Culinary Institute Of America

Business By meganmarie27 Updated 24 Jun 2013 , 1:25pm by liz at sugar

meganmarie27 Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 12:50am
post #1 of 19

So after I finish my two year college I was thinking of going to the CIA and then open a bakery after that. But now I'm starting to think that maybe it will just be a waste of money. I've read about so many people who are self taught and figure why spend the money when I can just practice. So I want to know if any of you who own a bakery are self taught? Or do you think going to the CIA would be worth it? Thanks! :)

18 replies
Stitches Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 1:34am
post #2 of 19

The CIA is considered the best or one of the best culinary schools in the US. You can't go wrong with getting an education there! If your bakery ever didn't work out you could get a job in any kitchen in the US, literally.


BUT currently The French Pastry School is really the leading place to go for pastry. However there seems to be a lot of pastry grad.'s  from them that are over saturating the job market.


I think the CIA has a better curriculum for food business, which is what you really need, business skills. Plus you'll meet so many future chefs who could be incredible contacts for you, forever!


I'm not big on culinary schools in a 2 year program at a local community college isn't a ticket to a rock 'in culinary career and good money. But going to the CIA is a ticket to somewhere.


(JMO obviously, I've been a professional pastry chef for over 25 years. Just recently switched to cakes as self-employment. With-out a degree getting a good paying job in a kitchen is HARD. Getting a great job as a pastry chef is really hard. The importance of who you know is more important than I can tell you.)

jason_kraft Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 3:15am
post #3 of 19

AIf you want to be a pastry chef then I agree CIA is probably worth it. But if you want to run a business and/or be a cake decorator then I would skip culinary school since most of it probably won't be applicable to what you want to do.

Check out the CIA curriculum for the programs you're interested and compare the course syllabi with what you hope to learn.

Pyro Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 4:09am
post #4 of 19

I'm attending CIA this winter. I'm actually doing it to help me strengthen my basic baking knowledge. Understanding what happens and why when you bake is how you can fix / improve / create recipe. Personally I'm doing the AOS. I think the BPS is too expensive for what it is.


I'm also going to open a storefront after school, but I'm a career changer. I've worked management, payroll, inventory and have been self-employed in the past.  After I get back home I will still take some business classes to help me with what I lack. I suggest you take some as well. They are really important if you want to have a successful business. 


If your ultimate goal is just to decorate cakes and do nothing else, you won't get the maximum of your CIA experience. This is where the people who say you should just get experience in the field are right. And 80k is a lot of money. But making cute cakes isn't going to help you run a business. It makes you a valuable employee. Cake decorating is only a portion of the curriculum, along with bread making, chocolate, sugar crafts and pastries. But if you're interested in more then just cakes, you won't waste your money in culinary school.


Not sure if you've researched it but this is the curriculum.


I personally LOVE pastries and all the small stuff. I enjoy making cakes but I also try to put chocolate in everything. I got to work for an amazing high-end chocolatier. I worked with Chuao every week. Makes me want to hit my head on a wall when I see Hershey in the supermarket.


I plan to get the most out of my 2 years at CIA. If you attend and you aren't serious, get wasted every week end ( easy opportunity ) and don't focus. You will leave with not much more then someone super serious who learns on the job and switches to different jobs to acquire different skills. Because let's be real when you work for a business, you usually don't do everything, they stick you somewhere and that's what you do all day every day.

kaylawaylalayla Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 2:25pm
post #5 of 19

don't forget about your less expensive options, Johnson and wales and le cordon bleu.

the main difference between the schools is that the cia has a bachelors program, and the other two are associates.

I went to le cordon bleu, myself, and I've worked with many people from each of the schools. I've seen Johnson and wale people works circles around cia people, and vice versa. I've seen people from all three that are completely amazing.

the school you choose will not make you better or worse than any other school, that is up to you, the individual.

meganmarie27 Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 3:10pm
post #6 of 19

That's a good point I didn't even think of going to another school. It makes more sense though seeing how I don't really plan on working for someone else so the school I go to won't matter as much. The expenses of the CIA is what was making me pause in my decision. I didn't want to come out of college with a bunch of debt and try starting a bakery. 

FromScratchSF Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 4:40pm
post #7 of 19

AI have mixed feelings about culinary school. I never went but all the people that have staged and my assistants all did. I've had people that went to CIA, Le Cordon Blu, the Art Institute if SF and a few others. Not a single of them could properly ice a cake, let alone tort one without hacking it to pieces. I had ine gal that has never used a cake turntable. None of them could fondant a cake on a professional level. None of them have ever made a proper sugar flower besides a few droopy pathetic looking ones. So far not a single one of them have ever reverse creamed and the holes in their knoledge of practical baking chemistry has really shocked me. Not to say they can't learn, but I always assumed that after 2 years in school culinary graduates would have recipe books full of perfect pastries/cakes, be able to decorate on a Wilton graduate level, and done tiered cakes and other production stuff. I also thought they'd have business skills like food costing and timelines and how to use a commercial convection oven and adjust baking temperature versus a home oven.... I literally could go on and on. Every one of them have told me the focus in school is not fancy American style wedding and celebration cakes. They spend about 2 weeks on them. The rest of the time is bread, pastry, mousses and other desserts.

