SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Food enthusiasts have been enrolling in culinary school in growing numbers, lured by dreams of working as gourmet chefs or opening their own restaurants. For many graduates, however, those dreams have turned into financial nightmares, as they struggle to pay off hefty student loans and find work in a cutthroat industry known for its long hours and low pay.

Now, some former students are suing for-profit cooking schools to get their money back, saying they were misled by recruiters about the value of culinary education and their job prospects after graduation.

“They just oversold it and pushed it. They made misleading statements to lure you in,” said Emily Journey, 26, a plaintiff in a class-action lawsuit against San Francisco’s California Culinary Academy, part of Career Education Corp.’s chain of 16 Le Cordon Bleu cooking schools. In 2004, Journey was a recent high school graduate, dreaming of opening her own bakery, when she enrolled in a 7-month program in pastry and baking arts at the San Francisco school. Recruiters convinced her it was a worthwhile investment and helped her borrow $30,000 to pay for it.

After finishing the program, the only job she could find paid $8 an hour to work the night shift at an Oregon bakery — “something anyone could have gotten without a culinary certificate,” she said.

Journey, who now lives in Bakersfield, has abandoned her baker’s dream and now plans to attend community college to become a nurse or dietitian. Without the settlement money, she will be paying for that culinary certificate for another 15 years. “Was it worth the money and the time to have this loan hanging over my head?” she asked. “Absolutely not.”

Two other Le Cordon Bleu schools — the California School of Culinary Arts in Pasadena and the Western Culinary Institute in Portland — also face lawsuits from former students who say they were duped by deceptive advertising, particularly the schools’ job placement rates.

I guess the saying “you get what you pay for” doesn’t apply here.

  1. Bob says:

    Let me paraphrase the article for those who don’t want to read through the entire story.

    “OMG!! I made stupid decision about my future! I know I didn’t bother to do any research before taking out a 30K loan, but that doesn’t matter!

    The government should come in and protect me from myself!!”

  2. mattarse says:

    From almost a decade of working in kitchens I can say that all the people complaining in the article don’t seem to have ever worked ina kitchen – otherwise they would know the reality. Unless you have experience obtained at nice restaurants – that degree won’t mean anything. All it might help with is getting you a job doing prep, or some other grunt work without having towash dishes for a few months.

    After 10-15 years of working the line it might help (emphasize the might) you to beat someone else for a sous chef position, but not if someone else has a little more experience.

    Where I have seen it help is when people want to move from the kitchen to restaurant management – but even then it’s a highly competitive field, filed with people who have been passionate about it, and are willing to do the grunt work for along time.

    I think most of these people didn’t know what they were getting into – but could have solved that by first working in a kitchen for a year and talking to the people doing the job.

  3. Steve says:

    Who do I sue to get back the time I spent reading this ?

  4. Gildersleeve says:

    Steve, you nailed it – thanks!

  5. Cursor_ says:

    Culinary school is worthless.

    You start by dish washing and busing tables.

    And you work long and next to nothing until you learn all you need. Will take years but you will be making the money, not spending 30-50k of it.

    Noy much money but positive income is better than debt.


  6. jescott418 says:

    My cousin got out of the Army and went to a school thinking he would make a decent living cooking for a major restaurant chain. Its very much a joke,and he even was a cook in the Army. So he was not starting from no experience. Its a joke these so called learn and earn kind of programs.
    People really need to investigate on their own.

  7. Olo Baggins of Bywater says:

    mattarse: thanks for the perspective.

    Key here is the role of the recruiter and the lies told by the school in their quest to get at that student loan money. This is far too common in private career schools.

    Last year some reforms were made to the fed student loan system. There has been talk of limiting Pell grants and loans where upon graduation students can’t earn enough to repay the loans. This story would seem to qualify…but anybody can make a loan and call it a “student” loan, so regs might be tough to enforce if a school is shady enough.

  8. sean says:

    She wants to go back to school again to become a dietitian!! What’s that paying these days? She is not the sharpest knife.

  9. Glenn E. says:

    It’s surprising that we’ve not heard of anyone suing Microsoft, for the $5k or more, that it costs to get MS Certified, to work in IT or PC repair. And then people find out that it’s totally bogus. Especially when they keep changing the OS every four years. And most shops don’t even require any knowledge or expertise in Windows, to work for them. In fact, they might turn you down, for being “over-qualified”, and expecting more pay then they’re willing to give.

    A couple years back, I was talking to a guy who was thinking it wasn’t worth the expense to get MS “re-certified” for IT work, when nobody was hiring, at that time. And I’ll just bet that a lot of guys on the “Geek Squad” aren’t certified either. What a scam, that is.

  10. Glenn E. says:

    Ya know (and I’ve said this before), whenever something profitable is in trouble, Hollywood makes a movie or Tv series about it. Thus all this sudden wave of “Hell’s Kitchen” and “Master Chef” Tv shows on FOX, and other networks. And just who can afford to do all this eating out, in this economy? These student chefs better start learning to cook and speak Chinese. Because that’s going to be the only food and place in the world, that’s on the climb, in fine dining out. The rest of us can only afford cheap family fare. And then only rarely. We wouldn’t be getting a brand new “Gino’s” burger joint in my town, if the local “Outback” was getting all the biz.

  11. Glenn E. says:

    Oh, I forgot what point I was making before, about Hollywood. They make movies and Tv shows about Horse racing, when that’s failing. They make movies about Baseball, whenever there’s a strike and no games being played. The make movies and Tv shows about Las Vegas, when the tourism there is in a slump. And now we’re seeing upcoming Tv shows about Pan-Am (a defunct Airlines) and Playboy’s old “Club” (closed decades ago). And I’m thinking it’s because both are in trouble, and really need the sales boost a lame Tv series might provide, from zombified Americans who go wherever and buy whatever Tv tells them to.

    Why is Hollywood such a tool of these other industries, that it devotes script development to saving their bacon? Something to do with studio board members being on the boards of these other businesses, perhaps? Think about it.