Culinary Institute: Should I?

Business By Angela93 Updated 19 Aug 2009 , 7:40pm by Denelly666

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Angela93 Posted 13 Aug 2009 , 3:45pm
post #1 of 25

I've been doing cake decorating for about 10 months now. I LOVE IT! I've always loved baking and now that i've learned decorating, i'm having a ton of fun. I'm a stay at home mom and have put my education on hold until my kids are in school. (one just started kinder and the other still has 2 years with me). but i've been thinking a lot about a culinary institute! I would love to have my own cake shop/bakery some day so is the culinary institute the right place to start? has anyone gone to one before? I dont know a single person who has gone to any school of this type so if you have, please share your experience!


24 replies
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cylstrial Posted 14 Aug 2009 , 1:30am
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I know that PinkZiab and LeahS both have a culinary degree - so you might ask them.

I got a business degree and as such I didn't get a culinary degree. I'm no where near as good as Pink or Leahs, but I figure one day hopefully, I'll get there. =o) But I'm just going to continue learning on my own and through CC. I hope to have my own cake shop one day when my my son (and future child hit school age).

You have to make the best decision for you and your family! Good luck!

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CakeForte Posted 14 Aug 2009 , 4:01am
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there is another thread on this from a few weeks ago. You have to do what you want, but I think the consensus was that it's super expensive and it doesn't teach you what you need to know about cake decorating and running a business. Cake skills are learned through practice and business skills are critical for your success.

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PumpkinTart Posted 14 Aug 2009 , 4:56am
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Every school has its own curriculum and pricing structure, so to say all schools are super expensive and don't teach you what you need to know isn't really accurate. Some school programs include an Associate's Degree which does include courses in running a business. You just need to fully understand the program, what you would be paying for and what particular skills/knowledge you hope to gain from it.

Having just graduated from a short program (four months), I can tell you I learned a great deal about a variety of baking skills and techniques but nothing about running a business (i.e. bookkeeping, purchasing, marketing, etc.). Also, if you're looking to just learn specifically about cakes, I would say a baking/pastry school program is probably not for you. These programs tend to give you exposure to a little bit of everything (breads, cookies, plating desserts), not extended training on individual areas like cakes, so you're bound to be disappointed.

Hope that helps!

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madgeowens Posted 14 Aug 2009 , 5:27am
post #5 of 25

You don't have to go to culinary school to have your own need to bake cakes people love and be able to decorate.....keep working on it until the kids are old enough and then spread your wings and fly baby!!!! Good Luck with however you decide decide to go

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SandraVB79 Posted 14 Aug 2009 , 7:37am
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Hey OP,

I know I am in a different country, so things might be different a bit.
After finishing high school and college, I started working, and then after reading a lot on sites like this one, I got interested by baking.
I go to culinary school now, on Saturday mornings and sometimes during the week in the evenings (if the school schedule fits in with my work schedule).

Until now, I have had nothing about decorating, yet. However, I can make the best eclairs, puff pastry etc etc etc from scratch. It's not always what interests me most, but I have learned so much. Also more theoretic things, like about gluten etc.

Where I live, you MUST have your culinary school degree before you can start a restaurant or bakery or so. Right now, it's still a hobby, but who knows, it might turn into a career.

Either way, it's never bad to learn something. icon_smile.gif

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Texas_Rose Posted 14 Aug 2009 , 8:36am
post #7 of 25

I'm planning to take culinary classes at the community college here after my youngest daughter starts kindergarten (next year). It's not that expensive, nothing like it is at the fancy schools. I've already got a year and a half of college credit, so I should be able to get an associate's degree fairly quickly. I figure once I've learned everything the culinary program there has to offer icon_biggrin.gif I'll know if taking more classes somewhere else would be useful to me, or just a way to go into debt.

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neelycharmed Posted 14 Aug 2009 , 10:21am
post #8 of 25

I did 2 years culinary arts, and 1 year pastry arts...
I loved it!!
But if you are just wanting to do cakes, I wouldn't recommend it.
I spent almost $40, 000 for 3 years of school and I wouldn't change it for anything, but, like I said- if you only want to do cakes- you won't be doing much of that in school.
Hope I helped.
Jodi icon_smile.gif

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-K8memphis Posted 14 Aug 2009 , 10:49am
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Here's my observation. Not to mention my son graduated from a pricey Cordon Bleu program.

