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Culinary School

After 7 years of doing stuff I don't really find all that enjoying I have decided to pursue my true passion and go to Culinary School. I have always dreamed of eventually running my own inn or restaurant and don't know why I didn't pursue a career in food earlier in my education. I am now in a little bit of academic debt, but just don't think that continuing my current education would be worth it.

Anyways I was accepted at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City and have looked into the Culinary Institute of America, and Johnson and Wales. I would rather do a one year program but was wondering if there are any chowhounds out there with advice on culinary schools. Also does anyone know where I could find some scholarships?

Thanks so much.

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  1. If you are a woman, I suggest joining the WCR. They have several scholarships open to members, so you would have to join. Membership is only $45 for students. It is a fantastic organization.

    http://www.womenchefs.org/

    Good luck with you career change!

    1. I have a great friend at CIA right now and he loves it. That said, I know he did his research and didn't like Johnson and Wales and ICE because they were more heavily focused towards the hospitality industry versus super high end dining which is what he wanted to do. Let me suggest before you do this you find some place that will let you work on the line for little to no money (which is what you'd make anyways working on the line) and decide from that if you want to go.

      8 Replies
      1. re: jpschust

        Working first is a great piece of advice. I have a few friends who were career switchers, went to culinary school, paid a ton of money, and then quit within a year of working. They ended up cracking 1,000 eggs at 4 AM, etc. School will teach you great skills, but it's very different than working it as a career. Nothing beats some real world perspective before you plunk down the money.

        1. re: sgwood415

          Yes, work first. You'll know shortly whether its something you love and want to spend inordinate amounts of time doing.

          1. re: ccbweb

            yes yes 1000 times yes. work first.

            1. re: soupkitten

              Read Kitchen Confidential too, if you haven't already. Not only is it well-written, but he paints a fair picture of what it's like. The cut hands, the people, the manic lifestyle. He also has a short commentary later in the book about the career switchers he's seen come into (and quickly go out of) his kitchens.

              1. re: sgwood415

                True. A great read and perspective, though Bourdain might scare some from actually working a kitchen ;-)

                1. re: sgwood415

                  I also suggest reading "Heat" by Bill Buford, it's a little whimsical and self-indulgent, but it's well written and engaging. With an entre into the world of high end kitchens as a casual friend of Mario Batali, and a writer with the New Yorker, he pursues the ultimate foodie dream. He starts as a novice prep cook at Babbo, allowed in the kitchen for no pay because he's writing a profile on Batali for the New Yorker, and gradually over the course of more than a year works his way up through all the stations. Then he immerses himself in culinary missions in Italy, pasta, butchery, making salumi. It's a great read! He spends a lot of time describing the kitchen dynamics and ambitions of his co-workers, and often follows them to life after Babbo.

                  1. re: ballulah

                    I'm reading it right now and love it.

                    1. re: nycmegs

                      Sorry to be make a repetitive suggestion, I didn't get all the way to the bottom of the thread. It's a good read, isn't it? Made me want to offer myself to a kitchen as a sacrificial goat or something.

        2. Do yourself a favor and checkout New England Culinary Institute as well. My second would be CIA.

          1. Here are some helpful links:

            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/371799
            http://www.chowhound.com/topics/364636

            Good luck to you. I graduated from California Culinary Academy, back in the Stone Age
            when it was a really good school, and before going to culinary school became hip. The teachers then were strict, European and insisted on a classical education with some Californian topspin. Today, it's a sad shell of its former self, owned by Cordon Bleu and interested only in taking your money.

            Look around for scholarships. The money is available. Non Cognomina's rec of the WCF is good. Also try Les Dames d'Escoffier, AIWF, other food organizations, and the schools themselves. School loans can add up, and can take out a pretty big chunk out of your (not so big) paycheck. Most programs are 2 years, I believe.

