Culinary School Dramaz

Little did I know when I recently wrote about what it means when I say I went to c-school that unrest is consuming the Culinary Institute of America. The New York Times reported in this week’s food section that two-thirds of the members of the teacher’s union cast a vote of no confidence in president Tim Ryan’s leadership of the school. Some students and faculty feel that Ryan’s direction has reduced academic and admissions standards, among other concerns.

Last summer, SF Weekly published an expose of deceptive practices at the California Culinary Academy–formerly another star in the firmament of American culinary schools. CCA’s acquisition by Career Education Corporation has led to increased pressures to get paying students in the doors at all costs, with a reduced focus on and investment in the education students receive after signing on the dotted line.

What other fissures are showing at American culinary schools? Indeed, is there any such controversy at my own alma mater, L’academie de Cuisine? (I haven’t heard about it if so, but I’m not exactly in touch with daily operations down there…)

More musings below the cut…

Part of me feels this is the dark underside of the general sense that going to school will make you a chef. A year or two of schooling isn’t likely to do that for most people. It is true that many of the people from my graduating class are still in the industry 5 years later, but it is also true that many are not.

There was one person in my class at L’academie who just wasn’t grasping things, and he left the program after a few weeks with an open invitation from the administration to try again when he could get his head together. I don’t know if he ever did. I don’t envy the administration having to make that decision, but I also know that having somebody in your classes at c-school who is unable to focus on the task at hand can drag down the entire group, in the same way that a single unruly child can change the tenor of a first grade classroom.

I don’t know the first thing about how to grow a culinary school; I just teach private and public cooking classes periodically. I’ve heard often about the hard sell c-schools give prospective students, but I think that most people who enroll have their own ideas about what might happen after graduation. Those dreams may be impossible to dissuade, even if a school acted against its economic self-interest in order to do so. As an internet junkie, I asked and read things online about whether or not c-school was a good value long before I showed up for a pre-admission interview. I also talked to some people in the industry before making my decision. Many of them tried to talk me out of going, but I went anyway and I don’t regret it. And yes, I’m still paying back my loans, and I will be for many years to come.

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