a culinary school update

Posted on Jul 16, 2012 in Career

I’ve been delaying writing this post because I couldn’t really figure out what I wanted to say about the topic. Actually, I didn’t even really know how I felt about it, either. But I think I’ve worked it through in my head and here’s the nitty-gritty of what I need to tell you:

  • I want to learn about food.
  • I want to go to culinary school.
  • I was very disappointed with the professionalism and quality of the program I was in last semester.
  • The classes I need to finish my degree are only available at select campuses—the closest of which being 90 minutes away from where I live.
  • I’m confused.

I honestly don’t know what to do. If I didn’t have a job and had a ton of cash, I’d transfer schools. I’d pick the cream-of-the-crop culinary school that’s only 30 minutes away and spend all my days learning how to make roux and fillet fish, but neither of those situations fit my world. I went to the school I chose because it was affordable, convenient and flexible with my schedule. And I could tell the quality of the education suffered. I mean, for God’s sake, there were grammatical errors in every single paragraph of every single syllabus I received! Not to be a snob, but I expect my instructors to at least know the difference between there, their and they’re. I don’t think that’s a lot to ask. Oh, and reply to emails in less than 14 days. That’d be nice, too. Oh, and I expect my classes to require a bit more effort on my part than 10 minutes each week. I want to be challenged!

I was just really disappointed in my experience. And now that we’ve moved, I’d have to drive 90 minutes to get that same lackluster experience in person, and I just don’t know if it’s worth the stress, time or the cash. So I just now, this very second, dropped my classes. I feel bad. I feel like a quitter. I feel like I’m disappointing you guys. But at the same time, I feel better. I feel relieved. I feel like it’s the right move for me.

So what’s next? Well, I’ve been looking pretty closely at some online certificates in plant-based and holistic nutrition, which is right up my alley, obviously. I so desperately want to learn more about food that those certificates look super interesting to me! I would still love to eventually get myself into a professional teaching kitchen to learn execution, but I think to get that at a high-quality school requires some availability and flexibility on my part, which I just don’t have with my job. I know, I know. People do it all the time. People go to school and have a job and have kids and take care of their ailing parents. I know I’m not special or super busy. But I do know that I personally just can’t fit that kind of commitment in right now. And I think it is important that we all know our own mental breaking point and try not to judge ourselves based on what other can or cannot do.

The ironic part of this whole thing? I work for a major state university. Heck, they even offer us free credits each semester as part of our benefits package (which doesn’t matter, because there is no culinary program). And yet working there is the thing that’s keeping me from going back to school. Such is the price you pay for gainful employment. Hey, it keeps my mortgage paid and my Greek yogurt supply plentiful, and that, my friends, ain’t a bad life. As my Papaw always said, you can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want.

Have you ever gone back to school for something? If not, do you want to?

42 Comments

  1. I think it’s smart not to invest more resources into a mediocre experience. You’ll know when its the right time to continue on your culinary school journey.

    I love the quote from your Pawpaw. I’m using it as my theme for the week.

    • Papaw was very, very smart man. :)

  2. People make it sound so easy and that it’s never too late for things, but it’s not always that easy. When I went back for my MBA a few years ago, I was able to do it all online, and while I had some challenges, it wasn’t terribly hard to fit it into my work schedule/life.

    Now, I’d love to go back to school and become a veterinarian (ideally traveling around to work with cows). But there’s no way for me to do that without not working, and there’s no way to not work. So I have accepted that that’s something I won’t get to do in this lifetime, and if I can just rescue dogs and volunteer at an animal shelter and see cows a few times a year, that’s just going to have to be okay.

    Unless we win the lottery. :)

    • I do wonder how people “do it all”. I wish more people were honest about it being hard and sometimes even impossible!

      • *nod* I agree. There really are clear ramifications for “doing it all”, and when it looks seamless, it’s hard to see what those might be.

  3. I agree with Ashley B. It doesn’t make sense to invest in a program that isn’t working with your expectations, even if it seems to fit your goals.

    And yes, there are people who do the whole work, school, blah blah blah. I was one of those people last year. My school, my work, and my home life and relationship suffered for it. I admire people who can do it, but like you, recognize limits and want to thrive and do the best I can. If I paying good money and spending time and energy doing something, I really want to know I’m ADDING to my life.

    I think that you’ve made a smart decision, and from the other posts and other things you talk about, I don’t see it as quitting or as letting *anyone* down.

