I have connected with a prominent and opinionated food writer in Seattle, and I enjoy our discussions. Ronald Holden is not new to Seattle’s food community, and he writes for Crosscut and his own blog, Cornichon. He’s surly, but he knows good food. We went to La Taberna del Alabardero, sipped some sangria together, and matched wits about recent writings. 

Because I’m going to culinary school, we discussed the benefits or harm done in school. Is it worth going? What are the benefits? How does the potential employment weigh against the costs of schooling? How else should one get into the industry?

Ronald recently posted a blog about culinary school. It’s well-written but critical. School should not take the place of hands-on experience, and even graduates of these programs must look to low-wage jobs to which they could be hired even without culinary school. And some programs may just be an elaborate scam to take your money.

To add fuel to Ronald’s argument, Frontline recently covered the high costs of college that lack the balance of a high paying job resultant of the degree earned. College, Inc. shows that some college programs even lack the accreditation for the degrees they’re offering. Some students of certain programs even found that they have become thousands of dollars in debt for a program that does not enable them to get higher paying jobs. 

However, I’ve seen a few food management jobs that prefer individuals with culinary degrees. I have also felt that my “lack” of chef credentials and schooling have affected my ability to move into the culinary world. While I value working from dishwasher to line cook, I don’t have plans to use my degree in a completely conventional way. 

Because I like to be educated about my career ideas, I asked members of the Food and Culinary Professionals subgroup of the American Dietetic Association about their thoughts regarding culinary school. Here are a few of the responses I received. 

“Students considering culinary school should do their homework: What training do the instructors have? Where do the students do their internships? How much help does the school offer after graduation? Where are graduates working? Culinary school is where you learn to use a knife, memorize the mother sauces and get comfortable with the rhythm of the kitchen. No one graduates from culinary school with the title of “chef.” Sure, graduating from Johnson and Wales or CIA is like graduating from Harvard or Yale. But even that only takes you so far.” 
“School is good and you can network – but it is a long road to the top and you might not make it – the talents of chef require much more than cooking – you have to be able to work well with people, work well under pressure and turn out top notch stuff quickly, proficiently and under pressure. I would liken that to playing a violin! But with that said – there is a lot you can do in foodservice and although the market is tight right now there are always opportunities in that field. If you love cooking it is a wonderful career.”
“I am actually a huge fan of the 2-year certificate programs at colleges.  1) they are affordable (especially in California at $13 per unit), 2) kids can work and go to school (most classes are the 4-day per week class; however, it’s not all day), 3) students are exposed to other programs vs just culinary–it’s a draw for students to explore the Foodservice Supervisor program or go onto a 4-yr and become a Registered Dietitian, and last 4) the pace is slower and takes longer, but perhaps they will graduate with work experience.  Through university programs, like Johnson & Wales, students complete an Externship which helps get them a job after, as well.”  
Is culinary school the best plan for you? Maybe. It depends on what you want to do with your training. And, apparently, you should keep your night job.