Get the Scoop on Culinary Schools!
Just as all Personal Chefs are not created equal, culinary schools aren't created equal, either. For those interested in furthering their education and their careers as chefs in general, and particularly for those who are interested in entering the Personal Chef industry, deciding whether to attend a culinary school is a major step. In some cases the experience you can gain by working in the industry is as valuable as what you'd learn during an equivalent amount of time in school. So in that sense it's a trade-off. What isn't a trade-off is the cost. Choosing to work lets you earn while you learn, while signing up at one of those highbrow culinary institutes can leave you saddled with a potentially crippling amount of debt. With tuitions that sometimes exceed $35,000, ask yourself if you're really getting your money's worth.
In most cases, it comes down to choosing between a culinary arts program offered through a local community college, or attending a high-priced "name brand" culinary program such as the Cordon Bleu or the Culinary Institute of America. You may find that the Culinary Arts program at your local community college is accredited by the American Culinary Federation and thus carries as much weight as the certification you would receive at a more expensive institution — if not more. It turns out that many of the fancy schools are not accredited by the American Culinary Federation at all, so you won't even earn an ACF certification after completing their "program."
Another point to consider is the credentials of the instructors. Instructors at public colleges must meet many strict qualification levels as required by law, which means that they probably have a great deal more real-life cooking experience than the elites who grace the classrooms of those high-priced culinary schools. Who would you rather learn from: someone with real hands-on experience and first-hand knowledge of cooking trends and practices out in the real world, or one of those "ivory-tower" types who has spent the last 20 years in the classroom instead of working in a kitchen? Even worse, a private culinary school with no accreditation can put anyone in front of a class and call them an "instructor." It's cause for concern, especially when you consider how much they charge for tuition.
Make no mistake about it, culinary schools are big business and with the explosion of cooking reality TV shows such as "Top Chef," interest in the culinary industry has never been higher. With this increased demand comes increased supply: more privately operated culinary schools open their doors and eagerly look to recruit students who dream of being the next celebrity TV chef. Meanwhile, the school's owners and directors dream of huge financial profits for themselves. Driven to enrich themselves personally, the owners of these schools look to expand rapidly so as to capitalize on the current popularity of the culinary arts. This rapid growth means more students, bigger classes, less individual attention and a lower quality education overall. At the same time, their aggressive recruiting campaigns mean astronomical advertising costs — costs which are passed directly along to you, the student, in the form of higher tuition! On the other hand, a public community college is funded by tax dollars and exists solely for the good of the community it serves. It is also likely to attract the kind of instructor who truly loves teaching and believes passionately in giving something back to the community.
So before signing up with a culinary school, do a bit of research and consider all the facts before making what could be the most important decision of your culinary career.