A friend of mine who is considering culinary school recently asked me a question that I think passes through the minds of many perspective students: should I go to culinary school in New York? In short: yes. But let me tell you why.
There are, of course, cons. New York is an expensive place to live, and even if you're eating $1 slices and pilfering peanuts during happy hour, the cost of rent alone will put a dent in your pocketbook. Culinary schools themselves tend to be more expensive here for the same rent reason. And it's a competitive place, which is a reality check to those used to being the top dog in the kitchen. But overall, it's a fabulous place to be a culinary student for the following reasons (and any other NYC culinary students or grads, please add your own thoughts!)
It sounds like I'm parroting The FCI website, but it's true: living and learning in America's culinary capital is a great advantage. You may not have the money to dine at Jean Georges, but there's always the more important opportunity to stage there (or in whatever restaurant you admire). New Yorkers live and breathe food, so there's the opportunity to learn wherever you go. You can peruse gourmet and green markets for exciting foodstuffs, check out expansive kitchen stores, go to a lecture or demonstration by a well-known chef or attend one of the many food-oriented events that occur weekly (check out Time Out New York for listings). While some of this involves spending extra cash, there are many that are free and open to the public.
I mentioned that New Yorkers are passionate about their food, which means they are also picky about it. Whether it be haute cuisine or hot dogs, Manhattanites don't settle for mediocrity. For a culinary student, this means top notch foodstuffs to practice with. It also instills a strong kitchen ethic if you're working at a culinary school restaurant like The FCI's L'Ecole. If you're cooking food that's good enough for New Yorkers, you're cooking food that's good enough for anyone.
Testing the Waters
The New York culinary scene is an exciting place to be, but it's not for everyone. Once you're a culinary student here, you get a glimpse into what it's all about by talking to chefs, fellow cooks and even working or interning yourself. Working in a respectable NYC kitchen provides tremendous experience and a little star appeal, but the hours are longer and the pay less than, say, the best restaurant in Orlando. By going to school here, you can make an informed decision about whether or not you want to join the Manhattan cooking brigade.
Once you decide you want to work in a New York kitchen after graduation, it's much easier since you're already here. This may sound obvious, but it’s a truth that some overlook. You can go do a stage in a kitchen to see if you'll fit well in the environment. You can eat in the restaurant to see how well the front of the house operates. And most importantly, you'll have an in through your school. The French Culinary Institute is fantastic for networking, but I've heard similar things about the other NYC culinary institutions. Beyond the stellar career services office, most of my chef instructors made their careers in the NYC restaurant scene, and could give advice or make recommendations about the various spots. And if you're an impressive student, they may be willing to help hook you up with a job.