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May 7, 2007 07:48 PM

Graduate From Culinary School, Then Be In Debt The Rest Of Your Life

On the NYTimes website tonight:

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  1. Crazy to think, but totally true. When it came to picking culinary schools, most of the fancy ones were way too expensive($30,000 for two years at least). Considering my first job after school was at a fine dining restaurant that is now quite popular, I only got paid $40 shift pay, meaning they could work me from 11am-1am and I would still only get $40 a night. That equals something like $2.85 an hour. AN HOUR. Meanwhile, the stupid waiters were pulling up to $200 a night in addition to the minimum wage they brought in while I sweat to death in front of a flat top. How is that fair? Or even livable? Why is it that chefs do the hard part and get the shaft when it comes to pay?
    I never could figure that one out.

    6 Replies
    1. re: foodrocks

      I read a similar thing about musicians. The schools are selling the romantic notion of being a musician/chef and being the master of your domain but then the reality is very different, particularly after you went through conservatory/culinary school and find out how much you actually owe.

      Most musicians end up scraping by doing gigs in show orchestras or mostly teaching lessons, while chefs get jobs that are supremely under using their talents. The thing that chefs have on their side is that there are more cooking jobs than music jobs, minimum wage be damned.

      1. re: foodrocks

        PGA assistant golf pros- same deal. AIA apprentice architects- same deal. Pay your dues. Make your own breaks AND have the right stuff, and you get there from here. Most don't. Sure, it's tough. In the inimitable words of Ivan Boesky, if you want a friend in New York, get a dog. Food service is no exception. But you gotta be good. Stew in your own juices, and you stew alone :)

        1. re: foodrocks

          I'd think it would be better "training" to go live in France, Italy, Asia, etc. working for peanuts in some great culinery regions and learning in the field. Quite the life adventure as well.

          1. re: tastyjon

            Yeah, better and way CHEAPER. I know someone who went to culinary school and is still $40,000 in debt, eight years later. It was just impossible for her to pay it off since she could only get jobs that paid $8 an hour out of school. Even now, she only gets paid about $40-50,000 and that's the only reason the debt has gone down.

            Meanwhile, law school is about $30,000 a year or so but you'll be making over $100,000 a couple of years out of school.

            Culinary school is a complete waste of time and money.

            1. re: choctastic

              Well, it isn't a waste of time and money if you are independently wealthy.

              I would be interested in seeing how expensive these places were, before the flood gates opened for celebrity chefs.

              1. re: Phaedrus

                When I started a culinary program part time at a privatly owned school in 2000 the tuiton was $300/credit hour, and that was after they had started increasing their rates due to the popularity of celebrity chefs. At that time a full time student would pay about $4500 a semester and could get the degree for under $20,000. A friend of mine who started around 18 months before I did was only paying $175/hour. After the school was bought out by a trade school company, they stopped enrolling part-timers and jacked up the tuition. They now charge $13,000 a semester. I'm glad I had a tuition lock in my contract or there is no way I could have continued and received my degree.

        2. there also seemed to be inferences regarding dubious student loan arrangements. predatory lending kind of thing...

          4 Replies
          1. re: hotoynoodle

            Yes, and the side swipe at the operation running a whole bunch of schools. The thing that made my eyebrows shoot up was the guy mentioned with about $46,000 in loan debt at 16% interest. My student loans from college are at 2.75%. There's clearly something amiss in how this is run/overseen.

              1. re: ccbweb

                Might as well have had paid off school with a credit card... probably would've cost less.

              2. re: hotoynoodle

                Unfortunately, this is common throughout all the "trade" schools you see advertised on TV. They're tuition is magically close to the limits on student loans.

              3. The Restaurant Guys hit this topic just last week. The guest was Nicholas Harary of Restaurant Nicholas in Middletown, NY. He was very critical of culinary schools in general and the CIA specifically. Even though he is a graduate, he would only refer to it as "the school I attended". His main complaint there was that after all the money was spent in Hyde Park you would come out with an outdated education. He felt the focus at the CIA was so rooted in the classics as to be almost useless in today's restaurant world. In addition, he though most recent grads from many schools didn't have enough practical experience to hire into a kitchen at any but the lowest (and lowest paying) level.

                The chef felt many people who graduate from culinary school have no option but to go into coporate or institutional dining where the entry level salary might give them a chance to pay off their student debt.

                He felt so strongly on the subject he now offers a 2 year apprentice program at his restaurant as an alternative for a few people.