Y'know everybody says, Oh it was great I learned so much I loved it. And I am NOT pointing fingers this is my observation in general culinary school is like an extended stay 6 Flags over America or an extended Disneyland or something--had a great time learned alot and you will get great networking capabilities (like taking the tram to get to your car in the parking lot) but unless you put the peddle to the metal that's it. Game over.

It's not like other degrees where you then become qualified to embark on the employment of your choice, teaching, counseling, accounting, hospitality even etc.. You generally get the same employment slot that anyone walking in off the street gets.

You might get promoted more rapidly --you might get futher jerked around, but anybody that can cut it in that world will be promoted more rapidly than anyone else with or without a degree.

Culinary degrees are not worth it in my opinion. In the community colleges maybe in those pricey schools no. Didja have a good time? Sure, but where are the solid 30-40 thousand dollar entry level jobs? They ain't there. Unless you wanna work 14, 15 16 hours a day and you will.

So that's more the meat and potatoes side of it where you go into cooking rather than baking. The baking side is even weaker. Again yes you have a good time you learn a lot but the purpose of school is to equip you to earn a living commensurate with that education. Culinary school does not. The further ongoing opportunities are not there like that.

The front of the house in fine dining can make six figures while the skinny sweaty chef in the back with a car payment sized school bill for the next 25 years is making 40K working 70, 80 hours a week. But you do have great memories from school.

This is not bitter either--it's the hard side of the truth.

The education is great--applying that education to your life to earn a living is woefully painfully tragically short of the mark. Especially in light of the popularity of this program.

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Angela93 Posted 14 Aug 2009 , 4:12pm
post #10 of 25

all very helpfull! thanksicon_smile.gif

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ncdessertdiva Posted 14 Aug 2009 , 11:43pm
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Culinary school at any level is hard. Don't let anyone tell you any differently. Most schools are set up so you are working in "restaurant setting". This is good experience and it will give you a good background but it is hard. I've held many jobs in my life but the hardest (physically) was my culinary classes. When you enter the culinary world please note: Both types of schools can teach you how to julienne at carrot and most restaurants don't care where you went to school but how quickly and expertly you can julienne that carrot. I had instructors from both schools - Cordon Bleu and a local community college. They were both good, the teaching styles were different but I learned the same thing. Actually my instructor from the community college is the department head of the program. As far as pastry is concerned at my local community college, we have three baking and pastry courses. The first covered breads, pies and rolls. The second covers pastry, cream horns, etc. The third course is strictly cakes. At my school, on the third course, you concentrated on one cake for most of the semester. This is main grade for the course. If you are looking for cake decorating, stick with CC.

Just something to think about.

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snarkybaker Posted 15 Aug 2009 , 12:30am
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Abraham Lincoln never went to law school, but its still a good idea if you want to be a lawyer, since there are few individuals with the God given gifts of Abraham Lincoln.

Do you need a culinary degree to own a cake shop ? No. Education doesn't really prepare you for any job these days. It teaches you to learn, to commit yourself, and gives you the opportunity to explore different things. The French Pastry School in Chicago has just begun offering a 16 week course specifically designed for cake decorators. I think that would be an excellent place to study. Art school would also be a great place to learn. I have hired several decorators with fine arts backgrounds. Business courses are also a good idea.

This comes up on this board all the time, and I am always in fundamental disagreement with the consensus that you don't need an education to do this well. You MAY get lucky. You MAY be the Abraham Lincoln of the cake world, but for most of us, our chances of success are much greater with a degree of formal education.

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sweetkisscakes Posted 15 Aug 2009 , 1:00am
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I am currently a student at the french culinary institute studying french pastry arts. I got into it being very interested in cakes But I am learning so much more. Yes what everyone is saying about cakes only being a very small part of what you learn in school is true. We learn everything about pastry down to the science and we go FAST. each unit is one to two weeks long and theres no room to slack.