            1. First off, congrats on the desicion. Second, I agree with those recommending that you work in a kitchen first. I'm going that route myself. I took a kitchen job having never done it before and somewhere along the lines decided that I really wanted to do it for a living. At least now I know what I'm getting into. Good luck in NY, I'm an NYer too but I'm headed down to Philly for my education. Keep us updated.

              1. i don't know what kind of field you've studied, nor what are your expectations.

                do you have a few places in nyc you frequent or really like? even guys like jean-george and daniel might let you peel carrots for a day.

                there is something called "stage". pronounced "stodge". basically, you put on whites and work for free. it might be one shift, it might be a few weeks. on their end, you are unpaid labor, on your end you get to see it all first hand.

                you might want to try this before committing to another student loan.

                frankly, cia and j & w hold a lot more cache than the other. either way, there is a shortage of chefs. but graduates of culinary school are now more the norm than not. you will still get treated like dirt and paid horribly at your first job after graduating.

                good luck!

                3 Replies
                1. re: hotoynoodle

                  How do I go about getting stage positions. I'm fine with doing the unpaid labor part. ICE interest me because I want to stay in New York city and it has a fairly good reputation. Also ICE program is only a year and you can add the restaurant managment to the culinary arts program. I feel like J&W and the CIA are more geared toward undergrad where ICE seems to be for the career changer. I might be wrong but that is what it seems like from all of the websites. I'm going to tour the CIA in May. With the CIA you are required to have 6months of experince. Does anyone know what type of experince this is? Would doing food prep at Wholefoods count?

                  Thanks for all your help.

                  1. re: nycmegs

                    as i mentioned above, if you've got a place you normally frequent, you can have this conversation with the owner, manager or chef. provided it's not too tiny, and you won't merely be getting in the way. you can also shoot larger and ask to stage for one of the city's more famous chefs. you can write a letter, make a phone call, drop by before the place opens (DO NOT GO DURING SERVICE!), send an e-mail, etc. explain your situation. worst they can do is say "no." don't be discouraged, somebody will say yes. think about places you might like to work someday and start there. if it happens you find a place and click, it could be an invaluable connection later on in your career.

                    i'm not trying to discourage you, but i've seen lots of people in your shoes and after a few weeks, or even days, in the kitchen they change their minds. the heat, the hours, the pressure, the lousy pay, etc.

                    you'll have to check with cia about what they consider suitable experience.

                    1. re: nycmegs

                      I found chefs to be quite receptive to helping someone get experience. They were there too once. I approached a very famous chef in SF once and was pleasantly surprised at his openness. If you are genuine and have passion for cooking, they'll always welcome you. You better be ready to work though (for little or no money), they'll kick your butt out just as fast if you're not for real.

                  2. You may want to read the book "Heat" to get a feel for what it's like for an amateur to work in a professional kitchen.

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: PeterL

                      Good suggestion PeterL! Also take a long look at "Becoming a Chef" by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page.

                      1. re: fini

                        "Becoming a Chef" is a fabulous book on many many levels. "Culinary Artistry" by the same duo is also a good choice.

                      2. re: PeterL

                        I didn't get this far down in the thread, and said the same thing.

                      3. First of all I want to thank everyone for their great tips. I picked up Heat today and really love it. The other books are going on my to read list. I'm going to sit in on a class at ICE on Thursday.

                        I guess I'll explain a little more about me. I have been going to school in something I have really recently discovered I do not enjoy. This being said I have an excellent education to fall back on with some good work experience and connection in the public policy/political and business world to fall back on. I also know how hard it is to work in the culinary world. My father has been everything from a waiter when I was really young, a wedding cake maker, a baker, and now he runs his own cafe in Rollinsford, NH (if you are ever in the area go try the Black Bean my dad makes a killer brioche and sticky buns and to this day his bread is really thee only bread I like). This being said I have seen the struggles he has gone to to keep afloat in this business and know how hard it can be and have seen you really do need the passion.

