that my AAS in Culinary Arts was not going to take me too far, that is why I enrolled in a BA in Hospitality Management. I feel that both degrees will combine harmonically, each elevating the other's worth.
post #8 of 24
I agree with that bit of "weeding" that the CIA does with their requirement, but for some folk, getting into a kitchen is a little hard. I personally didn't get my first kitchen job until I was out of culinary school, and even then it's not great... but I knew it wasn't going to be for my first one when I have no kitchen experience at this particular level.

So far what I've noticed is that training looks great on a resume, but what everybody (in my area at least) wants is experience. If you don't have that, you're screwed. It's a bit of a catch 22 if you ask me. You need experience to get a job, but to get experience you need to get a job...

*shrug* I guess I'm just ranting at this point... don't mind me.
post #9 of 24
The one thing that is easily found in the industry are dishwasher positions. Granted, it's even less glamourous than cleaning the deep fryer or scraping the stains from the back of the burners, but if you do well there will most likely be good opportunities for you in the future... even the near future.

Most of us got into the industry washing dishes, it's worth doing, even for a few months.
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
post #10 of 24
Honestly, a GREAT way to get into the industry is to get a line cook job at a pub, golf course, casual dining restaurant, etc... Many of these places will hire people without any experience or training whatsoever. It gets your foot into the kitchen, you can learn the ropes, and it makes it much easier to eventually move up into higher end kitchens. Lower-end high-volume places teach you how to move quickly, how to work on a line, call tickets, etc...

I started out in a chain restaurant, then moved to a golf course kitchen. From there I got hired into a fine dining restaurant as a commis, got promoted to Chef de Partie in 2 months. Nowadays I can choose where and when I want to work, hot/cold lines, pastry, whatever... Even had a few offers for an Exec job, although I'll admit I'm not ready for it yet. No school, no formal training, no debt (although I had to put in alot of 70+ hour weeks, had no personal life whatsoever for 2 years).

I've worked with (ie. trained) alot of culinary school grads, from every type of school (including CIA). I don't understand how these schools get away with charging the prices they do. The CIA grad I worked with was good, but he came from a wealthy family, and still had a huge debtload. The grads from smaller schools really weren't equipped to be working in the industry, skills, knowledge, work ethic all lacking...

In my opinion, the 'Rockstar' Chef hurts our trade more than it helps. I see it when I'm out eating - beautiful food that tastes mediocre to awful, for rediculous prices... Even at work, I see cooks that are more worried about the aesthetic of their food than the flavour. Chefs that spend more time taking pictures of their food than tasting it...
post #11 of 24
The other side to this artical is the idea that at least in the U.S. there is something very wrong with the industry.

Long before rockstar chefs came to the forefront, there are a lot of business people who think being in the food business is an easy way to make a quick killing, as long as they underpay and abuse staff.

Some start out that way, some come to that conclusion without second thought. Some just find the right and more humane formulas for success on their own.

A lot of them don't belong in the business. A supposedly 'good' economy keeps them there.

Among the most strident opponents of minimum wage increases is the National Restaurant Association, who erected billboards showing a dozen smiling, well scrubbed food workers with the caption:
"Which ones do we lay off?"

This is scare mongering from an industry that can't manage itself, one that lives in fear of failure every waking moment. Perhaps correctly, because so many fail, but then again they should have opened auto parts stores or something else, because many have no business trying food in the first place.

Just like many are finding out that cooking on a professional level can be sweaty, painful, and inglorious. If their minds were not right, and their eyes on the correct ball.

Then come the corperate chains with their wal-mart like buying power, ultra sameness and uniformity, their high powered advertising budgets, and near total lack of need for skills based cooks. Most of it's done at the packing plants.

I'm schocked at the number of people I know who think an evening at the Olive garden or famous Dave's or Applebee's is culinary nosebleed territory.
And the food there is acceptable (dependably mundane)on it's own level, and above all, safe. Lacking in risk (adventure). It's the same formula that spawned the fast food culture. Does anyone wonder still why the french get into an uproar with each new set of golden arches?

