How to Test Drive a Culinary SchoolAdviser | Monday, November 8th, 2010 | No Comments »
Have you ever purchased a car? If you have, you know that you exchange a few pleasantries, you tell them what you are looking for in a car, they then show you cars with those features (hopefully) and then you agree to buy, right? Of course not, that is crazy. You test drive the thing and then hem-and-haw for a long time before deciding to see if you can find a better bargain at another dealership.
With some kidding aside, you can do the same thing at a culinary school, except this time, a fairly attractive woman may be giving the tour. (That leads me to the biggest question of this paragraph: Why aren’t there more female car salespeople?)
Before being sold on the idea of attending an expensive (or inexpensive) culinary school, take a test drive. I have done this many times over the years and most of the times at Kendall College and Le Cordon Bleu Chicago it worked in recruiting the student.*
What the school should allow you to do is to take a day to sit in class for lecture as well as in the kitchen. In my experiences, sometimes the student sat off to the side and observed while others were working alongside students doing prep work and cooking. Most schools should provide you with your jacket but you should have your own shoes. Black and slip-resistant is typically good enough. It’s great exposure to see the pace of the class, the abilities of the student, and the quality of the instructor.
Tip 1: The adviser will probably set you up with a student they have a good relationship with. I never asked a student to “sell” the program but knowing that they were a great representative of the school, I felt I could trust them while they would provide a fair portrayal of the program. However, YOU should speak to OTHER students as well. Get a variety of perspectives. You are behind enemy lines! Learn as much as you can. Are the students’ hard-workers? Are they motivated? Would you want to be in class next to them? If yes, the school does a good job of bringing in the right students.
On some occasions, a school might not be able to accommodate this request. A few reasons may be due to the fact a class has just started and most chefs are just getting used to the new students, it is finals week, or the school is on break. Those are valid reasons of why a school may have to turn down your request to sit in on class.
Tip 2: If an adviser tells you that they cannot have you sit in on a class and none of the above circumstances are affecting them, they have something to hide. Walk away and find another school.
Another way you can test drive a culinary school is to visit them for lunch or dinner service. Schools also have Garde Manger finals. Some are free but you may need to be invited by a student while some are open to all customers with purchase. Most schools will have at least one restaurant that the student’s work in as part of their program. Have lunch or dinner but also find out where they are in the program. It also might be good to stop by at least twice as even great restaurants have good and bad days. Do you think they are creating a quality experience? Is the food sub-standard? Did it exceed your expectations?
For example: Here are a few reviews of two school restaurants in New York for those considering French Culinary Institute – L’Ecole and Culinary Institute of America – American Bounty Restaurant. Both happen get great reviews.
Tip 3: Have lunch or dinner service on a slow night if possible. Weeknights were far slower than weekends when I worked at Kendall College and would eat in the Kendall College – The Dining Room. When it is a slow night, you might be able to get the attention of your server (probably a Culinary student) or even the instructor. Keep in mind, this is a class so their primary concern is their grade.
You might be thinking, “But Jeff, I live hundreds of miles away from the schools I am looking at, what should I do?” Great question…
My advice is to take your time. It might take you months to visit that campus but there’s no need to rush into a decision sight unseen. Do this at a few schools you are considering because it allows you to form your own opinion. This is an investment of your time and money. If you are feeling pressured to start school before you can make a well-informed decision, the adviser and the school only have considered how it will help them.
*I am not being paid to link to those sites but I really should, shouldn’t I?