Don't Just Be A Chef, Be A Glamorous Chef!
(CBS) Dorothy Hamilton is used to fledgling chefs. In 1984 she founded the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan. But even she has been astounded at what's happened in the past five years.
In that short time, she says enrollment has doubled in size. Today there are about 2,000 students taking six month immersion courses at the school.
The story is the same all over the country. Professional cooking schools are expanding and new ones are starting, in part as a tribute to Americans' increasing interest in fine food. But there's another factor, too. Hamilton says the 24-hour Food Network deserves some of the credit.
While early TV chef's like Julia Child helped convince Americans that they could create fine cuisine at home, a later generation of colorful characters such as Emeril Lagasse and the Barefoot Contessa has made cooking seem like a pathway to fun and stardom.
Now many culinary students have stars in their eyes, and who could blame them for dreaming when you watch Guy Fieri? He had worked in the food business for years, already owned four restaurants and then last season he triumphed on a TV competition show.
Now he hosts two Food Network shows himself and is launching a third, but Fieri worries that his success may give some people the wrong impression.
"People that get into it thinking that they're gonna bet all their chips on, on this happening," he told Sunday Morning correspondent Rita Braver. "That's just kind of a long shot."
And it's not just being a TV star that's an enticing long shot, there's also the allure of your own restaurant. Cathal Armstrong is one of those people. He owns Restaurant Eve, one of the top-rated restaurants in the Washington, D.C. area with a six-week wait for Saturday night reservations. He loves his work, but believes there's far too much focus on the glamour of his industry.
"An awful lot of what we do is the same thing all day every day, peeling potatoes and peeling more carrots and cutting more celery, and it's mundane and repetitive," he said. "The kitchen staff arrive between 10:30 and 11 and then they work lunch and dinner service. So they're here until about midnight."
That's more than 12 hours a day, five days a week, at the going rate of about $30,000 a year. So it's no wonder that even as more people want to become chefs, it's harder to recruit good kitchen staffers.
Armstrong says some of the cooking school grads he hired just couldn't keep going. "And have actually dropped out of the restaurant business entirely because of their realization that this isn't the glamorous thing that they expected it would be," he said.
After attending culinary school, Edric Har thought he'd work his way up in the kitchen of a great restaurant, but the pay was too low, the hours too demanding. He now works as a caterer. "While I did love food, and I wanted to be a cook, and that was part of who I was, it wasn't all of who I was," he said.
At the French Culinary Institute, Dorothy Hamilton says that makes perfect sense. Not every one can become a famous chef. "The great thing about our profession is there are hundreds of thousands of jobs every year for cooks," she said. "What you have to have is the right path."