Thursday, April 4, 2013

Culinary School (Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, Pasadena, CA) Scams New Victims Each Term

I currently cook for a living. But when I first enrolled in culinary school, I had no intentions of actually making a career out of it. Cooking was a hobby.

It all started with love for food and the desire to learn how to cook, -better. The enticing commercials on television sparked my interest to find out more about the world of cooking. My interest and curiosity to find out how and why things work the way they do with food led me to dial the number to find out the costs and other general information. When I called and asked about tuition fees, they adamantly dodged the question and wanted to “discuss the details at the meeting”.  At the time, I did not have the time to visit the campus for a “meeting”. All I wanted was to find out the tuition fee, and they couldn’t even tell me that over the phone. Shady from the start. That is a line that is overused by the likes of used car salesmen. Call for general information to real school,- a university, a community college, or even a local adult school. Any other place would be more than happy to answer general questions over the phone or email.

Life got busy over the next few years and I forgot about the whole thing. But that didn’t mean that I stopped getting soliciting calls from their sales people. About twice a month, my phone rang from an unknown 626 number. I almost never picked up after the first couple of times finding out where the call was coming from…telling me that since I have “shown an interest” in the school when I would be available to come in and find out further information on any questions I may have.  They never once left a voice message. The continuous (missed) calls became annoying. So one day, I decided to actually pick up and firmly tell them to stop calling because I was no longer interested. I hoped that would stop the unwanted calls. I asked them to politely put me on the “do not call” list, delete my info, whatever they had to do in order to avoid getting calls. But the calls continued. And I continued to ignore them. I mean, I did have an interest. But I did not need to be solicited and annoyed.

Timing plays a vital role in everything. After” expressing interest”, going through the years of continuous, unwanted soliciting phone calls, I was in a place of having the leisurely means to go further with my interest. After all those unwanted sales calls they made to me, I was the one reaching out to THEM this time. It was the right time. Call me at the wrong time if you want to be ignored. I will make the call when the time is right for me.

 I wanted a new hobby. I enjoyed cooking. I wanted to pursue that passion further by attending culinary school. I called the general number of the school. I wanted to find out information about cost, schedule, program length, and so forth. They will never give you a direct answer to any question over the phone. They insist on “making an appointment” to meet to go over questions and concerns you may have. The first SALES REP I come into contact with is a woman by the name of Amy Cook. I recall calling in to reschedule a previous appointment and asked to speak with Ms. Cook. The woman I spoke with tells me that Amy is not in the office and that she will be able to assist me. I asked when I can reschedule to meet with Amy and the woman tells me that I can come in any time because there will always be someone to “assist (trap and victimize, I later find out)” me. I have told Amy my situation, reasons for being interested in culinary school and all that good stuff over the phone, so to meet another “advisor” whom I have never even spoken with and explain my whole story over again was inconvenient.

So I make an appointment as they insisted and arrive to the campus. When my name is called for an advisor to meet me, I am greeted by neither Amy nor the woman I spoke with on the phone. They seem to assign any random “advisor” who is available at the time. I meet a Mr. Elmo who sits me down in a private room to watch a video on how wonderful Le Cordon Bleu is. Graduates of the school expressing their roads to success, employer prospects ears “perking up” when they hear of being a Le Cordon Bleu graduate….all made possible by attending Le Cordon Bleu. I later find out all this to be further from the truth. I discovered that many employers laugh at Le Cordon Bleu graduates and are very reluctant to hire them. And the reasons became obvious. Anyways, after watching the videos and with the hopes of learning how to become a marvelous home cook and experimenting with new recipes, my interest persisted. I wanted to enroll to learn how to cook better, not for a career. I wanted to learn how to make all the fancy French dishes and extraordinary pastries, study about wine from different regions, etc. It would be an awesome (and very pricy) hobby to pursue. After the end of the video presentation, Elmo asked me to start the application process that includes a refundable $75 (refundable) fee.  I told him that I am interested but need some time to think about it. He asked me “Why?” and what is holding me back if this was something I really wanted to pursue. Wow, talk about aggressive salesmen who refuse to take no for an answer. I was not alarmed nor bothered by the pushy sales tactic yet. I am the type of person that is rarely influenced by a salesperson. I am immune to sales people. I am going to be either interested or not interested, regardless of anything they say to try to convince me. Despite his aggressive-used-car-salesman-approach, I wanted to enroll (it wouldn’t have matter to me if he was pushy or stayed silent. I wanted to take my hobby to the next level.  

