CCA Criticized For Misleading Students
A couple folks have alerted me to this piece in SFWeekly alledging that California Culinary Academy administrators deliberately mislead prospective students about the future prospects of the chef.  Certainly that would be reprehensible, but it doesn’t excuse students from their own responsibility to assess and evaluate a situation on their own.

Foie Inanity in the Liberty City
And other readers alerted me that the foie inanity has appeared in Philly.  It’s like an ignorance or ineptitude virus—unpleasant but it will go away.  The two dunderheads in this case are: 1) councilman Jack Kelly (not surprising since Chicago showed what the intelligence level of city council people can reach); but worse is 2) a restaurateur, Stephen Starr.  He says he believes gavage is ethically wrong.  Has he taken it off his NYC restaurant menus?  I don’t know.  I do hope though, as he cares so much for the treatment of animals, that all the beef, pork, chicken, veal, and lamb he serves comes from farms that raise animals humanely.  And I trust that councilman Kelly is working vigorously to ban the sale of factory raised beef pork and chicken in his fine city.

McGee at FCI
This has been noted elsewhere, but a reminder to those who want to learn in person from Hal McGee can do so at the FCI this summer.

If You’re Passionate About Family Meal, You’ll Be a Great Chef, Maybe…
And last, very much enjoyed this NYTimes mag article on Per Se back of the house, not because I’m so close to the restaurant but rather because it points up The Importance of Family Meal.  This is an article I hope cooks read.


64 Wonderful responses to “”

  • Shannon

    “The Waiter” who writes Waiterrant had a different take on the Per Se article:

  • Evan

    Family meal is an integral part of the shift. Houson’s (Boston) is the best family meal, day in day out, ever in working either in the kitchen or the floor for 15 years!

  • ruhlman

    waiterrant is bitter indeed, but not unbalanced. i liked how waiterrant noted the awfulness of some staff meals. i had a chef who worked at a restaurant where the exec chef instructed him to make bolognese sauce out of the consomme raft. it taught this guy to treat his staff well.

  • Ed

    Wow, staff meal is a conundrum I will actually have to work through again after several years of working in a hotel with a cafeteria. I really must admit I am not looking forward to it.

    I was inspired by the truth in TFL cookbook, and really did my best to encourage my co-workers to put more effort into the staff meals…but after hearing lame waitrons say shit like “what’s the mystery meat today?” after I spent a few hours tending braised veal cheeks on a cold Boston day…I sort of came to resent the process. I see its value to be sure, and if everyone had respect for its virtue then I suppose it would be a good thing for all.

    In so far as the restaurant industry is one of the very few that even attempts to feed its employees, I can’t help but wonder about the people who bitch about a free meal…granted things like serving a raft have happened, but this is a pretty tired example. I always ask myself if it is something I would serve my family…this is the goal at least. Unfortunately, some family members are fussy, you can’t please everyone.

  • rainking

    I found it a bit offensive that the NY Times would run a story on Per Se in its “Money” issue, an issue of the magazine comprised mostly of lectures on how we should all help stop world poverty.

  • CarolinaGirl

    I just read the article about CCA. Holy cow! I am disgusted with the allgations and the students past or present.It sounds like lots of unethical activity took place, not cool.The students? I do pity the truly confused.However as a student too, I must say why go to a school with a less than stellar rep? Duh! I research everything before I sign in blood. It sounds like these folks could not be bothered with the personal responsibility (kitchen requirement) of finding out what they were paying for, signing,or the reality of being a new grad.Any school or organization can and will highlight their best success stories. It is called marketing. It is unfortunate that we can all be dazzled by bright lights but true. But, in the end, I’m not going to spend a heap of cash, and part of my life commited to something with mixed reviews. These days, technology is awesome, we cannot be the only ones using computers. Heard of Google? Guess what? You can Google the school, standard industry pay and job descriptions, and even find blogs that can help you communicate with the disenchanted and very pleased as well.
    Arrrgh! I feel sorry for anyone who has ever felt cheated or disenchanted. I really do. However, I strongly feel that one must be held accountable for choices, informed or otherwise. It seems “otherwise” are the choices we pawn off on others. It just sounds like sour grapes from people who were already confused enough to believe that college=tv show immediately after the graduation ceremony. As with most situations, the cream will find a way to rise to the top, and those who want to do anything for the wrong reasons will eventually shoot themselves on the toe or toque.

  • szg

    Interesting that Stephen Starr could pull Foie Gras out of “his” Morimoto restaurants. Gets back to the ownership/management contract between chefs and owners. It seems clear from his comment that Starr and not the restaurant’s namesake controls the food.

  • rockandroller

    I agree completely with waiterrant’s take on family meal. Granted, 90% of the restaurants I’ve waited in were chains, but all of the 10 practices listed are things I’ve experienced to some degree. Truly at most places, it’s not family meal, but a discount, more and more regimented in the ways you can take advantage of it, much like trying to cash in frequent flyer miles and finding that they’re only good on the 2nd Tuesday of the month in leap year, etc.

    I’ve worked new restaurants that mean well when promising family meal but quickly learn that there’s no time for people to stand around and eat (literally) and no money to serve them anything but pasta with red and leftover bread. Protein? Ha. Giving one plate of the night’s special to divide up over 20 different servers so they can “taste” it and let the guests know how it tastes isn’t even consistent. And with all the people you have to tip out, regardless of how they treat you (bus people, hostess, bar people, sometimes also the dish dog), and then only being able to get 20% off of items in a certain section of the menu, and only before or after your shift, and you can’t eat in the restaurant, or you have to eat at the bar but only if these 3 seats are open, and you can’t be in uniform, etc., etc., it just gets ridiculous. Try getting the kitchen to cook you a take-out order at 9:30pm when you happened to be the first one cut.

  • Skawt

    As a former student of CCA, I would have to say that I definitely agree with the article. I went to CCA in 2002, just before the school started to really decline. I actually did learn a bunch of useful skills. However, it became obvious as time went on that after the major skills such as butchery, garde manger, baking & pastry, safety & sanitation, and even the basics like soups, sauces and knife skills, the rest of the teachers just didn’t care. They went through the motions.

    Now, I probably lucked out and had some decent instructors, but I know there were teachers at the school that just didn’t care at all. And I know that the registrar’s office (sales people) would do anything to keep their numbers. I had to scream at them to stop calling me every day, sending out daily e-mails and letters, trying to get me to come back. I told them that I would have to talk to a lawyer and sue them for harassment if it didn’t stop.

    I also discovered that by that time, the CCA had already gained a rather unsavory reputation in the SF bay area. I went on a couple of kitchen interviews and was treated like shit every time. No restaurant in the city seems to want to hire CCA graduates anymore. Obviously they’re not turning out Ron Siegels anymore. More like Rachael Rays with head trauma. I should know – half of my class acted like that.

    I left the school not because I couldn’t hack it; I left because I *knew* that I didn’t want to spend the next 10 years standing on the line for 12 hours a day in blistering heat and earning pitiful wages. At the very least it taught me a valuable lesson, I learned some really great skills to turn me into a good cook, and I still love cooking.

    And maybe some day I’ll be finished paying off those damn loans.

  • Natalie Sztern

    I disagree with u, Michael and CarolinaGirl it has nothing to do with being the cream of the crop or the most talented…

    “but it doesn’t excuse students from their own responsibility to assess and evaluate a situation on their own.”

    is not necessarily true. As bright-eyed kids barely out of their late teens into early twenties with a gnawing desire to hone the craft they think they love and the talent they think they have, students will grasp, either thru what they read or what they hear, to the institution they believe holds the reputation to push them to the front of their career. Usually these are small institutions and are dedicated to one study; be it Chef and/or Restaurant skills, or in the case of my daughter, Triple Threat Theater skills. These schools are usually privately owned and have to answer to no one. And they do promote and promise opportunities that are virtually non existent. The entire story of what will be waiting after graduation is never discussed, instead the ‘Peter Pan effect’ is what lures these students to hold out until graduation, until the last tuition payment- then, as job interview after interview happens, these kids begin to realize . It can be said of many trade school’s i.e.: hairdressing school – u don’t graduate and get work as a hairdresser right away, no, u begin by washing hair and that is if u can get a salon to hire you. Notice I say kids, because those older students wishing a career change, usually through age and experience know the rainbow doesn’t have any gold at the end. Am I bitter, absolutely because I am a parent who has dished out more than thirty grand for my daughter to study her craft, Theater, and now she has honed her talent and is thriving for success. What pisses me off is that her alma mater has not yet honored to their students anything that was implied on applications and acceptances. Once the graduation ceremony is over and the next year of students are arriving it all evaporates. I don’t regret what she learned or how she was taught…but do it within the realm of truth.

