‘Top Chef’ Dreams Crushed by Student Loan Debt

That's the title of an article in the Online Ledger by Kim Severson.  It kinda goes like this:

"Mr. Park wanted to be a chef. So like tens of thousands of other young people who grew up in the age of kitchen celebrities like Bobby Flay and Emeril Lagasse, he enrolled in culinary school.

Two years after graduation, all the “Bam!” has been drained from the dream. Mr. Park makes $10.50 an hour at a bistro in Austin best known for its French fries, trying to pay down his student loans. While he dodges phone calls from the bank, his mother helps him make his $705 monthly payments, almost twice his weekly take-home pay.

“I wouldn’t wish this on anyone,” Mr. Park, 29, said before starting another night shift at the Hyde Park Bar and Grill. “I put my degree on applications, and they make fun of me for it.” "

What Ms. Severson doesn't know, or doesn't care about, is that, in my opinion, Mr. Park is a lackluster cook.  How do I know this?  Because he managed to lower my grade in a class when I had him for a partner.  After that experience, I made sure that my class partners were set up weeks in advance to avoid dealing with him again.  I'd describe him as worse than lackluster, but he may have improved after graduation… maybe, but probably not.  And in school, he really sucked; once again, that is simply my opinion.    And I documented this in a few of my old culinary school posts.  Here are a few of them:

An introduction to my Partner from Hell
Good use for a saute pan
Wanna pan-fry his head…
I will never partner with him again!
Read the second paragraph
Read the second paragraph here too
Read the second and fifth paragraph

I finally got tired of even thinking about him by our third class and ignored him as much as possible after that.  Why did my name for him change so much?  At first, some of us at school thought that he was 'chemically enhanced', but it didn't take long to notice the strong odor of alchohol that wafted off of him almost every day. 

Now you're asking yourself, what does any of that have to do with crushing student loan payments that were completely unexpected?  They weren't unexpected.  I know he had to sign the same disclaimer that I did… the one that stated that we'd be LUCKY to make $20,000 a year after graduation.  And 16% interest on the loan?  <cough>STUPID!<cough>  You never sign something you don't understand, 'specially if money is involved.

My final and most important point is that many of us knew that culinary pay sucks when you start out, and for many, the rest of your career.  We didn't go to culinary school to become the next celebrity chef–we did this because we're insane–or passionate about food–depending on your point of view. But if Rick's work in the culinary field is anything like his work in many of his classes, I'm not surprised that he's having problems. He liked food, he just didn't seem to be any good handling it (yes, I'm still upset at him for dragging down my grade). I think the only thing I regret about culinary school is physically restraining one of my classmates when she was ready to slam Rick upside the back of his head with a frying pan. That would have been worth the money.

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An Introduction to a Snarkygurl

Terrified, excited and scared to death. That’s the description of what I’m feeling right now. After 11 years as a Technical Writer and even longer working in the high tech industry, I’m ready to ditch it all and change careers. The thought of finding another job creating unread user manuals and documentation was more than I could handle. So I’ve decided to become a Chef. Yes, I’ll be making less money, and I’ll be going back into debt… but for once someone will actually USE something I’ve created. There are many other reason for this decision, but first and foremost is that I will be doing something I’ve always loved to do.

What worries me the most is the cost–$40K–for a degree in the Le Cordon Bleu program at the Texas Culinary Academy in Austin. I have a house and bills to deal with and working only part-time will barely cover that. But I’m going into debt anyway knowing that I won’t be looking back when I’m retired and wondering why I wasted so much of my life doing work that I hated (I may be good at it – but being a technical writer in the semiconductor field just SUCKS).

I did a lot of research on culinary schools and careers, and then went and visited a few here in Austin. Someone at TCA took the time to give me a tour of the school, introduced me to some of the instructors, and sat me down and showed how all the classes were structured and what I would be learning in each one. I left knowing that I had to get into that school somehow… maybe it was the atmosphere or maybe it was just the sight of all those gleaming student kitchens. I’m a sucker for a big beautiful kitchen. Yes, attending a LCB program is expensive, but it’ll give me the contacts and networking opportunities that I wouldn’t have with another local school. And I need that boost since I’m starting out in this career later than most people (and it doesn’t hurt that it also comes with an Associates of Applied Science). My husband is freaking out about the cost, but even he agrees that this specific school is the best choice for me at this time. It’s funny, now that I’ve set all of this in motion, my friends and family are asking me why it took so long for me to decide to become a chef. Ummm, if they all knew this was the job for me–why didn’t someone mention it 18 years ago? Or was this something I had to figure out on my own?

Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I started on this path from the begining instead of wandering all over the place trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Part of it bothers me because I’ve wasted so many years. If I had known that culinary training was an option, my career choices would have been different. And I definitely would have started at a cheaper school – Austin Community College has a pretty good program – or maybe I would have gone to Johnson and Wales on the East Coast. I don’t know why it never occurred to me that you COULD go to school for it…. man, I must have been a stupid kid. But on the other hand–it might have also been wasted on me at that time. Now I know that I have to put everything I have into my education, and I also have the drive, ambition and single-mindedness that I was lacking in college.

Tomorrow morning is Orientation at TCA and I’ll finally get to meet my classmates and instructors. We were given a recipe to try and discuss there, and it was…. um, interesting. I’ll talk about it tomorrow after I find out if it was a test or just crappy instructions.