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As Le Cordon Bleu Boston Closes, Not All Chefs Are Sour About It

Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Boston, on First Street in Cambridge. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)MoreCloseclosemore
Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Boston, on First Street in Cambridge. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

The French culinary institute Le Cordon Bleu is iconic to Americans, thanks to its famous graduate: Cantabrigian Julia Child.

She and Le Cordon Bleu helped bring classic French cuisine into the American kitchen. But now it’s closing its 16 cooking schools in the United States — including the Cambridge campus. However, some chefs say this is not necessarily a bad development.

A 'Hard Life, But It's A Great Life'

Shiso Kitchen, in Somerville, 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, pictured standing on right, in Shiso Kitchen during a cooking class. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)
Jess Roy, pictured standing on right, in Shiso Kitchen during a cooking class. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

"What is the flavor profile that we’re treating here, a little bit of what?" Roy asked in an evening class at the Shiso Kitchen.

A customer replied, "Sweet and hot."

"Yes, sweet heat!"

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

"I — I’m sad about it!" exclaimed Roy.

Roy said, for decades, the classic image of a chef in crisp whites has drawn people into the restaurant industry.

"I just hope that it doesn’t put a damper on anybody’s inspiration to follow this path, because being a chef is a hard life, but it’s a great life," she said.

Not everyone agrees American culinary education is losing the crème de la crème.

"I run one of the best restaurants in the country. I haven’t hired anyone out of Le Cordon Bleu in years," Scott Jones said.

Jones is the chef de cuisine at the French restaurant Menton, where a staff of 12 is preparing the evening's Mediterranean-inspired tasting menu.

Scott Jones preparing food in his kitchen at Menton. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)
Scott Jones preparing food in his kitchen at Menton. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

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

"Kids come out of culinary school and say: ‘I want a job as a sous chef.’ And I say, ‘No, you have to start at the bottom, like anyone else!’" Jones said.

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

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

The Cost Of A Culinary Education

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 blamed changing federal support for high-cost career schools like his.

"First day they brought you around, you know, they put you in a chef’s uniform, white jacket, hat! Make you feel like you can afford it," Eduardo Donoso said.

Donoso graduated from the Boston school three years ago. Today he’s the sous chef at Bronwyn, a German restaurant in Somerville. He’s paying off student loans, but he said Le Cordon Bleu gave him confidence and a foot in the door of a restaurant kitchen. But it's not for everyone.

Eduardo Donoso in front of Bronwyn in Somerville where he's the sous chef. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)
Eduardo Donoso in front of Bronwyn in Somerville where he's the sous chef. (Curt Nickisch/WBUR)

"A lot of my classmates, uh, either dropped out or got the degree but are doing something completely different — selling cell phones at Best Buy," Donoso said.

He said the key for him is passion: He’s willing to work long hours in a hot, chaotic kitchen.

NPR Version of this story:

Curt Nickisch Twitter Business & Technology Reporter
Curt Nickisch was formerly WBUR's business and technology reporter.

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