When Elmo explained to me about the tuition, I was shocked. But I thought…we only live once. I did not want to leave this earth not having given myself the chance to do something I really wanted to do once. It was on my bucket list. Even if I had to take out loans and pay for it for years and years, the joy and knowledge it would bring me would be priceless.

After having some time to think, I decided, what the hell, -pursuing my passion is going make me happy and money comes and goes. Money can be earned again later. I made the decision to sign all of the paperwork, take out some loans and enroll. I was able to enroll much sooner than I expected. Having gone through traditional college/university semesters, I was expecting to wait some time until the next term to begin.

Every new student was required to attend an orientation. A welcome message and presentation was given by the president of the school, Tony Bondi. His speech was eloquent yet seemed over-rehearsed as if the same speech had been given verbatim several hundred times for years. While our group was waiting for our orientation, I roamed the halls to find the nearest restroom. I overheard bits and pieces of his speech during another group’s orientation that I was to hear again when it was our group’s turn.

The secrets to success would be to “go to class, go to class, go to class.” Unlike many of my peers who aimed at pursuing the culinary field as a career, I was there “for fun”. I was there to learn as much as I can and to have fun during my time there. Graduates should never blame Le Cordon Bleu for not turning them into a world-class chefs right after receiving the tall hat and the meaningless degree, nor should we expect it. We do, however blame them for providing a shitty program that we did not get my moneys worth for. We expected way better quality…of everything overall….from the instructors to the products we worked with to the equipments provided…just about everything at the school was shitty, -not what we expected after the money we spent.

I enrolled in the school with no expectations of what kind of future (in the industry) that the program would bring me since (as I mentioned) I was there for fun times.

Seriously, I believe that most of the “success stories” of students are contributed to each individual’s talents, skills, and preservation that they would have most likely managed to attain with or without the school. I don’t know how big of a role the school has played in their success. And the school loves to take credit for it.

At the time I enrolled, new terms started every three weeks, meaning every three weeks, there was a fresh new batch of victims falling prey to the scheme.

The first class the program started with was sanitation/nutrition. The three weeks flew by fairly quickly. The exams given in class consisted of multiple choice questions that anybody with an ounce of common sense would be able to pass. It was ridiculous, yet surprisingly, there students that failed some of the tests. But retakes were given and pretty much anyone was passed. I am sure prospective employers would be thrilled at such competence and knowledge of sanitation and safety in the kitchens.

At the end of the course, students were required to become ServSafe Certified in order to enter the classroom kitchens. From the first day of class, I was puzzled. The lectures were given with powerpoints. I have never seen any lecture materials with so many spelling and grammatical errors. We spend $50k for the program,  and no one bothers to proofread or use a spell check. And that was one of the red flags that made me question what the education level and quality of these so-called instructors had been.

As time went on, it became clear that I was being ripped off. Where was all my money going to? With each student in the culinary (degree) program spending $50k, this was the quality of the classrooms they provided? Overcrowded classrooms with limited oven spaces, students fighting over ingredients before they were all gone, waiting (for your turn) for any help or attention from instructors all became daily struggles.

The salespeople are trained to “do whatever it takes” to get a lead, even if that is providing false or misguided information. Over the time I have spent on campus, I have heard sales people (when tour-guiding victims through the campus) how there is no way to not be able to find a job after graduation. I cannot count back to how many times I was in the elevator or walking through the hallways as I witnessed these sales people trying to trap and victimize one poor soul after another. And the “job connections” they claim to have are bogus. Students are sent with job leads that can be found on Craigslist or other commonly used job sites that can be found on their own without the career center copying and pasting to make it look like they are job leads through connections with the school. And with the list of prospective job leads I was sent by my career advisor, I find out some of the postings have been outdated for months, even years. When I contacted one of the “currently hiring” companies sent by my advisor, Mary, the employer replied with confusion asking where I found the posting. When I told her that it was from a job posting list from my school, she told me that they posted an ad on Craigslist years ago. She seemed baffled by the whole ordeal. It is bad enough they send students job leads taken off from other sites, but to mass email us with outdated job leads that have not been updated in years?? Is that what to expect for the money spent on tuition? They can’t provide better guidance or effort?