That pretty much leaves the cook with any sort of soul the fine dining arena, locations or cuisines where corperations fear to tread, catering, or the occasional operation that beats all the odds.

These seem like salad days for cooks. But what that really means is that the economy is such that folks have the disposable income to dine out, so we actually have jobs at all.

It doesn't mean wages, benefits, or working conditions are getting any better, because in general, they are not. Cooks in the United States have always been in the low to low middle income class, and we are among those being squeezed first and hardest.

I don't know how bad it will get. Maybe pretty bad. You have to be adaptable and resilient to be here in the first place.

Being a cook isn't the means to and end. It's an end unto itself. I advise anyone looking to cook professionally that simply doing so is the defining goal. If you succeed beyond that, you not only hard working and talented, but very, very fortunate.

Otherwise I tell them this:

"Look, you have a lot of confidence. You may be thinking to yourself, 'I will succeed because I am smarter, harder working, more ambitious, better looking' etc. You may be able to come up with certain examples of people who 'made it' using the same approach you plan on using. If you cannot be satisfied with anything other than preparing the best food whatever sorry, horrible circumstance this business puts you in, for whatever pittance you may take home, please reconsider, because you aren't helping yourself, and you aren't helping those of us already in the arena."
post #12 of 24
in high school i wanted to be a carpenter, after hight school, viet nam, i was an aircraft mechanic, after viet nam i became a dishwasher, but not for long:D i actually like being a cook, i wasnt in it for the money, you dont have to be crazy to be in this business, but it helps:lol:
"what doesn't destroy me, makes me stronger"
"what doesn't destroy me, makes me stronger"
post #13 of 24
Very true Rivit about restaurant owners that should have never got into the industry. I've worked for a few like this (although not very long). Alot of people think I have a bad attitude because I won't work anywhere, I've turned down many times more jobs than I've taken, and told more than a few cheap bosses my mind... Oh well, when these guys go bankrupt (and they often do), I'm not going to shed a tear.

It's not all like that though, theres some pretty decently run restaurants out there, I've got buddies working in chain restaurants and pubs making 40-50K/year as line cooks, 60-80K/year and up as kitchen managers (have been offered similar jobs myself, however for now I'm doing the fine dining thing). I'm currently at an independantly run fine dining restaurant, and although wages aren't quite that high, for the work we do I feel I'm decently compensated (better than most fine dining restaurants).
post #14 of 24
N. America is still the wild west when it comes to food and cooking. I don't mean this in a negative way, but just as a fact. You might want to describe Europe as stodgy, old school, old boy's network, etc, which it may very well be, but it has different problems compared to N. America concerning the training of cooks.

The main difference being that the respective European Gov'ts have an interest in trade schools, meaning that they design and police the schools. On the postive side of things, every cook, mechanic, or carpenter's apprentice has the same background training, and respective employers know what course material the apprentices have learnt, or had opportunity to learn. No false expectations on the employers behalf here, if a cook has been fully apprenticed and passed exams, then they know what they're supposed to do. N. America doesn't have this system, it may have something similar for electricians and plumbers, but not for cooks. So the Wild West rule applies: No national or regional course outlines/ criteria for cooking schools. As far as the CDN and US gov'ts are concerned, the cooking trade ranks up there with macrame and pottery classes, no interest, no national or regional standards.

The ACF does not reign supreme, nor does C.I.A., J & W, or any other school for that matter, and each school has their own standards. No School will "buddy up" with another school and adopt the same standards or even textbooks. You can spend 60 K for two years, or 5 K for 6 months and call yourself a cook, each school happily acknowldeging you as a cook upon graduation. And lets face it, private schools are just that, private enterprises with intentions of making a profit. Some are great schools that contribute alot to our trade and set standards for our industry, and other schools, uh...don't.

