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Culinary Schools Under Fire For Allegedly Eating Students’ Dreams

culinary schools class action

The popularity of reality cooking programs such as Top Chef, Master Chef and Kitchen Nightmares has inspired a wave of culinary hopefuls wanting to give the seemingly glamorous and lucrative restaurant business a go.

But a group of students in California who have found the claims made by such institutes to be misleading at best and outright fraud at worst has banded together and seeks to recoup some of the big, big money they put into their dreams of becoming kitchen superstars. The budding culinary superstars attended for-profit culinary colleges, taking on loans to cover the costs- some of which topped tens of thousands of dollars for a cooking certificate.

26-year-old Emily Journey is one such former aspiring chef. Journey is one of the plantiffs in a class action suit against San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy, which belongs to Career Education Corp.’s Le Cordon Bleu cooking schools, a chain of 16 entities. Journey says that the high-pressure sales tactics and outlandish claims of success lured her into seeking an education in the culinary realm, but her reality did not match the school’s assertions:

“They just oversold it and pushed it. They made misleading statements to lure you in…Was it worth the money and the time to have this loan hanging over my head? Absolutely not.”

Journey, who borrowed $30,000 to realize her dream, might have been stuck paying off the massive loan over 15 years. And upon graduation, she discovered the only jobs she seemed to be eligible were $8 an hour overnight baker positions- ones that can easily be had without expensive culinary school training.

Students like Journey- 8,500 in all who attended the culinary schools between 2003 and 2008- may be eligible for rebates of up to $20,000 if a pending settlement in the class action suit is approved.

Edward Leonard, vice president and corporate chef for Le Cordon Bleu Schools in North America, denied that the schooling was useless for potential chefs and said:

“Culinary arts education today gives people a much-needed foundation they need to be successful.”

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25 Responses to “Culinary Schools Under Fire For Allegedly Eating Students’ Dreams”

  1. Sandra Brewer

    If you were only charged 30,000 for this education then you should be happy. And no you will not walk right into a top paying chef job right out of college. That is the problem with kids now days they watch too much of this crap that is on tv and think wow all I have to do is go to college and come out and start earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

    Wake up that is not reality. You have to have the education yes that is a start, then you need the hard work experience to get you where you want to be at that pay rate. So you want to earn that kind of money start your own resturant if you are such an exceptional chef right out of college you should have no problem getting what you want.

    But hello the job market out there sucks at the moment. Should you be getting money back from the college no you got an education now it is up to you to put it to good use.

    No different than coming out of college with 120,000 over your head to become a teacher and have no jobs out there for you in that field either. Should all the colleges be sued and made to give back the education money no, you got an education. Do colleges need to be more realistic in tution HECK YES they charge way to much in my opion you are paying for the name on the college that is what the exuberant rates are for.

  2. Wayne C. Fox

    When those who recruited them tell them these fantastic stories, yes they do. Kind of like flight school graduates believing that they will earn the big bucks as soon as they get their commercial pilots licenses. Look at the business college grads that go to work on Wall Street and start out making 6 figure incomes their first year.

  3. George McLaughlin

    These lawsuits are frivelous and pompous and involve people who are looking to make themselves rich at the expense of culinary schools. All schools in america will do the dirty tactics of what these schools are doing just to get you to go to school. These people came in with too high of expectations and are super gullible for believing the stories that they are told. THEY SHOULD WORK FOR THE EXECUTIVE CHEF AND SOUS CHEF POSITIONS and not expected handed to them…

  4. George McLaughlin

    whoever liked this must be involved in one of these stupid lawsuits… because Jeanetha I can guarentee you one thing… NOTHING IN LIFE is a guarentee or a promise… ppl like you don't want to work for it…. and are usually the ones that are so out of touch with reality and have average I.Q.'s of like 60 because you don't want to work for it… you want a handout.

  5. George McLaughlin

    the hospitality/ culinary industry is the only industry in America that is expected to rise in the next 7 years according to the Occupational Outlook Handbook 2010-2011 Edition… There will be a 0 percent change in Head chef positions which means these kids basically need to get there heads out of their arses and pay the money they owe with the job they do get and most importantly quit complaining and shut up. I do agree with you on most of what you say because it's based in reality… these kids nowadays need a reality check at the door. my nephews are a part of this new crop of kids and I make them check their attitude at the door when I'm around…

  6. Neil DeVries

    I went to the CIA "Culinary Institute of America" or (Check In Advance) almost 20 years ago and after 1 year, I realized that they were teaching me things that I could learn on the job and I left. I now earn almost $200k.
    I hire kids right out of school and they all want to be the next wolfgang puck or bobby flay, It's a joke. They don't realize that you have to bust your ass, work harder and longer than everyone else in your kitchen for atleast 10 years before you even get a shot at being a sous chef. That means you work every weekend, every holiday, 60-80 hours a week, you burn and cut your self more times than you can count, and your on your feet in a 120* kitchen with sweat dripping down places that you didn't know you had.

    I start chef's right out of school out at $12/hr and they are trained by people that didn't go to college. I bring in 2 interns every year and for the 1st month they wash dishes. I tell evey culinary intern to work in the field, at any restaurant, for atleast 6 months washing dishes or being a prep cook. If they love it, go to culinary school- if not go back to college and try to get a job doing anything else. I've seen atleast 100 culinary grads that quit after 3 months on the job because it isn't what they thought it was "as seen on TV". I would rather hire a guy off the street with limited english and no skills than a culinary grad. They work twice as hard, don't have a cocky "I earned it attitude" and they are proud to have a job.