  • LLP

    The fraud at CCA is that they are literally buying their credentials (from Cordon Bleu for example) so $50k for a fifteen month program sounds insane at first but if you really think you are attending one of the most elite cooking schools it sounds reasonable. My friend completed his program at CCA recently and he learned most of what he knows at his internships off campus…the classes themselves are as bad as they say. More comments from students here:

  • Jennie/Tikka

    Went to CSCA (California School of Culinary Arts) in Pasadena, Ca. Had good-to-great instructors. Knew exactly how I was going to pay for school and had the loan paid off precisely one day before the first payment was due. Graduated at the top of my class. I truly paid attention and made an effort to learn. I’ll be accepting the Co-Chair position for Mass Feeding for the non-profit I work with and for this July. I’ll be cooking a series of formal dinners for state and local officials as well with linecooks answering to me as chef. I graduated in 2005.

    Graduated with another student who likewise had her loan paid off by graduation day. She was offered any job she liked (Executive Chef all the way to GM) at a country club. She wound up taking a senior management position for a five star resort that you’d recognize the name of before she even graduated. She earns a six figure salary and owns a beach home in Ventura.

    No, we’re not all idiots because we went to the Le Cordon Bleu. Some of us are pretty god-damned smart.

    That’s been my point from Post #1.

  • Jennie/Tikka

    Lest anyone wonder if I am lacking in “the chops”…(and you be the judge)

    I served up the following 3 courses to get my final (straight) “A”. They gave me the “mystery box” and I did the following with it:

    First Course:

    Mildy curried yellow squash cream soup with sweet and sour marinated lobster tail, Asian marinated julienned red pepper strings

    App. Course:
    Tikka Masala marinated salmon (yogurt, curry, turmeric, nutmeg, lemon juice, olive oil, etc.), layered in a puff pastry gallette with star anise infused basmati rice, zucchini slices, red pepper diamonds, Le Montrachet goat cheese – sauced with a coconut milk demi-glace infused with a habanero pepper.

    Roasted Chicken in a rustic reduced Zinfandel sauce (shallots, onions, chantarelle mushrooms, etc.)

    If that’s not good enough straight out of school to get me a decent job – then I really don’t know what else I can say to prospective employers.

  • CarolinaGirl

    Not here to argue, Jennie/Tikka, actually after reading your posts, I have a respect for you and how you actually make a difference daily with your rescue work. Honest. Simply expressing my opinion about doing your homework. If you felt comfortable and sucessful during your education there, then great.You did your research and came to an educated conclusion.You did what was right for you. You also are not crying foul.It seems as if, if it were really so bad they would have heard that from some source and avoided the situation.As for the loans, 9 out of 10 moms advise read, then sign. I also stick firm in my belief that anyone who thinks a degree=tv show is delusional. You don’t start in any field banking mad money. Again, something these folks probably did not check on. You knew exactly what you were getting in to. You also made the most of your experience in the classroom and probably worked harder and learned more than many of your peers.

  • Jennie/Tikka

    Thanks, Carolina – I’m not really arguing here either (even though it can come across that way) 🙂

    I think what I’m saying is that culinary school is what you make of it. Those who did better (even at CSCA) had previous careers and were near 30. We were 100% focused. I’ll admit that I wasn’t nearly that focused when I went to college back in late 80’s/early 90’s. With age comes wisdom and focus. Culinary school is highly valuable when you are focused and realistic.

  • Deborah Dowd

    Thanks for the link to the article on family meal. I guess whether a four star restaurant, a little diner or at your own family table, a meal made with love and served with respect will always taste best (corny but true!)

  • Vinotas

    Sorry but I find this whole obsession with foie gras to be rather ridiculous. It’s fine for chickens, pork and beef to be mass-produced to the point of insipid blandness but having a duck do what it does naturally is immoral?
    Having spent my formative years in France, I can recall going to a small farm at the foot of the Pyrenees with my grandfather to shop for fresh foie gras. The farmer was sometimes in the back with the birds and they’d rush up to him to get fed. It was a while before I realized that the delicious silky delicacy sold at the front of the house was from these very birds. But once I did, I did what any red-blooded Franco-Lebano-American would do: smiled and kept eating. And frankly, I never stopped.
    My ancestors didn’t club their way to the top of the food chain to become vegetarians. As long as the animal is well-treated and the whole beast is used and nothing is wasted I don’t see the problem (oxtail, yummm… pig’s feet, oooh… sweetbreads, aaah… chicken feet, well, they’re ok but I’ll still eat them… the more offal it is, the better it is!).
    Oooh, I’m hungry…

  • Ed

    >>>Lest anyone wonder if I am lacking in “the chops”…(and you be the judge)

    So you asked….

    The first course has potential…sounds tasty enough. If executed correctly, I’m sure it was good.

    App course…

    Too much going on…
    Goat cheese with fish? How is that making sense? Especially with star anise, curry and “red pepper diamonds.”

    Demi-glace with coconut milk? I’m sure there are analouges in Vietnam.

    I’ll go out on a limb and give you a good bit of credit (other than the goat cheese) for the effort, and if you are a master perhaps a dish like this could work…the flavors could have harmony if given the right context.

    The chicken should have been good, and if you had mixed the goat cheese with a little flour and made gnocchi, possibly sublime. This move would have made its predeccessor better as well.

    I’m not trying to “lord mt culinary instructorness” over you…I have certainly made mistakes with mystery boxes in my time!

    I am only pointing out that, despite your apptitude, you may still have things to learn…and your (at least here) aggressive belief
    in your potential for excellence may hinder you on occasion.

    A little humility goes a ways, I hope you can see (despite your credentials) that we all have more to learn, always. Perhaps if you stick with this life this will have more resonance for you, I know it does for me.

    This talk of cooking school and recent conversations about Bourdain bring to my memory a sort of quote “when you’ve shown up every day on time for six months, then come talk to me about lemongrass and fish sauce.”

    Your menu, while not terrible, is not evidence of “chops.” It is evidence of potential and I am sure, given the efforts of other culinary students regardless of pedigree, was among the upper eschelon of offerings. Forgive me if I point out that such achievemnets are only the beginning, it is one thing to rise above 15-20 fellow students and quite another to even succeed regionally.

    This is what many good culinary students fail to recognize, excelling in school is great, but it is only the beginning. Do you think TK was doing his time in France thinking about how great he was? I have a feeling he left humbled and aware how much commitment it would require to even get close, and still today expresses this understanding.

    Peace and good luck.

  • sorcha

    I can’t find the waiterrant entry on the Per Se article. 🙁 But I love the new pic up there.

  • James Mark

    One must question why do you want to go to school? While I can only speak from my own experience (I currently attend JWU Prov) this is the most important question for any potential student. For myself, I did not go to learn speed (often we are only feeding twenty to thirty people through a class service period) nor did I come to JWU expecting to graduate as a chef (though there are opportunities for that position depending on what service level you plan on working at). Concepts such as speed, knife skills, organization, accuracy, and refinement are all learned much more efficiently in a proper kitchen. School, in my case, was about two things. The first is that the classroom is epicenter of creativity which is hard to find in the industry. The kitchen/classroom has a dynamic that is very different from the industry kitchen. Whereas in the industry most kitchens are high stress pressure cookers the classroom is relatively stress free. While one does have the responsibility to feed one’s guests, there is usually plenty of time and each cook is respondsible for much less than the typical professional. This setting leaves time for students and instructors to bounce new ideas off each other, letting dishes evolve and new techniques to be tested. Sure, this sort of thing could be done at home (especially with the networking wonders the internet brings) but how many people have a fully stocked professional kitchen to test food in?

    The kitchen classroom also is a great place to familiarize oneself with certain new or oddball techniques without fear of repercussions. Never spun ice cream before and you overwhipped it? Well the classroom is the place to do it. I cleaned a lobe of foie, made my first torchon, used a vac-pac machine, butter glazed halibut, simmered stock, ground sausage all for the first time at school. And while I was certainly not an expert at these things after doing it at school (I still have problems pulling veins out of foie without making a mess of it), at least I did not look like a complete moron when I first did it at work. I introduced my class to immersion circulators in the spring – hey they might not know that salmon mi cuit gets cooked at 40C for 20 minutes or that or that a med-rare hanger takes about 25 minutes at 54.5C, but at least they know that really its a glorified bain marie and nothing to be intimidated by.