                Here is a link to the podcast:


                1 Reply
                1. re: kaitak98

                  i went to culinary school, and although i don't have debts to pay off (thanks dad), i struggle to make ends meet so that i can afford an apartment in NYC. i don't know how other chefs do it. i've basically been forced to become a private chef because its the only way i can live a NORMAL life while still being a chef. i hate what i do. restaurant work is so much more exciting (and i was actually learning something versus making lasagna and stirfry) i feel like all the reasons i went to culinary school have been thrown out the window because i'm not doing what i really wanted to do. time to rethink my future !

                  and i agree culinary school is SO OUTDATED. we learned to make so many classic french things that NO ONE eats anymore. i understand learning basic recipes is a great foundation for other things in life, but a chicken ballontine? whats the point? i think updating curriculum would be a pretty good idea...

                  even better, whenever i meet someone who is considering culinary school i tell them to forget it! get a job at a restaurant first. go to europe (which is where i went after i graduated) but really try to steer people away from being a professional chef all together.......

                2. Yeah, I think community colleges are the way to go. The one here where I live, teaches everything one would need to know to get a job in the culinary field. So much less expensive. Such a rip off...$60,000, and not a good paying job when you graduate. Come on......

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: ChefGirl412


                    I was accepted into culinary school but couldn't afford to go without mortaging my future, which I wasn't willing to do. I just couldn't justify $100,000 with housing and food (you can't work in most programs as they are very time consuming) so that I could go be an $8/hr line cook. It doesn't make sense or cents.

                    I went into business instead, will retire in a couple of years at the age of 42 and still cook at a pretty decent level.

                    My friend who went to culinary school at the same time I was going to go? Well, he finally got an executive chef job after ten years and still lives in a crappy little apartment.

                    1. re: holy chow

                      My friend who went to culinary school at the same time I was going to go? Well, he finally got an executive chef job after ten years and still lives in a crappy little apartment.

                      Exactly! They don't tell you when you apply that you're most likely going to be in debt for 10-15 years & struggle to make ends meet w/ the crappy pay you'll make. Otherwise all the culinary schools would go out of business. Most of these places are reminding me of used car salesmen..slimy & unethical bastards who'll do anything to make the sale.
                      I'm a pastry chef at a well known restaurant & I'm still living in a crappy apartment.

                  2. This topic has been touched on many, many times on these boards and will always have the two camps tossing barbs over the proverbial fence that divides them.

                    I honestly don't know where anyone would get the notion that a chef is a high-paying glamorous job. And I can't even imagine why one would plunk down $100,000 for an education behind a stove. I went to culinary school at a community college; my entire expenses for the 18 month program, including books, my own knives (not the college issue set) and all expenses incurred came to just under $7,000 which I paid out of my own pocket. In our very first class, on our very first day, our instructor, who had more than 30 years of experience in kitchens, hotels etc. told our class in blunt and honest terms that what they were getting into was a brutal and back-breaking profession where they would bust their asses over long hours for low pay. He did not glamorize it at all, nor did he mince words about how hard it would be. Our curriculum did not teach classic french cooking but covered basic cooking skills and techniques, institutional cooking (which the local top dollar schools did not cover) and then restaurant cooking. We also were taught cake decorating, ice carving and wine/food pairings. It was a very rounded and basic education.

                    I never went to culinary school to become a professional chef; my goal was to teach people to cook better and healthier for themselves. I don't make a ton of money and will never be rich doing what I do, but my skills and talent help people take better control of their lives, their health and their kitchens and give them a leg up in an increasingly food-oriented society. There are dozens of ways to utilize a culinary education and only a fraction of the students in our programs were intent on working in professional kitchens. One woman I graduated with now works for a local food company in their test kitchen. She works M-F, no weekends or holidays, gets full benefits and makes almost $30,000 a year. These articles that cry endlessly about the hardships awaiting a culinary school grad in terms of the debt are only telling a tiny part of the story, and they dramatize it to a point where everyone ends up believing that a culinary education is crap. My culinary education was a gold mine, and has rewarded me endlessly. It isn't all about debt and hardship. The trouble with journalists is that they only show you part of what really goes on.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: cooknKate

                      cooknKate, while your points are well taken, I think the article was more comparing an Ivy League education and pay to a fancy culinary degree or six and lack there of.

                      For the most part, to be come an accomplished chef (as opposed to a working chef) it takes more training than a JD or PhD. In training, I'm speaking of top notch culinary schools and multiple degrees from around the world, not from just one school. Not to mention apprentice time in multiple kitchens on multiple continents. Once you've accomplished those degrees and mastered those techniques, you still make pennies on the dollar for what you've invested.

                      I truly think that that is the jist of the article and general comparison they were going for.