Is Culinary School Worth It?

Business By Summertime612 Updated 29 Jul 2009 , 5:17am by Hula_girl3

Summertime612 Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 12:50am
post #1 of 30

I can't decide whether or not to go to culinary school. I want to start my own cake business but feel like I need a lot more training before I do. I've already applied to the Texas Culinary Academy and gone through financing. Now I have to decide if I really need a $30,000 education or if I should just take some classes at Austin Community College. Also I've looked for decorating classes other than Wilton in the Austin area and haven't had any luck. Does anyone know of any?

29 replies
DefyGravity Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 12:58am
post #2 of 30

I know in Chicago Wilton has a 2 week Master Course, and you can also take different supplement courses while you're there. I think its about $1000.

I'm just a hobbyist, but I would think that you would be fine taking classes at a Community College. As long as you're making a delicious product, people will come icon_smile.gif

xpangxiong Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 1:00am
post #3 of 30

i just graduated from le cordon bleu and feel like i have learned things in culinary school i would have never been able to learn on my own. it is very expensive, but if this is what you are serious about doing long term, then i highly reccommend it. it's the best $40,000 i've ever spent. I don't regret it at all.

Rylan Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 1:06am
post #4 of 30

Some of the best pastry chefs and succesful cake decorators never stepped culinary school--but it is always a plus if you do.

bettinashoe Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 1:06am
post #5 of 30

I would have to answer "no" to that question. As DefyGravity mentioned Wilton has a stellar 2 week course not to mention all the other mini courses they offer. I know many may feel differently about this advise but you have to think about where you will be at the end of culinary school and what completing school will bring you and your potential customers. Are you wanting to start a cake business only or be a master chef? Remember, you're not only going to be trying to open a business when you finish school but you're also going to be repaying a large loan. I just think there are so many opportunities to learn from some of the best cake designers in the world without a $30,000 investment.

I wish you the best of luck in your search.

PinkZiab Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 1:07am
post #6 of 30

In a word: Maybe.

It depends on the curriculu,m of the program you are going into, and what your goals are. No education, is ever wasted, but sometimes a non-traditional route is a better way to go.

For me, it was absolutely worth it and I feel I am all the better for it.

Rose_N_Crantz Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 1:17am
post #7 of 30

I graduated from Le Cordon Bleu with a general culinary arts certificate and I feel it was money and time wasted. Seriously, I've learned more online and on the job than I did at school. A few years after culinary school I did go to a community college to take some communications and management courses and I do feel that was money and time well spent. I asked someone at my local Michael's who was going to Le Cordon Bleu if she liked it and she said she did, but she was learning every aspect of pastry there is to know. I just wanna make cakes.

Honestly, if you wanted to learn how to do something (make a gumpaste rose, cover a cake with fondant, make a really great carrot cake, etc.) I'm willing to bet you could find that stuff on the web. Youtube is great for how-to videos.

EDIT: on the other hand, customers like to see that official looking piece of paper on the wall in your shop.

-K8memphis Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 1:31am
post #8 of 30

My son graduated from the TCU in Austin several years ago. He had perfect attendance and got a 4.0. He has bust his ass and other private parts in Michelin starred places for these years since. He's 25, think he graduated in Jan of 05. Typically he works 12-16 hours a day.

30-40k is a tremendous amount of money to invest to be able to get out and work for the same wage you could get if you spent that same amount of time in a restaurant or food establishment of your choice.

Sure you can learn great stuff. But your education should be indicative of the salary you will be able to get for that education and food service is way way lopsided on this, stupidly so. Especially the Cordon Bleu program.

They know how to ram the financing though let me tell you. If you have a pulse most of the time they will show you the money! to borrow.

So he's got two buddies that went to a community college for a fraction of what TCU charges. They traveled Italy. They now have a bursting great place here in Elvistown.

It's all about your passion. School is cool but you gotta pay that back, man. We got 22 years to go on $323.23 a month. And we have like 3% interest. It's a car payment that will never go away.

Now he's an excellent chef because he has the passion--not necessarily because of his education. I don't really regret it because it did launch him but I lobbied long and hard for a different school--his gf at the time lived in Austin--so...

