I'm new to cheftalk.com so I just wanted to start by saying Hi. My name is Tony, I'm 25 year old from sunny South Florida and I'm an aspiring chef. Over the past year or so, I've been looking into a lot of different culinary schools not only in Florida but also all around the country. I've seen a lot I liked and a lot I didn't for multiple reasons. I've also visited a handful of them here in FL again with the same success: some I liked, and some not so much.
The more I looked into the schools and talked to people in the biz locally and also online, I started developing not only an idea of exactly what it was I wanted out of my education, but also where and why I should go to a culinary school. So many of them offer so much in common that is was hard for me (at first) to differentiate between them.
My primary focus is definately to go somewhere that actually offers Associates and/or Bachelors Degrees from the course study, not just a Culinary Certificate. To me, there's no point in paying money for a Certificate that I'm already qualified for in all of my years in the industry...in real world kitchens or fine dining serving. That being said, that really narrowed down my options as over 60% of all the schools (at the time) ONLY offered Culinary Certificate at their school.
To make a long story short, I started applying to all these big name schools all over the country: CIA in Hyde Park, NY....J&W in N. Miami, FL....OCA in Orlando, FL. I figured, "I obviously want the best education I can get, right? I mean, all these huge name schools MUST offer me more than what I can get locally....why else would they charge $30+ thousand a year!?". Yet every successful chef, sous chef, and hospitality manager I've talked to over the years have ALL said the same thing in regards to school: You get what you pay for....and ultimately, all's you're paying for is the name! When they're looking at someones application/resume, sure they're seeing what-if any-school you attended...but it all comes down to your personality and your performance. Is a CIA graduate who has poor kitchen communication and gets side tracked easily more likely to get hired at a top notch restaurant as aposed to a community college culinary student who's hard working, passionate, and sometime overly-attentive? Possibly....but only if the person doing the hiring doesn't know a damned thing.
I guess what I'm trying to say is, yes, all these big culinary schools are great...IF you can afford them. Is it possible for me to uproot myself from my family, my friends, my life, my homestate that I love so much, in search of a $60K education on the opposite end of the East Coast??? Yes it is possible...probable? Not so much. I guess for me, I finally came to the conclusion that I don't NEED that name on my degree to become who I want to ultimately become. I don't want to be a celebrity chef...I don't want to be Food Networks Next Star. I want to be a local, young, up-and-coming chef who got his Culinary AA at the Communtiy College, and who becomes great and gets the cool, top notch jobs because he's amazing at what he does in the kitchen, because he has so much passion in what he does. Not because he has to pay off student loans for the next 20 years just becuase he HAD to go to such a big fancy school. I'll pass, thanks :)
In conclusion, I've decided to attend a Culinary school locally and far cheaper than CIA, J&W, or OCA, and I am desperately hoping I'm not selling myself short lol. I believe every culinary school provides you with the basics, and it's from there-plus real world application in real world kitchens-that you'll REALLY start to get your education. School is just the foundations....it's after school, when you're in the workforce, that the structure truly starts to build and take shape. So to those of you still searching for the answers you need to find before you decide on a school or course of action, just remember....don't always do what other people want you to do or go where they want you to go. Because, in the long run, it's not their life to live...it's yours! Only you and you alone know what it is you want for youself, so do what's best for you!
(Just as a side note...I started this post intending to ask for advice in regards to everything I just talked about ^^^ but as I started writing, it all just kind of came out on it's own and became a kind of mini essay lol. I also came to most of these conclusions in the past 20 mintues or so I've been writing this. I plan on becoming an active member of this site and keeping a kind of running internet journal (would that be considered a "blog"???) about my culinary journey I guess you could say. I sometimes tend to be a little long winded (I like to write lol) so I apologize ahead of time to the Forum regulars :)