    Finally the most important reason to go to school is the networking opportunities that are presented. JWU instructors are pretty good at crushing dreams of celebrity, but they are also good at fostering the idea that a bachelors degree in Culinary Arts offers a lot of jobs outside the kitchen. I know more kids who are going off to be food writers, food stylists, photographers, guys and gals who want to work with purveyors or be F&B directors along with a bunch who will become brilliant chefs one day (and also some who will make real money working for corporate chains). The average line cook might know the produce delivery guy’s name, but he certainly doesn’t know the owner/operator let alone been drinking with them. On top of this the school has all of its own contacts, I worked in great britain for six months at a 3 rosette restaurant doing 9-12 course menus for everyone, growing all our own produce and writing completely new menu’s daily because of the school.

    Everyone has different reasons for going to school, and while I don’t really know what the people at admissions are selling, I do know that the kitchen classroom has its place.

  • Natalie Sztern

    james mark – i agree with what u say…the content of what u learn, is in my view, not what is being argued. what is being argued is how u are being lured to attend that specific school as opposed to another. if they lure via promises or what seem to be intentional mis-leading facts, then that is wrong. it is not what happens in the years u are there nor what u make of ur career, nor ur marks nor ur skills-it is in the decision u make to enter which school and why. And if the school has proffered up false facts to get you to decide their institution, then that is what is wrong. Universities sell themselves very differently. For lack of another word “trade schols” that are privately owned do not. (in canada all universities are government funded in part which is why our tuition fees are so low)So for these trade schools to get students who can otherwise attend University for their studies is difficult, and from my limited knowledge of education across the border, competition is high. Montreal has a culinary school which is sanctioned by the government and they don’t sell u on attending. Of course it is completely in French.

  • faustianbargain

    hey jennie/tikka…a little bit from my experience. for it’s worth, there are two of the original cordon bleu schools in europe, london and paris. there is one in canada and one down under where they have subjects like management etc. maybe they have opened one more in korea. not sure.

    anyways…the original two concentrate on food and french food alone. tight, intensive classes with not very flexible schedules. they sometimes place students as stages and find jobs for them through word of mouth. we were only taught basic techniques and everything else from there is an interpretation of technique. our ingredients were first class and expensive..truffles, foie gras, lobsters etc. i had issues with the school and it was mostly because the chefs were..1.french..2. male. what can you do? conflict is expected with such a cast. but all in all, it was a good experience. for many people, the first few classes like vegetable cuts and poaching a chicken were boring. not for me..before lcb, i have never really cooked anything..nor have i touched meat or fish. also, it was an entirely different kind of cuisine than the one i grew up with…not just the flavours, but also the ingredients and techniques. it was an adventure! i must confess that i rather enjoyed it and even the french cast improved greatly with acquaintance.

    just one the ‘mystery basket’, we never got one. i know some students earlier had to deal with it. our batch didnt. a batch or two before us got milk fed baby lamb..the one before us got scallops, sole and had to make puff pastry from scratch. ingredients were according to season and i was in a fall batch. we had a list of ingredients and we were interpret the ingredients with an original recipe. we got duck, pumpkin, artichoke, potatoes, carrots, bacon, cardamom, honey and green peppercorns. one student made an awesome asian(it was either a thai or filipino dish)where she had shredded the duck meat, spiced it heavily and it was honeyed too. the whole thing was piled over a puff pastry basket. she lost points because it wasnt french enough. man, was she pissed!! and she dug herself deeper by cooking the meat well. on the other hand, i made medium rare duck breast and stuffed duck legs with two sauces. it was certainly less exciting than her recipe..not to mention less dramatic than her plating.. but it was all about technique, integrity of the dish(read as loyalty to cuisine francaise), point of meat(i *knew* that cooking the duck breast really rare and slicing it really thin would get me more points than making any other fabulous preparation…the only lesson we got in management, although it was never in paper, was that customer is always king..aka..”give him what he wants”)…and mostly about flavour. i dont think they cared much about was important, but that wont get you the points. my plating was nothing to write home about, but i think it was my sauces that saved me. a dish with coconut milk would have failed me. like i said most of the staff were french and male. but i can appreciate learning with narrow focus. this could be a problem with cca schools. the syllabus is all over the place. focus…that is whats important. and support from the industry. the article is nasty because i dont see why restauranteurs wont employ cca students..these are just entry level, minimum wages job, no? surely, they know *something*. more serious questions have to be asked about this industry. in the meanwhile, i think there ought to be a moratorium on all culinary studies until this backlog of skilled unemployment is cleared. five years should suffice. it is getting ridiculous.

  • faustianbargain

    oh..i forgot to add..the intermediate classes(first was basic techniques..and the final was all about game, complicated dishes with luxury ingredients etc and ‘creative’ cuisine) were all focussed on french regional cusine. they actually spent 1/3 of the entire course to teach us about the different regions of france. i know the map of france better than the map of united states now. i know what grows where and when in each region of france and all about regional specialities. granted, it wasnt all in the classes..but they give you the lead and you pick from there. essentially, there is no room for any other cuisine. and i am ok with that! i struggled with it for a while and i figured that every cuisine has its place….and i had chosen french cusine. it doesnt undermine is merely a thorough education of one particular cuisine. the french chefs are more than happy to educate you. i have to admit that the intermediate french regional cuisine course was my favourite part. all french chefs are evangelists for france. and i, for one, am glad that they are around!!

  • Jennie/Tikka

    Faustian –

    Your post makes me nostalgic for my school days! We actually had two T.A.’s who fed us nightly (we took our own creations home with us at the end of the night). Those T.A.’s apparently had a limitless budget. Our wine class was right after culinary so we very often combined the wines we were studying with what we were making. When we were eating and drinking like royalty I felt truly sorry for anybody who was missing the school experience. Its worth it to crack open 5 or 6 different bordeaux (all in the $200 a bottle category) with a table loaded with nothing but prime ribs, hangar steaks, and bone marrow. We all stood there/sat there looking at each other with the look in our eyes that said, “Yup, this is why we did this. School is worth it.”

    To be honest, not everybody gets that experience. Part of the reason we did is because we, as a class, had the reputation from Day 1 of being a very gung-ho class who would be likely to make the school look good in the future. Because there was such a high level of competition among us our instructors fed off that and gave us more than other classes got.

    I went home with working recipes from restaurants like Aqua in SF because of it.

    All four of my pastry instructors held Exec. Pastry Chef positions at various Four Seasons hotels.

    I doubt it’d be the same experience if I went back to school today.

    There are definitely larger issues going on in this culinary world. There is very tight control over who will rise to the top. The reasons for that are unclear.

    Overall there is an echelon of folks who control the whole show. “You’re not good until we SAY you’re good” is what you hear from them. Until the industry itself decides to promote you, you’re stuck. If they don’t want to you toil away your whole career in oblivion.

    Its a very fickle industry.

    Ed, my love – I’m not going to be anything but my genuinely confident self. Confidence is not the same thing as believing one knows it all. But I do want credit for what I already know.

    While I am humbled by all there is to learn about food – I’m more humbled by things like the responsibility of having to feed 1.9 million people in my area in the event of a 7.9 predicted earthquake.

    I couldn’t do it if I was loaded up with self-doubt.

  • Jennie/Tikka

    And here’s this little piece of irony:

    Every single one of my instructor’s was C.I.A. trained.

    Ed, I learned what I learned from C.I.A. chefs.

  • faustianbargain

    oh jennie…burgandy is fine, but did you have a scotch whisky tasting? i dont remember which theory class it was..but we had an after class session where some chef was supposed to drone on about something from a printed sheet. the chef in charge(scotsman) cancelled that sorry affair and we had a scotch whisky tasting. i wasnt particularly fond of this guy(i hesitate to reveal, but i am somewhat of a curmudgeon..human beings exasperate me..i dont enjoy their company..i tolerate them. it is easier to tolerate them when alcohol is involved..and a few laughs too if they are doing the excessive imbibing), but that day, he was a rock star to me! he had bits and pieces of info that only a local would know..and i am a trivia junkie. he even brought a bottle of laphroaig that he shares with his father every year. he was rather fond of islay malts. we finished the bottle that day..14 of us. very generous. i was touched despite my general negative feelings towards him. he really wanted to share his passion for scotch and he did it by sharing.

    if they want to spit on your education, it’s THEIR loss. i’d say to these students…do something with your life and knowledge. at the end of the day, knowledge is power. success depends on how you wield this power. show them! it’s their fucking loss. beat the system. the meanness that is directed towards these young kids who entered this profession out of passion…naive as it may petty and adds to the shame of the industry bigwigs. something’s rotten with the industry and it stinks. it will implode sooner or later.

    altho’ what/who is a T.A?