Then once in there he got sticker shock and wanted to transfer to a 4-year program and we held the line on that.

CakeForte Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 2:43am
post #9 of 30

For what you want to do, I think no. A better investment, would be to get a degree in business or take business classes, then supplement with the other food/ technique classes at ACC. If you're just doing specialty cakes and cookies...you can learn all of that stuff on your own and through independent classes.

If you just read through the business forum section you will see that everyone has the talent...but a lot of the topics/ situations wouldn't be talked about if there was a solid business foundation in place. There are just basic principles that apply to every single industry that you HAVE to know. Your skill and craft is only going to be a tiny portion of what you do.

Those business skills: marketing, management, finances, sales,etc will help you with your own shop.

Denise Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 1:22pm
post #10 of 30

Formal culinary education is a great thing but it is not necessary to be a successful cake designer. I took the 3 Wilton classes to start out. I immediately took a fondant and gum paste class at the Cake Craft Shoppe 120 miles away...yes...it involved a lot of driving!

I started making cakes for family and later my mom ordered cakes for her church. I continued to take a few classes here and there and joined cake forums, which is where I learned so much.

I started doing wedding cakes and applied everything I had ever learned in at any job. I have been in sales and marketing and various other jobs in the business world. They have all helped me in my cake business.

I continue to take classes and improve my techniques and try to stay on the cutting edge of what is new or innovative. I joined cake clubs and ICES and have gone to DOS's and conventions.

My education in the cake arts has cost me but not the 42K my son wants to spend at the culinary school in Austin and I made pretty decent money on wedding cakes!

Denise Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 1:25pm
post #11 of 30

Mods please remove

Denise Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 1:28pm
post #12 of 30

Formal culinary education is a great thing but it is not necessary to be a successful cake designer. I took the 3 Wilton classes to start out. I immediately took a fondant and gum paste class at the Cake Craft Shoppe 120 miles away...yes...it involved a lot of driving!

I started making cakes for family and later my mom ordered cakes for her church. I continued to take a few classes here and there and joined cake forums, which is where I learned so much.

I started doing wedding cakes and applied everything I had ever learned in at any job. I have been in sales and marketing and various other jobs in the business world. They have all helped me in my cake business.

I continue to take classes and improve my techniques and try to stay on the cutting edge of what is new or innovative. I joined cake clubs and ICES and have gone to DOS's and conventions.

My education in the cake arts has cost me but not the 42K my son wants to spend at the culinary school in Austin and I made pretty decent money on wedding cakes!

dream Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 1:45pm
post #13 of 30

I too have always thought about going to Pastry school because I love to bake- period. Anyway, it is a lot of money to consider but as far as classes go you can check out:
http://www.allinonebakeshop.com/ they have classes all the time. They offer a variety of classes. I use to live an hour or so away from Austin, Tx and soon after I found out about the classes they offered- I moved! I have since missed Aine2's classes - she is a member here on cc that travels to Austin to instruct classes on her gumpaste figures.

bettinashoe Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 7:14pm
post #14 of 30

Funny you mentioned aine2, dream. I'm taking my third set of classes with her in August. I love her classes and have learned so much from her. Classes such as these are geared towards cake decorating specifically and cost much less than culinary school. I travel 9 hours to take her classes and even with my hotel, the total cost is just over $1,000 which is a tax deduction for my bakery! I've also been fortunate enough to take wonderful classes from the top instructors at the Cake Show in Austin this year. CC always has links to great classes. Again, I suggest cake-specific/decorating classes.

ccr03 Posted 17 Jul 2009 , 8:24pm
post #15 of 30

I'm gonna go with PinkZiab and say maybe.

I have my degree in Communication and Spanish with a minor in Journalism, but was VERY tempted to go to culinary school out of high school. I'm so glad I didn't. I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED college. I LOVE my degree with a passion. I have been able to use it SOOO much in conjunction with this business and working with my sister's business. The great thing about my education was that it is a well-rounded degree - I can do anything with it!