So I'm not saying culinary school is a waste of money, but if you think you will be the Cake Boss ready to open a bakery when you graduate I think you need to re-set your expectations.

If cake, specifically wedding and special occasion cake like you see on TV is your passion and you want to open your own cake studio, a business degree from a regular university + Wilton classes + private classes taken from the cake traveling circuit + You Tube/ blogs + The Cake Bible + start up money = success.

Just my 2 cents.

Good luck!

liz at sugar Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 4:59pm
post #8 of 19
Originally Posted by FromScratchSF 

If cake, specifically wedding and special occasion cake like you see on TV is your passion and you want to open your own cake studio, a business degree from a regular university + Wilton classes + private classes taken from the cake traveling circuit + You Tube/ blogs + The Cake Bible + start up money = success.


Completely agree.  On the other hand, if your dream is to be a pastry chef at a fancy hotel or 4 star restaurant, culinary school may be the way to go.


As you can see by the myriad of posts on this site, business knowledge is what many are lacking.  Basic accounting and food costing, marketing, advertising, dealing with the regulations and taxes, etc.  All that boring stuff is what separates someone who can run a successful and profitable business and the posters who come on and ask "how much should I charge for this" and "help me start my cupcake business from my kitchen!".



Stitches Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 5:58pm
post #9 of 19

If cake, specifically wedding and special occasion cake like you see on TV is your passion and you want to open your own cake studio, a business degree from a regular university + Wilton classes + private classes taken from the cake traveling circuit + You Tube/ blogs + The Cake Bible + start up money = success.

Between this response and Liz at sugar's comments, you've really got the truth and reality (so well written too). I come from a back ground of watching the majority of bakeries and decorators fail. No one can stress just how hard it is to run your own cake/bakery business successfully for the rest of your career. The more versatile your skills are, the better.


If you ever get sick of owning your own business (and people do get tired of it) having a degree will help you find a job. Many small business don't want to hire someone who already owned their own business..........and major culinary jobs only want people with degrees for the top paying spots. I'm suggesting having a back-up plan! It might not be a culinary degree .......but something is better then nothing. Being self-employed doesn't translate to high demand in the job market.

Pyro Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 6:21pm
post #10 of 19

I was writing a novel with my response, so I cut back to this. I agree with most of FromScratchSF because it's what i've been saying. And I wouldn't want to sound biased to CIA, it's just the one I picked after much comparison and it's easier for me to discuss it.


Culinary school is, culinary school. They are not cake schools, you wouldn't be much of a chef if all you learned was cake.


Whatever you choose, you will only get out of it what you invest in it. You can do wilton / private class / youtube / dvd / books and all of that in a really serious fashion. It will definatly bring results ( toss in there a lot of self practice too ), but if you're that serious, if you attended culinary school you would get a great basic and fundamental understanding of all baking principles also. But either way you will need some business classes / degree on the side. Unless you do a BPA of 4 years, even CIA won't give you much on that side of things.


As far as CIA, you will learn food cost, ingredients, menu development your first semester ( this is half of what you see asked on CC daily ) and how to use commercial bakery equipment ( it's all they use anyway ).



CIA is 80k for 21months - 6 months externship. You will also get 1500 hours+ hands on, over everything you learn thought. It also includes 2 meals a day every class day and campus accommodations. If you find something dirt cheap off campus, you save cash. It's also non-profit, every dollar the school gets goes back into the school somehow with great teachers / new housing / equipment / scholarships and whatnot.


Cordon Bleu is 25k for 9 months, it's owned by shareholders so part of the money invested goes to their pockets. Price also varies by location. In Seoul, Korea it's only 16k. Classes are thought in the native language of the chef, then translated live. In Korea for example, all the chefs but 1 are French, so the teacher talks in French and someone translates. You need consider what you will pay to live where ever the school is located and food then add that to your " tuition " to make a true price comparison.


I don't know much about the Art Institute, but I've not heard super negative things. Some people say great things, you would have to compare the curriculum. Not sure how much it costs.


Whatever you pick, you will only get out of it what you invest in it. You can easily come out of culinary school knowing nothing if you wasted your time there. This is especially true when you consider attending CIA. The campus there offers you a true college life. They have the sports teams, all the clubs and the rec center and all that stuff. It's easy to live it up " campus style " for 2 years, get trashed all the time and learn nothing. Especially since at least 1/3 of the school is right out of highschool.


