Another Grad School Perspective: Culinary Schools

A fun thing about exploring the nature of a Graduate School of Education is I get to examine graduate schools in other domains. In his new book, Anthony Bourdain (everyone knows who he is, right?) examines whether chefs should go to culinary school.

From the Serious Eats blog:

"The short answer," he says, is "no."

It's not that Bourdain thinks culinary school is an inherently bad idea. But he warns that even a degree from the very best school is no guarantee of a job, and there's serious debt involved. If you're not quite young and not quite fit, a career as a chef may not be for you. If you crave a predictable hours and a manageable level of stress, it may not be for you. Before you sign up for all that debt, he says, you should go work in a kitchen and make sure you really, truly want to be a chef.

I think those sentiments apply to teaching. How can you possibly know, at age 19 (declaring ed major) or 22 (buying a year of grad school), that the high stress, long hours, and time with kids are really what you want?

I've talked to a number of Ed School profs who would prefer an MBA model. MBA programs try to find people who have worked for a few years. What if Ed Schools could serve teachers who have taught for a few years -- then they make the investment in a masters degree?

The blog about culinary schools got a bunch of comments, including:

Sound advice, I couldn't agree with Bourdain more. Working in a restaurant kitchen is a totally different beast that loving to cook for family and friends. I gave this same advice to a friend, he ignored it, went to culinary school, graduated and found out it wasn't the job for him. He is now stuck with a large amount of debt that he slowly is paying off working in his same field as pre-culinary school.

Go work in a kitchen and you will quickly realize if it's your thing or not. If you love it, culinary school is a solid choice, but if you don't you can go back to having a ton of fun in your home kitchen without the most expensive set of knives you'll ever buy in your life.

Good point.

I couldn't agree with Bourdain more. Working in a restaurant kitchen is a totally different beast that loving to cook for family and friends. I gave this same advice to a friend, he ignored it, went to culinary school, graduated and found out it wasn't the job for him. He is now stuck with a large amount of debt that he slowly is paying off working in his same field as pre-culinary school.

Go work in a kitchen and you will quickly realize if it's your thing or not. If you love it, culinary school is a solid choice, but if you don't you can go back to having a ton of fun in your home kitchen without the most expensive set of knives you'll ever buy in your life.

And here's a contrary opinion:

I find it interesting that both Tony (CIA grad) and my brother (a NECI grad) both state that culinary school is a waste of time; however, they conveniently forget that it was their schooling that got them the "better" jobs in the first place. Whether Tony wants to admit it or not, CIA got him the jobs at the Supper Club, One Fifth Avenue, and Sullivan's. If it wasn't for NECI, my brother would have never gotten a glance from the Ritz Carlton, let alone a Sous chef job.

Furthermore, being an Executive Chef is more about numbers than it is about what kind of food you can sling. The good schools teach you the numbers game behind kitchens (i.e. what to buy cheap, make taste great, and sell high).

CIA, by the way, is a famous cooking school. Not, you know, spy school.

Another angle: while we see teaching as a tough job, cooking sounds at least as tough. One person who did an internship instead of cooking school observed:

*how high-stress and unglamorous restaurant work is -- restaurant jobs are usually the pathway many take in order to achieve their ultimate goals. Erratic hours, having to be on top of things, getting cut/burnt/spilled on -- no place for the wimpy.

*how unstable careers in this field can be. My BIL's friend quit sometime into our internship after a longstanding squabble with the owner. The restaurant didn't do well enough, and staff were quitting over not being paid on time. That, along with not being guaranteed benefits, and other perks, also made me take pause.

*how sexist the restaurant world is -- even with more women in the field, I knew the men in the kitchen (usually from Latin American/South American cultures) probably viewed me as an alien from another galaxy. Although I was not harrassed, I could surmise that the men's banter was of a sexual nature.

Well then.