One thing you have to think about is when the economy gets worse even if your cakes are beautifull you better know how to really make stuff taste good. Because the cheaper items such as pastries and bread in your shop will keep you alive in times that people can't afford pricey designer cakes. Plus restaurants always need help so it would be great to always know that stuff too.

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Doug Posted 15 Aug 2009 , 1:02am
post #14 of 25


community college culinary programs

cherry picking courses at culinary institutes

night programs for the advance hobbyist

Wilton Master Classes and the add-on classes they also teach (chicago)

special classes with "the masters" -- ron ben israel, mike mccary, colette peters, bronwin weber, toba garrett, etc. -- they all offer them and teach lots of techniques

classes run by ICES and ICES chapters days of sharing (dos)

instructional DVDs --- the list is very long!

instructional videos --- like tonedna's and sugarshack's and......

many of these classes can be scheduled over vacations, etc. while you still have kids (oh come on -- admit it - you'd love to take a week in the summer for a private vacation of cake class while the kids are with hubby or at camp)

as for business aspects -- again lots of evening "adult ed" and "extension" classes at community colleges.

can find all kinds of info all over the internet -- starting especially at the Small Business Administration's web site:


consider as kids all in school all day that you might be able to pick up a part time day job in a bakery of some sort


and of course, practice makes proficient!

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Lynnzee Posted 15 Aug 2009 , 1:29am
post #15 of 25


I went to school for Baking and Pastry Arts and I will tell you that I loved every minute of it. But if I could do it all over again I would save the money and take classes from some of the amazing cake instructors that offer classes in your area. Even if their classes run at $500 a pop you will learn so much more and have money left over to actually start the business that you are wanting to start. I read in a magazine just recently that during this economy a Technical certificate is worth just as much as a degree. In this industry I feel that this is very correct. Good luck!!!

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varika Posted 15 Aug 2009 , 1:42am
post #16 of 25

I am also considering pastry school. If I were just going to do cakes, I don't know that I'd bother, because I'm already doing some pretty decent cakes with just Wilton courses and experimentation. However, I really, really want to learn to make amazing desserts, not just do cakes.

I have and am running through the lists that Doug suggests. Honestly, other reasons that I am considering pastry school are financial--I can get scholarships, grants, and student loans to do pastry school, but there's no such thing for other types of classes. And my local community college and I have an...adversarial relationship at best. At least when it comes fo financial aid!

I haven't made my mind up, either. I really keep waffling back and forth! But around here, even the bakeries aren't hiring, so going to school is as good a way to pass time as any.... icon_rolleyes.gif

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bakermommy4 Posted 15 Aug 2009 , 1:43am
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I have just recently graduated with an Associates in Pastry Arts...I did take the community college route. I received the same culinary and baking education as I would as Le Cordon Bleu and the Arts Institute and saved ballpark figure...around $40,000. the end...after 3 years of school...I just want to make gorgeous tasty cakes. The degree requirements cover a WIDE array of all things baking...including chocolate and sugar arts...quantity baking...breads...blah blah blah. If you just want to make cakes I would suggest you save your money and take courses through Michaels and classes like at cake camp or something of that nature. I've learned the majority of the techniques I know from CAKE CENTRAL...WOOP WOOP and youtube...a few dvd's and books have been helpful too.

Hope that helped and keep on cakin!!!

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CookieCupcake Posted 15 Aug 2009 , 1:55am
post #18 of 25

I'm glad I read the comments...I just graduated with a degree in speech pathology and I always said I would go to school to get my pastry arts degree...but I think I'll stick with Michaels and Cake Central for now....I also just want to make and decorate delicious cakes.

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quilting2011 Posted 15 Aug 2009 , 3:46am
post #19 of 25

I work fulltime as an accountant and at one time took cake decorating courses at ICE in New york and completed my baking/pastry diploma on saturdays and weekends only.

Keep your fulltime job, and take wilton courses or classes at your local community college, park and rec or local bakery shop. also you tube and the internet have wonderful tuturials.

Save your money.

I learned so much more from the cc forum, attending cake conventions, and taking decorating classes.

Also if you have time, check your local library for cake book and DVD before you decide to purchase any cakesbooks.

The cc community here has so much to offer, articles, cc members.

