Culinary school dilemma

Discussion in 'Off The Beaten Track' started by Scintillation, Sep 24, 2012.

  1. Scintillation

    Scintillation New Member

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    Ok so I'm not sure if I've mentioned this before here, but for the past couple of years I've been saving money for culinary school. My original dream was to go to NYC to the French Culinary Institute, which is considered to be one of the best in the country. The list of alumni is ridiculous, the network around the school is amazing, and it's NYC and I'm in my 20's. This is the time. The catch, of course, is that it is very expensive. Like I've said I've been saving but I will still have to take out about $27,000 in loans to do this, and being that it's culinary school I will only have an entry level job ($10-12 hour is the usual salary range) when I graduate. The idea is with my training I will be able to ascend faster in the rankings while working at great NYC restaurants. That is the hope anyway.
    I decided to look at the culinary schools around here just to make sure I'm making an informed decision by going to NYC, and of course I came across one here that is actually very good and far far less expensive. No I wouldn't have the life experiences of living in NYC but I'd be saving myself almost $20,000 worth of debt, and the school has a growing network of rising chefs in the twin cities area. The food scene here is also growing and evolving. I worked at an old school bakery here for years and they are starting to struggle against the rising competition of higher end patisseries. The school here is starting a partnership with the James Beard foundation to bring in chefs for guest lectures and demonstations. No it's not NYC but there are some great places here where I can learn (and eat).
    Anyways, I was wondering if anyone here had any advice. I feel as if I should stay here and save my money but at the same time what if I am giving up a great opportunity to live in NYC?
     
  2. danceronice

    danceronice Corgi Wrangler

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    Um...honestly, I would go somewhere cheap. Because here's the thing, you are going to be getting 10-12 AT MOST for a long, long time unless you take out more loans and open your own place (heck, I'm getting $11 right now only because the chef ran me UNPAID for a day to see if I could keep up and wasn't just a culinary-school idiot.) You get ZERO respect on the line because you got a fancy-shmancy degree. All your boss cares about is can you keep up and work with everyone else. It will truly not mean a THING to get you promoted faster because most of the people working with you will not have degrees.

    NYC in particular, I'm going to be harsh, most of the people in the kitchens are a lot more like what Tony Bourdain says in "Kitchen Confidential"--cons and illegal aliens (who are the best people to work with because they bust their a**es and take their job seriously.) You have to prove you can outwork them from the bottom up in spite of having gone to culinary school instead of starting as a dishwasher and working your way up. If you want to stay in NY you might be better off just getting jobs with the best people you can doing anything for any money and proving you'll bust your a** without complaining or quitting.

    And if you want a culinary career--I'm a baker. I'm methodical, I don't like speed or imprecision, and I'm working a line right now because that's what's hiring. I never even did a stint in the cuisine kitchen in school for A La Carte--I did breads and desserts for that class. I have never gotten a bakery or pastry job yet. EVERYONE wants those, and there aren't many to go around unless you want to be decorating cakes at the grocery store. There's a lot more line work--it's hot, it's hard, it's exhausting hours, but it CAN be fun in a weird way, too.
     
  3. PDilemma

    PDilemma Well-Known Member

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    Save your money. Student loan debt can drown you. It's not worth it. If you aren't drowning in debt, you can move to NYC later.
     
  4. suep1963

    suep1963 Well-Known Member

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    A very wise professor of mine once said "if you are asking the question, you already know what the answer is"
     
  5. Jenny

    Jenny From the Bloc

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    Agree. New York will always be there - but you don't want your debt to be. You've seen the news stories and the terrible stats about Americans living in debt. The very best way to avoid that downward spiral is never to start it.

    I also think that if you work hard and do well, being from outside NY might help you stand out in the crowd. Chefs move around like crazy, so get to know as many as you can close to home and those that visit your school, and consider taking summer jobs in other cities as well - anywhere with an interesting food scene. For example, I keep hearing about Portland, Oregon - it doesn't always have to be the big cities.

    It's all about networking, and once you are off and running and have worked with a few known chefs, then the world is open to you. One day you will live in NY, don't worry - and perhaps many other exciting places you haven't even thought of yet.

    Good luck!
     
  6. Scintillation

    Scintillation New Member

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    Yeah I read that NYC is a lot rougher and intensely competitive. Not gonna lie, my fantasy about living there was way out of sync with reality of the NYC food industry.
    Thanks for the input, it just solidified my decision to stay here and go to school.
     
  7. Aceon6

    Aceon6 Get off my lawn

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    Half of the people I know who went to NYC ended up working for free as stages, not even getting the 10-12/hr. Most had 2-3 side jobs to pay the rent. YMMV.
     
  8. znachki

    znachki Active Member

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    I agree with, and can attest to everything danceronice says. Additionally, if the twin cities food scene is just starting to take off, you have a group of risk-takers who will be trying new and exciting things in a relatively low-risk (at least foodwise) environment. Everyone will probably be a lot more supportive of each other, because the competition won't be as great. Sounds like an exciting place to be right now!
     