Ultimately, you should consider how much are you willing to invest. How long. How much will you get to apply and use. You could go buy 5000$ of ingredients and practice like crazy for a month at home and become very good, but will that help you when you walk in your business every morning and things start going weird. Or if you want to create exotic flavors and bring in a line of products that follow the seasons ?


5000$ of ingredients and lots of practice makes you a great asset for someone who needs a good " cake decorator " to work on custom and wedding cakes. It's only a small part of being your own boss, owning your business and doing EVERYTHING else that needs to be done to finally have a cake to decorate.

Pyro Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 6:25pm
post #11 of 19

And while I was writing this, 2 more people posted lol. I just wanted to add, if you end up going to a culinary school, no one is stopping you from adding more practice / specific decorating classes / books / youtube / dvd to complement what you learned and " specialize " in what you really enjoy.


It's not hard to imagine someone right out of highschool who never cooked, hit culinary school, never really do anything after they are out of class, going to work for a restaurant / bakery and suck.

meganmarie27 Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 7:13pm
post #12 of 19

Well I'm going to community college for an associates degree in business administration so that I can run a successful bakery and know what I'm doing on the business side of things. I was thinking of doing mostly cakes but I may do more. I've already learned a lot through YouTube and I took a baking class in high school that was very helpful. Like even though I've never made a wedding cake, I know the steps and what to do just from watching YouTube videos. So I feel like culinary school would kind of be a waste of money, but I don't want to regret not going in the future. 

kaylawaylalayla Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 11:28pm
post #13 of 19

I really resent your remarks from scratch. I can do all of those things properly and I learned them in school.

kikiandkyle Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 11:41pm
post #14 of 19

AThere are also very high level training courses you can take in cake decoration, most of the ones I've seen were outside of the US but I'm thinking of things like Squires in London etc.

Outside of pastry/cakes, I used to work in finance and I don't think a single graduate new hire that I was given to train could do something as basic as answer a phone or put paper in a copy machine. I didn't take that to mean that they weren't capable, only that they weren't learning job skills in school.

CWR41 Posted 23 Jun 2013 , 11:49pm
post #15 of 19
Originally Posted by kaylawaylalayla 

I really resent your remarks from scratch. I can do all of those things properly and I learned them in school.

FromScratchSF didn't hire you... it was her experience and 2 cents.  No reason to resent her sharing her experience.

kaylawaylalayla Posted 24 Jun 2013 , 5:08am
post #16 of 19

sorry, I was in a pretty grumpy mood when I read it, i was probably projecting attitude on to it. anyways, we're not all bad. the school that I was in had really great teachers and I really admire them. like others have said, it will be what you make of it. if you care, and apply yourself you won't be these people that she is referring to.

FromScratchSF Posted 24 Jun 2013 , 5:56am
post #17 of 19

I want to clarify - I never said anyone that has worked with me was "bad".  No way.  I hope I don't sound disrespectful saying this, but I love each woman I've hired and has worked with me, and I have no problems teaching them anything they want to learn.  But there is a lot of holes I have had to fill because the skills needed to do the type of baking and cake design I do is not taught to those that have come thru my door from culinary school because cake specifically, (to my understanding) it is only briefly touched upon. But I never said they sucked, can't learn, don't want to learn, or are bad.  


If you want to be a pastry chef and work for very fancy restaurants or go on Top Chef Just Desserts, then culinary school is totally the way to go.  But if you want to open a cake studio and focus on making special occasion cakes, I feel your money would be better served getting a business degree from a regular university and learning the rest from the private teaching circuit and so on.


Or be like me, get none of the above and do it anyway :D

MimiFix Posted 24 Jun 2013 , 10:48am
post #18 of 19

I, too, never attended culinary school. Nor did I start out with business skills. I simply enjoyed baking for friends and family. But when I found myself an unemployed single parent with no source of income, I got a permit to start a home-based baking business. I learned as I went and grew my business into an all-scratch bakery and cafe. It was hard-going. Very hard. So while it's possible to open a bakery with no formal education, you would be smart to first take business classes; plus get a job in the industry to learn the daily issues involved in running a business. Good luck!   

liz at sugar Posted 24 Jun 2013 , 1:25pm
post #19 of 19

Like MimiFix, I also never attended culinary school.  But I've been baking and testing recipes for almost 30 years.  I have a bachelor's degree in marketing and finance, and all kinds of work experience that has helped me run our restaurant.


I would recommend finding a "chain" type of bakery to learn the ropes in.  This is where you will learn how to manage inventory levels, manage employees, food safety and holding requirements, etc.  A chain has the advantage of having policies and methods in writing and in place.  There is a way to do everything, without ever flying by the seat of your pants.



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