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Does Culinary School Matter?

As a sporadically-working cartoonist, I often wonder whether those tens of thousands of dollars for art college were really worth it. Was there another way? Could I have made my own curriculum, carved out my own path?

So it’s nice to know I’m not the only one asking these questions. The economy is rocky, and more people are beginning to question the way we’ve always done things. Is it better to follow the well-traveled road, racking up debt you’ll be paying off for the better part of your life, or are there alternatives?

From the Atlantic (h/t Ezra Klein):

So it’s worth considering, especially in these lean times, whether it’s worth spending tens of thousands of dollars on culinary school. Unlike lawyers or doctors, chefs require no accreditation. And while an ace law, business, or medical school grad can quickly earn six-figure salaries, a culinary school graduate is lucky to make 15 bucks an hour working the line.

“Every time I write that $400 check to pay back my loans, I kick myself,” says Marco Saurez, executive chef at Bon Savor in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. As a teenager he worked at a deli, and later at a catering company. One day, his boss took him for a visit to the CIA’s idyllic campus in Hyde Park, which overlooks the Hudson River. “I fell in love,” Suarez says. He enrolled in the 38-month Bachelor of Professional Studies Program, which includes long externships in outside restaurants. “It was really at the externships that I learned the most, and now I wonder why I didn’t just take a $25,000 loan and use that to survive while working my way up in a kitchen.” Today, tuition, room, and board for the full bachelor’s program cost more than $100,000.

Degree in hand — Suarez graduated in 2001 — he left for Colorado to cook and ski, and the CIA credentials got him his first job. “But when I went back to Boston, the degree didn’t mean anything,” he says. At one interview, the owner asked him why he wanted the job, and Suarez mentioned his CIA training. “He stopped me right there. ‘Why should I care about that?’ he asked me.” Recently, Suarez has been thinking about removing his CIA degree from his resume. And when he hires cooks for his own kitchen, he pays scant attention to their formal culinary schooling.

Read the whole article here.


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