I’ve added a poll on the right side of the blog here in response to this post directly.
The topic came up again today, not directly by me or involving me, but was overheard in passing.
It’s an old debate, but one I think needs to be stressed in particular at this point in Professional Culinary History.
The argument for both sides is strong, Culinary School vs School of Hard Knocks.
In my opinion we need to pay very close attention to this debate now because of the influx of culinary students, and as a result the increased amount of graduates from culinary schools flooding the market.
The food industry has always been a high need, low skill, high turnover business. That’s mainly why it’s so very hard to get loans and investors for new restaurants and why so many go under so very quickly. There are many many elements into why exactly it happens; Lack of funds, lack of planning, high turnover, theft (VERY HIGH factor), and legal reasons being the top few. People are more apt to sue a restaurant over anything then probably any other business I can think of. Its one of the reasons the industry (and even some culinary schools) teach their card carrying members to Incorporate. When you do so you may lose the corporation in a lawsuit, but you won’t lose the shirt off your back. You can start over, so to speak.
But the main focus of mine, being a culinary school student, is the concern about the influx of culinary students/graduates. Now on one hand I may be a little bitter about the whole thing. My opinion is slightly biased. At my age I’ve been involved in the culinary scene for awhile, let’s just say Pre-Food Network when being a Chef was still a dirty word for high school students to say. When I was looking at culinary schools in high school Johnson and Wales only had its Rhode Island and Virginia campuses, and Pennsylvania Culinary was recruiting students as if they were all made of some precious metal.
What has happened since that time has really blown my mind, even as a current student at the Culinary Institute of America. Requirements for acceptance have slipped, the schools have become more like a meat grinder of education then an institution, and there is a general feeling of mass production in the classroom.
From my standpoint Culinary school was my best option for a professional cooking career. With no high end restaurants where I come from and barely any spots in the semi decent ones open to a "newbe" it was the one best chance at getting a foot in the door. What is happening now seems to be a mix of social frenzy and increased information. The more America looks at the Food Network the more there’s a push for the glitz and glimmer of it all. Unfortunately if these kids only knew what awaited them in the industry.
On the other end of the spectrum you have those who grew up in restaurants. Grew up slaving behind the lines, moping floors, scrubbing out walk ins. They got where they are through blood, sweat, tears, and by someone’s good graces. What’s happening now seems to be a push and pull between these two sections. Bitterness is growing in the Hard Knocks camp..
"F%&$*ing culinary students, think they know it all"
..and misunderstanding is ever present in the Culinary Grad camp...
"Well if he wants to work in a kitchen he should go to culinary school".
Both of these are quotes I’ve heard time and time again.
The more the meat grinder that is Culinary Higher Education turns out grads the more flooded the market becomes. I’m not just talking about kitchens. Advertising, Research and Development, Management positions... all being jammed with grads.
The Food service industry, mainly kitchens, have been formed by a strong network of hard knocks cooks, and even harder knock chefs for ages. Now that is being threatened by a sea of classroom taught, fresh faced cooks eager to get their piece of the Food Network Dynasty.
So the question I pose to you:
If you had to choose, which would you choose?