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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