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  1. #1
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    Culinary school dilemma

    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. #2
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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. #3
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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. #4

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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"
    "Me, cutie/chicken, the egg cup, I am the hammer of my spoon!"--Jen_Faith translation

  5. #5
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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!

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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.

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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.
    AceOn6, the golf loving skating fan

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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!

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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.

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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.
    -Brian
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by BigB08822 View Post
    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.
    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. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Scintillation View Post
    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 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. #13

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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!

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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.

  15. #15
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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.

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

    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. #16
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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..
    Thanks to PI .. I discovered I'm actually a Nontheist

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  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Anita18 View Post
    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.

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

    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.
    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.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Scintillation View Post
    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.

    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. #19

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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.
    "Me, cutie/chicken, the egg cup, I am the hammer of my spoon!"--Jen_Faith translation

  20. #20

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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?

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