First to be clear, I am a student and nothing more, please do not assume I know what I am talking about. I'm speculating as a fellow, passionate enthusiastic student.
I know nothing about LCB London (while I lived in London for 6 years, I wasn't in any way in the culinary industry at the time, nor had anything to do with school there). For all I know LCB London is the best school in the world right now. But I've never heard of it. Not that I would, I'm in California. Having said that (as a former Londoner) it's one of the most amazing cities in the world and if you have good opportunities there - and in paticular, good contacts - it might well be a far superior opportunity.
Especially now because it is transitioning dramatically from non-food town to one of the most cutting edge food towns in the world (or so it seems).
What I do know is this:
- The one Chef I've met and had as an instructor in class that is from CIA Napa (and certainly not the only experience she had) generally demonstrated a keen awareness and competency that was simply amazing compared to not only other insutructors I've had but also things I've seen in video, and other forms of educational materials these days. That's not saying she was the best instructor I've ever had, just that her level of competency was quite simply astounding and for me that translated into serious value for money because I learned a hell of a lot, and developed a new respect for the given class (baking) and really opened my eyes in ways I can't begin to describe, and largely just by example on her part. (And I know a lot of other students didn't have that reaction to her - see Ed's comments above, it's a bout what you the student makes of Chef's exprience).
- I know the area, I lived in Napa county for a few years, and have friends who've been in the industry 20+ years who also went to school in the area (CCA back in the early 90s) and who speak with some degree of real awareness of the reality there. I'm not sure it's even controversial for me to say that the Bay Area in CA is one of the most richest, diverse and highest quality sources of virtually any produce you can possibly imagine in the world. This of course, contributes greatly to your palette as well means the standrads of what is going on around you are that much higher than wherever else you may be. People from Japan, France or Italy might (rightly) scoff at that sentiment but as an American and a Californian native I have a lot of confidence in making that point. Those other regions may be the best at a few select things, eg the terroirs in France, but I think the rich diversity of Northern California is unsurpassed in the world in terms of having so many diverse products be to the highest standard, if not the best in the world in countless categories (garlic, oysters, artichokes, vineyards with strains of grapes older than French grapes because of diseases in Europe, etc, just an endless list of WOW products that are not only amazing, but also on the cutting edge things like the slow food movement as well - it didn't just end with Chez Panisse & Alice Walters, obviously).
- The cultural reality of California is very compelling at the moment (and has been for decades) because of it's rich melding of disparate cultures. Some of the best Dim Sum you might ever have will be found in obscure Bay Area destinations (which formerly might have been limited to something like CHinatown or the Richmond district, but now are more likely to be in Oakland or even the SE Bay, which is sort of the richer Suburban area many generations have ultimately migrated to from neighborhoods previously limited to the City). I can't even begin to describe the transfroamtion of the Mission district from former ghetto to one of the most compelling areas for understanding what's happening in Latin oriented food in the world. The list of strange little enclaves that are cutting edge goes on and on too, eg one of the higher concentrations of Taiwanese in San Mateo or the crazyness of Santa Cruz's stoner/university/hippy/organic movement that could be a massive influence in the coming years should the legalization of cannibis in California actually happen next year (and no I'm not a smoker, I'm just conscious of the huge impact something like that will have on California's hospitality scene should it happen).
- while I think what's happening in London is extremely exciting - compared to Northern California, I think the latter would be a much richer learning experience, especially if after learning you will return to London to work and live.
- I agree with the regular sentiment expressed here by the professionals: go work in a real kitchen for awhile before you blow hundreds of thousands of dollars on a top-flight education.
I can't tell you how amazed I am by how many students in culinary school think they don't have to do dishes and are so disgusted by the prospect they literally can't do it. From my perspective, if you can't deal with that you have no business being in a kitchen, and it shouldn't take you $100k to find that out.
Gonna shut up now, and best of luck =D
Edited by Culinuthiast - 7/22/10 at 2:31am