What I've said above is how I see things. I'm not saying the European method is perfect, nor am I saying the N.American is perfect. I acknowldge each system has it's share of problems as well as it's good points. That being said I'd really like to see some kind of legal action taken to dubious school's recruiting offices that make all kinds of false statements about salaries and career oportunities, and this goes for many other types of schools as well as the cooking schools.
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
...."This whole reality thing is really not what I expected it would be"......
post #15 of 24
This industry, like many others, offers many career paths. Just as in many other professions, if you don't have goals and a path set up, you probably won't succeed.
Goals are pretty easy to achieve since the industry is so large. You also don't have to set your goals to be CEO. You can achieve line cook, and if your comfortable, you will usually get respect from your peers in the industry.
8.5 persent of all graduating college students have done some time in our industry. It's a great place to get an income without having to do the 'pay your dues ' routine and don't have to start as plounger. I personally think this is part of the reason persons in our industry may not get the respect of people in different fields.
I think this article could have been written anytime in the last 20 yrs. Hey, this industry is easy to break into, but like anything else, you must do your homework. If more did, there would be no article.
Just my 2 cents.
post #16 of 24
I think the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.

My favorite thing in life is to make people happy. I made a decision when I was 14 that I wanted to give everything I had to the hospitality industry. I happen to be obsessed with food also. I started at $4 an hour when I was too young to legally get a job, worked for free in my off time to learn as much as I could about food, gave up my friends, lost girlfriends :lol: and pretty much put everything on hold so that I could be the best that I can be. It has definitely paid off but it didn't come fast. I am still very young and have so much to learn, but for my age have accomplished so much! I will do anything to learn about food....... read tons of books, cook every chance I get, even most of my ipod is filled up with cooking podcasts...hhahaha

I think it's rather funny the people that see emerrill and go to culinary school based on that 1 example alone. That's not anyone's fault but their own. I think there should probably be some regulatory measures taken with culinary schools but then again if you do your research, you'll be told a million times what's best for you. I was told to stay away from culinary school due to the fact I had been cooking for five years in some great restaurants (started as a dishwasher because that's the only way to get my foot in the door). I didn't listen and wasted money going to "one of the best schools in the country" ha

This might upset some of you..... I spent 10 years making fun of celebrity chefs and their fancy catch phrases. I thought they were a disgrace to what I did for a living. That's what I call young pride and ego. I am working on 2 pilots with 2 different production companies, a book, and some cheesy "already been done a thousand times" shelf products. I am keeping my current corporate chef position. I know the odds are not in my favor that any of them will succeed. I will just give it a shot and if I'm given the oppotunity to "sell out".......I'M SOLD!!! haha

Here's my new motto, tell me what you think "The more money that I make, the more opportunity I have to do what I really enjoy in life."
" Never fry bacon naked!"

" Never fry bacon naked!"

post #17 of 24
I personally don't think there's anything wrong with TV "chefs" or celebrity chefs. Behind each and every celebrity there's usually a decent, hard working individual who most likely paid their dues (I'm not talking about Rachel Ray or Sandra Semi-Ho Lee), and in many ways they deserve their limelight.

Also, I enjoy seeing the industry get put on the spotlight, even if the view is slightly skewed and it's giving people the impression that everything's sugar and spice... just ask them to work a few shifts and watch then appreciate :).
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
"If it's chicken, chicken a la king. If it's fish, fish a la king. If it's turkey, fish a la king." -Bender
post #18 of 24

The Path Untaken

When I graduated from high school, our neighbor was an executive with the Indianapolis office of the White Castle organization, and I was hired by White Castle for 65 cents an hour. After working for White Castle for just over a year, I applied for and got a job with Frisch's Big Boy restaurants, and before too long, became a grill man, which at Frisch's was the equivalent of a head chef. The grill man was the top dog in the kitchen. I often came under fire for not following the franchise cookbook. I did a special for four regular customers, salesmen. and each night, they gave the waitress a buck apiece tip, plus sent a buck each back to me. I made the point that if I had followed the franchise cookbook, the salesmen would have gone onto another place to eat, toot sweet.

I ended up leaving the food field, to my mind, because every place I worked had at least one employee with something less than a full complement of fingers.