  9. Scintillation

    Scintillation New Member

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    We have a couple of James beard award winners in the area now, plus we've always had some really fantastic authentic Vietnamese and Thai places in the area. The food scene is great and only getting better. I used to just blow off the Le Cordon Bleu because I figured it was a ripoff of the Paris school, but its actually good and there is a number of chefs rising through the ranks here that all graduated from there.
    And while I did work at a bakery for years, I don't want to go into pastry. I have a huge sweet tooth but I could never enjoy baking like I enjoy cooking.
     
  10. BigB08822

    BigB08822 Well-Known Member

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    I think it is very wise to stay where you are and save your money. You can always make a name for yourself and move to NYC someday when you get an offer for more than $12 an hour. The cost of living in NYC is just too outrageous to justify unless you are making some really good money.
     
  11. danceronice

    danceronice Corgi Wrangler

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    Yeah, that's probably never gonna happen no matter where she (she? sorry, OP, I'm assuming) goes. But honestly, it's a lot nicer to be in a place that ISN'T charging you an arm and a leg to live in an illegal apartment (ask my brother's coworker about that, and that's in Westchester county, not Manhattan proper) where you have a much better shot at a raise, more chefs and owners willing to take a paid chance on you, and it's a lot better odds you might someday have your own place or a head chef job yourself.
     
  12. Japanfan

    Japanfan Well-Known Member

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    And given that you won't need to go in debt to attend the school and make won't earn less money after graduating (beyond minimum wage/cost of living adjustments), the best choice becomes obvious.

    Making only $12 an hour, struggling to get the rent paid, and being $20,000 in debt could really put a damper on the experience of living in NYC.
     
  13. KCC

    KCC Active Member

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    My step son wants to go to the French Culinary Institute. Not knowing much about it, I checked out its website, and ended up wanting to go myself -- pretty impressive place! Wish I had the discretionary income and time to go do that for 6 months.

    But then other Google hits included one about students suing the school because they could not do better than minimum wage jobs and had high student debt. Although the program sounds incredible, it sounds like only the top 1-5% (maybe even 10%) will do very well, and everyone else will be very good cooks. My step son has never picked up a cookbook in his life and does not get them from the internet, so my guess is that he won't be in that top 10%.

    Perhaps one way to get good information would be to interview a few chefs and ask for their advice. My neighbor went to a chef school and he suggests to just start working in a good, mid-level restaurant, get experience and show a passion and desire to learn and do as much as possible. Might be worthwhile asking 5 different chefs for their opinions on the best way to get training. Good luck with your decision!
     
  14. Scintillation

    Scintillation New Member

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    Oh it is so impressive. I visited the FCI last summer and I fell head over heels for it. The facilities are amazing, their student restaurant is amazing, the teachers are amazing, you look at the tuition costs and your heart drops, but then they take you by their alumni wall and it suddenly seems okay that you're paying so much more.
    It literally took me a year to come out of that haze and realize that I could be making a disastrous mistake by going there.
    You know it's interesting, I've talked to a few different chefs in the area and there is a definite split. Some like that potential hires have gone to a school, saving them the time it would take to explain basic cooking methods, while others scoff at the idea of formal training.
     
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  15. Anita18

    Anita18 Well-Known Member

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    I too am wondering what sort of "life experiences" one could get in NYC that they couldn't get anywhere else? If anything, I figure NYC would be the unforgiving mistress crushing you with the bottom of her boot, especially if you were stuck working minimum wage jobs. A friend of mine works in NYC, in the art dept at Conde Nast. Still doesn't live in the city proper, although at least she made enough to watch every Broadway show several times over. :lol:

    I suppose whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger? :eek:

    If your current town is becoming a place where young chefs are starting to move in and experiment, I'd say it's worth it to stay and make a go of it. :)
     
  16. 4rkidz

    4rkidz GPF Barcelona here I come

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    A friend of my brother's opened up a beautiful restaurant of his own after 20 years working for others, although actually he has had a nice career.. he did it in an interesting way - he trained locally (like you are thinking of doing) and then he saved money and during his vacations would go and do one week training workshops in various places in Europe - apparently a lot of the training facilities in Europe will also do one week intensive courses.. the last one he did he told me about was in Italy and he said it was amazing.. so in many ways he had the best of both worlds - travel to experience different styles of cooking but without breaking the bank.. good luck..
     
  17. Scintillation

    Scintillation New Member

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    Well according to my friend who has been pushing me to come out there and live with him, it's the only place where you can see a guy walking with a cat perched atop his head.
     
  18. Norlite

    Norlite Well-Known Member

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    Nope. My small city, 150'000, has a guy who walks all over town with his cat on his head. Actually, sometimes up on his head, sometimes wrapped around his neck sleeping.
     
