Culinary School decisions

Joined May 18, 2019

I am new here and discovered this would be a great place to get some great advice. I've been baking and cooking since I was very young and bake on the side for events, farmer's markets and things like that. I've always enjoyed baking but have recently decided I would like to pursue this in a more professional way. I'm currently 24 and work in a completely unrelated field. I graduated high school but have no further, formal education. Lately, I've been looking at attending culinary school, specifically for a pastry program. My top choices so far are:
1. CIA(California or Texas campus)
2. ICE(California campus)
3. Le Cordon Bleu(London or Paris campus)

Cost isn't really an issue as it is paid for through a family fund. My local community college no longer offers culinary programs and they weren't good to start according to a friend who went. My thought process is if I decide to go and it's already paid for, why not go to the best? I'm also open to continuing my self-taught path but would appreciate some tips. There's a lot of other issues that are factors in my choice(4 year boyfriend will leave me if I go) so I'm leaving a lot of doors open. I'm planning on finding a bakery here to work at before making a final choice. Any advice on the schools and their programs or how I can better teach myself would be appreciated! Thank you!
Joined Mar 1, 2017
Hi and welcome to CT! :)

Well, culinary schools are intensely expensive. The tuition at The CIA is over $40,000 per year if you live on campus and its even higher at their NYC location. It is also a very narrow education that will not benefit you anywhere else except in the food industry. By that I mean should you decide one day in your late 30's or 40's that you've had it with the food industry, your culinary education will not be of any benefit to you in transitioning to another career. Why is this a concern? Because the average career in the food industry lasts less than 18 months according to the US Department of Labor.

Next, there is a world of difference between baking for friends, family and farmer's markets vs. baking professionally. Having said that, I would strongly encourage you to get a job in a commercial bakery and try it out for at least a few months before you commit your time and money to expensive culinary schools. It is very possible that you may not like the food industry on the professional level. Then again, you could love it even more. Either way, you will gain a valuable understanding of what you are dealing with before you make the commitment.

As far as the culinary schools that you have outlined, they are all excellent. However, if you choose to attend Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, they teach many of their classes in French with the exception of theory classes and their business programs, which are taught in French and English. However, if you are going to live in Paris for a few years, doing so without the ability to speak French will really put you at a disadvantage both socially and academically. Parisians are typically not very tolerant with foreigners who come to their city and do not speak French, especially Americans. The London campus is more accommodating in terms of courses taught in English. Even then, proficiency in French would be very beneficial.

With all of this said, I am going to ask you the same questions that I have asked every vibrant, intelligent, young adult that has ever asked me for advice about a career in the food industry over the last 4 decades: What makes you think that a career in the food industry is the right decision for you? What makes you think you are right for a career in the food industry?

My intent here is not to talk you out of this career path or be a prophet of doom. My intent is to dispel any misconceptions about this life that may factor into you decision making. "Easy" days in this business are going to be harder than the hardest days in most other professions. 80+ hour work weeks are normal. You will work on weekends and holidays. The pay is bad. Benefits are very scarce until you reach management level, which is typically a 6 to 10 year track. You will have no time for friends, family, marriage, children or a social life. This profession has one of the highest divorce and substance abuse rates of any profession, second only to Dentists and cops. Regardless of whether or not you have a culinary arts degree, you will start out at the bottom pretty much anywhere you choose to work. There is more, but, I think you get the point; this is a hard life. This means there are two types who choose this profession: those who have nothing else and those who have a passion for food and an insatiable creative drive. Even then, a passion for food is never enough.

So, with all that gloom and doom out of the way, the only profitable advice anyone can give to you is this: if you can do anything else, do anything else. However, if you are convinced this life is for you, at least try it out first by getting a job in a bakery or at least in a commercial restaurant for a few months. If you still love it after a few months or so, the culinary schools will still be there waiting for you. :)

Good luck. :)
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Joined Oct 1, 2006
Hi Emilie,

Welcome to CT! Sounds like you have put some serious thought into this already and are on the right track for decision making. I'm glad you already planned on getting a job at a bakery to see what you think of the industry. This is an excellent choice, in my opinion. Having an "experience filter" was helpful to me. I had a few years in restaurants before schooling. Some of your classmates won't really understand "production" the way you might! Making 100s of a product is different from home cooking.