Here I am, now at 60 years of age, disabled due to an on the job injury following a career in law enforcement and security. I love to cook, and get a real thrill seeing others enjoy my cooking. I belong to an organization called the Society for Creative Anachronism, where I specialize in archery and medieval cookery. I have been Feastocrat at two events, and was granted my Award of Arms at the first one, because the king enjoyed my food so much (5 trips thru the serving line).

If I had the ability to go back, knowing what I do now, I would have found a good culinary school. While I enjoy Top Chef, ****'s Kitchen, Good Eats, and the like, I watch to learn new (to me) techniques and dishes. I comb the internet for anything about cooking and food. I have no illusions of becoming another Justin Wilson or Emeril LaGasse, but I will continue to become the best cook I can be, to see the smiles my food brings to the faces of friends and the gentles of the SCA.
post #19 of 24
I'll be a voice from the 'raised on food network' crowd. I'm 20, have zero professional experience but actually love to cook and love seeing people actually enjoying my food.

I'm considering going to culinary school. I've not talked to the 'recruiter' (we're playing phone tag, atm) but I already know what she's going to tell me, and I know to take all that she says with a grain of salt. Honestly, I'm taking this school because it's based in Austin, and it'll give me some of the skills I'll need to work in a professional enviroment.

I'm glad to see that this article didn't just shoot down all prospects who were interested in getting into the business, but said that the view from the outside is very different from that on the inside. And that I already knew. I know it's long long long hours, sometimes thankless work, low pay - I don't care.

thanks for reading this. :)
post #20 of 24
I love this. I just want to add

"If I am ever given the opportunity to sell out I will ask 'Paper or Plastic?'."

I know going in I will likely never have a PBS show or a show on Food Network or Bravo. My dream is to own my own successful restaurant before I die. That way I am aiming at an attainable goal with a reasonable time-line. :lips:

“If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” -- Zaphod Beeblebrox

“If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” -- Zaphod Beeblebrox
post #21 of 24
:lol: :lol: :lol: :lol:
Walk in my place with a check with enough zeros, I'll throw you my personal keys.My whites, shoes etc.
You MUST build your business for acquisition. That's your only payday
post #22 of 24
That is likely the only way you get a chance to retire too. :lips:

Yes I love food but I am also human and I would love to get some recognition for all the hard work, maybe some notoriety and, Gods forbid, make some money while I am at it.

Capitalist Type: "Hey Mike your Latin Fusion restaurant chain 'Latin Satin' is the t*ts we'd like to pay you $40,000,000 to take it all off your hands"
Me: "Where do I sign?"

Even if I had a successful restaurant/business and sold it for millions I would probably just start another one.

“If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” -- Zaphod Beeblebrox

“If there's anything more important than my ego around, I want it caught and shot now.” -- Zaphod Beeblebrox
post #23 of 24
I picked up this little article on the Toronto Sun...pretty much states the same thing.



Culinary school enrolments soar as the Food Network has made the kitchen cool

January 09, 2007
Jen Gerson

The budding chefs crowd the lobby at George Brown College, listening to hip-hop as they wait for orientation to begin. The twentysomethings wear winter jackets with faux-fur trim, and baseball caps. The girls' hair runs long and loose, the boys' an inch past respectable. Scruffy.

They have not yet purchased the lily-white lab coats and clamshell chef hats, their uniform for the rest of the semester.

"How many people watch the Food Network?" asks head chef John Higgins.

Almost half raise their hands.

Forget that fluff.

"This is a reality show," he says. "This is George Brown culinary school and we're in the business of teaching you cooking."

The Food Network, kitchen-related reality TV shows and celebrity chefs have made the culinary arts sexy. Chef Gordon Ramsay has made his show ****'s Kitchen popular by verbally abusing contestants to find out which one has enough mettle to merit his or her own restaurant.

And as chefs like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson have found fame making pretty plates for the TV cameras, enrolment in cooking programs has risen. George Brown's chef school enrolment has soared 35 per cent in the past four years.

The boom is also happening in the United States. In 1996, there were 269 career cooking schools and 154 recreational cooking schools, according to Shaw Guide's The Guide to Cooking Schools. By 2006, those numbers had risen to 446 and 503, respectively.