    Sometimes, the bravest thing is to step away, not continue, if it’s not the right fit. So, congratulations on the huge decision, and following your own integrity and your own internal compass!

    • I totally admire people who can do it all, but I’m just not one of them. I just become a really horrible person to be around.

      And thank you for saying I’m brave. That means a lot. I was so worried to write this post. :)

      • I agree. I used to be one of those people who did it all. I got really sick and learned a valuable lesson.

        Now, it’s about making clear choices, which is what this sounds like to me.

        You *totally* are brave! You are one of my heroes. I don’t comment much, but you totally are. :)

  4. I agree with all the other comments. If you’re disappointed with the program, it’s not worth the stress or time.

    I was accepted into an online masters program and I was super excited to start this coming fall. But financial issues came up (they wanted all the money up front) and I just couldn’t find a way to make it work in such a limited time frame. While I was really disappointed, I deffered my start until Spring and it felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. Now I have a couple more months to figure out the finances and my stress level has declined by at least 75%. Sometimes you have to do what is best for you!

    • I hate it when finances get in the way of dreams. It seems so silly for something so…worthless (figuratively, of course) to be what stops you from doing what you want, but so often it’s the case.

      Good luck in your program in the Spring!

  5. I would love to go back to school. I also work at a major university that does not have the very expensive program I’m interested in, and leaving my job just doesn’t seem like a smart or realistic move. I know nothing about culinary school, but are there scholarships or grants you could apply for to attend the school closer to you that costs more money?

    • There are definitely scholarships and grants, but unfortunately, they are for people who want to work in a restaurant, and that’s not my goal. I want to learn about food to be a better food writer and recipe developer, and that just isn’t as “sexy” as aspiring to be the Executive Chef at some five star restaurant.

  6. Please, please, please, recap what you’ve said in a letter to the dean. He/she needs to know about your experience and why you’re leaving. All schools are fighting to attract and retain students. That being said, my sister just left her university job because they expected her to pass everyone and dumb down the required classes in order to have a higher ‘success’ rate. They want to keep students so badly they are willing to lower the bar. You are smart enough, and have enough self respect to demand more for your dollars – that doesn’t make you a quitter, it makes you a savvy consumer!
    I went to college (for the first time) at 34, and earned my education degree by 38. I graduated the year before my daughter graduated from high school! Julia Child was no spring chicken during her culinary training – you will know when the time is right, and all of it will fall in your lap! I promise! Now go take a swim, a nap, a walk with puppy face, and sing ‘soft kitty’ (big bang theory). Oh – and ask advice from your favorite chefs – make an appointment with folks whose restaurants you love and admire, and ask where they’re hiring from, and where they got their best experiences from. I see another blog coming…

    • I think that this idea and ask advice from your favorite chefs – make an appointment with folks whose restaurants you love and admire, and ask where they’re hiring from, and where they got their best experiences from. is AWESZOME!

      I think one of the things that often gets lost is the “beginner steps.” What does it look like from the other side, when you’re just starting? Making connections with people – like favourite chefs! – is a great idea!

    • Oooh! That’s a great idea, I’ll definitely be writing a note to the head of the department.

      And I LOVE the idea of asking favorite chefs!

  7. I went back to school when I was 30 to go to seminary. The only one in my denomination was in another state and so I quit my job to go full time. This worked for me because at the time I was single, no kids, no family in the place I was living. So it was an easy transition. But I could never do the same thing now, 15 years later. I am married and my focus has shifted, so the same things I wanted then don’t fit into the puzzle of my life now in the same way. Just like you can’t fit a piece from one puzzle into a different one, something you once wanted may not fit into your life right now in the same way. Don’t fight it. Just look at what does fit and go with it. I like your idea of online holistic nutrition courses. If that is what interests you, you can’t go wrong!

    • I like the puzzle piece analogy. It is so true! Right now, culinary school just doesn’t fit into my life, no matter how much I want it too.

      But holistic nutrition courses do! :)

  8. Don’t feel bad about dropping those classes. If you’re not going to benefit from them, then what’s the point? Also, I love that quote from your Papaw – it’s so true. I have a full time job with an hour commute, I coach high school basketball and I’m going to Grad school to get my MBA. I would love to learn more about food an photography but right now there just isn’t time. What I do have though is a lovely home, no stress about finances, and a great group of girls I coach. Can’t complain. Never say never though on the culinary & photography education though!

