Last weekend I traveled to the ACF Regional Conference in Birmingham Alabama. I was scheduled to arrive Friday, but could not leave until after I put out the Saturday Night Banquets. After driving through several tornado warnings, torrential rains and 60 mile an hour winds, I arrived safely at my destination. With no harm done, I looked forward to finding something to eat, but ended up ordering a pizza delivery. Sad to say compared to the $20 room service burger and less then desirable hotel lounge setting, I think I made the right choice.

On Sunday Morning I took part in several seminars and spoke with many chefs about the taboo subject “Are Culinary Schools Helping or Hurting the Industry”? I first of all will say that I have nothing but respect for a quality culinary education and the majority of dedicated and committed instructors. Their work is very important and crucial to the future of our industry. My problem is that I think we have hit the saturation point, too many schools, too many graduates with too few real opportunities. Where will all these graduates work? Is the $50-$100,000 cost of culinary education worth the payoff or will most graduates find themselves disenchanted finding little opportunity for advancement and eventually leave the industry?

If you are currently a culinary student or considering it, read on, you need to make an informed decision. My intent is not to discourage you or turn you off to the industry; I love the industry and have no regrets on my career choice. If this is what you want to do, great, but realize you will have a long journey ahead of you filled with many challenges and sacrifices? Working off hours including weekends and holidays will be the norm. While family and friends are gathered for holidays and get-togethers, you will be busy at work. You better get use to it; it’s the path you choose.

Some of you will be lucky and fall into great situations working under great chefs. Just realize how lucky you are and take advantage of it. Controlling and shaping your future starts each day that you suit up. Your attitude and commitment can never waiver. I am convinced that anyone can be successful at something; you just need to find that something, whatever it is and work it! If Culinary is it, give it all you got. But first you have to ask yourself, why are you contemplating a career as a chef? Here a few common answers. Please add some of your own questions and comments.

1. I love cooking and my friends and family tell me I am very good at.

That may be true and serve as a starting point but it’s usually not relevant to required basic industry skills and knowledge. I would suggest getting a job at a local full service or white table cloth restaurant; develop knife skills, elementary prep methodology and some kitchen savvy. Work for free if you must, it may save you thousands in tuition and will certainly give you a jump start on your career path.

2. I love watching reality TV Cooking Shows. The Culinary School commercials are also inspiring.

Read my blog on the subject


Just remember it is TV and many of the contestants are unemployed.

3. The Industry pays well.

You can definitely do well down the road and make a good living, but it won’t come easy. The attached UD Dept. of Labor statistics published are accurate.

Food Preparation and Serving Related Occupations

Median /Mean /Mean Annual

Chefs and Head Cooks $18.64 $20.39 $42,410

First-Line Supervisors/Managers of Food Preparation and Serving Workers $13.93 $14.81 $30,810Cooks, Fast Food $8.12 $8.47 $17,620

Cooks, Institution and Cafeteria $10.68 $11.19 $23,260

Cooks, Private Household $11.57 $14.91 $31,020

Cooks, Restaurant $10.57 $10.94 $22,750

Cooks, Short Order $9.26 $9.73 $20,230

Cooks, All Other $11.09 $11.91 $24,770

Food Preparation Workers $8.96 $9.54 $19,850