Shiso Kitchen, just outside of Boston, is capitalizing on recent American food fetish. There, Jess Roy teaches people like you and me how to cook like a celebrity chef.
Until she started her business two years ago, Roy taught at Le Cordon Bleu Boston. It’s now one of 16 Le Cordon Bleu schools in the U.S. due to close after graduating its current crop of students.
The French culinary institute Le Cordon Bleu is iconic to Americans, thanks to its famous graduate, Julia Child, who helped bring classic French cuisine into the American kitchen.
“I’m sad about it,” Jess Roy says.
For decades, she adds, the classic image of a chef in crisp whites has drawn people into the restaurant industry.
“I just hope that it doesn’t put a damper on anybody’s inspiration to follow this path because being a chef, although it’s a hard life, it’s a great life,” she says.
Not everyone agrees American cooking schools are losing the crème de la crème.
“I run one of the best restaurants in the country,” says Scott Jones, the chef de cuisine at the French restaurant Menton. “I haven’t hired anyone out of Le Cordon Bleu in years.”
He says with foodie boom, the demand for chefs is higher than ever. And he doesn’t think Le Cordon Bleu grads are ready to run a kitchen.
“Kids come out of culinary school and say, ‘I want a job as a sous chef.’ And I say, ‘No, you have to start at the bottom like anyone else!'” Jones says.
Those entry-level jobs cutting, blanching and glazing vegetables don’t pay very well. And he says grads can come out of two years of culinary school with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.
“You learn infinitely more in a restaurant like this than you would anywhere else, virtually,” he adds. “The idea that anyone would want to come into this industry with debt is ludicrous.”
Executives at Career Education Corporation, the for-profit company that runs Le Cordon Bleu in the U.S., declined an interview. In a statement, CEO Todd Nelson blames changing federal support for high-cost career schools like his.
After graduating from the Boston school three years ago, Eduardo Donoso is now a sous chef at a German restaurant nearby. He’s still paying off student loans, but he says Le Cordon Bleu gave him confidence and a foot in the door.
“First day they brought you around, you know, they put you in a chef’s uniform, white jacket, hat. Make you feel like you can afford it,” he says.
But that’s not the case for everyone, he says.
“A lot of my classmates either dropped out or got the degree but are doing something completely different. Selling cell phones at Best Buy,” he says.
Donoso says the key for him is passion: He’s willing to work long hours in a hot, chaotic kitchen.