Should you go to culinary school?
Recently there’s been a lot of talk about culinary schools, a some of it extremely passionate and negative . People who have made a career in the culinary industries without the benefit of formal training tend to be adamantly opposed, as are some people who did, especially from a handful of schools which have not been very successful in keeping their promises to their students. There are some questionable schools out there, too, which have caused actual harm to some of their graduates. Friends of mine trusted in a school and now find themselves burdened with over a hundred thousand dollars in school debt, as nobody thought much of their credentials when the graduated.
On the other hand, most of the people who went to culinary school seem to have enjoyed and profited from the experience.
National papers have run stories of brokers sick of Wall Street who went to culinary school and opened a top kitchen, successful from day one, without mentioning that the newly minted chef/restaurateur made so many millions off his hedge fund that he could lose money on his own restaurant until the crows fly back to the North Pole.
Whatever you think of culinary education, the United States counted as a third world culinary country before Ferdinand Metz of the CIA, originally funded by the military, brought in European chefs to set standards and provide guidance for those who wanted to be chefs. Since, unlike Europe, the U.S. lacked the apprenticeship and guild based training which formed the consummate professionals from France, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and occasionally Belgium and Italy who had occupied all of our top kitchens and dining rooms, Americans with culinary aspirations had to make do with mostly second tier or second rate training and second rate jobs. Twenty-five years ago there were very few Americans in in our best restaurants and hotels. Today, thanks to our own culinary schools, American chefs are recruited for some of the most prestigious overseas kitchens.
Not all culinary schools are good, and the expansion of once reliable institutions has come at the cost of quality of education, surely in part the less selective practices required to fill all of the available slots. The school question is a very complicated issue, which requires more detail than these pages can provide, but perhaps we can offer some insights to assist you in choosing whether or not to formalize your training. Whether and which school depends on your skill and commitment level, your raw talent, your financial options, your age and what you want to do with it.
We are going to give some reasons for school and some against. We’ll talk about some of the well established and respected schools, some alternate training options and some of the warning signs that a school might be a good one, at least for you.