Anyone even remotely THINKING about a "culinary career" needs to read this...

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That makes me happy.  I'm 33 and (though it would never stop me) I did have a moment of pause when I toured my school of choice recently and was the oldest person there besides the Chef.  I'm stubborn as the day is long, however, and ultimately I will have what I want. 
 
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Late to the game but new here, wanted to say thank you for posting this, I am a 32 year old college student who was a stay at home mom before this and it feels good to know my decision was a good one. Its the first concern I had when i talked to the program advisor. However I am not going to a culinary school and the program is actually a business associates in hospitality and food service. They are training managers, and its definitely not 50 grand for a year more like 2! When i told him I thought I was too old he gave me a business card of a women who opened a bakery local and her product is well know within a year. she found a niche and went for it. She graduated a year ago. She is 55. That's right folks. 55.
 
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the problem is they are misleading... this is not a career where you go to school and are guaranteed even a paying job. if you manage to get paid, the pay is horrible until you get to the top. some say its not even worth it.

i would not pay for a school like LCB because it is ridiculous. those who are rich and do it simply for fun, i can understand... but for those who actually need a career to come out of it, i feel sorry for them. i know many that struggle financially and going to expensive culinary schools only set them further back. clearly making little over minimum wage isn't supporting their family, let alone paying off the debt from school and prior.

i am taking a culinary program at a community college... far cheaper, yet it still prepares you for work in a professional kitchen. it might help you get a job, but its still hard to... and anyone asking a culinary school for labor is looking to get it for free or very little pay. beyond those points, there is little reason to go to culinary school. i am still enrolled but only for restaurant management classes... i may not go back to the culinary classes. i cook professionally and i learn all i need on the job. (a lot of the culinary i learned at school is useless)
 
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Huy Bui,

I think you are painting culinary school with a very wide brush.  For YOU, you learn everything you WANT to know by cooking professionally.  However, just because you don't use things you learned in culinary school, doesn't mean they don't have a place for other people. 

For a professional cook with a stable resume, I simply don't feel that you can learn as much on the job as you can from having many more sources of information.  If your resume is 8 pages long because of all of the different place you've worked, then you may have learned a lot from the job.  However, much of the work of a cook is to prepare the same dishes over and over again.  There's not a lot of "learning" involved once you've gotten the quality and speed objectives reached. 

If I were rich, 20 years younger, and weren't married with kids, I might try going to Europe and begging to work for free to get the multitude of experience, but I don't have that option.  Culinary school offers the education that I don't have the time to pick up "on the job". 

I'm not in culinary school and don't intend to go, but if I wanted to learn the skills they offer, they would be a choice worthy of consideration. 
 
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hey their,

Very good point about having lot's of exp in many restaurant's but also doing the same thing, this is why I'm trying to develope my personal chef business of in home meal planning and dinner party services, unfortantly my market area prevents substantial growth of a personal chef in the Niagara region, perhaps I should be working in the restaurant industry after all, this way I know I'm getting security.

where your from

Jacob
 
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gobblygook,

nice of you to argue with me based on your vast lack of experience. excuses are like assholes, everyone has one. if you want to do it, you can. this thread is about those looking for a culinary career, if you want to learn for fun, that has nothing to do with this discussion.
 
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...Very good point about having lot's of exp in many restaurant's but also doing the same thing, this is why I'm trying to develope my personal chef business of in home meal planning and dinner party services, unfortantly my market area prevents substantial growth of a personal chef in the Niagara region, perhaps I should be working in the restaurant industry after all, this way I know I'm getting security...
With over ten years as a personal chef, I've learned that a personal chef cooks what CLIENTS want and, as such, the opportunities to "learn from experience" are limited by your clients needs and wants.

Similarly, working day in and day out at a typical, average restaurant will "polish your skills", but only for producing what that particular restaurant offers.

A "trade school", and that defines a great majority of culinary schools, should teach one how to use the typical tools to prepare and cook the typical dishes using typical techniques and processes. These "fundamentals" copy what has, over time, been proven to work but the opportunities for "professional growth are limited at best. IMHO, the typical culinary school trains one to become, with experience, a "journeyman cook", able to fairly quickly adapt to the demands of a specific kitchen to repetitively produce specific dishes rapidly and efficiently.

The transition to "master" or "chef" requires additional education and experience in some combination of OJT and formal training or exposure.

There is NO single path that will lead you to YOUR goal, only paths that are longer or shorter, easier  or more difficult, broader (to give one the flexibility of changing one's goal(s) ) or narrower (focused on achieving the desired goal). Note that ALL path lead to a "goal", stated, desired, or by happenstance, your choice!
 
