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The Culinary School Debate

The Culinary School Debate

If you’ve found, you’re obviously a serious cook. Maybe you’re a caterer, or an entrepreneur working on a line of food products. Chances are if you haven’t been to culinary school, you’re considering it.

Interest and attendance in culinary schools has skyrocketed since the 80s, due in part to the popularity of cooking shows like Top Chef. The level of celebrity that was once reserved for star athletes and performers is now attainable by chefs. Those who achieve household-name status, like Rachel Ray, have launched commercial empires.

Now might be a good time to mention that Rachel Ray didn’t go to culinary school. Many famous chefs did not.

So there’s the debate: with the cost of a culinary education ranging from $20,000 to over $100,000, is it worth it?

Just like going to acting school doesn’t guarantee you an acting career, going to culinary school does not guarantee a culinary career.  Education or not, the career path for chefs usually begins with a $10/hour kitchen job. If you’ve financed a $60,000 culinary education, you’re looking at loan payments of almost $700 per month*—hardly feasible on an average cook’s salary.

Advocates of culinary school will tell you that the formal education offers a breadth of knowledge that you can’t get from working your way around a kitchen. And, just like other programs, you’ll make valuable connections, meet people and encounter opportunities as a student that you might miss otherwise.

There are alternatives. Local community colleges often offer culinary programs at a fraction of the cost of traditional cooking school. And of course, many chefs work their way through the ranks without attending culinary school.

Your ultimate career goal is an important consideration as well. There are many directions to go with a culinary degree outside of restaurants: personal and private chefs, commercial or institutional chefs, education, other hospitality sectors like hotels, cruises, even airlines.  It might pay to explore specific career goals before deciding to attend culinary school or deciding what type of program to enroll in—does your ideal employer require a degree?  Do they favor one type of school over another?

You’ll find plenty of passionate opinions on both sides of the culinary school debate. If you’re thinking about a culinary education, do some research.  Consider your current and projected financial resources, your career goals and the job market before you make your decision. For a more thorough discussion of the topic, try this article from

*From the Federal Department of Student Aid’s Loan Calculator:

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