I immediately decided to write about Alyssa, a line chef working at Huertas in NYC, who I learned about in my latest read Generation Chef: Risking It All for a New American Dreamwritten by Karen Stabiner.* Alyssa owed close to $80,000 in student loan debt incurred while she attended CIA in Hyde Park, New York. She paid for her entire bachelor’s degree with student loans; at the time she thought the degree was essential because she hadn’t gone to college. She was well-paid for a line cook at $13 an hour – most New York City line cooks earned an hourly rate of between $8 and $12. Making ends meet after her loan repayment’s temporary reduction expired became impossible.And what can we do, politically and personally, to ensure that more people do not end up in the same situation, rather than simply explaining the best and most efficient ways to crawl out of it?
She ended up moving back to her childhood home in Southern California to live with her mom. Her first food job had been at a restaurant on the Disneyland property in Anaheim. She hoped to return to one of the Disneyland restaurants. They paid well and offered sizable benefits. She figured with no rent and no food costs she would be able to make a sizable dent in her debt in two to three years.
Other annual salaries mentioned in Generation Chef:
Sous Chef $36,000-$38,000
Jonah (restaurant owner) $50,000.
Is a culinary degree worth it?
The chefs featured in the article Chefs Weigh In; Is Culinary School Worth It? say it is not. Jonah, Huertas’ owner, describes culinary school as a “parochial” experience and is wary of graduates, although he feels hiring Alyssa was an exception.
Then there are articles like this one: Surprising jobs with $100K salaries -- after only a two-year degree. The #1 career on the list is pastry chef. I was touting the earning potential of pastry chefs, to a friend when she brought me back to reality. Her niece made $11 an hour as a pastry chef only because she worked for another family member. After that restaurant closed, the niece moved to Denver where she now works at a popular restaurant earning $9 an hour frosting cakes and cupcakes.
Then there is the 14-year old daughter of an acquaintance who dreams of going to culinary school and becoming a pastry chef. Her father’s advice: become a software engineer, work in Silicon Valley earning $200,000 a year for 20 years, then retire and open a bakery as your second career.
*In Generation Chef: Risking It All for a New American Dream, Stabiner follows Jonah for a little more than a year as he fulfills his childhood dream of opening a restaurant. His journey isn’t for the faint of heart; despite all his planning and positive reviews, he faced staffing shortages, $700,000 of debt, failed liquor license approvals and not enough customers. If you have dreams of someday owning your own restaurant I recommend reading Generation Chef for a reality check.
What do you think: is a Culinary Degree worth It?
Please Note, I am an Amazon Affiliate