 
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Looks like it's been awhile since anyone has responded to this but after reading AB's "opinion" on the subject, I feel it's all a moot point.

His take on the aspirations of people wanting a career in the culinary arts is a little twisted.

First off, it seems to me that he is lumping everybody into the "I want to be the next God's Gift to Chefs" catagory. Some people don't want the headache.

Some people just want to go to their local AI, or their local state college and get a degree in the culinary arts, go find a decent job, be able to pay the bills, enjoy what they're doing, and have a happy home life.

If I was 19 yrs. old again, heck yes this article would scare the crap out of me, and possibly make me re-think a career in the kitchen.

But fortunately, I'm pushing 54 yrs. old and I've got a pretty deep resume, and being a Chef ain't on there.

But here's the kicker, and why I totally disagree with his "philosophy" on age.......Being 53 yrs. old, and employed in one field or the other since I was 14, I'm mature enough to decide if I want to persue the culinary arts field.

And the fact that AB says I'm "too old" makes me that much more certain that I will obtain that career.  
 
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Well, here's the point I think many miss on this debate...The cost of SOME culinary schools does not reflect the actual pay you will walk away with. Try living making $700 a month payments on a cooks salary. It's difficult. Very difficult. 

Now with that being said, certificates are also offered at some of these "expensive" schools. For example, I know AI posts the cost as well as the median salary post graduation. There isn't much of a difference between a BA degree and cert in for recent graduates. 

Bourdain also discredits community colleges, which I think is a shame. Sure, some will be terrible but some are fantastic. 

What it comes down to, in my opinion, is the financial ramifications of those that feel they NEED to spend a lot of money on a culinary degree. 

What I've been doing the last few months is building my site which talks about a lot of these issues. www.culinaryschooladviser.com

I believe in freedom of choice but I also believe in making responsible and well-thought decisions. 
 
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Well, here's the point I think many miss on this debate...The cost of SOME culinary schools does not reflect the actual pay you will walk away with. Try living making $700 a month payments on a cooks salary. It's difficult. Very difficult. 

Now with that being said, certificates are also offered at some of these "expensive" schools. For example, I know AI posts the cost as well as the median salary post graduation. There isn't much of a difference between a BA degree and cert in for recent graduates. 

Bourdain also discredits community colleges, which I think is a shame. Sure, some will be terrible but some are fantastic. 

What it comes down to, in my opinion, is the financial ramifications of those that feel they NEED to spend a lot of money on a culinary degree. 

What I've been doing the last few months is building my site which talks about a lot of these issues. www.culinaryschooladviser.com

I believe in freedom of choice but I also believe in making responsible and well-thought decisions. 
I agree with what you are saying. I think Bourdain is basically telling us his ups, and (mostly) downs of his "entry level" career, which I think a lot of was brought on himself. Heroin and coke in the kitchen? Or for that matter, anywhere?

Although I don't feel sorry for him, I'm glad he is doing well and he is clean. I just think a lot of his past misery was rearing it's ugly head in the article.

Like I said earlier, that's something a young person could get very confused by, especially when they see their heros on the Food Network having such a good time and loving what they are doing.

I don't think anyone, young or old, should be discouraged from doing what they dream, or want to do.

You, and Bourdain are very spot on when it comes to researchingt your school very carefully.

Look man, I'm just a "wannabe" chef. I am not in this business, nor do I know what goes on behind the kitchen door. I'm just looking at it from a 53 yr. olds perspective whose had a lot of ups and downs myself. It ain't rocket science, it's cookin'.  
 
 
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I would have to echo jtobin's comments, and add my own. Are the high end culinary programs like CIA, LCB and J&W mighty expensive? Yes.

Do they give you a bit of gravitas when applying for a job at a place like Le Bernardin or Lola Bistro? Absolutely.

I worked under a chef, recently, who is a graduate of the CIA and, while it is not a terrible place to work, he is currently executive chef at a hot foods department at a local grocery. He is a wonderful person to work for, produces great food and seems to be relatively content where he is in his career. His own choices, however, determined where his career took him, and I think that is the case with any chef.

Work, cooking experience, and a little luck determines where you go with your career, not necessarily which school is on your diploma.

Bourdaine's article was written, I believe around the same time as Kitchen Confidential, so it does have a feeling of bitterness and anger which his book also has. I'm not saying that what Bourdaine  has said about the culinary world - the long hours, constant stress and meager pay - isn't true, but that perhaps he is missing out on what good there is in the profession.

