Culinary School: Cons


Despite the obvious advantages offered by culinary schools, many professionals are profound opposed to them.  This is partially due to their experiences with graduates from some of the large, for profit institutions, and certainly partially due to a sort of kitchen machismo. Those who “made it on their own” tend to look for industry taught cooks, while those with school backgrounds make all of their positions available to school graduates.

You have read the reasons for going to culinary school.  Below are some of the arguments against attending one.

  • Expense. They used to cost $4000 to $12,000. Now, without any food or housing whatsoever they run from about $40,000 to $100,000. School loans can never be forgiven, and some past graduates are now facing over $200,000 in constantly increasing debt due to interest and other fees.
  • Economics: Unless you have previous experience, you do not begin your life out of culinary school as a chef. You begin as a cook for nearly minimum wage and have the option to use what you have learned to work your way up the ladder of success. Or not.
  • No guarantee: The industry is harder than a lot of people ever imagined. It requires not only a very flexible mind but good bones and arteries, discipline, stamina and more. Many who begin on a high note leave within a few years. It is punishing.
  • Possibly stifling: Culinary schools tell you the “right way” to do things. If artists like Picasso (who went through extensive formal training) were hung up on the “right way”, we’d still be painting buffalo on caves.  Ignorance of the “right way” to do things can be a creative boon.  (Caveat: Creativity with knowledge and skill is fairly useless.)
  • There are great chefs  and restaurant professionals who never saw the inside of a school, but learned on the job by working under highly qualified chefs and being very particular in their job choices.
  • Some of them are very bad.  There are no national standards for any schools non certified schools, and trade education is thoroughly unregulated. The only requirement for opening a trade institute in California is separate and handicapped bathrooms.  Many schools underpay their teachers, and some use recently graduated students to lead their classes.
  • Trenches trump training. What you learn on the job, if you have to choose between a school and formal chef training, is always more important than what you learn in the classroom. The ideal situation combines both: The student works before enrolling to be sure that the kitchen environment will suit her, then cements classroom theory by working  while she is in school.
  • Some school recruiters lie outright.  What?!! You ask. Schools Lie!!?? How…  Just because they are schools, doesn’t make them good places to drop your money and spend your time. A number of trade schools, among them culinary, are right now under Federal investigation for accepting federal funds under questionable pretenses – such as telling students they will be chefs when they graduate, promising jobs where none are given. If they weren’t offering Pell Grants, they’d still be under the radar. Some are the target of class action law suits for fraud. Others belong to the group of schools, most of them trade directed, which entered into questionable dealings with third party educational loans. Google it.
  • The previously mentioned reduction of entrance requirements also lowers the quality of entering students, which impacts the culture of the school profoundly. Most culinary schools have to make money, especially if there are investor driven. That means that some have to accept almost anyone with a bank account or the possibility of getting a loan. They are thus far less selective in admitting paying students and reluctant to dismiss students not meeting set standards.  This lowers the learning quality for the entire class.
  • Time and practical considerations: Leaving a paying job for an uncertain future isn’t easy. Family, other school loans, obligations all make a formal education and training difficult or impossible. Your life is your life and you need to make your own arrangements.

In summary, good culinary schools have a lot to to offer.  It’s worth researching what you are going to pay for. How do you tell what is a good school and what school is good for you, though?

Next: How to choose a culinary school.  What to look for and what to avoid.