Chefs Vary on Value of Culinary School

Ask a dozen chefs, and the answers could be as varied as their individual recipes for lamb stew: Is culinary school worth it?

For aspiring Wolfgang Pucks, spending $50,000 for a two-year culinary degree can be a gamble in the best of times. But a September survey by the National Restaurant Association found that only 17 percent of restaurant owners were optimistic about the economy, down from 26 percent the previous month.

Is it safer and saner to learn how to make radish rosettes and sear steaks on a restaurant’s payroll?

Seth Bailey, head chef at Cafe at the Frick in Point Breeze, did both. He attended the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University in North Carolina. The $20,000 yearly tuition for the two-year program was worth it, he says.

Prior to enrolling, he worked in the restaurant industry for a year to make sure he knew what he was getting himself into.

"Starting out in the industry, you learn what people expect from you right off the bat instead of being disillusioned, going to school and thinking you’re going to be on the Food Network someday," Bailey says.

Kevin Joyce, owner of the Carlton Restaurant, Downtown, says he employed at least one head chef who had enough natural talent to bypass culinary school.

But he was the exception, he says.

"You’re going to work your way up the old-fashioned way no matter what," Joyce says. "There’s a lot to be said for going to culinary school. But, once you come out of culinary school, you’re still working your way. up .You’re still starting at that salad station."

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