As a future culinary student, I would hope to God that there is more in my future than working a 12 hour shift at a turn and burn operation for $9.00 an hour. If there isn't maybe I should reconsider what I'm doing. . . . .
 
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I think tony was spot on, he explained the road he took, and the road to take for success. This article shouldn't stop anyone from getting into the culinary profession, it just shows you need balls to succeed. Tony explained how the choices you make early in your career pave the way for the opportunities you will be offered and deserve in the future. The people that succeed in this business are the ones that learned early and made most of the right choices. I have had Chefs that have worked in good restaurants with years of experience come to me for a $10 to $12 an hour job. I have seen everything Tony talks about, and have fallen into a few of these traps myself. The only thing that kept me on the right track was my passion and wanting to succeed at any cost. If you want to work in this business you have to be the best, if you want to be the best you have to take chances, work hard, think on your feet, have a high level of drive and determination, be cocky, follow through and do it. The way I got into this business was being Cocky, I told a GM and Catering Manager, if they gave me a job, I would be managing the place in 6 months, they hired me so they could watch me fail. That was my first Restaurant job, 30 years later, working in over 25 restaurants with many highs and lows, I would not change one thing. Every bump in the road Will either make you stronger or kill you, it's your choice to lay down and die, or stand up and succeed. Tony's article will weed out some from entering into this field, it will also give the more passionate more drive to take the challenge and succeed.......................ChefBillyB
 
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I have a friend who just got out of culinary school.  He got a job through the school but was fired after the first week, because he was just not fast enough.

He is 32, rather overweight, and his reasoning for going to culinary school in the first place was "well, I like cooking, and I don't suck at it."

Well, that and he had failed as an actor.  Had he spoken to me about it beforehand I would have done everything I possibly could to talk him out of it, because to me, even before I read the article, "I don't suck at [cooking]" is a really, really bad reason.  To be honest, even being *awesome* is not that great a reason, because it is a pretty long and hard road just to get to cooking anything at all, so the "like" of cooking (notice how he didn't say "love" which was another tip tat this might not have been the best way to go)  isn't necessarily going to get you far enough in the career.  Personally, If you're really awesome, why can't you just get a job cooking right now?  If you really want to do your own thing, borrow money to start a food truck or take out joint instead of borrowing for school.  That way if you don't cut it you can at least sell the setup to someone else, or just declare bankruptcy.  Business loans can be discharged by bankruptcy.  Student loans cannot.

I am not entirely talking out of my ass here -- I've never cooked professionally but I've worked many different jobs to put myself through school, including some restaurant gigs.  It's a hard, hard life, and the payoff is not that hot for the vast majority of people.

But he's in hock for it now and I am not really sure what to do except to tell him to get right back out there as soon as possible so he won't forget what he's spent thirty grand learning.  And to lose weight (I have always told him this before I read that article just because being fat will kill you even if it doesn't kill your career first).

If you guys have any other tips, I'd love to pass it along.

Damn I'm glad that this is only a hobby for me.
 
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my chime about bourdain...

anthony bourdain is writing from the perspective of a man in mid life (hopefully), looking back...his opportunities, his choices, his final reality. he worked at Las Halles, while not a great restaurant, one respectable enough to assuage his ego, afford his 'lifestyle', and not have to work endlessly. sex, drugs,rock and roll were the everyday mantra, remember.  we share the same generation and the planet was clearly a different place in the 70's. sexual revolution, protests, free speech, woodstock(69'), flower power and drugs...lots of them!!!   i find mr. bourdain to be funny, charming, warm, honest and insightful...plus, he's a new yorker...what's not to like?! he admits he made bad choices and that he is probably a better writer than chef, but i didn't come away with him having any major regrets really, well, with the exception of spending/wasting so much money on his drug habit...compounded over the years, its major bucks...i applaud mr. bourdain for still contributing to the world of food that he loves and on so many levels....most of all, i love the F word......

funny, funny, funny, funny...aha, gotcha!!!!!

joey

thanks pete for the link...i also applaud you and chef ed for still contributing on a daily basis...thank you both....
 
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Both Chefs Billy and Bourdaine are right on the money. I think I know because I taught both in a for profit culinary school and in a public vocational  free enviorment. I taught the same things in both. 1 was  $ 20,000 year the  other free. Again It's not the school it's  the  student and how far he wants to go. !

One of best first jobs I ever got was I wentt for interview in a proposed huge brand new place that was not opened. Owner asked me what I paid my waiters, I told him and he said "I pay my valet parking guys more"  I said to hi "well that makes me smarter then You"" He said to me YOUR HIRED. that association lasted many good years..
 