Your future decisions depend on what you want for your life. Prioritize what is important to YOU. How hard are you willing to work for those goals? If your goal is only meeting minimum standards, this is probably not the career field for you. You can look at other threads on this site dealing with graduates of the schools you named and have discovered that they could not KEEP their jobs. If a person cannot meet quality AND quantity standards, you will be let go... You will get a taste of that where you work, before finalizing your decision.

All cooking schools have the same mission, expose students to anything they may encounter in a pro kitchen. Expose, not practice till perfect... Whether or not you made a great, or even good, Pâte à Choux, the next day you will still move on to a different product. If you plan to stay after school to "mine" more information from your instructors you stand a chance! I would normally recommend a tech school or community college but, since you don't have financial issues, pick the one that makes the most sense to your goals. Your effort and dedication to learn is far more important than which school.

I agree with sgsvirgil about this being a tough lifestyle. Generally speaking, it is! Very long hours, hot kitchens, not much money, hot kitchens, busiest on weekends and holidays when everyone else is going out...

I also agree that if you can't understand every word from an instructor, you are cheating yourself of knowledge. I took a three week course in France, I think I lost about 40% of the information presented. Thank goodness it wasn't my $15k...

Until you make a decision about your future I would focus on the "why" of techniques. Why are you supposed to add this before that. Why mix this together before adding that. And knowledge of ingredients is next most important.

I'm a chef, not a baker, but this line of thinking led me to Apricot Oatmeal cookies. Same cookie dough as Oatmeal raisin, apricots just make them less sweet. Pulse the apricots with part of the oatmeal in a food processor, to prevent clumping, and follow all other directions. I like the bright apricot better than the sweetness of the raisins. Because they are both dried fruits there is no change to cooking time, mixing technique, etc. and most important, people like them! I've never seen a recipe for these, although there probably is one out there. I just knew that raisins and apricots have very similar properties and it should work, and it did. Ingredient knowledge is very useful.

I have no regrets, at all, about my choice to enter this field of occupation. I had an incredibly satisfying career that exceeded my expectations. "Attention to detail" plays a role in all of this. I didn't think my culinary experience would apply to other jobs, but a six figure job offer as a logistician changed my mind about that. I credit "attention to detail" for that...

I hope a Baker or Pastry chef chimes in on this thread.

Good Luck!
Joined May 16, 2019
Hi Emmillie,
So I went to JWU (Johnson & Wales University), and it was a good choice for me. I did the baking as well as culinary programs there. It was really expensive, and worth it because it was a degree and not a certificate. But the dean of the college told me when I was on a tour there, "You need to get a job in the industry before you come to my school." he was saying this in the nicest way possible (mainly because the school is $$$$). This is a hard industry, and semi unforgiving haha! but it is totally worth working in a bakery or pastry shop for like 8 months before you decide to go to school. You can learn A LOT on the job! Culinary school is really to get the background knowledge and base skills.
I really suggest having a job part or full time before you go to school. Hobby/ side cooking's a lot different than career cooking. It's awesome that you are fallowing your passions though!!!
Joined Oct 10, 2005
As someone with a classical European apprenticeship background, and as an employer, I suggest—no, wait, I beg, plead, implore, etc. for you to get a job in a bakery or kitchen FIRST. After a few months then decide if you want culinary school.

The job is not all about baking, or cooking, and their are no guarantees that you will like the work, the pace, the hours, the demands on your body, the demands on your social life, and, even though school funding might not be an issue for you, the salary you will earn.

The second thing is this: If you go into culinary school with “0” work experience, you will graduate with “0” work experience. (Assuming you don’t work p/t during school). Like it or not, employers are looking for experience first, education comes second. Even with a degree you’d probably be earning minimum wage or close to it for your first job.

I apologize if I’m sounding harsh or rude, but this is pretty much how things are.

Wishing you all the best,
Joined Jun 26, 2019
Hey guys, I'm new here. My name's Josh and I'm fairly new to culinary arts - I'd love to learn more! I'm looking forward to meeting new friends here.
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Joined Jul 1, 2019
Hey guys, I'm new here. My name's Josh and I'm fairly new to culinary arts - I'd love to learn more! I'm looking forward to meeting new friends here.
same here, so are you planning going to culinary school? where are you from?maybe we can be friend :)

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