                        His first recommendation to me was to go and get a job some where too. So I'm taking all these suggestions and am going to try to get a position somewhere in the city. I'm thinking of nannying on the side as well so I can keep a roof over my head. I'm thinking of taking a leave from my masters program and testing my feet in the culinary world for about 6 months before making the ultimate career changing decision. Also I should add I'm still fairly young so I haven't been in my current career for that long.

                        This brings me to my last question. Though, eventually I would like to own my own Inn with a restaurant I'm really interested int the catering aspect of the culinary world. Would it be worth it to get a job with a catering company or should I really pursue work in the restaurant field?

                        Again thanks so much for all your help. You have know idea how these comments have really helped me come to a rational decision regarding this life change.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: nycmegs

                          Catering might offer you some experiences that translate to the Inn business. My father owned and operated his own Inn for a couple of years before it went under. He didn't have the passion for running a business, but loved entertaining. There is a lot of customer facing time in an Inn and catering gives you more training for that than being on a line. My understanding is that catering is by the job, there aren't many full-time catering jobs. A lot of the cooks I worked with (in a restaurant) would take catering jobs on the side when they came around. So maybe you can try both.

                          1. re: nycmegs

                            Restaurant experience will translate to any other area of food service really. You can't replicate the feelings and pressure of being on a line during service at a busy restaurant or of doing the mountains of prep with a time crunch in a tiny restaurant kitchen (and most of them just are) while people are screaming for it. It sounds like you've got a good view of the food service world and I don't mean this to be at all patronizing, but there is something of a difference between seeing it and living it. You've got a much better understanding of it, though, than most people who might be pondering changing careers like this.

                            Do you want to be the chef at your own Inn or do you fancy running the Inn in all facets? It may be that what you really need is management training instead of kitchen training. And if you're interested in catering, then the best thing to do would be to go talk to catering companies and work for them some; they'll all always need help.

                            Ultimately, it sounds like you've got a good plan. If you can get your feet wet for a while and try some things you'll get a good idea about whether its something you want to do and, more importantly, you'll learn which parts you like and which you can't stand and maybe you can have your own place and just do the parts you like and hire other people to do the parts you can't stand.

                            1. re: ccbweb

                              ccbweb has said a lot of good things in this thread.
                              Catering is a very different world from restaurant cooking- and, like restaurants, it can run the gamut from sandwich making to seared venison medallions over morel risotto with a huckleberry jus! (Sorry, I'm a catering kind of guy- didn't love restaurants)
                              I would take this particular series of comments and take it one step further- if you want to eventually run an inn or a B&B- go work in one! The combination of hospitality/concierge/chef that most inkeepers must balance is unique to the environment. Hotels are probably the next closest thing (very different from restaurants and from catering).

                              Glad I worked through High school in a pizzaria and some summer fairs to teach me about customer service and volume.
                              Glad I had a 4yr degree before culinary school
                              Glad I changed careers
                              Glad I went to a culinary school that offered hospitality/mgmt classes with the culinary (I went to a Cordon Bleu affiliated school)
                              Glad I worked in an upscale pub to learn the line and reinforce the volume, speed and precision that school CANNOT teach.
                              Glad I externed with a catering company and found my passion

                              However-
                              School was expensive and the culinary field pays rather poorly- I'll be paying off my loans for a LONG time- I still love to cook, but I'm glad I have other skills that I can translate into sales & management jobs (anybody hiring?) They'll say it in your classes, but even with a degree from the CIA, you won't be running your own place or even necessarily a sous chef in your first few years out of school- pay them dues!
                              Cooking is hard on your body- take care of yourself- your body and your mind- never stop learning and trying to better your skills every day.

                              To reierate other's advice- read Kitchen Confidential (anecdotal stories of a life in restaurants), Heat (Best description of learning to adapt to restaurant life I've ever read), Becoming a Chef & Culinary Artistry (inspiration for every moment you spend in the kitchen), and The Making of a Chef (about Culinary School).

