To school, or not to school, is no small debate in the restaurant industry. "If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer, you kind of have to go to school,
Executive Chef Dory Ford Sets Up The Sustainable Cafe At The 2007 Red Bull Races In Monterey.
but cooking is a trade. I'm sorry, but it's a blue-collar job," says Dory Ford, executive chef for the Portola Restaurant and Cafe and in-house catering service at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in a recent article at US News and World Report.
According to a survey of 1,730 kitchen professionals released in May by the industry insider website StarChefs.com, the average starting salary for a line cook in 2007 was $13.07 an hour, while the average salary for an executive chef was $77,611.
In 2007, executive sous chefs earned an average of $55,679, sous chefs $42,104, and pastry chefs $53,017, according to the survey. Executive chefs at country clubs or private dining operations earned the most of those in the categories surveyed (an average of $87,068 a year), followed by hotel executive chefs ($86,066), fine dining executive chefs ($78,348), and upscale casual executive chefs ($69,708).
Longevity is the key to bringing in those top salaries. Of those surveyed, chefs averaged between 15 and 20 years in the industry, while executive chefs earning six figures had more than 24 years of experience.
"When I think about modern cooking school education, I've got young kids getting out of school carrying $60,000 in debt and they come into my office and I tell them, '$9.50 to $10 an hour to start.' And they're being told by cooking schools they'll start out making $15 an hour," Ford says.
Ford says he was expelled from cooking school because he worked too many hours at an outside job. He is now pursuing his master's certification from the Culinary Institute of America.
Ford says he has talked some people out of going to cooking school and recommends that anyone who wants to get a culinary school education, to work in the industry first.
If school isn't your thing, you can still obtain knowledge by taking specific classes in sauces, charcuterie, pastry, or the like, he says.
"I have had [culinary] students who have done well and those who didn't do well, and I've had employees with no experience do well. It's all about individual personality," Ford says "I look for passion, whether they've gone to school or not, because then I know they will pay attention, that their answer will always be, 'yes, chef.' "