Would I still like to culinary school? Absolutely! I want to be chef and create great food.

As many have said on here, don't expect to come out of school with a bakery waiting for you. Figure out what your goal would like to be. My goals/dreams have changed to mix my two loves in even a greater way.

I don't know how the curriculum is set up, but make sure you get a well-rounded education. It'll help open more doors for you and let you spread your wings into different industries if you so choose.

HoodiesGoodies Posted 18 Jul 2009 , 4:22pm
post #16 of 30

Well lets put it this way. I went to culinary school along with my husband, so we both have a $40,000 tuition to pay for. He did the Culinary arts and I did the Patissrie & baking. Most schools have either the Diploma program or the Associates. Diploma is all hands on cooking and baking while the associates has the management classes. I really enjoyed school and feel that I learned alot. I also believe that if already know that you want to just decorate cakes then dont put your money in to culinary school. Just put it into the cake decorating part. School will teach you evrything from baking cakes, cookies, breads, to butercreams, mousses, and pastry cream. I would say another good thing about school and classes all together is the networking and the other chefs and people you meet.

HoodiesGoodies Posted 18 Jul 2009 , 4:23pm
post #17 of 30

Well lets put it this way. I went to culinary school along with my husband, so we both have a $40,000 tuition to pay for. He did the Culinary arts and I did the Patissrie & baking. Most schools have either the Diploma program or the Associates. Diploma is all hands on cooking and baking while the associates has the management classes. I really enjoyed school and feel that I learned alot. I also believe that if already know that you want to just decorate cakes then dont put your money in to culinary school. Just put it into the cake decorating part. School will teach you evrything from baking cakes, cookies, breads, to butercreams, mousses, and pastry cream. I would say another good thing about school and classes all together is the networking and the other chefs and people you meet.

HoodiesGoodies Posted 18 Jul 2009 , 4:23pm
post #18 of 30

Well lets put it this way. I went to culinary school along with my husband, so we both have a $40,000 tuition to pay for. He did the Culinary arts and I did the Patissrie & baking. Most schools have either the Diploma program or the Associates. Diploma is all hands on cooking and baking while the associates has the management classes. I really enjoyed school and feel that I learned alot. I also believe that if already know that you want to just decorate cakes then dont put your money in to culinary school. Just put it into the cake decorating part. School will teach you evrything from baking cakes, cookies, breads, to butercreams, mousses, and pastry cream. I would say another good thing about school and classes all together is the networking and the other chefs and people you meet.

laneysmom Posted 18 Jul 2009 , 4:43pm
post #19 of 30

Aside from Wilton, there are a number of resources out ther to fine tune your decorating skills without matriculating into a degree/cert program. Most cake designers (Nicholas Lodge, Collette Peters, Toba Garrett, etc.) offer lessons (pricey and you may have to travel a bit, but what an experience!). And there are a number of pastry schools out there that have short-term programs (there's one in FL, but the name escapes me at the moment.)

It all depends on your goals.

sara1983 Posted 18 Jul 2009 , 5:03pm
post #20 of 30

I am currently enrolled in culinary school in the baking and pastry program. I have been doing cakes for about 10 years now and like you, wanted to open my own business and focus on doing just cakes. The school claims to be one of the best in the country and is a total cost of about $50,000 for 2 years (luckily through grants and schlorships I dont have to pay near that amount). I took Wilton courses when I was younger and feel as though I learned more through them, online, videos, and tv shows then through school. It's great to go if you want to do everything in the baking and pastry business such as breads, mousses, tarts plating, etc. But if you are going just for cakes I would encourage you to save the money and take courses (especially business) at community college. Like said previously Wilton has a 2 week course where you could probably learn everything you needed to know. I had spent 22 days in cake class for school and was taught the very basics of cake decorating. It's up to you and the paper does look nice hanging on the wall but it all depends on your skill as to what customers would think.

cutthecake Posted 18 Jul 2009 , 5:40pm
post #21 of 30

Education is never a bad thing. But it can be very expensive.
However, as others have mentioned, your time and money might be better spent taking courses specific to cake decorating and BUSINESS (even basic accounting). So many talented people fail in business, in part because they don't know how to run one. Sales tax, payroll, insurance, worker's comp, income tax filings, etc., are just a few of the things that have to be considered.
The caking is just one part of it.
I'm sure you can find a pastry school--or even a restaurant-- that has a short, intensive program in cake decorating. Once I took a three-night course in petit fours (the REAL ones) from a local French chef, and I loved it! (I don't even remember how I found out about it.)

