As U.S. Bids Adieu To Le Cordon Bleu, Not All Chefs Say It's Cream Of The Crop : The Salt Despite a thriving foodie scene, 16 Le Cordon Bleu cooking schools will soon close. Some restaurateurs say the brand's aura has unnecessarily lured grads into the field and saddled them with debt.

As U.S. Bids Adieu To 'Bleu,' Not All Chefs Say It's Cream Of The Crop

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

The French culinary institute Le Cordon Bleu is iconic to Americans thanks to its very famous graduate.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JULIA CHILD: This is Julia Child. Bon appetit.

MARTIN: She and Le Cordon Bleu helped bring classic French cuisine into the American kitchen. Now the institute is closing its 16 cooking schools in the U.S. Some chefs think that's a good move. Curt Nickisch from member station WBUR in Boston has the story.

CURT NICKISCH, BYLINE: Shiso Kitchen, just outside of Boston, is capitalizing on the recent American food fetish. Jess Roy teaches people like you and me how to cook like a celebrity chef.

JESS ROY: Remember, what is the flavor profile that we're treating it here? A little bit of what?

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Sweet and hot.

ROY: Yes, sweet heat. Sweet heat.

NICKISCH: Until she started her business two years ago, Roy taught at Le Cordon Bleu Boston. It will close after graduating its current crop of students.

ROY: I'm sad about it.

NICKISCH: Roy says for decades the classic image of a chef in crisp whites has drawn people into the restaurant industry.

ROY: I just hope that it doesn't put a damper on anybody's inspiration to follow this path because being a chef, although it's a hard life, it's a great life.

NICKISCH: Not everyone agrees American cooking schools are losing the creme de la creme.

SCOTT JONES: I run one of the best restaurants in the country. I haven't hired anybody out of Le Cordon Bleu in years.

NICKISCH: Scott Jones is chef de cuisine at the French restaurant Menton, where his staff of 12 is preparing tonight's menu.

JONES: Apple and celery bulutay (ph) to go with the bay scallops, palm puree for the artichoke dish.

NICKISCH: Jones says with the foodie boom, demand for chefs is higher than ever. He says Le Cordon Bleu grads aren't ready to run a kitchen.

JONES: Kids come out of culinary school and come in and say, I want a job as a sous chef. And I say, no, you have to start at the bottom like anyone else.

NICKISCH: Those entry-level jobs - cutting, blanching and glossing vegetables - don't pay very well. Jones says grads can come out of two years of culinary school with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans.

JONES: You learn infinitely more in a restaurant like this than you would anywhere else virtually. The idea that anyone would want to come into this industry with debt is ludicrous.

NICKISCH: Executives at Career Education Corporation, the for-profit company that runs Le Cordon Bleu in the U.S., declined an interview. In a statement, CEO Todd Nelson blames changing federal support for high-cost career schools like his.

EDUARDO DONOSO: First day, you know, they brought you around. They put you in a chef's uniform, white jacket, hat, make it seem like you can afford it.

NICKISCH: Eduardo Donoso graduated from the Boston school three years ago. Today he's a sous chef at a German restaurant nearby. He's paying off student loans. But he says Le Cordon Bleu gave him confidence and a foot in the door, but not for everyone.

DONOSO: A lot of my classmates either dropped out or just got their degree but now are doing something completely different, selling cell phones at Best Buy.

NICKISCH: Donoso says the key for him is passion. He's willing to work long hours in a hot, chaotic kitchen. For NPR News, I'm Curt Nickisch in Boston.

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