Saturday, May 12, 2007

What Makes a Cooking School Great

So many students have been talking about the NY Times article today about the culinary school debt. The thing the students keep coming back to is the question, "what makes one school better then the next?" The CIA is roughly $50,000 for an associates degree. Is the cost higher because the instruction is better? Is the instruction better?

Talking with Chef Leroux, he believes, as I do, that the quality of a culinary school is in the first couple of kitchen classes. These are where the students learn basic techniques that are going to be applied to everything they do. Where students learn how hot a pan HAS to be to saute; that to poach the liquid HAS to be 165 - 180 degrees; that you braise tough cuts of meat. The basics will make a person a good cook.

You don't need a bright sparkling clean new kitchen to do these things. The students here are complaining that the equipment in most kitchens are older then 20 years. So What. The students are here to learn the foundations of cooking. The chefs make sure the students have that base. The instruction must be at the top of a quality institution. This is a tough thing for many chefs. At Ivy Tech we discuss quite a bit, how do we teach chefs to teach? This must be something that all culinary schools focus on to be able to give the students the best education possible.

When it comes down to it, is there a major difference in the education that you get at $50,000 CIA and $2,500 Ivy Tech? The skills we teach are the same. The equipment is actually newer at Ivy Tech. One thing Ivy Tech does not have is a beautiful sprawling campus situated on the Hudson River (the picture is from my dorm window looking down the Hudson). What Ivy Tech does not have is 1,000's of students that live and breath foods. The amount of learning from the students just talking around campus is extremely important. And, the big thing you pay for at the CIA is the diploma from the CIA. Those 3 letters open doors in the business.


sgllie said...

How ironic, people who created the American culinary landscape, Barbara Tropp, Ari Weinzweig, Alice Waters, Jeremiah Towers, were educated in other fields, couldn't find jobs or didn't like the ones they had, and worked in restaurants. Now, a new generation with extensive education are leaving the field.

Forbes recently published its list of best careers/worst careers; chef was in the worst category. Maybe celebrity-chef backlash is hurting the industry image?

braingirl said...

I think what you have here is a growing and maturing of the food industry. Keep in mind culinary school enrollments have skyrocketed in the past five years. It's reasonable to assume that not all these people would want to be chefs on the line, but something else. As Ruhlman noted in his new book, many want to be writers, corporate people, and even the next television personality.

I don't think there's any backlash from the celebrity chef. It's what's driving this growth! (Ruhlman covers this extensively in Reach of a Chef.)

ChefThomE said...

Remembering back to my University of Evansville days, many students were not getting jobs in the field of their study. I wonder what the actual figures are comparing the number of people with other degrees and culinary degrees showing their actual post graduate careers.

Anonymous said...

I am definitley in that category, I was at IU getting a degree in Biology and realized one day that I just didn't have it in me to sit in a lab all day looking through a lens (oddly enough, I do a lot of that these days....but on my own terms). I know alot of people in the same boat....I believe cooking "chooses you".

Have fun at CIA but....GO J-DUB!!!!!!!

ChefThomE said...

I think, with the planned changes, CIA will look similiar to J-Dub (JW=Johnson and Wales University). I think of the CIA as the leader in producing chefs and JW as the leader in producing restaurant managers. I hate to admit it Gastroholic, it sounds like CIA is trying to be like JW.

Anonymous said...

As a culinary student, for me the real page turning moments of Making of a Chef came down to "why choose to be a chef?" And in reading Reach of a Chef, I was surprised to learn that Emeril is so disparaged by many in the industry.

On the one hand, celebrity chefs are making things look so easy and almost glamorous, while reality is that it can be hard, difficult, detailed work requiring patience in a not nice environment.

With enrollment swelling, why would the CIA allow, if not instruct, their chefs to be "kindler and gentler?" As a student, I know for a fact that other students bitch and moan when an instructor comes down hard on them, but I imagine it's nothing like the tirade if it were a real kitchen in the middle of service. Shouldn't students be exposed to this now rather than later?

To braingirl's point, I know that many students may not even want to work on a line, but it's supposed to be the top school in the country! People know when they are part of something special, and it almosts sounds like that has been lost by a laxing of standards.