'Local' school or Cordon Bleu?

Joined Jul 7, 2003
I have recently been laid off and am looking forward to a career change by taking a year-long culinary arts program. I am very inspired by Ruhlman's 'The Making of a Chef' and Ruth Reichl's writing. I've worked in kitchens and bars, but never felt 'qualifed' to work in the kitchen as a cook; always the bartender, never the chef....*sigh*

My question: There is a very nice local school here in Austin that accepts 8 to 10 students every class and teaches students basic culinary curriculum whilst allowing students internship experience working for the catering company that also uses the schools' kitchen. The staff is very nice and helpful, the chefs are well known and highly respected in the community, and I am likely to get very personal attention and good recommendations for work. I don't get an Associates degree in culinary arts, but a certificate of completion of the one-year program.

Then there is the Cordon Bleu culinary academy here in town. I will learn a very broad curriculum including Garde Manger, working in the 2 school-owned public restaurants, and a nice long baking and pastry class. The staff is very nice, but not as responsive to questions, perhaps due to volume of calls, and I am not assured that job placement is as personal an experience. My fear here is that I will be 'just a number', like I was at The Univeristy of Texas when I got my bachelor's, and I'm going to have to really pull teeth to get the attention that I want. But, the curriculum is awsome and I will probably get to experience 'fancier' food than that the local culinary school.

Does anyone have any insights or thoughts into this that might assist me in making an informed decision on which school to choose? I am also asking everyone I know for thier opinions and keeping in pretty close contact with the the respective school's admissions department. (I think I am driving them a little crazy with all my questions)

Le' mi 'no
Joined May 26, 2001
Hi, Aaron! You've come to a good place with your question.

There is no right or wrong answer -- there are only more questions. :D The most important question you need to ask yourself is Why cooking? Why do I want to go into this field in the first place? And then, what do I want to be able to do, eventually -- be a famous celebrity chef? Be a private chef and cook for a person or family that will give me a chance to travel the world? Run a really excellent independent restaurant? Do R&D for a nationwide restaurant chain? Be THE food stylist everyone calls for their commercials and photo shoots? You see, there are so many, many things one can do in this industry. Not that you have to know NOW where you want to end up in 5 or 10 years; just that you should be aware of the myriad possibilities for using your training.

Some others you need to ask yourself are (in no particular order):

- What do I want to get out of this experience: the solid basics of a new career, in which I will have to put in a lot of effort on my own to learn more advanced material (nice local school, hereafter NLS ;) ), or basics plus a bunch of neat fancy stuff that I might not get to use for a long time (LCB)?

- Am I willing to learn more about "institutional feeding" at this point and spend time learning batch cooking etc. that can always get me a job in schools, hospitals, corporate facilities, clubs, catering (NLS), or do I only want to learn "restaurant cooking" which leads to a riskier job situation (LCB)?

- Am I looking at this from the viewpoint of a romantic or a pragmatist? That is, am I in love with the idea of cooking, or do I want to earn my living at it?

- What other skills do I already have that will allow me to add to my food/cooking knowledge on my own, if I do not learn all I hope to in school?

- Do I really feel that a degree or certificate will "validate" my learning, or am I comfortable knowing what I know and being able to demonstrate that IN THE KITCHEN, where it matters most?

- Am I willing to put in a lot of time on my own to read and practice, to fill in any gaps from school and to keep growing professionally?

Now for a few questions to ask the schools:

- What are the specifics of the curriculum? Exactly what do they teach, and how long do they spend on each part? How much is lecture, and how much practical hands-on?

- Find out more about the faculty. You say the chefs at NLS are "well known and highly respected in the community" -- what is the range of establishments they are connected with? Is it a mix of restaurants and institutions? Have they worked in other cities, so they have contacts beyond Austin? Likewise, what connections do the LCB chefs have?

- And what about the students, current and former? Are they serious about learning and about the profession? What happens when they ask questions in class? DO they even ask questions? Where are former students working? What percentage is still in the industry? What sort of work are they doing?

This is one time in your life when you have a lot of control: think about what YOU want, and find out how each school will help you get it. Keep asking your questions. Read through the threads here. :D And keep in touch!
Joined Sep 27, 2003
Le Cordon Bleu is a great program. I am about one month away from completing the program, and on my way to Maui!!! I'm at Pennsylvania Culinary, so i'm not sure what the comparison is of the student/teacher ratio, but here it's one chef per 18 students. I have learned so much, have formed good relationships with instructors, and am more inspired now than i was then. Good luck with your decision. I suggest maybe stepping in on a kitchens class at each school to see what kind of vibe you get. Usually admissions will let you do whatever you want when they want your dinero.
Joined Sep 5, 2006
I would suggest you ask both schools if you could take a tour and meet one or two of the chefs. I am in a very small program at a private culinary school and I really like the personalized attention. It is not as formal or structured as I would imagine a college-based school would be, but it really depends on your personal preference in learning environment. As long as the school is accredited, I think it is your comfort zone. Go where you feel you can learn best! Bon Appetite!
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