    • “Never say never” is such a good way of thinking about it! I’ll (hopefully) have a very long life ahead of me that I can chock full of all the stuff I want to do. Maybe I’ll be the grandma in culinary school!

  9. I think it’s super great that you’ve recognized (and were even willing to share it with us) that doing everything doesn’t work for YOU. We all get caught in the trap of “oh well, so and so did school/work/family/small business/blog/joining the circus” or whatever and then feel bad when we don’t want to or don’t think we can realistically do that. So gold star for listening to yourself!

    • You are totally right! I think, for women especially, there is this pressure to be a superwoman and do EVERYTHING. I’d love it if more women stood up and said, “You know what, I can’t do it all. But I’m happy, healthy and that’s all that matters.”

  10. There are times when I think would really like to go back to school and earn a doctoral degree; however, when I really stop and think about what I want to do, having a PhD wouldn’t make that much of a difference. In fact, it would take time away from things I value more to do mundane hoop-jumping.

    I think our current culture values institutional learning way to much as a way establish instant credibility. (I say this as an faculty member of a university.) Unfortunately, schooling isn’t the best way to become great at something. Guidance and practice are.

    We live in an amazing time where so much information is available to us in book and video form, (and thanks to libraries, you can get it for free).

    Also adding to the above comment on talking to a chef you admire is finding a chef to give you personal lessons or doing intensives. I have a friend who won a chocolate class at the Callebaut Chocolate Academy (http://www.chocolate-academy.com/us/en/) and learned so much!

    • THANK YOU for saying this! I work in higher education and I really struggle with the, “if you don’t have a graduate degree, you are worthless” mentality at every corner. I was actually interested in the certificates (from Cornell, even!) more than going to actual culinary school, but felt like I had to get the degree for it to be worth anything. But that’s not what it’s about anymore. It’s about knowledge, not the letters on my resume.

      And I love the idea of personal lessons from a chef! Thank you!

      • I agree with this (I am also a professor) and wanted to add that American culture places a huge value on vocation — on our jobs, on what we do. But what you do is not who you are! It’s great if you have a job you’re passionate about, but in most of the world, people wouldn’t dream of needing to be passionate about their job. The job is just a way of financing what you’re really passionate about: time with family, or travel, or leisure pursuits, or whatever. So if you look at it from that perspective, you’re already living the dream. :)

  11. As the first commenter said, you made a smart decision not to invest more time and resources into something that wasn’t really fulfilling you.

    Does the university you work at have a food science program? It’s not the same, but it might be a good alternative to fulfill your desire to learn more about food.

    • Nope, no food science program. There are really only two programs related to food at my university that I’d be interested in—food anthropology and nutrition. The nutrition program is out because of my fine arts background, I’d have to take 2-3 years of chemistry and math pre-reqs before even applying to the program. And the food anthropology program sounds awesome, but is full-time only.

      Such is life, I guess!

  12. I actually tried going back to school back in Jan for web design. I was unemployed and thought I needed a career change. At the end of the semester I decided to call it quits. Kind of like you, the quality of the education was awful, I knew more about coding websites than my teacher….so not worth the money! I also got a new job that I loved and I felt that if I want to continue web design, I can do it on my own, since I got pretty far already.

    Thanks for sharing your story!

    • Yay! Congrats on getting a job you love! :) And there nothing worse than the person you are supposedly being taught by knowing less than you do. Especially when you are paying your hard-earned cash to learn from that person.

  13. I was wondering what was going on with school…doesn’t sound like it was a great experience. I’m sooo glad you didn’t stick with it out of fear of disappointing your readers. That would have been the wrong reasons, as I’m sure you’ve come to accept. Sorry it was disappointing, but hope you can find a couple of positive aspects of your experience!

    • Oh, I definitely learned somethings, for sure! It just wasn’t exactly what I was expecting for the hefty check I sent them. :) Thanks for the support!

  14. You have a four year degree, you don’t need a degree from a cooking school or an online certification program to forge ahead in the food industry. Look at some very successful people, such as Lynne Rosetto Kasper, that don’t have culinary degrees.

    You can continue to learn more about food, nutrition and cooking without going to school. Read nutrition books, spend a few months cooking another cuisine, such as Chinese or French. You’ll be amazed at what you can teach yourself.

    THBS, I’m a huge fan of school. I went to graduate school while working full time. It took me four years and was worth every minute.

    Our culture gives instant validation to someone with a degree. “Oh, you went to cooking school? You must be a fabulous cook!” When you acquire skills without a degree, you have to figure out how to show others your competence. You’re on the right track with your blog and freelancing. You can do most anything with commitment and time.