  • Jennie/Tikka

    Faust –

    Teacher’s Assistants from the senior class (just about to graduate). Because we had wine class adjacent to culinary (and sometimes before culinary) the school had the legal requirement of making sure we had a full stomach at all times. You can see how that worked in our favor!

    We did indeed have a class entirely dedicated to scotch! I know more about peet moss now than I really want to! Lol!

    Most interesting (and what proved to be a problem ultimately) was that you didn’t have to be 21 to go through your wine classes. This was a legal nightmare because sometimes we did our food and wine pairings adventures in a restaurant, not at school.

    One of my personal favorite memories was when we had reps from the Champagne Board in France come to the school. We spent 3 hours going over 3 rare champagnes. Their purpose was to pump up flailing champagne sales and boost the french economy. Their approach was to get all us newbie chefs on the french champagne bandwagon and hopefully increase future sales in th U.S.

    They wound up headhunting our wine instructor (an intermediate level Sommelier from Japan) who now lives in Paris.

    I tell ya kids – my wine notes from what we tasted are good enough to be a an excellent wine list in and of themselves. When I request these wines from wineshops they always respond with, “Wow – how’d you know about that one? That’s pretty sophisticated.”

    Who knew there were high-alcohol sparkling reds??? I didn’t. I’m glad I know now, though.

    “In water one sees one’s own face,
    But in wine one beholds
    the heart of another.” French proverb

    “Flow wine
    Smile woman,
    And the universe is consoled.”

    And my favorite:

    “Champagne to my real friends,
    Real pain to my sham friends.” Bette Davis

  • Ed

    I went to JW, and most of my instructors were CIA grads too…not sure what your point was here or what the irony is.

    Confidence is great, a requirement for success in any endeavor…lacking in humility is another thing all together. The two are not different ends of a linear scale. If you have chops, then you show them…you don’t need to talk about them or post menus.

    I came to this life later than many, and didn’t finish school until I was on the cusp of thirty. So I know where you’re coming from in that respect. It took me 6 years to get to my first sous chef job, and 8 before I really had something of my own. There were times I was passed over, felt I was more deserving, knew more, and so on. I kept my head down and went back to work, confident I would get where I wanted to…

    There are many paths, and yours (whatever it may be) is as valid as any other. I can only really speak for myself when I say I am glad I got here the way I did. When I look back to the times I was certain I was ready, I have to chuckle…I wasn’t even close.
    It is gratifying to know I am where I am today because of merit, not because I stepped on anyone, threw them under the bus, kissed my celebrity chef’s ass or what have you.

    There is an illusion of a glass ceiling, I’ll give you that at least…but the beauty of this life is that excellence and commitment to craft are ultimately recognized far more often than not. Of course there are chefs who want to hold people down, they exist in every industry really…I’d venture a guess that there are probably some yahoos among the fire / emt crowd as well.

    Incidently, your emergency work is admirable and my intention is not to disparage it, but is it necessary to bring it up when it isn’t particularly salient to the point you are making? I suppose I could say, “yeah, but the people working on the AIDS epedemic in Africa are even more important, so therefore everything we talk about is just not important.” On some level, I would be correct I suppose, but isn’t it a bit like saying “my dad is bigger than yours?” Your work straddles a line between these two worlds as I understand it, and I am not trying to say that its not more important than culinary school, fine dining or whatever…but that is not what we are talking about here, is it?

  • TheFoodist

    “Certainly that would be reprehensible, but it doesn’t excuse students from their own responsibility to assess and evaluate a situation on their own.”

    This is true, but how many fresh out of highschool students do you know that bother to research anything? lol not many that I know at least. This is an issue were gonna deal with for awhile I think. As long as there is money to be made off impressionable youth itll hold true (*Cough*MTV*Cough*what?).

    Everyone I meet that I tell Im a cook/chef-in-training-maybe-one-day-Ill-be and expresses interest in the field the first thing I tell them is:

    “Go get a job in a kitchen for a year and then see how you feel”

    I even think the CIA is becoming to lax on their work requirement to enter school. Some people are getting away with working as servers at retirement homes before coming here, and its considered satisfactory.

    But again, its the responsibility of the student to know what theyre getting into, its just a damn expensive mistake to have to learn to late.

  • Andy Shoe

    I saw you posted a blip that Harold McGee will be giving a lecture at the FCI and I immediatley set the over under with my friend as to how egregiously expensive it would be. As an alum of the FCI I know all too well how they slice and dice you for cash at that institution. I did a quick calculation on the money they would make…

    There has to be about 75 seats in the culinary theatre, and thats being conservative. At $1200 just to hear the guy talk for 3 days (I bought his book for $25 on Amazon, brilliant amazing book, being a bio major I REALLY got into it) that is $90,000 they would make on all the hacks willing to dish out that kind of cash. Sadly none of the people attending the lecture would be from the hordes of culinary professionals working in NYC, most of them couldn’t afford that. It seems all to clear to me that the FCI is riding the gravy train media hype of the culinary scene that has been building for years. I was a victim myself (although I am glad I went for different reasons). I can’t bring myself to look at the cost of tuition now…When I “graduated” in 2003 it was $28,000, and they dont even get you certified in food sanitation!!

    I think I will stick to re-reading the book one more time and take my wife to Per Se…twice. Maybe we can make early enough to get some family meal.

    PS Love your blog, and books. Soul of a Chef gets picked up about every 6 months!! Love it!!

  • lipsmackin

    Ok so this is the skinny on the CCA, ya know the esteemed Ivy League University known as the University of Phoenix? This is the same company that owns CCA and every other Cordon Bleu School. It is a public traded company and has stock holders to answer too, so what better way to increase revenue? Lie to the sheep like every other corporate outfit does.

    Please lets not just blame them, lets blame every other institution and the food network for turning our passion into a circus. We have red haired idiots standing infront of a grill with a white coat and jeans thinking about where his publicist is sending him next week.

    What happend to the sailor chef that in my time would sleep in front of the stove at 3AM because he had 300 stuffed duck necks in a 200 degree oven for a wedding the next day?

    Fuck the foam and Fuck the chemistry majors that flunked out of MIT…..Its Food and it should be farm fresh and something you eat not something you should scratch you head over and say “What the Fuuuuuuck”.

    I apologize for the profanity and the poor spelling, I am a cook!

    Michael Say hello to Hap for me!

  • Joan

    I was looking into CCA’s Le Cordon Bleu program. Their recruiting tactics alone prevented me from even visiting the school. They had an automated phone call set to call me every week on the same day. I had messages every week at home and on my cell. Horrendous. The recruiting reps sound like used car salesmen. Plus I have heard from former students to stay away. You don’t really learn anything – waste of time and money. I’m glad this article came out!

  • lipsmackin

    Last but not least, what the hell is “Asian Marinated”, Tika? Do you use a whole continent for that? Talent is in no way measured by a piece of paper or how cleverly you can put a bunch of words together. It is about putting your head down, burning the hair on your hands and the orgasm that your guests leave on your seat!

  • faustianbargain

    lipsmackin would rather blame food network rather than cca? surreal!

    sleeping in front of a stove at 3AM is slave labour. when people stop getting histrionic and romanticising about what is essentially hard labour that the rest of the world is glad to avoid, the industry will step out of the pits. stuffing 300 duck necks should not have to force one to NOT have a life, live on a minimum wage…drown in debt among other things.

    but i am with you..fuck the culinary schools. i think they should be shut down and restaurant cooking should be left to the masochists. change..who wants it! its overrated anyways!

  • Jennie/Tikka

    I’m with you on this one, Faust.

    Big fuckin’ deal – you have no life, lipsmackin. You have nothing (and no one) better to do your time with so you work the entire time….and to save your own sanity you spin it into something you think is praiseworthy.

    Wow. I’d hate to be you. Seriously.

    Funny thing though; if your house caught on fire and I was the shithead who got the call to respond along with the fire department – I’d still help your lonely ass out.

    P.S. I’d tell you what was in the marinade but it gives Ed hives, so I’ll skip it.

    Here’s a thought. Instead of spending all your time having the customers leave after their orgasms….you put some effort into a stable relationship that lasts for years instead (orgasms donated there instead)?

    Seriously, when was the last time you saw a tomb stone that read, “Devoted Chef”?

  • lipsmackin

    Well the funny thing is I do have a life, I do make over 6 figures and I take 1 month of vacation a year, why? because I did what needed to be done to make it in this business. I have a wonderful wife and a wonderful life. The food network has been the vehicle that has enabled the CCA’s of the world to do what they do.Tika please don’t feel bad some day you will get your Betty Crocker Easy Bake Oven to work.

