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Culinary Schools and ROI

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
For the past few months, I have been investigating culinary schools in my area and have settled on 3 possibilities. All three have programs which last about 1 year but differ greatly by cost of their program. The high end is a school offering "Le Cordon Bleu" diploma at about $25,000 for the year. The middle program is a private culinary school which many of the chefs I have talked to say is a good program for about $15,000. The third which is what some chefs I have talked to have suggested is a local community college for about $7000 for the year.

After reading many of the posts on this forum, as well as many of the newer books on "becoming a chef", a common theme seems to be that you have to love what you're doing because "cooking doesn't pay the bills". Of course, all the culinary schools paint the opposite picture that with a degree from our school, the future is golden.

My question, now open for discussion, is for a talented, hardworking person, what do you see as the return on investment for the three levels of schools? I would imagine that at the more prestigious schools, you would have more (or better) contacts for recruitment than at the local schools. Then again, many of the local restaurants are familiar with the local schools and promote them heavily.

One chef I spoke with suggested that time would be better spent apprenticing with him as opposed to culinary school. (Of course, he graduated from NECI and has had a very successful career).
post #2 of 7
Well, Im not a chef yet, but I am going to culinary this fall. I am going to a community college for a few reasons, 1. Its allot cheaper than some of the private schools and the big name schools, 2. Its closer to home and that is good for my wife and children and 3. Its a good school with a good program. I think any admissions officer from any culinary school is going to say the same thing "you'll get a good job if you go here". What a load of crap imo. From the people I have talked to and the research I have done, it really doesnt matter, as long as you love what you do and you show skill at doing it. I dont think any person who is a chef is doing it for money, its a love type thing. I grew up in the kitchen, ny great-grandmother was a cook in a boarding house, my father was a Sous-Chef and my mother was a Pastry-Chef, so I grew up in kithcens and its what I love to do. I have been told by chefs I have worked with and others that I have allot of talent and natural skill and its the only thing I see myself doing at this point in my life.

Ok Im done ranting now, sorry if I got off topic.
post #3 of 7
First of all, I think spending $25,000 for a dipolma is too much. For just a few grand more you can attend NECI, CIA, or JW (all relatively close to where you are at now) and recieve an AOS.

The other consideration in making your decision is your future plans and goals. Smaller, local culinary schools and community colleges are great if you are planning on staying in the area, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that goal. If you are looking at moving out to one of the big citites after graduating, I would definately think about attending a more high-profile school. In your later years it may not matter too much, where you went to school, but as a young cook without many names on your resume, your schooling will speak volumes to chef. This is not neccessarily a good thing, but this is the reality of trying to break into the industry in a larger city. Of course, there are always exceptions to this rule, nothing is set in stone. I have found that being a graduate of NECI got me in the doors of places, but it was what I showed the chef that got me the job, not the NECI logo.

If you have any plans of trying to become a "high-profile" chef then I would definately look into the bigger schools. If that doesn't interest you, and your goal is to own a little place somewhere and cook killer food for the local community than smaller, and less known will work out great also. The other thing to think about is do you ever have a desire to go corporate? Many corporations like to see a degree, either an associates or bachelors.
post #4 of 7
Joel- I am a recent graduate of an LCB school. It may be the one you were referencing if you live in Ma. It was The Atlantic Culinary Academy in Dover, NH.
I choose this school and course for 2 reasons. The first was because it's a one year course but with a AOS at the end. It may be more money but you can be in the work force a year earlier an still have an associates degree.
Second, it is one of only 6 schools offering a Cordon Bleu certificate as well which possibly helps on a resume.
Just don't be conned by the admissions department. I think any culinary program will give you just what you're willing to put into them in terms of commitment. I saw many fellow students that were just there to party and kill time while spending their parents money on the loans they took out. My class started with 43 students and we graduated about 19. It's a two year course jammed into one so it can be a real killer. My opinion is that this program is best for the more mature student. (No matter what their age!)
Let me know if I can answer any questions about this school.
My final thought is any time you have a culinary degree, it may get you an interview but the rest is up to you. I think it may give you a shot at a higher salary or an earlier promotion but only in a big city enviorement. Good Luck
post #5 of 7
LCB schools are alright though quite costly. I have attended one in Chicago for the past year. While the chef's allow you to be quite creative, the administration has yet to be desired for. I have a wonderful grade point adverage, but I also think that anyone who pays their bills does too. What I'm basically saying is thaat you get out exactly what you put in. Everyone will pass their classes with flying colors, but if you truely want to learn, get involved outside of class and approach cooking with "reckless abandonment. GOOD LUCK!!
post #6 of 7
Actually, I just started at a culinary school in Montreal and the costs and overall quality of environment are completely inverse. The school is fantastic, all incredible teachers and a highly organized 1400 hour program spanning 10 months. A second follow-up program is available after the first is completed. The school's named 'Pius X Culinary Institute' and it competes competitively all over Quebec, receiving the Gold each and every time. This is both representative of great staff and an increasingly PR oriented administration that understands the value for the students of pushing its name into the industry.

Total cost for the program: $360 Canadian + supplies (about $400 worth). So the total cost is about $760 Canadian ($475 US). Needless to say, the government has put major subsidies towards this program. Similar to Mcgill, which costs us $1,400 US a year!

Now I am aware that this program follows the same form of curriculum as Cordon Bleu and the final certification is the same. I don't know anything beyond that, but things have been excellent so far. I'd love to know more about the differences with Cordon Bleu, CIA etc.


post #7 of 7
This is a topic close to my heart right now. I've done some looking around, and with the CIA and J&W four year programs coming in at US$83k and US$99k respectively - including accomodation costs. This seems somewhat extreme. (see http://www.dnrc.co.uk/culinary_training.htm for details. Errors are my own, and corrections welcome. I'd like to say that some schools have been less than open about exactly how much their total programs cost.)

Assuming you get to make US$25k or US$30k per year after you graduate (more likely US$20 though), paying 30% taxes of various sorts, that's a lot of years of payments if you take a loan.

If one goes the "quick diploma" route at a local college, in Canada this can be as little as US$4k, including accomodation, for a one year program that includes 3 months apprenticeship.

I don't know. I still haven't heard of any really convincing arguments for the cost of the 4 year bachelors degrees. The US$33k EACH program in Lyon or the US$23k Dubrulle programs seem to provide a similar culinary/pastry/business education. (no, I have nothing to do with them), and I haven't been able to get any chef to tell me that "yes, I definitely would only hire someone with a bachelors".

The more I look at this, the more hype and less facts I find. I think there's a straight-talking book or series of articles in there somewhere, if I ever figure it out. :-)

To me, culinary training is about passion and love of food, at least at the core. However, which school to choose is purely a business decision, and I'm getting far too much runaround from some of them (CIA hasn't responded to my questions, J&W has responded but refuses to actually answer the question, Calif Arts won't talk to me any way other than phone) to feel comfortable that someone isn't pulling a scam somewhere. Other schools have sufficient basic info on their websites, but it's still couched in marketing talk of "our school is best".

Is there any information anywhere about starting salaries and positions of CIA, J&W, EACH, and Cordon Bleu graduates vs people who get basic training and follow apprenticeships for a similar number of years? Surely one of the culinary assocations (ACF? CFCC?) has done some work on this?
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