April 30 2014 – Robert Fiumara
As the work force moves into a new and more technical age with higher job demand and scarcer job availability, there are more and more people seeking employment in stable career fields that require a more personal human touch. It's no wonder that, more than ever, people are interested in careers in the culinary arts. As a result, more and more potential chefs are asking a hard question: Is it better to attend culinary school and break into the industry by taking on tens of thousands of dollars of debt, or alternatively, step into the work force directly and start off on the line before working your way up to that coveted spot of chef? Let’s take a look at the stats.
The average cost of culinary school runs anywhere from $35,000 to $54,000 for a two year degree. For a four year degree, the number can break well over $100,000. Entry level chef jobs often have you working long, backbreaking hours over weekends and holidays, often for little more than ten dollars an hour. Alternatively, one could start working as a kitchen aid, line cook, or prep cook for zero debt, and solid wages that vary by region. There’s no doubt that knowledge and training is necessary in making a good cook or forming a great chef, but there’s substantial debate as to what approach offers the best results.
What's the Value of Culinary School?
Many cooks talk about the worth of a formal education in terms of passion and building a love and affection for the basics of cooking. The fundamentals of forming a meal, of preparation and display might be lost to the aspiring chef who starts off instead in an introductory position, as their whole knowledge base will be tempered by the personal values and touches of the chef they were employed and trained by. Students who seek a degree in the culinary arts will, instead, have a greater aptitude for the more well-rounded basics that is meal preparation.
That said, with the average wage earnings being around ten dollars an hour for starting cooks, is it really worth looking at paying back tens of thousands of dollars? Sure, it’s a statistical fact that most of the higher earning cooking positions go to those who have culinary arts degrees. But, with time, and as the economy worsens, that gap is not as significant as it once was. Likewise, there’s not a single chef in one of those positions who hadn’t previously worked years of grim, hard hours for seemingly insignificant amounts of pay.
Is It Worth It?
Ultimately, it’s a hard question to answer, and it depends on your own personal values and desires. If having that knowledge base, that degree, and those connections matter to you in forming your career, going to culinary school is likely to be a great choice for you. But, if you have a passion for the industry and a talent for the culinary arts along with some good old fashioned drive and determination, you can certainly make your way in this industry without the added expense of culinary school.