Culinary school enrollment and job opportunities rising

Since the recession began, enrollment in culinary schools has shot up. But food service is a tough business, long hours, and often low pay. So why are so many people paying big bucks to break in?

Many of students, like Brittany Schall, share the same dream. "Life long dream," she told us, "maybe open a small little restaurant in the area."

Time magazine reports enrollment in culinary schools has jumped 20% in recent years. Martin Gravely echoes that at the University of Richmond's Center for Culinary Arts.

"We see 5% to 10% growth annually in our classes," he said.

The recession led many who lost jobs to explore cooking as a career. Said Gravely, "The Emeril Lagasse and Bobby Flay's around the world have helped the cause as well. But also I think people like to explore the culinary arts. Who hasn't dreamed of having their own café or catering operation?"

Some students are already cooks, like Ralph Magbanua. "Maybe this will help me find a greater job, better job and earn a little more."

But Gravely says most of his students are people who just want to learn to cook. "I think it has to do with general interest people have in eating healthy food. They want to know how to prepare food from scratch as opposed to buying a lot of processed foods."

Said Schall, "The city and surrounding area have seen an influx of local restaurants opening, a good flair of different types of food. People are now interested."

For career seekers, is the cost worth it? Culinary tuitions range from $2000 at community colleges to up to $40,000 at some top culinary institutes. Starting salaries for line cooks range from $20,000 to $40,000. Some experts say learning while working under a restaurant chef is also effective training, without the cost.

But either way, there's good news. The U.S. Labor Department says employment in food services has risen from 8 million in 2000 to 10 million this year.

Gravely says culinary schools show students what restaurant life is really like. "I think what we can offer students here is a little taste of what it's like, so they're more prepared. The reality can be a little different than the perception, than the dream."

Being a chef usually means long hours and hard work. But that doesn't seem to be scaring any students away.