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bravoe06 Posted 15 Aug 2009 , 3:56am
post #20 of 25

I can tell you that Culinary School is not for those who just want to work on cakes,but if you love pastries baked goods breads AND cakes I say go for it.It was an awesome experience I was able to travel France and network with top chefs who have been my best connections! I happen to not be married or have kids at the time and found that it got to be very difficult, I worked from 6 am to about 3 or 4 pm on a good day and attended culinary school at night 5pm to 11:30 pm.I was up on my feet all day and didn't get to see my friends like I used t oobut gained a lot more friends and even met my husband there. It is however not cheap I payed 42000 dollars and am now paying 3 student loans- one of $350 one of $125 and another of $190 so think very hard on it icon_wink.gif

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heathercarnold Posted 15 Aug 2009 , 4:13am
post #21 of 25

I graduated from a LCB program in 2006 and spent my first year out of school apply for any job that had to do with baking. I had no luck and it became time to pay my student loans so I'm back in school for graphic design. I love to spend my free time making breads, cakes, and other desserts but it was a poor choice and an expensive mistake.

In my opinion, the school I went to didn't have a good program. I was amazed by some of my classmates that made awful looking desserts and they graduated with everyone else. They are shuffling so many people through that program that the standards have been lowered and giving some of the other graduates a bad name. Even when i went to do my externship, my boss said they almost didn't let me work there because other students in the past were to full of themselves.

This is just my opinion and I know I'm sour about the subject. I'm sure that there are some good programs out there so I would suggest that you really investigate the program and research the success rate of their students. Don't believe everything the counselors tell you..

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madgeowens Posted 15 Aug 2009 , 4:38am
post #22 of 25

I find many great teaching videos on you tube on cake decorating.....that is a good place for now

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Angela93 Posted 16 Aug 2009 , 3:32pm
post #23 of 25

Wow... you guys have all been extreamly helpful! I'm not gonna go to the Culinary Institute. I dont even eat pastries so why would i want to bake them?! I'm all about decorating! to be honest, i dont even eat my own cakes when i make them for family members!!! I'm not big on deserts (a bit of a health freak)! i only taste new recipes, but other then that, i never have a peice of my own cake if i already know it tastes good. i SERIOUSLY want to do what the bakers do on Cake Boss, Amazing Wedding Cakes, and Ace of Cakes!!!! I actually just started watching those shows because I havent had cable for the past 5 years (i always said it was a waste of money becuase it makes you lazy icon_biggrin.gif ) but i finally gave in when everyone was telling me about these cake shows! I just want to learn how to create seriouly amazing cakes!!!! once i get really really good (like buddy on cake boss-good icon_biggrin.gif ) i'll open a cake shop that serves cupcakes and brownies for walk-ins and of course, amazing cakes!

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-K8memphis Posted 16 Aug 2009 , 7:56pm
post #24 of 25

If you get a chance, may I recommend Mike McCarey's car dvd?

Oh oh oh and Bronwen's 24 inch tall sculpture class--she offers different ones like I got to be in the clown class but I've heard of different characters, like she's done a chef before too but it's probably the same basic class--just

If you get a chance I think those are two very good ones to add to your repertoire leaning toward the big wowza cakes like you said.

An interesting bit of trivia. My son was in Bronwen's last class as an instructor at Texas Culinary Academy in Austin before she went to Frosted Art in Dallas and I have been in her clown class--so she's taught both of us--kinda cool huh. She rocks! Very motivational person.

And the class is run like well oiled clock. Well worth the money.

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Denelly666 Posted 19 Aug 2009 , 7:40pm
post #25 of 25

I have been to the Culinary Institute of America for their AOS in Baking and Pastry Arts. The program has evolved a little since I graduated 10 years ago but it is highly skewed toward restaurant style dessert preparation and specialties. We did not really even have a class dedicated to cake decorating. They now have an on-sight retail bakery so that part has probably improved. Still, I think if you specifically like decorating cakes you can probably just take adult education courses and a few business courses. The business planning class that I took at the Culinary Institute was great but wasn't until the second half of the two year program and was mixed in amongst things like Wine classes that were more geared toward the cooking students, not baking.

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