    Culinary school will make you a better chef faster, but It will not make you a chef. You have to earn it on the Job.

  7. Eric Wilson

    My roommate graduated from le Cordon Bleu, which impressed me an average home cook. But you should have heard what he said about why he wasn't cooking at a restaurant. "I'm an executive chef…" going on about how the owner wanted what he wanted on the menu, with little compromise, which I agree with as it's his choice to make. Pompousness is not a virtue, but maybe that's what they teach there.

  8. Courtney Rene Fisher

    I hope they win. Its completely true le cordon bleu tries to sell you this huge bit on how much fun it is and all the cool things you can learn but its honestly nothing you couldn't have just tested in your own kitchen without spending the $20,000 to $30,000 on a mere certificate.

  9. Jon J.P. Brandt

    The problem with this story is that it never actually says what the school supposedly promised. Quoting from the school's promotional materials would probably be a good way for the reader to judge whether the school misled the students or the students are making specious accusations that the school misrepresented their opportunities. I tend to believe that the latter is true, given my personal experience as a culinary school graduate. However, the fact that school has reached a $40 million settlement with the 8,500 students would indicate that there is at least some admission on the part of the school that something untoward happened.

  10. Hillary Robertson

    Anyone who believes what they are spoon-fed by any type of salesperson is a moron. It does not take that much effort to do your own research into the facts – and people, watching reality TV make 'stars' out of people who can't even chop an onion properly is NOT research.

  11. David Lo Pan Steinfink

    regardless of whatever was promised, no way is any culinary student going to walk in to a restaurant and get a high-paying job right off the's like graduating from med school and expecting to become chief of surgery.

  12. Tiffany Ellis

    In addition…I'm assuming they didn't bother checkin to see what the culinary job market was like before they signed up for this 30k education? I swear people are getting dumber and dumber by the day

  13. Kristine Monck

    I'm in the industry…self taught. I've seen lots of folks come through my place with a "culinary" education that is nothing but a starting place. The skills I expected to see just simply aren't there for most…and production skills and understanding is almost nil. These schools touch on a lot of areas but students don't get the time in anyone to master them. As far as becoming a great chef….that takes time, effort, and a lot of luck. If you read the bios of most of our tv famous chefs, they put in there time and paid their dues….and started by washing dishes.

  14. Yandi Jaya

    I personally think while working hard is indeed a must, there's significant differences when the actual threshold for people is actually far lower compared to what's been shown. Yes, I'd believe every college taker has experienced this in one way or another, but the culinary world is just growing, they are presented as the next hot stuff and the reality is just showing now. Nothing unusual. Besides, these are all students. Are they to be blamed for hoping — and surprised of what they actually have to do? Am a student myself, and there's always new surprises each and every day. I understand their surprise.

    Perhaps it's just reality calling. Naivety stopping. Or dreams crushing. Either way I think both sides are right to be wrong, and have their own reasons to be right. So.. For the students, let this be their life's experiences.

    One thing I hope is for future students to be informed; may all of you entering the kitchen and fighting the heat know what you will got out of this.

  15. Yandi Jaya

    Hillary Robertson I believe it's part of the marketing. And there's just certain 'oomph' people will miss / overlook until after they're well into it. For instance, the idea that people maybe have to cut 247584758478937899289 x 29380928392890 onions in their lifetime. It sure beats having to be yelled by Gordon Ramsay 20 times. Or 50.

  16. Stefan Aris

    I've been in this position. To be honest, this culinary extravagant TV show owe a lot peoples their apology. All this time they gave the wrong impression of the true nature of the business. Believe me, standing in a hot kitchen for 12 hours a day is not in any way an extravagant job. You need to like it very much to actually say love it. Because it is, believe me, a hard work. I quit my first job as a kitchen hand dish washer kid after only 2 days. This is actually my dream job, since it was the best restaurant, and I really want to work there. So I "fucked" my dream real hard that time, end up with a bit of drinking problem. But, than again, this is because I never actually experience a real kitchen job beside the one which is in the school.
    The cooking school indeed need a lot of money to support the school. Just imagine if one stupid kid (that's me) learn how to cook a foie grass and end up burning two slices of them, that would be extra cost. Most of time in the real kitchen, I end up not cooking any foie grass at all, most of them are Bar food. The cooking school indeed give you a basic knowledge of how to do things and how to cook ingredient. But really the real stuff is in the kitchen, the head chef is much harder than any lecturer and yet the customer is less forgiving than any angry head chef (i learn that recently after I want to open my own business).
    Once a chef called Marco Pierre White said, if you really want to be in the business, never go full time in the cooking school. You need to be in that kitchen, either as an apprentice or as a helper. You can say you really like cooking, but do you like to cook for 150 peoples all in a single lunch services? That's, believe me, a whole different league. I used to look down to people who sells food in the street stall, in a way I believe they don't understand much about hygiene or ever cook a truffle mushroom. But really if you can't cook just like them, can't actually stand there doing that job, or ever imagine doing that kind of job; you should in any consideration pick any other job beside cooking. Because that is cooking as real as it can be.
    The thing is, I've been doing two type of different jobs in my whole life and one thing that I learn, school is not the real world and in any how that always going to be the first shock therapy for that kid who just got their bachelor degree without any working experience. It is just in some way a matter of growing up and take your real responsibility as an adults.

  17. Yandi Jaya

    One thing is that reality show =/= the actual job. Same as modelling, fashion designing, entrepreneurship, housewife bitchiness…

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