Okay, the last “rant” post was about the state of our industry. There is a severe shortage of cooks and chefs worldwide. Today I place the blame squarely on the biggest culprit – cooking schools.
Don’t get me wrong. We all need to learn somehow, and there is a place for cooking schools. The problem lies with the broken promises. Let me explain.
My experience with culinary school, and apprenticeship
I decided on September 2, 1997 that I wanted to be a chef. I remember it clearly. I was sitting in the doghouse on a hot day, smoking cigarettes with the rig crew. (We were waiting for the water test to finish so we could finish laying another strand of pipes.) I was gabbing about the kitchen again, and one of my colleagues turns to me and says, “Hey, you’re always talking about cooking, why don’t you become a chef?”
Fast forward a few months. I’m back in Calgary, and I have a mission. I’m going to be a chef.
There’s two avenues: Apprentice, or go to culinary school.
I didn’t know any chefs or restaurants that would apprentice me, so I chose culinary school at the awesome Southern Alberta Institute of Technology.
I spent around $13 000 (after tuition, tools, rent, food, and books) to attend 3 semesters.
After that I went to work at the Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge where I then apprenticed for a year to write my Red Seal Exam.
Total cost: $13 500 to get my red seal papers.
My position at the time? Second cook. I was making $9.35/hour. I had a huge student loan debt.
That’s the problem with this industry today.
What does it cost to attend culinary school?
While cooking school tuition varies depending on where you attend, for the purposes of this piece, we will focus on the most popular schools:
- Culinary Institute of America: Average tuition – $66 125 (!!) for a 4 semester course.
- Southern Alberta Institute of Technology: $12 470 for a two year course with a paid internship.
- Culinary Institute of Canada: $20 553 for a two year course.
The Culinary Institute of America includes tools and uniforms in the tuition, and the other two do not. Average cost is listed in the S.A.I.T. site as $750 for tools and uniforms. I can tell you that back in 1998 I paid $1100 for all of the supplies and books listed, (including the ones that were “optional.”)
All three sites tell you that you will find work, but tantalize you with the promise of becoming an executive chef, or even a sous chef. There is a case that it may happen that way, but let me tell you. It’s rare. Sure, the “skills” are taught to you that may serve you in that function. If you had a job as an executive chef out the door.
To be fair, they use words like, “You may find work locally or abroad as:”
The reality of the situation:
First off, there is no fucking way that you are going to get an Executive Chef (or a sous chef) job out of the gate. Why would you?
- Have you ever led a team to execute your vision?
- Do you have the experience needed to lead your team through all the good times and the bad times?
- Do you command the respect of your peers, and your team members? Will they follow you into the fire and back out again?
- Can you comfortably tell your owner or general manager what you can do to increase revenue, while cutting costs related to labor and food cost?
- Can you troubleshoot a wonky inventory?
- Can you teach, coach, and mentor your staff?
- What about hiring and firing staff?
NONE of these things are taught in school. How could they be? Did they have a class called, “How to Mentor 101?” Doubt it.
If we were to be conservative, let’s say that we spent around $20 000 to attend culinary school. I am going to guess that you took out a student loan, because far too many people don’t have the money to attend college these days. With tuition like that, no wonder.
You are given the option to pay your debt off in up to 10 years time. Sure, it’s a great idea to pay off your loan faster, but let’s be realistic here. So, we choose 10 year repayment terms at 3% (I chose fixed because I don’t even want to think about floating – my head hurts too much.)
Okay, so that means a payment of $242.66 per month that you can NEVER get out of paying.
So, let’s pretend that you went to the crème de la crème of cooking schools, and racked up that impressive cost of $66 000 over that four year term.
Using the same payment terms, you are looking at a payment of $800.76 per month.
Let’s be real for a second. How much does an entry level cook get paid?
I’ll hire a culinary student at $10.55/hour. That’s if they have no prior experience, and are literally just fresh out of school. Why? That’s the going rate.
Let’s say they have experience. Maybe it will be $13 or $14 an hour, and we’d look at things later.
That means that on average, if they are working 40 hour weeks, they are making around $633 per pay. To be smart, let’s say that they are paying $121.22 from that pay for their student loan. (Assuming the 20K debt.) That’s a large chunk to be paying over 10 years.
If it were the 66K loan, then they would be paying a full $400 (or 64% of their take home pay!)
Keep in mind that we are talking about what the pay is here in Quebec, Canada. In New York the minimum wage is $8.75/hour
Even at $15/hour the take home pay is around $900.
Are there any more questions on why culinary school graduates are not staying in this industry?
So, what’s the solution?
I’m not 100% sure there is one, except schools need to be up front about what these graduates can expect. I don’t think anyone graduates and gets a job as an Executive Chef making 65K a year.
There is another way into the cooking field, but it’s not as lucrative for the universities and schools. That is, become an apprentice. Join the dark side! I’ll detail that in another post sometime in the future.