Is culinary school worth it? It's a hotly contested debate among restaurant industry insiders. Some praise the classic techniques that students learn, while others say if one's goal is to cook for a living, they should go ahead and start cooking for a living.
In the latest episode of Grain of Salt, an industry podcast based out of Buffalo, N.Y., four Western New York chefs take on the topic. Unsurprisingly, they determine that it all depends on the person and the situation. The biggest risk seems to be leaving culinary school with a mountain of debt and starting in the same low-paying position as someone who jumped straight into the kitchen.
"The downside is, a lot of people attend culinary school, graduate with a degree, and go work a $10-an-hour job," explains Nickel City Chef owner and Buffalo Spree food editor Christa Glennie Seychew. "When you go to culinary school, when you graduate, there's a very good chance you're entering in an entry-level position with an entry-level pay grade. ... If you have a $50,000 loan, you're payment's $450 a month for your student loan. And if you are making $10 an hour, that is a crippling scenario."
On the other hand, while some cooks will learn proper techniques on the job, that isn't the case for everyone. And culinary school can instill a sense of discipline that is needed for the job.
"I got great things out of it, but you learn professionalism," says Edward Forster, executive chef at Buffalo Proper. "I had to be there at 2:30 in the morning for breakfast class , and if you were a minute late you got sent home. And it's like, how many of your guys show up [to work] every week five minutes late, seven minutes late? You learn professionalism, you learn repetition."
As for another angle to the question — does culinary school make someone more hirable? — that doesn't have a clear answer, either. Some chefs say it is a factor, and others don't consider culinary education at all.