  • CarolinaGirl

    Anyone read the foie gras update yet?
    Ruhlman has a link for us.

  • Jennie/Tikka

    Here’s the thing, lips – I have a six figure income myself. I don’t have to cook. I don’t have to be in the BOH – I spend plenty of time FOH at the dinner table. I take a vacation any time I please. I work (or don’t work) any time I please.

    Its hard for me to consider spending all that time BOH when I can just get a loan and open my own restaurant.

    We really ought to play nicer with each other, lips – I may be the lady on the other side of the desk interviewing you one of these days.

    For the record:

    Number of firefighters who thanked me today – 30+ (4 engine companies and Hazmat 43)
    Number of chefs who were civil to me today – zero

  • lipsmackin

    Love not war she says? makes sense to me! I doubt we will every be siting any place near one another but you never know.

    In closing the difference between a “Cooks Chef” and a “Celebrity Chef” is the cook needs his tombstone to read nada.

  • can call me "Chef" Suzy

    (sorry for the HUGE post)

    I don’t know about the rest of you Career Education Corp/Le Cordon Bleu grads, but I am torn about how to proceed (see email from the new class action suit lawyer below):

    OH! But don’t worry – despite my CEC/CCA “diploma” even I am not stoopid enuf to give a lawyer a list of all of the students names, etc., B’DUH!

    What a conundrum: I cannot believe that I am defending the school, but if I join the suit I will help discredit the very diploma I just paid $$$ to get. Advice, anyone?

    make of with this what you will…
    In a message dated 6/15/2007 7:31:47 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

    Those who would have difficulty gaining admission to a community college and who, indeed, cannot do anything meaningful with the CCA education, are the most defrauded. Their admission falsely implied the utility of the education to them. They were led to take out high interest loans, by an institution with dramatic and undisclosed conflicts of interest, based on a false promise that the education would render them gainfully employed and able to service the debt.

    ***That said, my greatest interest as a businessman is the cleaner claims. A Class action based on lending practices is where the bigger justice and result are probably to be obtained.***

    See if you can get me a list of your classmates. I’d like to interview every last one.



    Ray E. Gallo
    5757 W. Century Blvd., Suite 700
    Los Angeles, CA 90045
    Ph: 310-338-1114
    Fax: 310-338-1199
    Cell: 310-200-8245


    Ray –

    PLEASE: Consider your source (see comment “Matt G’ below):

    Your Omega client; CCA poster boy Matt an unfortunate oxymoron:

    He is the perfect example of the new paradigm of the perfectly acceptable “C” average high school grad under “No Child Left Behind”.

    …however, even Matt G. could get a job in a restaurant kitchen if he wanted to, despite the fact that he is weirdly and adamantly proud of what he considers to be his inalienable personal right to slack.

    There is ALWAYS cooking work available (it ain’t rocket science) but not every single entry-level BAY AREA cooking job pays $45,000 to start. Does every post law school clerk job pay that around here either?

    Stick with me here and try to grok this objectively: this is why the hapless Matt G. could sink your battleship:


    Vocational schools are historically the place for ummm…kids like Matt G. to (hopefully) become useful members of society. All of the Career Education Corp./Le Cordon Bleu (not THE “Le Cordon Bleu, Paris”, but rather the “CEC version of LCB”…) actually now do a stupendous job supplying the restaurant industry with hordes of these kinds of grads.

    The CEC finally succeeded in crushing the very last vestiges of the of the formerly proud and independent CA.Culinary Academy in/or around 9/06. For my $$$ I wanted Stanford (and that IS what the old CCA was…). I got City College. That’s MY beef with it.

    Umm…OK – think of “today’s typical military recruit”. That is the new universally acceptable minimum standard in a vocational culinary school, and that now (unfortanately)includes the “new” CEC/CCA.

    Several of the faculty confided in me that they felt the BIG prob was that there was a sudden inexplicable surge – just in the last 2-3 years, of grads of our CA. high school system who had this very weird mind-set; e.g. “yoor nu clyent” Matt G…

    My mother is a former faculty member of a CEC-owned NYC “computer I.T. school” – You know; the kind that turns out a “certified IT grad” in less than 2 years. The grads are for the most part, on par with the Tech Support person you get on the phone when you call for help with your software…

    She said to me: “Remember; these are not a “college track” students as we understood them. These are “vocational track” students under the new “Everybody is SOMEBODY!” model. Now they now call a “vocational school” a “college” in order that these students “self-esteem” not be damaged…”

    BUT: Let me play devil’s advocate here:

    Amongst your own classmates, were there “stars”. “egg heads”, “ok students”, and “slackers? Can every single grad of every single law school be guaranteed say, $50,000 year income immediately upon graduation simply because the managed to show up, complete the assignments adequately, but they are, and will never be the sharpest tool in the shed?

    Should every grad of every law school be prepared to SUE their school if they are not offered jobs which THEY feel is good enough for them (even if they are misguided as to their own brilliance, or lack thereof?) Is there some immutable law which says that simply passing the bar exam ENTITLES the passer to a job paying more than $___, no matter how well/poorly they perform?

    Might the well meaning, but not brilliant passers of the bar still find gainful employment within their own limitations, but perhaps eventually accept that they will never be the sort of lawyer who is going to make Big Bucks? Are there occasional exceptions who’s own marginal competence is actually rewarded ( the legal equivalent of say, Rachael Ray)?

    You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink…
    …if thet horrs sens a rezoomay thet luuks liik thiss, will he get an interview?

    One of my biggest battles with the CCA was getting them to WAIVE their requirement that I have the job placement guy help me with a resume, because I did not want job placement assistance. I always intended to be self-employed.

    Every single graduate (except me) walked out of there with a lovely clean spellchecked resume. If the kid lost it at the bar after school, that same resume is permanently posted on the school’s internet portal…

    IF the trend continues, the time may come when the employers who were formerly more than happy to take any Le Cordon Bleu/CCA grad will no longer accept the schools’ minimum grad standard as more than adequate for their purposes…
    OR:(more likely scenario)the CEC has picked up on the sad fact that in part due to their efforts, minimum industry standards are dropping fast – and they are all to happy to give the market what it demands:
    However, the truth remains: A gainfully employed “chef” DOES NOT NEED TO BE the intellectual or educational equvalent of (even a)lawyer, social worker, or a CA. public school teacher, because:


    If Matt G. does manage to get through any other vocational school program, including the SF City College program, will he be any better off?

    (BTW: City College uses the same curriculum the “new CCA” now uses. It’s a canned franchised curriculum which is identical to all of the other CEC/Le Cordon Bleu schools. If Matt gets it again, will he be any smarter?)

    …and unfortunately, stupid, arrogant and lazy is fast becoming the acceptable minimum industry standard – in part as a result of the evil “Blackwater” of vocational education; the Rupert Murdoch-controlled Career Education Corporation, and it’s corporate tactics with literally hundreds of formerly good independent vocational schools like the CCA (and other “Le Cordon Bleu” schools)….

    Your boy Matt G. must be working real hard NOT to get a restaurant kitchen job…

    – S.

    PS:Have you read Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain? It does give some perspective on the minimum industry standard for kitchen help in NYC – and the Bay Area is even less competitive than that.

    Have you watched the awful Hells Kitchen on Fox? THOSE are the shining examples “the new paradigm” in vocational culinary school grads. In fact, according to Fox, those are the best and the brightest!
    [Comment by Matt G — June 13, 2007 @ 03:40AM]:
    The school can never give me the two years of my life back, but Im going to sue them in hopes of getting my student loans paid off, so I can go back to chool. The non transferable AA is useless, and they can keep it.

    Anyone who wants to join me in the law suite, let me know.

    I have seen some terrible things. We had a partially retarded kid in our class, who would steal everything, and when he was caught didn’t understand what was going on. We also had this nice little girl who had only one leg. She was so nice, and it sadens me to think how she must be getting treated now, considering how hard it is for me to get a job.


  • CarolinaGirl

    As an attorney’s kid, I have always heard that lawyers who have to hustle up business this way do so because they have no clients.
    I believe if the paperwork for your loan did not clearly state the terms and % rates of your loan, then you should have easy litigation.Full disclosure is a law I think. You may want to review what you have read and signed before you find out they did nothing wrong and you owe some guy lotsa cash. The lawyer will collect fees either way.

  • can call me "Chef" Suzy

    Lips – you stop picking on Jennie/TIKKA right this minute!

    What is the matter with you? Act your age!