Then there is the nightmare with the admissions people. Why are the admissions people always confused, confusing students, and so unorganized? They do not have a set plan in the program of what class is to be taken after another. They are never able to specify which class is going to be taken next. They do not provide students with a scheduled list of classes to be taken in any order. And even when told us which class was going to be taken next, they have more often than not changed their minds and we ended up taking something some other class. Having fulfilled all the academic (General Education) courses at another school, I did not need to take any of the academic classes. After making a trip to the school where the GE classes were taken and spending $12 or so in order to obtain and provide an unsealed transcript (and once again, this is a $50k education), one would expect admissions to have all the information they needed to determine which classes a student needed or didn’t. They had enrolled me in “College Success” when I had already provided information of being a college graduate. When I brought this to their attention, they then decided to give me credit for it and excused me from the class…something that shouldn’t have even been an issue in the first place.  

Another time, I found myself scheduled to take Spanish. I had to make another trip to admissions to let them know that I had already taken two semesters of a foreign language in college. I did not know why I was automatically enrolled. Shouldn’t they keep track in their systems of all that type of information and not be so disorganized? Again, they never failed to amaze me with the shitty quality of everything, starting with the disorganized chaos in admissions.

As the program was nearing the end, my classmates and I needed to secure externship positions for our final course. My classmates and I all had the same starting dates scheduled on when to start our externships. The course right before heading off to externship was an academic course. So I figured I would get the three weeks off while other classmates were sitting through the lectures of whatever class. When I visit my guidance counselor to ask some general questions about externship, I am shocked to find out that my externship date is due to start a month earlier than my classmates because I am skipping the final (academic) class. Really? They could not tell me this from the start? They decide until the last minute that my program date and start of externship begins a month earlier than what the program stated, what I was led to believe all along? The admissions people must be smoking crack every day. Because of the careless incompetence and lack of organization from the school’s part, it meant that my planned out directions had to be altered. The plans made for taking a trip out of town during the three weeks that I was led to believe I was going to have off had to be canceled. I had to hustle to land an externship position quicker than planned. Due to the pressed time, I had less time to carefully select my options. And all of this could have been prevented if admissions had any clue what they were doing. I cannot remember a single time they didn’t need to be reminded of something they should have had under control. When I finished the program, I was beyond disappointed for wasting $50k to deal with a bunch of crack heads that never got anything done right, being ripped off for overpaying for a shitty program. Yes, I was there for fun, not with dreams and aspirations to become a big shot chef as many students may have been. But with the money I spent, I expected way better quality….WITH EVERYTHING. If I felt that I got what I paid for, I would have left the school satisfied and with no regrets, knowing that I had FUN, having experienced the culinary ventures at a level that matched up to what I had paid for. Every penny would have been worth it, even if it was for a hobby.

Even after graduating, I found myself intertwined in their massive lies. My career advisor, Mary, called me multiple times to check up on my employment status. Having nothing further to do with this school, I ignored her calls. Weeks later, I got a call from an outside company (somewhere in the East Coast..I forget), calling to verify that I was working at the place they were told I was working at. I was like WTF?? Where did that company name come from? Apparently it was the name given from the school, claiming that it was the company that I was working for upon graduation. Now, Mary had no knowledge (since I wasn't answering their calls) of where I was working or if I was even working at all, period. And just because they can't get a hold of a student, they decide to LIE (surprise surprise!) and give them some random company name. She apparently picked some random place nearby where I lived. I have never worked there nor applied there. This shows how much integrity the school has, lying about students' employment status in order to make their numbers look good to keep the scam of a school running.


 

15 comments:

  1. Wow, what a horrible school experience from the sound of it. This price tag also makes me think it was a private college? Well, I would have gotten my money back after that first crap course and maybe become an apprentice under a talented chef. But it is great that you're sharing your story so that others may be warned! And I'm sure you're a talented cook who will earn the money back in no time :)

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  2. Thank you, Xlovehappyx! This school is always undergoing law suits. And who can blame students for suing (or wanting to)them. My monthly student loans for this school alone total $500+. They are all about the numbers game. And they let ANYONE in. I think they are staffed with more sales people than any other positions.

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  3. :( this makes me sad i just booked a meeting for wedneday morning i was really inerested in joining their school but i dont wanna be scammed thanks for this info

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    1. Check out Midwest Culinary Institute, located in Cincinnati OH. Great school, facilities and staff. The best part is the cost ($16K)...for a 2 year degree that will include classes such as Hospitality Management, Cost Control, F&B Supervision and of course plenty of great cooking classes. You will learn butchery, garde manger, soups stocks and sauces, knife skills, international, and in one class you even work in a restaurant that's located on campus. I just graduated from there in December where I studied under 2 World Master Chefs...Jon Kinsella and Meg Galvin.

