Culinary Schools Under Fire For Allegedly Eating Students’ Dreams

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.”