    Jennie: Hon, don’t worry. Sometimes when boys like you they don’t know how to show it, and so they hit you on the playground…

    …No, mommy still doesn’t know why boys behave that way, but they always have, so I guess they always will…

    Both of you!
    Maybe if you watch this Norwegian safe sex video, it’ll calm you down:

    …don’t miss the ending.

  • Tags

    Here’s a link to interviews on an NPR show about foie, featuring Inquirer food writer RICK NICHOLS, MICHAEL GINOR, a foie gras producer and author of “Foie Gras: A Passion,” and NICK COONEY of Hugs for Puppies…

  • can call me "Chef" Suzy

    OK: I spoke to this lawyer guy Ray Gallo on the phone, as well as to the author of the article Eliza Strickland. (BTW: This thing was screaming front page news in SF. Good luck job hunters…)

    Here’s the scoop on the poop according the lawyer Ray, esq., and I gotta say that I find it morally repugnant on so many levels – which is made doubly ironic because I was arguably one of the loudest disgruntled CCA students while I was there (3/06 – 3/07).

    His argument is so twisted that it defies logic. I’m not sure I can even put it down on paper…

    Basically this Matt G. dude is his poster child for (he is claiming) the LARGE GROUP of CCA students who were SO stupid that the were successfully duped into Sallie Mae student loans by a scheming CCA with malice aforethought, and that they were given good grades, allowed to complete the program and graduate, were handed perfectly spellchecked professionally written resumes…

    …but immediately upon graduation, the jobs they WERE offered (and which they apparently refused) did not pay a MINIMUM of $45,000 a year…

    …because this same LARGE GROUP of CCA students (the law firm specializes in class action suits)were SO stupid that when the recruiter told them “…as much as $45,000 a year…”, all they and their just-as-stupid parents who co-signed the loan docs heard was “…$45,000 a year…”.

    I found the follwing post (written by “ANON”)at:

    Note: If you wanna see something scary, check out some of the posts at the URL above…

    To wit:

    Should student(s) who are obviously not exactly “college material” be allowed to sue a COOKING SCHOOL for letting them in, because – or so they now claim – they were actually too stupid to know that they were too stupid be admitted, but NOT too stupid to loudly complain that they were actually too stupid to complete the program – even though they DID manage to complete it?

    …and so now they are angry that they are being told by prospective employers that they are not talented enough to make “Big Bucks” – but (sadly) – they are actually too ignorant to know that they are not talented enough to deserve them?

    Would they have been happier if the school had said to them: “Sorry, but we can see that it’s a pretty safe bet that YOU will never be Top Chef, The Next Food Network Star, or winner on Hell’s Kitchen, so just please pack your knives and go…or better yet – don’t even bother to come here at all”?

    OR do they actually truly believe that the CCA should have known from the start that they were really stupid, and that the school should never even have issued them a suitcase full of sharp utensils in the first place…

    … because they are – or at least they claim now – too ignorant/stupid to have known when they signed up for the CCA that less than 2 years of cooking school would not somehow magically “entitle” them to make more money than graduates of any other c-school, including City College?

    *OR was the problem really that their “Chef Knife” was not sharp enough, and THAT is actually the REAL reason why they cannot get a job, and so they should get all the money back and go to City College, where the knives are better, or at least cheaper? Then would they be able to get a $45,000 year job?

    …should THEY now be entitled to get all of their money back (after they already graduated) because they were actually too stupid to have finished at CCA, but they now want to go…umm…where? Some other cooking school that they ARE smart enough to learn enough from to get WHICH other job that they can’t get now?


    Where exactly IS this other great cooking school that DOES actually guarantee that every single graduate will make the Big Bucks as soon as they graduate, and it’s actually TRUE!

    I am dying to find out where this other school is that will entitle anyone who goes there to a one-way ticket to fabulous wealth in less than 2 years? I wanna go THERE!

    PS: Some of you might have better luck with your job hunt if you get some help witt ur speling. It’s rilly hard tu git a guud job if yur rezoomay iz not ritten verry guud – evin fur a Sheff!!!
    If yoo need help, there iz alsew a thing on your computr called “spelchek” that cood maybee help allott to ;-D

    * One girl complains in her post that the chef’s knife in her school issued kit had the brand name “Chef Knife”, and therefore she should get her $200 fee back because she “could have bought a “better knife at Target for $8.99”.

    I still have a scar where I almost cut my fucking finger off with that same school-issue chef’s knife in the 3rd week of class. I saw what they gave me for my $200 and said “Whoo-hoo!”. BTW: There is a shop across the street from the CCA that will buy school knives for cash. A BIG prob is students stealing other students kits so they can sell the knives…

    She also moans that “the new uniforms don’t even have have my name embroidered on them…” WAHHHHHH!!!. $400 for my complete wardrobe for a full year? Worked for me…

    PS: Heads up to all of you other Le Cordon Bleu/CEC grads out there. If this lawyer gets his way, it means that ALL of the LCB grads who got loans are legally JUST as stupid as CCA grads who did, since the curriculum is identical at every CEC/LCB school.

    AND: Since the Le Cordon Bleu, Paris licensed the whole packaged curriculum, and it is virtually identical to the “real” LCB, you guys are now just as stupid too! Voila’!

  • Bob delGrosso

    When I was teaching at The CIA we had what seemed to me an essentially open admissions program that allowed students in who were minimally literate and numerate. But these students were all tracked into remediation classes and, in some of the more difficult cases, formal and documented “mentoring” relationships. In some cases some of these students could not keep up their grades and were asked to leave or decided to drop out.

    I wonder if CCA provides does anything like that. It’s pretty much standard practice for an accredited post-secondary school.

  • Jennie/Tikka

    During the pastry program (I took more than one program, btw) I saw students cut at the end of each of the early classes if they couldn’t keep up. If you couldn’t ace your final exam for that class you didn’t go to the next one.

    How tough was the exam?

    For Pastry 110 we were to make a jelly roll filled with pastry cream. The recipe we were using initially used way too much corn starch in the pastry cream and was coming out like silly putty, as written. The humidity was high that day and the instructors had decided they weren’t going to help us when it came to readjusting the corn starch (humidity screws with recipe formulas). Our instructor (from the Four Seasons, Hawaii) knew plenty about humidity (Hawaii’s got plenty of it).

    To pass you had to nail the pastry cream consistency (after you figured out how humid the classroom was at the time you were cooking), nail the done-ness of the cake (no cracks), have no spaces in your roll between cake and cream), sauce and plate. I lost a few points from an “A” because some of my chocolate sauce actually hit the cake.

    Judge among yourselves.

    Only once did I see a truly useless student make it all the way through (and it was in the Management program, not the culinary or pastry programs).

    Pastry 120 Final was a perfect Challah bread (your choice of 3, 4, 5, or 6 strand braid) and sour dough boule, and brioche.

    130 – Several plated desserts from scratch and 3 original sauces. Had to prove you could correctly temper chocolate.

    140 was Production Kitchen sized amounts of from-scratch puff pastry.

    All this was timed by the way. If you didn’t make it on time you lost points, too.

    Sorry, but I LEARNED something.

  • can call me "Chef" Suzy


    Hmmm…things have changed alot. This was a BIG part of my ongoing battles with the (constantly changing) faculty and admin while I was there.

    The prob was, the chef instructors were all up in arms about how to grade us. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I got there in the middle of the CEC/CCA shit storm.

    Started in a class with only 8 students — all them under 22 (except me). Before it was too late to get the $ back, 3 had dropped out, including a morbidly obese insulin-dependent diabetic (this was the BAKING&PASTRY program), and a girl who claimed to have have a severe allergies, including wheat, gluten, and apparently also (she claimed) that “Smurf blue” food coloring the school uses to identify the re-usable practice cake frosting. The last time I saw her in that class group she claimed to be going into impending anaphylactic(?) shock…

    By the second class (Cakes), the class was down to 5, incl. me. One guy worked ’til over an hour after the class started, but he claimed to have worked in his family’s bakery in the Phillippines, so the chef initially looked the other way.

    Turned out that tho only “baking” this family bakery had done was all from frozen pre-packaged pastry and cake, and all that the guy actually knew how to do was decorate (But boy could he decorate!). I felt for him though, and so I tried to help bail him out while he tried to re-work his work schedule.

    Since it was such a small class, and I had pretty extensive baking experience already, I could watch the chef demo and knock out the assignment in oh, 4 hrs., tops. I started working on my own so that I could clean up my end of the room and split early.