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    2. check out Midwest Culinary Institute, located in Cincinnati Ohio. I just graduated from there where i studied under 2 World Master Chefs. It only cost about $17K for a 2 year program.

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    3. Check out Midwest Culinary Institute located in Cincinnati, OH.

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  4. Run..run far! If you make the stupid mistake of enrolling (as I did), you will end up regretting the decision, as many graduates do. You are probably better off going to a community college, paying far less tuition for the same training (or better). If you have the money, look into the CIA. This school has a shitty reputation among chefs in the industry. And I have heard many stories about chefs being reluctant to hire people from this school.

    I’m telling you, expect the used car salesman approach from the reps (who are trained to say anything in order to close the deal, even if that means giving you false info) if you do decide to visit the campus Wednesday.

    They accept anyone and everyone after their “selective screening process”. You wouldn’t believe some of the morons that I went to school with. They are proof that anyone can be accepted. When I was attending, each term was three weeks long (I heard it is six weeks now). Do they really think one can possibly learn everything about baking in three weeks (then another three weeks of learning how to make desserts in advanced baking)? Or become a pro meat fabricator in three weeks of meat & seafood fabrication? And when students take academics (I never took any there), I heard the English teacher was giving out A’s to every student for elementary level essays.

    I think the many problems students encounter with admissions/career advisor(s) lie on the fact that there are way too many students (aka victims). Since this is a FOR-PROFIT school, they don’t deny anyone that can take out a loan. With so many students going in and out each term, the chaos is too much for them to keep things organized and running smoothly.

    Most of the things I know culinary-wise, I learned on my own or through working in real kitchens. As I mentioned in my post, I had no intentions of working in the kitchen during the time I enrolled. I wouldn't have minded paying for this expensive hobby if the quality measured up.

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  5. They are always facing law suits. Does anyone have any updates on the hearings of these cases? http://www.courthousenews.com/2011/09/29/40156.htm
    http://blogs.laweekly.com/squidink/2010/10/le_cordon_bleu_fraud_lawsuit.php

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  6. My son attended Le Cordon Bleu took the associates program and is a Sushi Chef at
    A restaurant in West Wood and is making good money and loves his job. He actually got the job through Le Cordon Bleu’s Career Services while he was attending school and then as soon as he got his Associates they promoted him. My friend’s son also attended Le Cordon Bleu and is doing very well.
    Le Cordon Bleu never promised or guaranteed they said their career services department would assist in finding my son a job. Also there highest priced program is 37,000 not 50K. I think someone is bitter, because they did not do well and are blaming the school.
    Don’t take anyone’s word not even mine be smart go to the school and do a tour talk to students do your home work then make a decision. Le Cordon Bleu has a great reputation I think it’s what you make of it.

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    1. Wow. THAT sounded like total bullsh*t! Three things: 1. A marketing person would be sure to insert a call to action as a closing thought (whereas, an actual human would not), as you have done in your post. "Be smart, go to the school..." Come on, dude. 2. The bizarre anonymity with which you refer to your son makes me question his existence. Real dad's say "...my son, Alex..." or "...my son, Warren..." Not "...my, son [whose name is not important right now, look over there, I see a jackalope]." 3. The internet is exploding with negative reviews of this school. So, your statement "Le Cordon Bleu has a great reputation is the worst kind of lie. It's one that relies on ambiguity in order to confuse the innocent. Which, seems to be precisely what the blog's author claims the school is doing. Le Cordon Bleu, PARIS has a great reputation (there's the source of ambiguity). You know what, make that four. 4. Also, your use of unverifiable sources is a dead giveaway: "My friend's son..." and your son with no name. Make it 5!!! I like the meteoric rise of the protagonist in your post. They went to Le Cordon Bleu, then they were instantly hired as a chef and immediately promoted? That happens in NO industry that I know of except, possibly, pornography. Nope, I think you have to work your way up in porn too. I don't even think you can walk into Hotdog on a stick and get hired as a chef and then promoted. Make it 6!!! The blog's author was shocked by the number of typographical errors in the school materials. It's Westwood, not West Wood, liar. So, take a look at yourself and what you're doing. Go to the mirror and ask yourself "Given a life and resources what would I do with that life and how would I exploit those resources?" "Would I endeavor to live so that my time in this realm would benefit my fellow man?" "Would I be right?" "Would I be good?" "Or would I be a voice for disharmony, dishonesty and thievery?" Have a nice day.

