Yes, culinary school definitely gives beginning candidates an advantage over the competition. They have been taught the basics, now is the time to move forward and continue their education in the kitchen. Chef career opportunities include catering, fine restaurants, franchises, hotels and many other food-related environments. No matter where you find a job as a chef, culinary arts education provides the backbone of knowledge and skills that will help you land your first position.
If you want to say “worth it” in terms of the satisfaction of learning a trade systematically and accelerating the learning process compared to that of a work-trained cook, then yes, cooking school is definitely worth it. If you want to say if it's a good ROI, my answer is a little less enthusiastic. Unlike other vocational schools, cooks don't see much income starting with or without a cooking school; and chefs don't need a license, so cooking school is not an essential credential compared to, for example, nursing school. That way, carefully consider community colleges, many of which are lower priced than a private culinary school and work just as well, or universities that, while not competitively priced like community colleges, offer more than culinary education.
Regardless of the program you choose, you can expect to get an education directly related to jobs in the food service industry. This means that all classes will adapt to what you need to know as a chef, baker, or business owner within the industry. For example, instead of taking a regular math class, you could take a Mathematics and Accounting class for Food Service or, instead of a history class, you could take a class on Cultures of the World and Influence on Cooking. The dean of culinary arts at the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, Brendan Walsh, says that since their first day of school, CIA students also taste, touch and feel ingredients, and develop their perceptions of condiments.
Bypassing culinary school to work in a restaurant is really just the beginning of a different kind of culinary education. Culinary arts programs at community colleges are probably the most affordable option, and dedicated culinary schools or institutes will cost a little more. Yes, graduates of cooking schools often move quickly to management and, today, top chefs went to cooking school most of the time, a big difference from previous years. You will see a separation between professional and professional, with a higher standard for cooking schools and a greater focus on master classes for continuing culinary education.
Finally, online culinary education is also an option, especially through larger, nationally recognized culinary schools, such as Escoffier School of Culinary Arts. The CIA's dean of culinary arts, Brendan Walsh, and the director of communications, Jeff Levine, say that for-profit culinary schools, which can afford to spread their message to a wider audience with television commercials, complicate things for nonprofit organizations like the CIA. On the other hand, he says, there is another problem with the system when cooks take jobs in hotels and resorts right out of cooking school. But having a degree or certification from a culinary school doesn't necessarily give job applicants an advantage, as several other chefs have indicated.
All of the various culinary school programs vary in length, class structure, and approach, but one can have a reasonable expectation of leaving culinary school with a basic knowledge of the terms used in cooking. Even cooking school administrators will tell you that you probably shouldn't go to cooking school if you're only interested in being a celebrity chef or a Food Network personality. But why is it focusing on culinary school? While Besh recognizes that a culinary school (and especially a high-level school like the CIA) may not be necessary for a cooking career, he argues: “Through the excellent education you get through these scholarships and mentoring, you don't have to settle for it anymore. He likes to hire culinary school graduates and says he would probably consider them before a candidate who didn't attend culinary school.