    The rest of the children (except one) did not even know enough math to weigh out the ingredients, so they set up a little fire brigade. The one guy would do all the weighing/measuring, another kid would write down the recipe, another would stir the bowl, and one would watch the oven, and then the Filipino guy would blow in and decorate for the whole crew.

    Meanwhile, chef was running his own “adult themed” cake catering biz out of the classroom, using the school’s supplies for his own stuff. His “Ball Gag” S&M themed gay wedding cake stands out in my memory…

    Still, after having read “Kitchen Confidential”, I thought that this was possibly all just good practice for my anticipated professional kitchen career.

    (sigh…) I could write a book about this whole thing. It seemed amusing at the start — this IS San Francisco after all — and I have to say that the Jesuit university I attended in 1976-80 had some pretty wild and crazy monks as professors too.

    Maybe my expectations for cooking school were too low? But then, I had only read Bourdain. I had not yet read Ruhlman. I shit you not! I really thought it was all just part of the show…

    …’til things got ugly

  • can call me "Chef" Suzy

    …but here’s the thing:

    The Chef Instructors were all great chefs, and (once I switched to a different class group) the students were cranking out fantastic shit.

    Perhaps part of the diff was that I was in the evening program (3pm – 10pm) so there were quite a few students (in the group I switched to) with some restaurant experience and/or career changers with functioning brains.

    Before the Dean of Students left/was forced out, he heard that I was having a hard time suffering the fools I had been initially placed into a class with, so he called me and offered to jump me ahead to a class that was known for being a particularly good group of students. Then the idea was that I would swing around at the end and pick up the class I skipped and the tail end of my time there.

    I get into my new Breads class, and I am sailing along (I thought) with a group of three other students; two best friends who were women in their mid 30s who were both former chemists from UC Davis, and a 28 year old guy with an M.A. in philosophy. I thought I died and gone to heaven…

    …then one of the chemist chicks starts sleeping with the Breads chef. Turnes out he was a temp/CCA grad the school grabbed outta the Hotel W after the beloved Chef Malia was ousted in the CEC coup the week before I got there – but hey, the guy knew his stuff big time. He was kicking ass, but my background was mainly bread, so I was digging it and so was he — or so I thought…

    After he and Miss Ph.D Snooty Poot stated coming/leaving class together, she starts getting all weird on me. Actually, she was a snobby bitch with a stick up her ass from the start Every other word outta her mouth was “I’m a Ph.D., and… yada, yada, yada…” — but hey; I can deal, ‘ya know?

    When I hit town and she saw that I actually knew how to bake before I got there, it really burns her ass for some reason. Maybe it was because I had worked in actual bakeries, and she was a hobbiest on a tenured sabbatical. Remember, she and the rest of the class had been together for 3 classes before I got there, and she was used to being Queen Bee.

    So when Philosophy Boy and I team up and start cranking out awesome shit on our own, she gets a bee in her bonnet.

    Still, I was clueless until weeks into the next class (Plated Desserts), plus I hadn’t even bothered to check my grade, since I had 2 “A” grades going into Breads, and I assumed I had gotten another one…

    Then I had to switch to a different class group for Plated Desserts because of my screwy schedule change-up, but this class group seemed pretty cool, and I was glad to be rid of Miss Snooty Poot — so I was stoked. Of course Miss Snoot was now the official girlfriend of Breads Chef, but I didn’t know that it would make any difference to me, until later…

    I was getting kinda bored with just repeating the same textbook recipes over and over, since I could crank them out in my sleep, so when my turn came around to do the dessert for the cart at the Bistro Restaurant downstairs, I did my own riff. There was a Starbucks on the ground floor of the building, and I came up with a my version of their Mocha Valencia as a Mocha Pot de Creme with honey sweetened whipped cream and a sugar sprinkle flavored with orange oil…

    Chef (who had been assiduously ignoring me for the first 2 weeks) got all hot under the collar when he saw me putting coffee paste in the pot de cream. Since we were about the same age, it never even occured to me that this guy would treat me like an idiot. Remember – I still thought I had aced breads, and I thought that perhaps my shining reputation had preceeded me, so when he started hovering all of a sudden, I just looked him in the eye and stage whispered “Don’t worry, I got ‘ya covered”. BIG mistake!

    He pulled me out into the hall, and tore me a new one! He said “Just do what the textbook says to do…”. Still (clueless) I smile at him and say “Oh, OK chef – the last three chefs were kinda letting me do my own thing — since I’ve done alot of this stuff before — but if you want me to stick with the book, that’s cool. D’ya want me to make up another batch for tonight?”

    He gets all red in the face and spews “There’s not enough time. Just finish it up and we’ll send it down anyway…”.

    So I plate it all nice and purty in espresso cups, with a tuile spoons and chocolate cigarette straws, and Chef and I wheel it down to the Bistro…and the culinary crew in the kitchen there goes wild. They’re all gathered around like they’ve never seen a frigging fancy dessert before, and Bistro Chef is all smiles. I had made up a demo sample for them to use as a plating guide, and they all tasting it and oooh-ing and ahh-ing…I guess that the regulars in the Bistro were getting a little tired of the same 4 desserts night after night on the cart.

    So time comes at the end of class to go home, and I go and ask Chef if I can take home the leftovers of my dessert, and he looks at me like I’m a turd and says “It sold out…”.

    3 weeks later, I finish Plated Desserts with my tour de force: Chai Tea Panna Cotta, served with mini chocolate truffles flavored with the spices in chai; cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon, and tea.

    My new pals in the class and I are cross-tasting all of each other’s final projects, and everyone is telling me that mine is waaay cool. I take it up to Chef for him to taste and grade, and he says: “I TOLD you to just do stuff from the book!”. I say “…but the syllabus says that it’s was optional to do an original recipe for the final for extra credit…”, and Chef gets all red and says ” I told YOU to do the stuff IN THE BOOK!”.

    So he tastes it all, and I ask “Is it ok?” and he says “It’s OK.”, and I take it home and my daughter and my roommate sit up ’til midnite eating it and saying how it’s the best thing I’ve brought home yet…

    On Monday I get an email that says “You are on academic probation…”. I finally log in, and to my horror I see that I have a “D-” in Plated Desserts, a “D” in Breads. So I panic and call the Dean, and he says “That’s weird. You had all As, and now all of a sudden YOU have Ds? I’ll check into it…”.

    I check again a day later, and Plated Desserts is a “B”, and there is a form letter message in my portal email box from PD Chef saying “Grade Change due to Clerical Error”, and an email taking me off probation, and like the stoopid pastry chef I am fast becoming, I believe it.

    Then I call to see about having Dean talk to Breads Chef (who is still sleeping with Miss Snoot, but WTF should I care — WRONG!), and I start up the “Cost Control/Nutrition” class with the same chef who gave me an A in the very first class, and I’m a former VP at BofA, so I figure “Spread sheet and biz plan…PFFFT!”.

    Then my 28 yr old daughter goes into labor 3 weeks early but hey — no worries — I’m done with my cheesecake catering biz plan project, and I’ve already read the whole nutrition textbook and aced the practice test, so I call from the maternity ward and say “Hey Chef Renee, My kid just had the baby! I’m a Grandma! (YIKES!). I’ll be in Friday to take the exam, and I’m Fed Ex-ing my biz plan – don’t worry, I got ‘ya covered…”.

    Then I go and email a happy birth announcement to my whole CCA faculty and admin mailing list, including (…and this becomes a VERY important detail later, but how am I to know?…) a photo of my daughter in the hospital bed, with the new baby her arms, and me — leaning into the picture in my CCA school uniform smiling like I’m the happiest would-be almost chef in the world…

    How was I to know…BIG MISTAKE!!!

    Oh – I passed the state nutrition exam with a 98, but then I get an email “You are on academic probation, and you have failed a course…”. So I log in, and to my horror, I see that Breads is still a D, and now “Cost Control” is an “F”!

    Why? More tomorrow…

  • can call me "Chef" Suzy

    …sorry, I passed with a 92.

    Gotta cover my ass – just in case.

    It’s like the internet has just become one big keyword data-mined minefield. You post one freaking blog comment, and the next thing you know some yahoo has a whole google page with your email address linked to your home address, your credit report and your blood type.
    AT&T merged with Sprint, they picked up Amp’d, and now they’ve got you tracked by GPS 24/7 and their new slogan is “Where you at?”, and the punchline is “WE KNOW where you AT!”.
    …oh yeah, and then there is that freaky “Google Earth” satellite imaging thing since 2 weeks ago, where you can be logged in with your DSL or your wi-fi, and you click on “Where I’m At?” and the thing zooms in from outer space practically right through your front door like a fucking SCUD missile!