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    2. Well said!

      No doubt the comment above is from a Le Cordon Bleu rep. Just look at all the spelling/grammatical errors. It’s so typical of them.

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  7. The tuition may have varied during different times of enrollment. But when I was attending in 2009-2010, it was close to $50k for the AOS (Associates in Occupational Studies) in Culinary Arts.

    You obviously did not read through my post thoroughly. I don’t think any logical person would actually believe that the school would automatically secure them with jobs. It takes talent, passion, dedication, and hard work to go places. The destination of each student is determined by the efforts each individual puts in. It would be asinine to believe that the school is going to turn each and every student spending the money into top notch chefs.

    What makes the school a joke is the way they run things. Considering the money we spent, is it too much to ask for fresher ingredients, better equipment, more qualified staff, better constructed written exams/assignments, PowerPoint lectures that are free of spelling/grammatical errors? Is it too much to ask that the admissions people not screw up all your info so many times? If we have to correct them each and every time for all the careless errors they make and they are always giving us misleading false information (like with our schedules each and every time as I mentioned among other things), is that really a school that can be trusted? Don't you think there's a logical reason why they are always being sued?

    And would a school with integrity really LIE about students’ employment status just to keep their numbers up?

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  8. I am so glad that you blogged about them. Don't tell anyone (only my Husband and my Mom know) but I'm planning on going to culinary school. There are only 2 schools in Atlanta and one is Le Cordon Bleu, and just looking at their site, I got a really bad feeling. It felt like they were a "turn and burn" operation, which you just confirmed. So I am glad to know that I wasn't crazy. The other option here is the Art Institute, which is a great school for design but I don't know if it translates to the culinary arts. They have no information online so you *have* to call, and they started harassing me just like you describe above. They were calling me from 2 different numbers several times A DAY! Never leaving a message. I feel like quality businesses leave messages. I finally talked to someone and she was super reluctant to answer my questions, always pushing for me to come in, but I am not one to be pushed around, so I got enough answers to figure out their game. I'm still considering them because otherwise I have to temporarily relocate to CA or NYC, which is obviously a pain and $$$.

    This is my current dilemma: do I get an Associate's degree at a mediocre school in Atlanta and live at home OR do I get a culinary diploma from a better school in NYC in 6-9 mths? What is your opinion having been to culinary school and currently working in the field? I don't want to work in a restaurant but I would like to write books, possibly open my own shop or even just build a brand around my blog (which may or may not need a new name, but that's a discussion for a later time). You can email if you want ;-)

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    1. I'm so glad you didn't fall for their scams. I HATE pushiness. But in the end, it wouldn't have even mattered if what I got was anything of worth.

      There are many great chefs and self taught cooks who never even went to culinary school. I wonder if the Pioneer Woman went to culinary school. And look how amazing she is! Are you considering the CIA? Going to quit your job and attend full time? I kind of have a feeling you might end up rolling your eyes often and be thinking, "I am paying xxx amount of $$$$ to be taught what I already know?!"

      Culinary school is supposed to arm you with book knowledge. Having been through the program, now I don't see why someone can't just buy a bunch of books and gain all that knowledge without paying tons of $$$ to go through schooling. I guess the programs at culinary schools are designed for aspiring chefs, not food writers or aspiring shop owners. They attempt to conduct the classes like real kitchens....yelling, cursing, telling you to hurry the eff up. That might be helpful for the students wanting to get into the restaurant kitchens, but for others, it might even be distracting.

      But who knows...it can also be a good experience (I just hope you end up choosing the right school). And you can write a book about your experience...and blog about it too, of course! I think city college would be an okay choice too. The techniques they teach are all the same anyway. But it's at a CC price.

      Oh and if you are interested in running your own business, many people will tell you to go out there and gain some experience, working in the industry.

      Your dilemma seems like a hard decision to make. And it seems like your mind is set on going! Just please don't waste your money with Le Cordon Bleu! I can't speak for AI. But for reals, what reputable school harasses and pushes prospects, using the salesman tactics? If their schools were that great, students would be trying to convince THEM to let them in.

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  9. I am inclined to agree with you about any school that uses pushy sales tactics. High pressure makes me question why?

    All of your points make me lean more towards going to the better school for a shorter period of time, which is definitely the direction I was leaning before. The hard part is leaving my Husband and having to relocate temporarily.

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I don't even open anonymous comments (due to it mostly being spam), so don't even bother.