Culinary Grads Face Tricky Job Market

Though they admire chefs like Curtis Duffy and Rick Bayless, the graduating crop of culinary school students aren't necessarily keen on following in their footsteps. Financial pressures and competition within the industry mean many of this year's graduates will end up anywhere but Chicago kitchens.

After graduating from Le Cordon Bleu with an associate's degree in pastry this past weekend, Sarah Ullery hasn't been able to realize her dream of working full-time as a cake decorator. Instead, she decorates cakes when she can find clients, and babysits to make ends meet. "Since I've been looking, the person who helps us find jobs has only found one job for a cake decorator," she explains. To defer payments on the student loans she took out to cover the $40,000 tuition, Ullery is enrolling in a psychology program at The University of Phoenix.

Chris Perchatsch, a graduating pastry student at Kendall, also plans to go back to school for business despite his ultimate desire to work as a pastry chef. "It's a back up," he says. "Just having a degree in baking and pastry, you need to have something behind that."

Even Marco Bahena, arguably the stand-out star of Kendall's graduating class and winner of the national S. Pellegrino "Almost Famous" Chef competition, won't be headed behind the line in a Chicago restaurant. He'll spend the next six months working at Martin Barasategui's three star Michelin restaurant in San Sebastian, Spain. Despite the promising future ahead, Bahena is acutely aware of the difficulties in the industry. "One of the things that's always on everyone's mind but no one likes to talk about is the financial aspect of it. Everyone knows that cooks don't make a lot of money," he says. "I want to find a way to learn about food and travel and not have to worry about finances."

In examining the financial pressures, some graduating students are skipping the restaurant route altogether.

Even after working full-time in multiple kitchens and staging at Zealous and BOKA, Kendall senior Steven Hunt says he'd rather continue his job in research and development for a spice company than put on a chef's coat. "Being a pirate, working in the trenches, being a dirty nasty line cook as we say, is all awesome and bad-ass," Hunt says. "But with the more corporate cheffing, we have 401(k) plans, job security, benefits, insurance, paid vacation. Why would you not do that?" [The Feast]

Contact Us