    In his book, “Outliers”, Malcome Gladwell talks about becoming an expert by spending 10,000 hours mastering your skill. Don’t feel bad about putting culinary school on the back burner, meanwhile; get back into your kitchen and cook! And write about it!

  15. Aghhh!! I know exactly what you mean! I wanted to be a gluten free baker so badly a few years ago. I wanted to open my own gluten free bakery. I know some basics, but no where near I needed to be successful in making all of the “professional bakery items”. I enrolled in my local community college b/c it’s what I could afford and fit my schedule (I too had to work full time)

    The only thing. There is not one school in the nation that has gluten free. There is one class at the Culinary Institute of American in NY, but 1 class out of the whole curriculum. I enrolled anyway and figured I’d talk to the instructor and bake with my own gluten free flours.

    They agreed to a point, then they changed their minds and said I couldn’t use gluten free flours and kicked me out. Seriously. No joke.

    I took it really hard for a couple of years and then decided that I should probably focus on something healthier than bakery goods. This spring I enrolled in the Institute of Integrated Nutrition to be a holistic health coach. I love the program and I can’t wait to start spreading the gluten free love in a healthy way! You should definitely check it out if you are interested in doing the holistic thing! Good luck to you!!

    • WOW. They actually kicked you out!? That is crazy!

      I’ve definitely looked into the Institute of Integrated Nutrition before and the program interests me, for sure. :) I’d love to hear more about your experience there!

    • Betsy, I’d love to hear about your experience at IIN as well. I was going to start there this month but have to defer due to financial reasons. Hopefully, I’ll be able to start later this year. *Fingers crossed.*

      Cassie, which holistic nutrition programs are you looking at?

      Thanks, y’all.

  16. I have been so curious about your experience with culinary school since you first announced it. It was one of the paths I strongly considered a few years back when I was realizing my own passion for food. I’m sorry to hear that program wasn’t what that you thought it would be, but maybe this will be a great opportunity to find something that fits even better!
    Like Betsy, I’m also a student at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. I just started in May and it has been a perfect fit. In the last few months whenever I’ve read your blog, I’ve actually thought it would be a great fit for you too. I can tell your passions lie in, not only food, but also health and overall wellbeing. It would certainly be a great thing to look into and see if it strikes your fancy!

    • Oh! That’s so good to hear that someone is loving it there. I am so interested! I’ll definitely be looking into it.

  17. I commend you for giving it a serious shot. You really shouldn’t feel bad about dropping the courses though–they were waste of money if you were not getting the experience you were paying for. I dropped out of college twice before I found out that really clicked with me. Even then, I’ve had a couple bumps along the way, but if it’s meant to be, and you put some effort in, then it will be.

    I saw that horrid comment on The Broken Plow and I think that probably spurred this update, but don’t let it spur any guilt. You’re an amazing blogger, your recipes never fail, and you’re always striving to learn and grow–whether that’s in an accredited institution or on your own time, it still counts in my book.

    I wonder, if you showed a culinary school this post, if you could get a reduced rate or talk about a scholarship or grant? Your photography could be sold to their marketing team to advertise their culinary arts program. Surely that’s worth the cost of tuition :D

    No matter where your educational career takes you, we’ll be happy to follow and to root you on. Keep up the good work.

    • Thank you! :) Interestingly enough, that comment didn’t spur this on! I’ve had this on the schedule for a few weeks now. But what they said definitely did hit home that I need to make sure to explain to people what’s going on. :)

      • If nothing else it’s a great source of support :) I forgot that you pre-write your posts so far in advance and so it seemed like a reaction.

        All else still applies, though. You = awesome; paying for something you’re not happy with =/= awesome.

  18. Cassie, for what it’s worth I have a program you might want to look into. I’m currently a culinary student at Bauman College in Boulder, CO. They have 4 campuses (the other three are in CA) and offer the Natural Chef cert as well as a Nutrition Consultant. They offer the nutrition program online as well as on campus and you can take up to two years to finish it online. I am going to do that when I move this fall after the culinary program is over. I love the values they espouse (eat real food) and everything I have learned. Check it out!

  19. I have always wanted to go to pastry school, and have actually looked into it quite seriously, have taken a tour of the school I want to attend, and have even started an application. But after all that, I can’t quite take the plunge! I like making money instead of throwing it away, even if I am throwing it after my passions.

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