Monday, August 20, 2007

Another.. Great Debate

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?


methadoneklinic said...

I'd look for someone who bridged that gap. Know anyone who fits that description? ;)

Seriously though, I think schools provide valuable foundations and discipline, but that you really learn your trade through application (trial and error if you will). How can you satisfy the application requirement in the perfect "lab" environment of a school kitchen?

I suppose I lean more toward the hard-knocks side of things in the end. I mean, my general perception would be, school produces cookie cutter graduates so how can the produce that unique, memorable dining experience?

Naturally, not being involved in culinary arts (except...the consumption side of course), my view is somewhat simplified. I think of people who have been working in my field for years versus those who went to college for "Computer Science", or any other fancy, catch-all for computer topics. The people who taught themselves and earned their stripes through actually working tend to produce better, more creative solutions to problems. This is not to say college graduates don't have skills. I am merely expressing the trend I have seen in my 10+ years working. Hopefully it explains my rational as it is applied to the culinary field.

yoshi said...

I don't work in the food industry but the computer industry - specifically information security. Until very recently - you could not go to school for this. So in consideration of hiring individuals I completely ignore education. Because its not relevant. You simply couldn't learn what you needed to learn without doing trial and error. So the best people I know have no degree or have a degree in something completely not relevant (political science). The worst people I know are over-educated. With that thought and that I personally don't know any chef that has gone to a school like CIA I am pretty down on the usefulness of college in many applications.

fiat lux said...

The 'education vs experience' debate is not exclusive to cooking; we see it in the tech world too.

Ultimately, you need some of both.

The Foodist said...

I agree with all of you. You do need some of both.

I guess in general my ? was more relagated to wondering bottom rung of the ladder, the fresh meat standpoint.

If someone was coming to you for a starting position.

But you are right, if I had my pick chances are I would look for some actual kitchen experience and schooling as well.

But I guess my biggest concern is the fact that just two years ago you had to have at very least 6 months experience in a food service establishment of good standing to apply to the CIA. Now the time has been reduced to 6 weeks, and they dont seem to much care about where you do it.

One girl I know got in by being a "dining room assistant at a nursing home".

When I asked her what that involved her response was "Nothing really just cleaning up trays after lunch and dinner."

I was almost insulted. Here I was busting my hump to get into this school and now I come to realize they pretty much let anyone in the door.

Money talks I suppose, and I guess thats why the joke about the CIA has come to:

Cash In Advance.

Its disheartining at times, but If you look at the educational system as a whole in America you can see its pretty much the same everywhere.

tyronebcookin said...

I am probably even more 'old school' than the thoughts and questions you have provided...

I would probably hire a well-regarded friend/associates pass-along or reference for someone else that had either one. School, or hard knocks.

Say like you said to me, 'yo tyrone, I know this a good creative streak and he has integrity, not to mention can cook double shifts and works great after 4 hours of sleep' that is the guy I am probably going to hire...

school or experience.

redman said...

as someone in the industry my take is that the most important thing to see on a resume is dedication to career, which in cooking can to some small extent be demonstrated by culinary school, in the sense that between two people with little or mediocre work experience, the one who took the time and money to go to school would seem to be more motivated. However, someone can also dedicate themselves by going to work in a really nice kitchen and learning from the ground up. Example, someone who washed dishes for 3 years at top restaurant, finally got to learn to cut vegetables, then learned stocks,etc, and so on and so forth, now they could know as much or more than a culinary school grad and be more motivated. Thomas Keller never went to culinary school.

In short, with the exception of the super-dedicated, non-schooled cook, culinary school is better than no culinary school.

btw, love the blog, makes me nostalgic for own days at culinary.

ArtfulSub said...

It really depends on the School and the individual. Many Culinary Schools are a joke and the only way to flunk is by quitting. Many Universities that offer 4-Year Degrees in Hospitality-Related fields are pathetic as well. I interview about 500 recent Grads per year. And I don't think I've seen a GPA under 3.75 in 3 years. Many of them start and end every sentence with "Yo".

"Yo, I be wantings to maybe start as like VP of F&B, like, you know, yo?"

That said, more Companies (especially operations people)make the mistake of OVER-VALUING experience than make the mistake of OVER-VALUING a Degree.

If someone has 10 years of related experience is competing with a recent Grad with One year of experience at a level below the position, odds are the person with the 10 years experience is a screw-up in some regard.

If you've got good systems in place, I say go for the Grad looking to MOVE UP in the World instead of the person looking to make a lateral move.

The Foodist said...

Thanks for reading and the Comment!


You make a very valid point here in regards to "lateral Moves".

I think I should have been more clear when speaking about someone with "experience". What I meant was someone with experience equal to that of someone graduating from culinary school.

I was thinking along the lines of Starting Point/Entry Level for both ends of the spectrum.

Your point about looking for an eager graduate as opposed to a lateral moving employee is a really good one. But at the same time the idea leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. Culinary School is expensive, not everyone can offord it and as with the internet boom of the 90's Im wondering if were going to see the same push toward grads over work experience in the food sector.

The push then was to hire grads who work hard and cheap and push out the experienced to save a few dollars. I guess Id hate to see the same thing happen here.

Anonymous said...

viagra rrp australia cost free trial of viagra natural herbs used as viagra viagra oral viagra for sale without a prescription viagra and alcohol viagra lawyers cheap viagra nz buying viagra online viagra jokes viagra liver damage how does viagra work generic viagra cheap online viagra

Anonymous said...

Amiable brief and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you as your information.

Anonymous said...

Free information about penis enlargement products, how it works, price of products, top products, and review of penis products. Visit - enlargement penis

Anonymous said...

Nice Blog. Thank you for information. we guarantee all customers and users total satisfaction or your money back vigrx plus -

Anonymous said...

Male sexual enhancement product and penis enlargement product [url=]VigRX Plus[/url] helps improve sexual performance for men who are worried about the size of their penis with the world's leading male improvement product.

Anonymous said...

hi there dudes. I'm actually into shoes and I was looking as far as something that exact model. The prices as regards the boots are about 190 dollars on every site. But completely I bring about this locate selling them someone is concerned half price. I in reality love those [url=]prada sneakers[/url]. I will absolutely order these. what is your opinion?

Anonymous said...

They are becoming the enhancement option of choice for many men for several reasons. vimax pills is the best penis enlargement pills on the market today. -

Anonymous said...

The effects are gradual and the result will vary for each user. However, further review show that most users experience benefits within the first week. In the first month you can expect erections that stay longer than usual and your penile may even start to become wider. penis enlargement pills -

Anonymous said...

VigRx Plus has been specially formulated to maximize a man's sexual performance. The results from taking this male enhancement pills are two-fold. First you will become a healthier individual with better sexual functioning from the inside out.

Anonymous said...

Nice dispatch and this post helped me alot in my college assignement. Gratefulness you as your information.