I, too, drank the Kool Aid. I was collecting unemployment and took on student loan debt I couldn't pay. Thanks to my wife's real estate investments, the debt is paid. But I damaged my credit to the point that I have trouble getting a credit card, a financial tool that's crucial to doing my job.
On one hand, one could argue that attending culinary school got me where I am today. On the other hand, Rick Park of Austin, Texas, makes a great point:
"I wouldn't wish this on anyone," he said. "I put my degree on applications, and they make fun of me for it."
The New York Times notes that many as 11 percent of graduates at some culinary schools are defaulting on federal student loans. The national average for all students last year was roughly half that, at 5.1 percent. Although the restaurant industry is expected to create two million new jobs in the next decade, the Department of Labor reports that in 2005, the latest year for which data were available, the average hourly wage for a restaurant cook was $9.86.
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It's an ugly cycle: blue-collar kids of limited means seduced into thinking they'll be the next Bobby Flay. Then the bill comes. "Bam!" Right in the credit rating.
I remember a conversation with my lawyer, a person I greatly respect (and not just because he holds my get-out-of-jail-free card). I told my lawyer I was enrolling in the California Culinary Academy.
"Why not go to San Francisco City College instead?" he asked. "It's cheaper and you'll learn just as much."
"The culinary academy is more prestigious," I said.
A year and a half later, I was hard up for a $10-an-hour-job.
My lawyer told me so.
Anyone out there got culinary school dreams? Or nightmares? Read this story or talk to me.