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Well, I told him that he would do well just to get line and prep experience.  Hell volunteer at a soup kitchen if he needed to, as long as he can get a lot of volume done and increase his speed.  I think the worst thing to do there is to sit on his ass in the meanwhile because that would just make him slower the next time.

But the one thing I never had to heart to tell him is that he may or may not even be suited for professional cooking.  Hobby cooking doesn't always translate well into the pro kitchen, and going into debt to go to chef school without ever having gotten any experience in a pro kitchen first is in my opinion a really, really foolhardy thing to do.  And the pay...  Just like you said -- fact is it's a business and the less they can pay their people and still keep the good ones the better the restaurant does.  So the returns on the investment would be very small for a good long while.

I'm not saying that it would be a bad thing.  I'm just saying that I completely agree with Bourdaine that given what people get paid starting out and how low the success rate is, going thirty grand into debt just to get into the business is something that should be considered with great caution.  If someone can tale it for free, more power to them.
 
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Can anybody elaborate a bit on what he was saying about hotel chefs? What specifically does he mean?  I mean, you go to large resorts and you see a good dozen restaurants in them, is he talking  about chefs that work in those restaurants or more along the lines of... maybe room service...or... I have no idea what else a hotel chef might do.  I know the resorts near me, many of the cooks for them have union jobs. I think of how hard of work I do with no breaks, no benefits, low pay and all, and I think "WTF? UNION? What a bunch of prima donas!"
 
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my chime about bourdain...

anthony bourdain is writing from the perspective of a man in mid life (hopefully), looking back...his opportunities, his choices, his final reality. he worked at Las Halles, while not a great restaurant, one respectable enough to assuage his ego, afford his 'lifestyle', and not have to work endlessly. sex, drugs,rock and roll were the everyday mantra, remember.  we share the same generation and the planet was clearly a different place in the 70's. sexual revolution, protests, free speech, woodstock(69'), flower power and drugs...lots of them!!!   i find mr. bourdain to be funny, charming, warm, honest and insightful...plus, he's a new yorker...what's not to like?! he admits he made bad choices and that he is probably a better writer than chef, but i didn't come away with him having any major regrets really, well, with the exception of spending/wasting so much money on his drug habit...compounded over the years, its major bucks...i applaud mr. bourdain for still contributing to the world of food that he loves and on so many levels....most of all, i love the F word......

funny, funny, funny, funny...aha, gotcha!!!!!

joey

thanks pete for the link...i also applaud you and chef ed for still contributing on a daily basis...thank you both....
If it is in fact a new generation then how come of the last 6 guys who applied for cooks and line cook jobs I had . 5 of them failed the drug test?? You can't blame a generation for ones individual life style choices. They chose it of free will.
 
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LOL. Crack Me Up!!!
I think of how hard of work I do with no breaks, no benefits, low pay and all, and I think "WTF? UNION? What a bunch of prima donas!"
OK. So what you're saying is that given the chance to make everything in your career better and beneficial to you, you wouldn't jump like an angry kangaroo on a hot-plate, for a chance to join a union? Hhhmmmmmmmmm ........................
 
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Uh... 'scuse me, but wtf is a Union gonna offer?

$38.99 /hr?  Yeah sure, and for one 4 hr shift per week until you pass the arse-kissing exam, a.k.a.. the "seniority"  where you "qualify" to earn 1/2 of the stated Union rates IF you an work a minimum of 160 hrs/mth and not exceeding 164 hrs per mth, (whic no one gets unless they're a brown noser or a relative of the shop steward) and that will "qualify" you to next earn 2/3 of the stated Union rates. And so on and so on...

Don't "qualify"? Then you get A  4 hr shift per week or maybe a max of 16 hrs per week.  P/t get nothing else, no benefits, no nothing, and are "not entitled" to any Union representation for a min. of 3 mths, and in some cases a max of 9 mths.  "Course, their paychques are garnisheed, regular as clockwork, but I'm digressing here, aren't I?     (Deleted)-ing hell, P/t ers won't even get invited to the annual Christmas party or BBQ unless they're told by the shop steward that such things actually exist. 

For (deleted)'s sakes, 90% of the employees I've hired in the last 10 years have been "Union" boys looking for a way to make rent all the while holding on to their precious one or two shifts per week at the Union place, waiting until someone dies and leaves a slot open to move up.  Quite a few guys have held on to 2 or even 3 p/t jobs.
 

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