Have you calculated how many cakes you would have to make to "pay for" the degree? The amount of money involved might be prohibitive.

There was an article in our newspaper about a young woman who was opening an ice cream shop around the corner from Carvel. The article included the fact that her remodeling costs were around $10,000. My father said, "That's a lot of ice cream cones." And he's right. (By the way, the ice cream shop lasted just over a year.) She had no business experience or knowledge, just a cute idea.

So, to answer your question, I'll paraphrase my father, "That's a lot of cakes."

-K8memphis Posted 18 Jul 2009 , 8:15pm
post #22 of 30

Going to culinary school is a great idea.

But the idcea of an education is to acquire the means to make it in life and pay off the school bill. These gourmet schools do not hold up their end of the bargain.

Mortaging your future without acquiring the means to pay that mortgage?

Community college makes much more sense.

Sure you get the confidence that goes with the big degree but none of that pays the school bill for the next twenty five years.

And you start out after school making the same wage as joe blow who walked in off the street--or you make less than the other joe blow who's been there working for two years already while you were in school.

Honestly, I know some of us have kids or ourselves have gone there to the designer schools --but few if any of the graduates walk into gigs that will pay the bills after school without working mucho overtime.

There are no jobs to be commensurate with that pricey of an education.

Zero.

Most graduates of culinary school do not follow a culinary course. A very high percentage do not.

iwantcookies Posted 19 Jul 2009 , 3:55am
post #23 of 30

Hi
I am in Australia, and i was looking at the Cordon Bleu School to do my pastry chef diploma. I was totally blown away by the cost of the 18month course (AU$25000) not to mention the uniform and tool kit (AU$2500). I didn't think i could justify the expense, cos once i got a job i would basically be working just to pay my loan off, considering how low an entry level pastry chef gets. I decided to enrol in my local TAFE (you guys would call it a community college) to do my pastry chef apprenticeship. The course goes for 2 and a half years, is $700 per year, the uniform and tool kit together were $350. What this sort of course entails is going to school one day a week, and working the other 4 days as an apprentice at wherever u are able to pick up an apprenticeship. So basically, you are getting paid to learn!! I think its such an awesome alternative to those who cant afford the fancy schools (though i would so luv to do a course at Cordon Bleu! )
Is there anything like an apprenticeship program that you could look into?

ncdessertdiva Posted 20 Jul 2009 , 3:43am
post #24 of 30

I would suggest you look into your local community college. The education is comparable to the big name schools without the BIG price tag. Here in NC a two year associate degree with cost about $5k vs $40k for the same knowledge. They teach the same knife skills/baking skills at both institutions, one just has the name recognition. When you go into the real world, they don't care where you went to school but how you use your knife!! It all comes down to performance in the kitchen. With the community college system, you could also audit courses if you weren't interested in a degree. Just a thought.

I love to bake everything. . . breads, cakes, cookies, etc. I am returning to school this fall, not in the culinary program but in the business program at my local community college. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I will miss the culinary program but I am going to learn all that can for my business then go back for the culinary.
Leslie

CIApastrychef Posted 20 Jul 2009 , 7:58pm
post #25 of 30

I'd say I have to agree with the majority of people here. The answer is maybe.

I am a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, "the world's premier culinary college" (that is debatable, depending on who you ask, but anyway...) and I learned so much about not only what to do, but why you do it. THAT has made all the difference in my baking. If you know why something didn't turn out right or if you can alter a recipe, then you are unstoppable.