                              BTW- staging is an easy thing to accomplish. Just ask the chef- the vast majority of the time, they'll accept you with open arms. I staged at 5 restaurants in two weeks between the pub and the first caterer- some of them just needed another body to prep, some of them were interested in temp-to-hire, but they all said "yes."

                              1. re: lunchbox

                                Seeing as you post often in the Chicago board, did you go to CHIC?

                                1. re: LabRat

                                  Yup, LabRat, I'm a CHIC...
                                  I was in a similar boat to the OP- Found myself spinning wheels in a career that used to be my passion. I always enjoyed cooking but had no role models and I knew I had a lot of fundamentals to learn before I could presume to accomplish anything in a restaurant.
                                  I investigated culinary programs in Chicago, and ultimately chose CHIC, partially because my Bachelors would shorten the program to 12 months, and partially because I was looking for a very fundamentals based program: While Kendall and the Art Institute both had programs modeled after the CIA, CHIC (at the time) had classes with simple, approachable titles like "soups and sauces" "Meat fabrications & cooking" and "Garde manger"- If I already had strong basic skills, I would have found the separation a little pedantic, but by spending intensive 11 week blocks honing individual skills, I felt I had a good toolbox to go out and work with.
                                  In the last 5 years, CHIC's curriculum has changed and it, too, more closely resembles the CIA model while AI seems to have matured beautifully into an elegant and comprehensive program. Robert Morris, College of DuPage, and several other community colleges and technical schools have added full culinary curriculums since 2000 which are mature on their own merits.
                                  I needed to spend 10 hours making bechemels and 15 hours cooking potatoes. Now I use that toolbox when I am dispatched to a strangers' kitchens and I need to come up with 5 specials and make them from scratch using only what I can find in the coolers!

                                  Back to details about the OP, what ccbweb says below is true- one can learn how to survive in the food industry by working, but there is a catch-22, If you work in 1 place long enough to succeed, you learn only how to succeed in that one place; if you move arround to get a more well rounded education, your resume may appear a little mercurial or unstable to future employers- especially in management and hospitality which seems to be the thrust of the OP.

                                2. re: lunchbox

                                  Lunchbox is also right on about the cost. If you want to run your own place, esepcially, you should factor in the cost of attending culinary school versus working for a few years to gain some experience. I'd be curious to know what others thing, but my sense is that working full time for about 4 years in a good restaurant in which you can do some varied things is probably pretty close to what you'd get from a 1 year culinary program. You won't make much working, of course, but when you figure that you also don't pay, what, $20,000 or more for the program, it might be worth thinking about.

                                  Ultimately, I think all of it boils down to what so many have said so well in this thread: jump in and muck about and do all of the things you can find to do and see if you still have passion for it. Then go where your heart takes you.

                                  1. re: ccbweb

                                    yes, i'd agree, as long as you carefully choose the restaurants you work for & can get lucky with passionate people giving you pointers, then really taking you aside and showing you their honed techniques.

                            2. Work first, work first, work first!

                              I've been working in restaurants for over 11 years in most every position, both front & back. I'm a CIA grad, who would never go BOH again unless it were for myself.

                              Best of luck & enjoy!

                              1. You've gotten great advice -- WORK FIRST! Now, after you log a year or so in the field, and still want to go to school, you might be a candidate for scholarship. "Might" is the operative word because there are many worthy candidates for limited funds. What makes you special, different and deserving of funds? "Because I want/need them" is not a good answer, she says with authority and experience. Something unique and worthy must set you apart from the herd.
                                NB: there are both "in-house" scholarships and those from other sponsors like IACP, etc.

                                Learn everything you possibly can, even if you think it won't apply to you. No one has a crystal ball. Thinking that you'll be flipping pans (or whatever your current choice) forever negates the education part of your schooling, which ideally is designed for every aspect of the F&B industry.