George Brown expects enrolment will increase by another 50 per cent by 2010, as demand for chefs grows in Canada.

It's a trend fuelled by baby boomers, who have become more discriminating in their food tastes and demanding better prepared cuisine.

Chef school graduates are being snapped up to work in Northern Ontario, cruise ships and in the chronically under-manpowered Alberta.

The people entering the profession are younger and hipper. The network has enticed women, who can find role models in the likes of Rachael Ray and Everyday Italian's Giada De Laurentiis. The college boasts a near 50/50 split between the sexes, in an occupation where most of the top-tier chefs are men.

But the network is not an equalizer of men and women. Women on the Food Network tend to focus on home or familial meals while male chefs are the career cookers. Rarely do you see a woman wearing a boxy white coat.

Rita Grine, 19, is about to start the baking and pastry program at George Brown. Her favourite show is Sugar with Anna Olson, which pays homage to pastries and desserts.

"It actually got me more interested in what I could do," she says. By featuring "everyman cooks" like Olson, and pairing simple made-at-home meals with gastronomic extravaganzas, food television has created a demand for good food ? and for the people who prepare it. But for every camera-savvy culinary role model, there are millions of cafeteria line cooks. Drudgery, toil and long hours don't make for good TV.

"You're all going to want to be Jamie Olivers," says John Walker, the dean of the hospitality and tourism faculty at George Brown, as he addresses his newest class. "That will end by the first week. You'll be cutting yourself and burning your sauces."

Initially, few respect what a tough job being a cook is. Long hours, minimal wages and high pressure.

"The Hollywood gets knocked out of you quickly," says David Buchanan, director of the Culinary Arts School of Ontario in Mississauga. The private school is devoted to teaching foodies ? a rising class of amateur gourmands ? and wannabe chefs.

In school "you start off with basic knife skills, chopping onions and carrots until your fingers start to bleed."

Then you graduate to stocks.

"I love eating good food. But that's expensive so I cook my own stuff," says Alan Don, 23, as he listens to the school's welcome message. Don works as a cook at Kelsey's. "I need the education to get a better job."

His inspiration: Iron Chef ? the badly dubbed Japanese version, featuring weekly one-hour cook offs in the Kitchen Stadium. "I just saw Battle Cranberry," he says. "I picture that as a high-end of dining."

He hopes to one day work at a hotel restaurant, making good pay and good food.

Higgins is happy that his students enter the school excited about cooking, but criticizes the TV shows for sacrificing the most important part of food ? taste ? for the pretty plate.

"It's not entertainment," he chides. "You're selling something."

Impassioned by the glamour TV has cast on the kitchen, most of these students are foodies who have decided to turn their hobby into a career.

"The Food Network has been very good to us," says Buchanan.

Walker agrees. "The public profile of a chef has made it a more interesting profession to get in to."

But the shows aren't realistic. Often, he says, a team of cooks will be responsible for preparing dishes for the cameras, as the host smiles reassuringly to put the plebeian chefs at ease.

"Some call it food porn," says Walker. It's the art of the super-close up. Dressing food with light and camera angles to make it look impossibly appetizing, forcing the viewer to watch hungry and in thrall. "The concern is that it isn't real food."

It may not be entirely realistic, but if it inspires more people to take up cooking, Walker says that's a good thing.

After all, he says, a chef needs two things to succeed.

The first is passion. The second is salt and pepper.
post #24 of 24
I don't think you're ranting at all. I think you're right on the money. I can't count the number of new hires I've picked up right out of culinary school who look downright shocked... SHOCKED I tell you... when they find out that Chef Jack doesn't have a culinary degree yet has a varied yet fulfilling work history because in the long run, thirty years of experience in a kitchen is just as good as a degree in the Culinary Arts to most prospective employers.

I tell these kids that the degree is a good start, but that even more importantly they need to get into a kitchen and actually start doing the work. Even if they walk in cold to a school, if they can work in a kitchen for the entire time they are in school, they have a leg up on their fellow students who just went home when class let out.
"Hunger is the best pickle." -- Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac
"Hunger is the best pickle." -- Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard's Almanac
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