Yes, my degree has left me with a pretty considerable loan, but easily worth it. Having the CIA on my resume has gotten me jobs where I've been able to work for and meet some of the world's greatest chefs (Gordon Ramsay, Cat Cora, John Besh, Johnny Iuzzini, just to name a very few), I even got to make chocolates for Ringo Starr.

I know this is not what some people are looking for when it comes to baking, but I think it's been a pretty cool ride and people seem impressed about it, which helps my sales.

Going to culinary school has made me a much more well rounded chef, which I think is going to help me as my business starts to grow even more.

CIApastrychef Posted 20 Jul 2009 , 7:59pm
post #26 of 30

I'd say I have to agree with the majority of people here. The answer is maybe.

I am a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America, "the world's premier culinary college" (that is debatable, depending on who you ask, but anyway...) and I learned so much about not only what to do, but why you do it. THAT has made all the difference in my baking. If you know why something didn't turn out right or if you can alter a recipe, then you are unstoppable.

Yes, my degree has left me with a pretty considerable loan, but easily worth it. Having the CIA on my resume has gotten me jobs where I've been able to work for and meet some of the world's greatest chefs (Gordon Ramsay, Cat Cora, John Besh, Johnny Iuzzini, just to name a very few), I even got to make chocolates for Ringo Starr.

I know this is not what some people are looking for when it comes to baking, but I think it's been a pretty cool ride and people seem impressed about it, which helps my sales.

Going to culinary school has made me a much more well rounded chef, which I think is going to help me as my business starts to grow even more.

Sox-n-Pats Posted 21 Jul 2009 , 12:40am
post #27 of 30

Check into your community college and check out the instructors. Here in Las Vegas, some of the classes taught at the CC are taught by chefs who also teach at the culinary schools!!

Same teacher, much less cost.

CrankyCakes Posted 21 Jul 2009 , 3:26am
post #28 of 30

I'm currently attending Johnson & Wales for baking and pastry and I am about to start my bachelors for food service management. Being in culinary school I personally feel like I have learned more about cakes and cake decorating outside of the school. However with other aspects like pastries and breads I feel like I have learned quite a bit. School has become more of a stepping stone in the fact that having that piece of paper has opened some doors and allowed me to network through chefs and other instructors, but just learn the basics in the kitchen.
However I have seen several students go through the program and gain employment as decorators in bakeries but are unable to deliver. It's not so much the schooling but more your talent and passion for what you do.

sara1983 Posted 22 Jul 2009 , 1:51pm
post #29 of 30

I also attend Johnson and Wales and like CrankyCakes said I have learned more outside of the school then in it as far as cake decorating goes. As said, it is all about the talent and passion for I have seen cakes that are produced by the students and some are great and others not so much.

Hula_girl3 Posted 29 Jul 2009 , 5:17am
post #30 of 30

I graduated from culinary school back in 02'. I chose to go because I thought that must be what is done. It showed me a lot of things I might not have been able to learn else where but as far as my specific job goes, I barely learned anything that applies to wedding cakes let alone sculpted cakes. I had to in some ways "re-learn" things in my first bakery because I was shown the proper textbook method which can take too long. I dont really think that they really gave me my 30k worth at that school, I mean seriously thats a lot of money! I've gone on to a wonderful career and have worked for some pretty sweet places but I know I could have gotten there by just going strait into a bakery and working my way up. I'm not a big fan of hiring culinary students because of the ego's that come out of there and I have to retrain them too, sadly for some kids the programs they when through did give them full and proper training to begin with.
I know a lot of community colleges are trying compete with the major schools so their curriculum is getting seriously competitive. I would suggest to try there first, and get in at a bakery because even though all of those schools say you'll be making major $ after you graduate the truth is you wont. You'll start out at minimum wage but no more then $9 p/hour and that isnt exactly something you can live off of when you have 30k to repay. If you start at community college and a bakery at the same time (I've had many assistants doing this) then your getting the experience you'll need plus exposure to other methods in the culinary field.

Have you looked at cake supply stores? They tend to offer different kinds of classes aside from just wilton. Try looking that up and see if maybe you can get a bakery to take a chance with you.
Good luck,
Belinda

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