                                Please, do more than "sit in on a class". Spend as much time at school as they will allow, talk to current students and grads, ask the hard questions. You should get good information from them since they've already been down the ICE path.
                                NB: I know ICE when it was Peter Kump's and it has "walked the walk" for more than 25 years with a solid reputation.

                                Good Luck with your dream.

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: Sherri

                                  Nycmegs,
                                  Please also talk to innkeepers since that is also part of your dream. (Cornell in upstate NY is another lead for you in terms of school.) As a cook/chef/caterer/innkeeper, please bear in mind that the hours are relentless -- 18-hour days often, weekends and all holidays. Those professions are murder on relationships, having a family, keeping health insurance -- some sad realities. Kitchens are rife with psychosocial conflict and stress. Nevertheless I always want to encourage someone to pursue her dream, even if the dream requires a bit of fine-tuning to work for her individual life. Once again, good luck.

                                2. I am struck by the profound experience-based thoughtfullness and deep concern expressed in these posted replies.

                                  Good luck, nycmegs.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: Sam Fujisaka

                                    I know all of these postings are really helpful and am so grateful for all of the advice that you have all written here. I went and sat in on a class today and got to talk to many of the students and the chef instructor. They were all very helpful and I got the sense of what a class would be like. Most of the students were in their mid to late twenties which was nice to see.

                                    Once I'm done with the semester (I'm at NYU for a masters). I'm going to pursue some stage positions and look in to some other programs.

                                    Again thanks so much for all of your comments. All your insights and advice is more the appreciated!! Most of all it makes me realize I'm not crazy for trying to pursue my dreams but that I need to real it in a little bit before taking the jump. I think my mom is grateful too because she was getting a little nervous that I was going to jump without thinking.

                                  2. Others have recommended some worthwhile books for you to read. I would like to recommend you look at the introductory section of “The Book of Tarts” by Maury Rubin. It’s the section called “The Road to City Bakery.” Also, the introduction to “Rosie’s Bakery” by Judy Rosenberg and the preface to “The Little Pie Company of the Big Apple” cookbook by Arnold Wilkerson. You can probably find these at a library. It will take longer to find these books than it will take to sit down and read these short selections. These little excerpts will show you how others got started. What you might learn from this little exercise is that moving into restaurant work/ catering/ hospitality field is not like school with a clearly defined number of credits in each discipline before you are "ready." You can define your goals and what you need to get there. As ever, good luck.

                                    1. Oh! I wanted to add, I have a friend who is in catering who went to the Institute of Culinary Education and she has nothing but good things to say about the program and the doors it's opened for her. (I was contemplating this route myself.) She was also very encouraging about the scholarship programs available from the school itself.

                                      And another route you may want to look into is getting an job as a personal chef. I was actually offered a job as a personal chef right as I was thinking of making a career change, but another opportunity arose that I couldn't refuse.

                                      1. All I have one more week of my masters program and will begin looking into working in restaurants or for a cater and maybe an Inn next week. I'm really love all the tips. The books are amazing and very eye opening. I have to say that they are making me really want to go work in a restaurant just to be part of the action.

                                        Again thanks so much for the suggestions.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: nycmegs

                                          My last post in this thread, I promise!
                                          WOO HOO good luck nycmegs! Go where your heart tells you!
                                          Just one more recfor culinary school- Alumni and Career services- I have gone back to my peers and the career services for many many jobs- I went to a career fair at my alma mater yesterday just to see who was stopping by and to see what graduating students (my future competition) were into... I got 2 job offers and 2 referrals in 24 hours.