  19. suep1963

    suep1963 Well-Known Member

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    When I was in college (in Wisconsin--population 50,000) my friend had a cat who would ride on his shoulder or his head. The pair even appeared in the local paper. :)
     
  20. taf2002

    taf2002 flower lady

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    I'm surprised about the $10-12 an hour. We have a friend who has managed several restaurants - good but not 5 star, more like 3 star, & his chefs all made a really good living. And the chains like Macaroni Grill & Applebee's apparently pay just as good. Would a graduate of a good cooking school really start at only $10-12?
     
  21. barbk

    barbk Well-Known Member

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    If they *want* to work for a chain restaurant, no. Unfortunately, most graduates of tippy-top culinary instituttes want to work for notable, unique restaurants or chefs.

    A friend's grandson graduated from CIA about 18 months ago, and that included a number of externships at notable NYC restaurants where he found places to crash with friends. Then the first job at one of those places prepping veggies and cleaning salad greens, for not much at all. Then a first job back here at a sister low-end restaurant to a nationally-acclaimed restaurant, for just a little bit more. Then a low end job at the highly acclaimed restaurant, and a little (little) bit more. Some of these jobs were off the books, and I don't think any of them had benefits.

    Now he's off in San Francisco. Beat the streets and found a low end job at a high end restaurant; six months later he's moved up to being a line cook and is making enough money to pay for a very small apartment w/girlfriend & using his bike to commute. Doing some catering on the side in people's homes. He loves it, but it is a very low-income life still, and he doesn't have college debt. This job does have health insurance of some kind, and the head chef has been calling him in for extra work and special projects, so he's on a bit of a fast track.

    I've had his cooking, and it is amazing. But I've no idea what he'd do if he had a bunch of college debt hanging over his head. My impression is that he's now up to the $30K a year level, which doesn't go all that far in San Francisco.

    I would not go into debt for this unless you had a clear path to a job with a chain or hotel that would pay a reasonable salary, and even then I would not go far into debt.
     
  22. snoopy

    snoopy Team St. Petersburg

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    I realize this is something not in your interest zone but FWIW, I have a college friend whose dad works fairly high up at Marriott. A few years ago anyway (not sure if it has changed), Marriott considered a McDonald’s management position better than a college degree. Apparently, the training at McDonalds is spot on for restaurant and hotel management. And it’s free. That doesn’t have the cache of a fancy restaurant but I’m thinking the pay is fairly decent and has a career path to larger chains and a little more upscale food.
     
  23. Jenny

    Jenny From the Bloc

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    snoopy that's a good tip. Another reason to consider a career path in hotel restaurants is that they often have good career training programs to help you move up the ladder, plus benefits and more job stability than a restaurant that might close at any minute. And perhaps the best part - lots of internal job opportunities that could see you transferred to other cities and around the world. Some of the best restaurants in the world are in hotels.
     
  24. Anita18

    Anita18 Well-Known Member

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    You can visit for a week and see that if you really want to. :lol:
     
  25. suep1963

    suep1963 Well-Known Member

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    You can tell your friend that if you really need to see a cat on someone's head, that's what YouTube is for ;)
     
  26. Susan1

    Susan1 Active Member

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    Nothing to do with cooking here, but my co-worker went to NYC for vacation over Labor Day and has a picture of a guy walking around with a cat on his head! Is there only one guy or is this a club?????? :)
     
  27. danceronice

    danceronice Corgi Wrangler

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    Um...if you don't mind working for them (and I wouldn't, I'm not a snob), the franchises' major advantage is not higher pay, as it's about the same 10-12 range, but that chains usually have benefits like health insurance. The one-off places will almost NEVER do.

    And if your friend is a MANAGER, that's entirely different. As is "chef." I'm not a chef, and almost no one out of school becomes one right off. A chef is a manager. Yes, in small places they often cook, but they're not there just to prepare food, they're doing a lot of business admin type things, too, like purchasing, food costs, hiring for their side, dealing with the front of house. If you are lucky enough to not start as dishwasher or prep (a culinary degree will usually let you skip being a dishwasher at least and go right to prep cook) you'll be a line cook.

    Really, it's not a glamorous profession and it's rarely all that profitable. I do it mostly because when I can't find work for my real degree, someone's always hiring cooks (which tells you about the job turnover right there.)
     
  28. Scintillation

    Scintillation New Member

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    I wouldn't mind working for a chain, particularly if they offer benefits. I'm planning on keeping my retail job while I'm in school so I can hold on to those benefits. My boss is letting me stay on full-time but she'll cut me down to 32 hrs/week. I should have enough extra time to do stages at restaurants around town.
     
  29. danceronice

    danceronice Corgi Wrangler

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    ....Um...how many class hours/day are there? I'm not saying that you can't do a job and culinary school at the same time, but a job, culinary school, shifts at restaurants...I think you might be underestimating how tired you will be. Especially if you're in a bakery job with early hours, school during the day--restaurant shifts are usually something like 2-10 or later and you're on your feet the entire time.
     
  30. Aceon6

    Aceon6 Get off my lawn

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    Unless you're an early bird and are very good at breaking down meat or prepping fish! I work with a guy here (software job) who meets the chef/owner at the fish market then hacks them up before he comes to work here.