    Jeez – I can see my own lawn furniture right this minute in real time from Mars! Oh look — my cat’s taking a shit!

  • faustianbargain

    fascinating. i have to say that i went thru my culinary school with less drama and mediocre results. i was rather happy to stick to what the book said and i only concentrated on technique.

  • CarolinaGirl

    Hey Suzy…
    Crazy as it sounds, allergy to blue dye is very real, and crazier still, it can be found in some brands of marshmallows. Keep in mind, perhaps the diabetic had delusions of grandeur and wanted to someday open a specialty bakery, as perhaps did allergy girl. i own a business that caters to egg and nut allergies, and my partner’s daughter suffers from both of these, along with that damn blue dye. Yes, drama surrounding a medical condition is tired. And I understand you saw these people get in over their heads, but keep in mind, they may have had gallant reasons to try to enter the field. Do believe you got the screws put to ya by the nutty professor.( i’ll leave his um…student friend out of it..easily influenced guy, obviously and not very professional, IMHO) I think displaying a little creativity would be rewarded, especially if the syalbus HE gave you encouraged it and had a reward system (extra credit) built in. Good job soldiering on and taking up for yourself. Enjoy that grandbaby and kick tail and take names in your career!

  • CarolinaGirl

    Oh forgot to add…we bake for our allegic clients. Just cookies and cakes but to see a kid have his/her first ever birthday cake at age 4 is truly awesome. Lots of parents actually have cried. Every kid deserves a cake for thier candles!

  • Jennie/Tikka

    Suzy –

    There was drama during my time in school, too – 98% of happening to and with our particular class, though it wasn’t because of the cooking itself. We were legendary in CSCA history because of it.

    Side note: My Baking 110 instructor was diabetic.

    We had a staggering amount of things to cover in one evening class period (I took the night classes as well). We started at 3 and ended around 11. If we were late with getting the food to the Chef’s table, we got out later. Nobody wanted to be there past 11 so we were done on time. For all you non-culinary school people keep in mind this includes cleaning all our own dishes and utensils, and, SCRUBBING DOWN THE KITCHEN EVERY NIGHT. All the cleaning crews did was mop the floors.

    On any given night we had a huge list of things to make that night and to prep for the next night.

    Here’s an example. Here’s what you had to know by the end of Week 3 in Baking 130 –
    (p.s. there were only 6 weeks in class total):

    Biscuit joconde, french buttercream, ganache, battenburg sponge, marzipan, coffee rum syrup, gateau opera, almond meringue discs, how to assemble a Battenburg, Feuille d’Automne, all variations of chocolate mousse, poached fruits, lemon curd, 3 variations on ganache, poured sugar, spun sugar, caramel cages, swiss meringue nests, French meringue, Italian meringue.

    Here’s the syllabus for that week (we stuck to it):

    Day 11 – Theory: Discuss European layered gateaux, tortes, etc.
    Review cake batter mixing method
    Discuss difference between Italian and French buttercream

    Demonstration: European style layered cakes
    Practical: European style layered cakes
    Homework: Read Chapter 12, Cake Mixing and Baking

    Day 12:
    Theory: Discuss meringue production and uses
    Discuss difference between French, Italian, and Swiss meringues
    Talk through assembly of Battenburg cake

    Demonstration: European style layered cakes assembly
    Practical: European style layered cakes assembly
    Homework: Review cake mixixg and baking procedure
    Read Ch. 20: Chocolate

    Day 13:
    Theory: Discuss dessert platter presentation
    Recap meringue production methods
    Review Feuille d’Automne production

    Demonstration: Meringue based desserts
    Practical Meringue based desserts
    Homework: Review Chocolate
    Finalize plans for dessert platter

    Day 14
    Theory: Meringue
    Discuss meringue faults in baked meringues
    Discuss sugar cooking techniques
    Review sugar cooking temps

    Demonstration: Introduction to sugar work
    Practical Intro to sugar work
    Homework: Review course contents for final exam

    So basically by Pastry 130 (16 weeks into the program) were were constructing those enormous 5 foot high sugar pieces and working on wedding cakes.

    There was no buddying-up either – each individual had to produce a full set of products to the chef every night.

  • can call me "Chef" Suzy

    The buddy system thing has become a huge problem. It’s caused by the school’s new practice of packing students into classes.

    Actually, it was my insistance on doing the my projects on my own that made me unpopular with many other students. It jeopardized their CYA of their very effective method of cheating; the buddy system.

    Since I could finish the stuff alone in a much shorter time than another student could do their share of the project — times 3 or 4 — while their friends hung out at the bar or slept in the dorm room, it made things uncomfortable for all, including the Chef — who was pressured to look the other way at the CEC controlled schools behest.

  • can call me "Chef" Suzy

    Carolina and Jennie: In reading my own bleary-eyed post from last night, I realized that I may have given you the wrong impression…

    I had/have NO issue whatsoever with anyone who has health or physical issues being admitted to c-school — or ANY school or profession.

    What I did have a prob with is that these particular students used their own issues to conveniently wriggle out of doing whatever work they did not feel like doing, whenever it was convenient for them.

    My mother is severly allergic and has asthma, and so does my brother. I know what an impending severe allergic reaction looks like, and what to do to remediate it.

    The girl with allergies reappeared in my two more of my classes and she almost daily claimed to be about to have an attack as soon as it was time to start doing any hands on work.

    At first, like the mom I am, I ran over with my little purse emergency kit with offers of Benadryl, cortisone cream, Sudaphed, etc., but Allergy Girl always insisted that the only cure was to “go lie down at home”, and she managed to arrange to have a succession of other student s do virtually all of her work for her.

    On the second to last day of the last class, her own class boyfriend finally even lost his temper with her and said “How are you gonna get a job when you have never actually done ANY of the work yourself?”.

    In the first couple of weeks, the diabetic girl talked as though the school was finally a place to escape her mother’s over-protectiveness, and she went on an eating binge that even she sniggeringly admitted would “give her mother a fit”.
    …What it did was land her in the hospital by the 3rd week of class, and she was forced to drop out on doctors orders…

    One of my own personal interests is coming up with recipes for people on restricted diets, including my mother. I myself have a digestive prob which is aggravated by yeast and sugar. I am STILL on medication trying to shake the systemic yeast infection I contracted during breads class — which was further aggravated by my own foolhardiness in thinking that a few months of tasting what we made in class wouldnt do any lasting damage…I was wrong.

  • can call me "Chef" Suzy

    Hey Carolina — I love what you’re doing! I wish that your bakery was a little closer to here. I tried to email you via your blog site, but I couldn’t find a “contact” link.

    One of the things I’ve been considering is looking into the UC Davis Food Chem program. I am fascinated by this stuff. It’s kind of a hobby of mine.

    It amuses me no end when I see baby “chefs” pulling vials of chemicals that anyone can buy in a drugstore, and using them to pull off magic tricks that any commercial food chemist would scoff at.

    What’s even funnier is Ferran Adria’s website where he sells repackaged stuff like agar and guar gum for $$$ like it’s cocaine. What a scam!

    I have a little food product development project that I’m working on, and I’d love some advice. Where can I get ahold of you?

  • Ray Gallo

    Anybody who feels CCA’s representations were accurate is welcome to share all relevant information with me. I am interested in a just result here, nothing more or less. If CCA told the truth, that’s different from what I’ve heard, so tell me.

    And I’ll gladly dismiss the suit and waive our fee (despite of having already done tens of thousands of dollars worth of work) if CCA/CEC will promptly refund the money of all those who feel misled, and pay the interest on the high-interest loans of all those CCA graduates, if any, whom CCA wrongly failed to tell that it was receiving benefits from lenders for selling above-market rate loans.

    It does concern me that so many students report being misled as to placement realities and starting salaries, and that there are reports CCA received undisclosed benefits from lenders for selling above-market loans.

    Contrary to the imagination of some sources quoted above, my firm is a reputable firm with a very real client list. We have degrees from top notch schools and were trained in some of the best big name law firms. We only seek to bring consumer cases against people who, based on our investigation, appear to us to have intentionally misled people in order to sell their produdcts or services. (As a economist by training, I believe that removing false-hype about products or services from the marketplace is good for business and consumers both.)

    You can blame the victim if you want. Victims are always, in retrospect, ill advised. In retrospect, they should have done something else. But they’re still victims. And just because you were smarter than they were, if you were, that doesn’t mean you should be either unkind or unsympathetic.

    We would like to hear from all CCA students and graduates, satisfied or unsatisifed. We do want to ensure that all those who feel wronged speak with us and, if appropriate, join in the lawsuit we filed yesterday.