                                          1. re: lunchbox

                                            As a culinary school grad, I have mixed feelings about which route to pursue. My assessment after graduating 16 years ago is that 2 years of a good culinary program correlates to about 8 years of avid experience working in many different kitchens. Opting to go the "apprentice" route requires a steadfast commitment of pursuing the best and most talented people to work with and the nerve to keep moving on. The other plus to attending a well respected institution was alluded to in the post above, you will forever have opportunities and doors open that you otherwise would rarely see. You also need to have some insight as to what you might like to do down the road. There are some jobs that a lack of a degree would be a huge burden. My current position was based not only on my past experience, but by my degree. This was the first factor my employer used to weed out the field.
                                            All that said, the cost of a quality education is a huge investment that will take a long time to repay at the wages you will be earning for quite a few years. When I went to school the cost was about half of what it is now, and it took me 10 years to repay. I also can't stress enough not to waste your money on a second rate culinary program! They will suck your money away and you will be no better prepared than working for a single restaurant for your education. Choose wisely.
                                            As has been previously mentioned, make sure you get actual down and dirty, real world work experience before you decide on a culinary program. The attrition rate was very high amongst those who had little work experience, yet they still had to repay the tuition!
                                            Have fun!

                                            1. re: mattrapp

                                              The apprentice route would work best if your goal is to work in a kitchen, but not be involved in the running of the business. If you want to open your own restaurant some type of business coursework would probably be beneficial. Culinary school management courses would be specific to the industry, but business courses at your local community college would translate fairly well to the restaurant business. This also works in reverse. The management courses I took as part of my culinary education (CHIC) translated so well in to my non-food related field that I was able to get promoted from technician to supervisor to manager in fairly short order. This has caused me to delay my entry in to the culinary world, but now I can afford to (occasionally) eat at the fine dining establishments I was training to work in!

                                              1. re: mattrapp

                                                This is a great post. Especially:
                                                -- "2 years of a good culinary program correlates to about 8 years of avid experience."
                                                -- "Opting to go the "apprentice" route requires a steadfast commitment of pursuing the best and most talented people to work with." -- absolutely.
                                                -- "you will forever have opportunities and doors open [to you as a culinary school gread] that you otherwise would rarely see."
                                                -- Many employers (esp. high-end restaurants) do use a culinary school degree as a requirement for employment, though won't state that directly.

                                          2. Congratulations on your decision to pursue your passion. I did the same thing, leaving high tech after many years. I wanted to stay on the west coast, which limited my ops at the time I went. I went to California Culinary Academy prior to the educational debacle it became as a "diploma factory". CEC, which owns many culinary schools across the country is now addressing the issue and I hear the standards for student and staff performance are up and people are being held accountable to their performance standards. That being said, I also know noted chefs who graduated from CIA and had similar issues with that school.

                                            Anthony Bordaine's book is a lot of ego. For a realistic view into the CIA, I suggest reading "Making of a Chef" and "Soul of a Chef". You will get a better view to what happens at CIA (thought it's changed a bit since the books were published). The author "lived" the student experience and wrote about it.

                                            Be wary of the schools that encourage you to take out loans that they assist in getting (a lot of them earn their keep with the federal monies that are available for continuing education). If you want to pursue an extended education in wine, there are also scholarships available from various wine associations.

                                            With regard to the reality of the culinary world, "stages" are typically "work for free" or nominal payment. If you speak French and are willing to really work like a dog, get very little sleep, and be treated as a grunt, you might be able to secure a stage in France and have an experience of a lifetime. At CIA, they will assist with the externship part of the programme. The pay for line cooks and new chefs is paltry. The reality is that it's only when you get into the "management" ranks is the money worth the time. That is not to say there are not other avenues for financial security. For example, food styling can pay quite well.

                                            I pursued the wine route, never intending to be in a kitchen, other than to network with the chefs and understand their creations as it relates to wine. I've made some great friends in the process.

                                            Best of luck to you. It is worth the journey!

