Culinary school, at a cheaper price

Chef Farid Zadi and wife, Susan Park

Kai Ryssdal: So you want to be a chef? There are a lot of you out there, as the rise in cooking school applications can attest, not to mention all those cooking shows on the Food Network and beyond. But before you jump in, consider the cost. An associate's degree in the culinary arts can run you anywhere from $29,000 to $45,000. When you get out, you might not be making much more than $10 an hour. Paying back those school loans becomes a whole lot tougher. Federal regulators are leaning on for-profit schools like these to make sure students get the education they need to have careers successful enough not to leave them with mounds of student debt.

But Chef Farid Zadi has another idea.

Farid Zadi: Hi, I am Chef Farid Zadi. I am the dean of culinary arts at Ecole de Cuisine Los Angeles.

Susan Park: And I'm Susan Park, the program director of Ecole de Cuisine, and I'm Mrs. Chef Fareed Zadi.

Chef Zadi and Susan opened Ecole de Cuisine in Pasadena last fall. Aspiring chefs can learn knife skills, basics like how to chop an onion, or brunoise it -- as I now know it's called, but we'll get to that later. They learn the art of sauteing, how to make a good soup, and more complicated dishes -- for about a quarter of the tuition that a bigger, nationwide culinary school might charge.

Zadi: The students that I have, they pay probably what I paid when I was in culinary school like 30 years ago.

That would be for the whole suite of courses, around $10,000 or $11,000. Chef Zadi keeps costs down by renting the facilities he uses: ovens, refrigerators, industrial mixers included.

Park: So our initial investment costs were just small things -- sautee pans, stock pots.

Chef Zadi was teaching at one of those big brand name cooking schools when he came up with the idea for Ecole de Cuisine. He'd been watching his students struggle with the time and costs of a full-time cooking program.

Zadi: So no car, no place for yourself to live -- you have to live with your parents and all that. To me, the time will pay off, if that is what you really want to do. It's a tough time. It's not party time every day.

Park: And the top students, they could realistically move up the line, if they get lucky, in two to three years. Some people will never make it.

So it's good that a lot of Zadi's students have other things going on. Some are food writers. Some manage restaurants and don't cook at all. Some are graphic designers and engineers who just like food.

Lisa Gilliam works in retail by day, she de-bones chickens by night.

Lisa Gilliam: I considered going to Le Cordon Bleu but the tuition obviously, the way they had it, I couldn't hold a job and go to school; it had to be one or the other.

She can do both because she can take as many classes, or as few, as she likes.

Amber Reed works on websites and mobile apps from nine-to-five.

Amber Reed: And you can kind of pick and choose. Maybe people want to do baking but want to learn just a little bit of culinary basics, how to to chop and those types of basic techniques.

I've got some basic techniques myself, so of course I took advantage of my time with Chef Zadi. Which gets us back to brunoise and those onions.

Zadi: Brunoise is supposed to be one-eighth of an inch, a little square, that is one-eighth of an inch.

Ryssdal: You're much faster than me.

Zadi: Of course. All right, am I going to come over and see that they are all one-eighth of an inch?

Ryssdal: I think you will.

Zadi: Probably not.

Ryssdal: I think you will.

Zadi: I am not a maniac.

Ryssdal: Oh come on. I did all right.

You be the judge. Be kind though: remember, I was sick. My whole cooking lesson was caught on video, which I agreed to for some reason. Check it out.

About the author

Kai Ryssdal is the host and senior editor of Marketplace, public radio’s program on business and the economy.

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