School or Work During Hard Times?

Continuing on the recession theme (because isn't everyone in "this economy?"), I thought to address the question: culinary school or kitchen job? If you're a young cook or career changer, it's difficult to decide whether to enhance your skills and knowledge in an academic environment, or learn by doing in a professional setting. There's no single right answer, but given the economic climate, culinary school might be the better option for now. Yes, it may seem contradictory to spend thousands of dollars on a degree when the popular trend is to hoard pennies. But before resigning yourself to kitchen slave entirely, consider the other side:

Wait Out the Storm
One of the fabulous things about the culinary industry is that there will always be jobs, because people will always eat. My last positing was about cooking jobs in the non-restaurant field, and it's definitely worth seeking those venues out. But if your dream is to work your way up the line in a restaurant, now is not the easiest time. Even the top restaurants are making cuts, and those with jobs are coveting them like they were the last quart container during prep. It's always doable, but certainly more difficult, to break in and work up.

A case can certainly be made here for the abundance and value of unpaid internships. Still, a thorough culinary education is often a better option as you'll be closely mentored and given every responsibility in the kitchen over a comparatively short period of time (versus the lowlier positions donated to the kitchen slave, especially one who is inexperienced. If you go this route, you better have a sharp peeler handy). After graduation, it will be in your favor to enter the job market with a degree, which leads us to the next topic…

Kitchen Cred

Some cooks entertain the idea that a culinary degree is useless (and even detrimental!) when getting a job in a restaurant kitchen. I agree in one specific case: if the person is a recent grad with no real world experience, and he swaggers into a kitchen and considers himself too good for an entry-level position because of his diploma. Restaurants are still hierarchical fiefdoms, and dues must be paid. But if you're not this brazen type, a degree can work strongly in your favor. In a tough job market, it'll distinguish you from other applicants (again, especially for those with little restaurant experience who are vying for a garde manger position). And when you're searching for a position, most schools have career service offices that will help give you a special entryway into a job that someone off the street wouldn't have. I can definitely say from experience that The French Culinary Institute is one of the best connected culinary schools in the city, with both notable alumni willing to help out fellow FCIers and a stellar career services program whose staff has the inside scoop on the city's ever-changing restaurant scene. Remember: when it comes to grad school, you're not just paying for an education, but connections.

Take the Opportunity
When I was at The FCI, there were a significant number of career changers who had grown weary of teaching or real estate and were looking to kick off a cooking career by going to school. "It's never too late" is a vomit-worthy cliche, but it crossed my mind anyway when I saw the 60-some year old student in the class below me show up in his whites every day. If you still have the means, now is a better time than any to shift focus, particularly for certain professions. Weary of that banking job? Come join us cooks…we'll always have somewhere to go, and people still like us 

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            5 Program(s) Found
            • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef and Project Runway.
            • Has a team of about 4,000 faculty members focused on helping students tap opportunities in a marketplace driven by ideas.
            • Offers programs in design, media arts, fashion, and culinary.
            • Provides program coordinators who work with students to ensure they have the learning materials, assignments, facilities, and faculty to get the most out of the program.
            • Over 50 campus locations nationwide.
            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            • Transferable Credits
            5 Program(s) Found
            • Received the 2015 and 2013 “Cooking School of the Year” Award of Excellence from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP).
            • Accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC).
            • Externship opportunities are available at numerous famous New York City restaurants.
            • Campus is located near downtown Manhattan, within walking distance of many popular attractions such as the Radio City Music Hall.
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            Good for Working Adults
            • Flexible Scheduling
            • Financial Aid
            4 Program(s) Found
            • Hands-on culinary education with focused attention on each student
            • An ACCSC School of Excellence with multiple “Best Vocational Cooking School” awards*
            • 15,000 graduates, including celebrities like Bobby Flay, David Chang, and Christina Tosi*
            • Programs in Culinary Entrepreneurship, Professional Culinary Arts, Professional Pastry Arts, and much more
            • Campuses in New York and Silicon Valley with nearby housing available
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            2 Program(s) Found
            • Ranked among the Best Colleges in the South in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • Ranked the 13th  Best College for Veterans in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
            • A private institution founded in 1977 with a current total undergraduate enrollment of over 15,00.
            • Its student-faculty ratio is 12:1, and 89.3% of classes have fewer than 20 students.
            • Has students attend one class at a time to ensure easy access to faculty and a more hands-on education.
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            • A part of the Select Education Group (SEG).
            • Offers several scholarship and financial aid opportunities for students who qualify.
            • California campuses accredited by the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC), and accreditation for the Salem campus from the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (ACCET).
            • 4 Campuses located in Clovis, Modesto, and Redding in California, and Salem, Oregon.
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            Good for Working Adults
            • Accredited
            • Flexible Scheduling
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            • Transferable Credits
            5 Program(s) Found

            Sullivan University is a private institution of higher learning dedicated to providing educational enrichment opportunities for the intellectual, social and professional development of its students.

            2 Program(s) Found
            • Gives students the opportunity to earn their associate’s degree in the culinary arts field in less than 15 months or bachelor’s degree in the food service management field in 2.5 years through their year-round schedule.
            • Located in Norfolk and Newport News, Virginia.
            • Offers externship experiences to students for experience in the field.
            • Hosts regular career fairs for employer recruitment.
            • Has student housing available.
            • Accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACSCOC).
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