                                            1. My sister graduated from J&W back in 2001. As it's been said, she did have a lot of doors open to her. An internship at TRU along with a job offer, an offer at Charlie Trotters, a job at 302West. All great opportunities! She had spent her teenage years in kitchens working, so she knew what she wanted and went straight to culinary school right out of HS. Her student loans are horrific! Basically a second mortgage. And with what she was making working in the business, she couldn't see herself paying them off in this lifetime. I always thought I'd want to work in the kitchen too, so my sister allowed me to stage with her for a day. I went home and crashed... couldn't move for an entire day. I have a lot of respect for her and everyone else who does it everyday! It's a lot of hard work. If you have a true love for it, it won't bother you. But I thought I had a true love of it and was proven wrong.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: Gelato_in_Roma

                                                thank you-- i guess i was waiting for someone else to say it.

                                                talked with a career-switcher (no food experience whatsoever) getting into the business. she is so "inspired" and stoked right now that it will be tough to watch if she can't make it work. the biz is so tough & i've watched so many incredible, talented people put everything on the line only to fail or not be able to mentally & physically do the work. another contact who worked semi-pro & is now trying to get back in the biz is dealing with the fact that she may not be able to physically do the work any longer.

                                                all who want to try their hand in the biz should have to lift a 60 pound wet-boxed case of celery to shoulder height and carry it 100 feet and up a flight of stairs. if they have trouble with this, they may have *much* bigger problems in a 12 hour kitchen day. it's not all purty tartlets and immaculate chef's coats & for the little guys there are endless supply & staffing headaches. . . i could go on forever, but not wanting to be a total wet blanket.

                                                to the op. GOOD LUCK-- work as well as school will prepare you. don't neglect bookkeeping and accounting classes, food mgmt courses, business courses, nutrition courses. you will be glad you hit the books on these subjects later, even if they aren't your cup of tea, they ARE parts of the biz.

                                                1. re: soupkitten

                                                  Oh, and don't forget the chef screaming obscenities in your face while you're carrying your 60 lb. wet box up the stairs.

                                              2. Just a little update and response to the post that have gone up since last I checked.

                                                I'm finishing up the semester this Friday and have hopefully found a nannying job that is flexible. I'm going to look at some other cooking schools in New York City. I am very worried about the diploma mill factor. It just seems like these schools are so easy to get into. I'm looking at the FCI's Italian Cooking Experience and the Art Institute of New York. What do people think about these schools? Though, I don't want to leave New York City I think that I need to expand my search of schools. I'm going to go look at the CIA in a couple weeks and maybe go look at the New England Culinary Institute. I have a question about both of these schools. Which I will ask and admissions officer but maybe someone here could help. I have a four year degree and I know that some of the gen-ed requirements are very similar to requirements I already fulfilled with my bachelors will these credits transfer? I think it would get me out of a year of school.

                                                Finally what do I have to look for when it comes to diploma mills? I feel like all schools have become diploma mills now. They might say they are top tier and have great finical aid packages, but I have yet to see it and I work both sides at a top tier school.

                                                Again thanks for all your help. I hope to stay in New York City, but if my dream takes me elsewhere for a bit that is ok. I was thinking that a good way to understand both sides of the business was to see if my dad would let me help him run his cafe. I know he wants to expand to catering and he is trained as an accountant. This would let me see both sides of the business and let me get my hands wet and yes my dad is a cook that would scream at me if I screwed up in the kitchen ;^)

                                                6 Replies
                                                1. re: nycmegs

                                                  IMO it is a GREAT idea to work with your Dad! i just thought it was too far away. you also want to work somewhere else, though, to really be sure to get all-around experience. maybe work for a NYC caterer and bring your new experience back to your Dad in a year or 2?

                                                  i think your credits should transfer-- or else i might be suspicious of the culinary program. i'd look into financial aid independently from the school's aid packages, as other posters have said.

