Wednesday, October 06, 2010

the bastards ground me down

It seemed innocent enough. I was offered $20,000 to go to culinary school. What an amazing opportunity! Little did I know the toll it would take. I started classes in July. After the first week I was panicked because I didn't fit in, not even a little bit. My classmates were half my age and incredibly rowdy. Every class period was like a junior high lunch room, with people yelling, cursing, carrying on conversations throughout class (both with each other and on their cell phones) and engaging in horseplay. I'm serious about learning, passionate about culinary arts and respectful and professional. Few of my classmates share any of those traits.

I talked to some of them, explaining I hadn't been in school for twenty years so it was harder for me to concentrate when they were loud and. A few of them seemed chastened and behaved more maturely. A couple became belligerent and called me everything from uptight to a racist. Most just ignored me and kept on being disruptive.

Next I went to my teachers, who agreed it was out of hand and started shushing the classes when they got too loud. That wasn't very successful so it escalated to threats of ejection from class. Nobody got kicked out but the obnoxious behavior continued, so I went up the chain to the chair of my department. The next class meeting everyone was seated alphabetically. It took four weeks but this finally broke up the worst of the cliques and the Romper Room atmosphere was toned down enough for me to make it through my first quarter.

Monday night was my first class of this quarter and I walked into even more chaos than I had back in July. When I enrolled at AI I was told my kitchen classes would have no more than 15 to 18 students. Last night we had 26. We only have work stations for a maximum of 20 and the kitchen is stocked for about 15 students so we quickly ran out of everything. It was a mad dash to grab what you could, when you could.

When the teacher left to get more ingredients or equipment more than half the class would erupt into horseplay. The last straw for me was when I was helping a fellow student wash all the dishes. I was putting them away from the drying rack and there was a cluster of our classmates standing beside us in a circle doing freestyle rap while people would enter the circle and breakdance. I asked one of them to help me put away the dishes and responded, "You ain't my massa."

I withdrew from classes today. I simply can't endure another quarter like last one. It's not worth my time or effort when The Art Institute can't create an environment in which I can learn. Rather than being the pissed off grumpy old man I decided to remove myself from the situation. I appreciate the opportunity I was given by the Food Network. I sincerely wish I could have taken advantage of it.

I don't know what my next step might be. It probably won't be culinary school, at least for a while.


  1. Hi Charles,

    don't worry, in future they will realize certainly.

    all i can say is "why you need to take a medicine, if they are sick"

    good luck!!!

  2. Oh no, this is not good. I was so hoping you would get through it all and reach your goal.
    Is there no way to resolve the situation? Youth is wasted on the young.

  3. Charles. I applaud your effort to try something totally different, follow a personal passion and move out of your comfort zone.

    Sounds like the AI really stands for the "Amateur Institute". It's a bad reflection on the school/institute that they can't manage the kids let alone teach. Looks like they are more focused on tuition fees than setting professional standards. On face value, it looks like you did the right thing by withdrawing.

    I did a few years of martial arts and the best advice I ever got was "Better to spend 10 years looking for the right teacher, than train for 10 years under the wrong one".

    There is a lot you can read into that saying, so take a moment to think about what it means to you. Don't be afraid to set your standard you seek, and pursue it for what it's worth to you. There is probably a good culinary school out there for you. If you still have the desire, recharge, and try again but have a criteria. Like, what sort of grads do they turn out, and do they get jobs at prestigious kitchens.

    Don't be surprised that you may be running a kitchen one day, and some of those kids might end up looking for work with you. Won't that be an awkward moment for them..LOL

  4. Hi Charles,

    I agree very much with guiliocc. Find an institution that takes the subject as seriously as you do. If it's a dream worth pursing, and I think getting a culinary degree is for those who truly love food, it ought be worth dusting your shoes off and going out there to find a better place to learn.

    Best regards,


  5. Thanks for the support, everyone.

    guilocc - I believe AI is primarily interested in collecting tuition fees. The quality of the education provided is second at best. I'm just glad I didn't pay for this out of my own pocket.

    Keith - It would require a significant change in policy for AI to resolve the issue. First they would have to enforce smaller class sizes. Currently they allow everyone who wants to be in a kitchen class to attend. There aren't technically "seats" so the academic advisors can cram in as many people as they want, so they do. They would also need to filter applicants better (you don't need a high school diploma or GED to attend) and create more stringent prerequisite requirements.

    To resolve my immediate need I spoke with the Dean of Academic Affairs and requested that another section of the class be created. She said it wasn't possible because they didn't have enough instructors or an open slot in the kitchen classroom. Yes, there is only one kitchen classroom.

  6. And we wonder why students can't pay back their loans. This is sad. I hope you get another opportunity someplace that is a better fit.

  7. Charles:

    I'm very sorry to hear about your sad experience. Perhaps you need a little break right now but keep searching for the right school.

    I really do hope that you get another opportunity like the last one but at a school that takes their craft seriously and realizes and appreciates that passion that people like yourself have for cooking.

    Don't be discouraged.


  8. you should post a link to your review here:

  9. ok, the URL in that comment didn't come through. you should post a link to your review here:

  10. Charles:

    I am still in awe of your good fortune to actually have the "cajones" to leave your day job to pursue your dream. Very few people have that chance, or, when presented with it, choose not to reach for it. For that, you have my admiration and support.

    Like you, I would have entered the classroom with certain expectations. That these were not met, that the other students don't appreciate their surroundings, that the school seems to have a different goal, is hard to reconcile. Even worse, the school and faculty did not back you.

    I am sure that there are other avenues available to you that will allow you to pursue your passion. I wish you the best of luck and much success, but am disappointed that this did not work out as well as you (and I) were hoping.

  11. I'm sorry to hear that, especially knowing how thrilled you were when you got the offer. It seems that you didn't really have an option here, I'm sure it's for the best and you will continue pursuing your goal.

  12. Was the institution selected by the Food Network or was there scholarship prize open? If the former, they should definitely tell AI to take a hike and help you find something better.

    In any case, I'm very sorry to hear any story about students failing to take their education seriously, and sorrier still you had to suffer as a result.

  13. " Lotus Evangelist said...Youth is wasted on the young."

    So are Student Loans.

    This is another example of the law of unintended consequences kicking in. So many of these "schools" are nothing more than places set up expressly to cash student loan checks.

    It sounds like you gave it your best shot. Maybe the Food Network can work out something else.

  14. Kevin - I have only ever been in contact with a marketing firm who was coordinating everything. I don't know who put up the money for the scholarship.

    The scholarship is only usable at one of the Art Institute's culinary arts programs. The competition was judged by someone at Food Network, so I don't think it was just paid advertising.

    The contest I entered was run alongside Food Network's "The Next Iron Chef" competition. The new season of that show has started and there is no corresponding scholarship contest. I'm not sure what, if anything, that might mean.

  15. Seems like a lot of vocational / career colleges are like that. I read a magazine article in the last year that talked about how their recruitment is often predatory, and their placement rates are often wildly exaggerate.

    As someone else said, they basically exist to cash student loan checks. Fortunate for you that you aren't out your own money.

    It's a bummer.

  16. Oh, Charles, I am so sorry!
    This sounds like how my first couple of years at ETSU were. A ton of kids who were there to keep from getting real jobs. They had no respect and no work ethic. I can only imagine how it is now, as that was 15 years ago!!

    I have no doubt you will find your way into doing what you love. Just sounds like it'll be an alternate route than the one that first presented itself.