                                                  1. re: nycmegs

                                                    I'll chime back in, as I am a grad of the New England Culinary Institute. First,if you are looking at a culinary program at the 2 year level, no amount of a 4 year academic degree will knock a year off of these programs. You will be able to bypass a few classes, but not a full year. What would let you skip a year would be quite abit of actual restaurant/baking/real world experience. What you are concentrating on for the first year of these programs is a solid and proficient grasp of the basics of cooking. You will be taught the textbook way of doing things, even though you may never utilize those techniques again, you will always know why you are doing what you are doing. It is a constant barrage of never ending repitition so you develop rock solid skills. Your second year of school you spend refining your technique, and getting to infuse some creativity, while learning much more complex culinary methods. When you start looking at 4 year programs, that is when your previous education may benefit you in transfer credit.
                                                    I know I will take a lot of grief for saying this, but I feel most culinary programs now are "diploma mills" as you call them. I have worked with and hired many culinary school graduates over the years and the difference between a reputable school and the others is vast. I will repeat until the day I die, do not waste your time and money on sub standard programs! As I mentioned I graduated from NECI, but I have done my continuing education at the CIA. With out going into lengthy detail, here is what I feel are the main differences between the CIA and NECI. At the CIA you will get to work with the most exquisite equipment in absolutely picture perfect kitchens. You will be exposed to people and opportunities that will open doors down the road, think Harvard. The down side for me was the number of students that they run through in a year. This was what led me to NECI. They limited the number to 56 per year, which means a student to teacher ratio of 7 to 1 or less. Very hands on, and you work very personally with the chefs. The education is top notch, and I was very well prepared when I stepped into the working world. I have never regretted my decision,even after 16 years in the business.
                                                    I also can not praise enough the continuing education program that the CIA offers. One just needs to look at the options and determine what your priorities are.

                                                    1. re: mattrapp

                                                      How do you think Johnson and Wales compares?

                                                      1. re: onefineleo

                                                        I have worked with J&W grads and have good friends who are grads. My over all impression is that it is a great place for those wanting to focus on the management end of hotel/foodservice. It would not be my first choice for the hands on, nuts and bolts, aspect of becoming a chef. Again, you must choose based on what you ultimatly would like to do. If I wanted to run a large, corporate food service operation, J&W would be one of the best choices available.
                                                        Something I must add to this whole discussion is the fact that, just like any passion or pursuit, you will only get out as much as you put into it. If you have access to the greatest resources available, but are too complacent to utilize them, you are wasting your time. I know a number of J&W grads who are running some most amazing food operations.

                                                    2. re: nycmegs

                                                      Hi -this is an excellent thread thanks to all the participants! I too am interested in hearing the forum's opinion on FCI, as well as Academie de Cuisine in the DC area. I am already a business professional with extensive management and supervisory experience. I am looking to do something entreprenuerial and am seeking a professional school that will allow me to expand on my already firm grounding in technique. Thanks!

                                                      1. re: bubblegirlx

                                                        Bubblegirlx,
                                                        Believe it or not, you might want to look at a "diploma mill" kind of school! As Mattrapp explains above, a deep culinary education does take years- getting an AAs in culinary arts is a two year minimum- I had a bachelors and squeeked out in about 18 months- many of my undergrad credits transferred and the school was becoming a diploma mill.
                                                        As I mentioned before, I went to a culinary school to get the fundamentals- i knew I had to work in the real world to develop the true skills and polish. Getting in-and-out of school facilitated that process. A short, but well regarded program will teach you the basics, the terminology, and the techniques you need to go out and struggle... if you are merely seeking networking/alumni/skills development without then proceeding into kitchens, a 2 year or less culinary program is probably right for you- either that or a culinary/hospitality certification program from a community college.

                                                    3. I would totally work in the field to see if this is for you before making the plunge. I've also toyed with this idea in my 20s. However, I realized I made the correct decision when I threw a dinner party of about 10 courses for 15 people. My back never hurt so much before. And I think this is probably nothing compared to a Saturday night restaurant shift.

                                                      btw, I know a couple of people who graduated from the CIA, worked at top restaurants for less than a year, and doing something else right now.