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Sixteen American cooking schools will shut down, but it's not entirely accurate to call them Le Cordon Bleu.
This week, the food press jumped on the news that all 16 Le Cordon Bleu cooking schools across the U.S. will close. That's accurate. But most of the stories—which equate these campuses with the venerated Paris-based institute that taught Julia Child—are misleading. The legendary Le Cordon Bleu has no American schools to close.
These U.S. schools, called Le Cordon Bleu thanks to a licensing deal with the original institution, are being closed by their owner, Career Education Corporation—an embattled operator of vocational schools. The closings come alongside the Obama administration's crackdown on for-profit education, but CEC's troubles are nothing new. In 2013, the company paid out a multi-million-dollar class action settlement for what the U.S. Attorney General called deceptive recruitment practices. The Senate called out CEC in a 2012 report on the use of federal funds in for-profit education. In prior years, CEC was investigated by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
The concern, in most of these investigations, has been that such schools usually require students to take high-interest loans and overstate students' post-grad employment prospects for recruitment purposes. There's no implication about the quality of the instruction, though some critics have reacted harshly to this news: On Twitter, Alton Brown called LCB a "culinary puppy mill."
Whether or not that's true, this is a blow to cooking education in the U.S. "In a lot of cities, local options for culinary school are going to disappear," said Rick Smilow, president of New York's Institute of Culinary Education. There's no doubt that U.S. Le Cordon Bleu locations have turned out extraordinarily brilliant graduates, including F&W Best New Chefs Stephanie Izard and Paul Qui. Current chefs-in-training will be able to finish their programs; January 4, 2016 will be the final date for students to enroll in new sessions.
"It's a bit confusing this is happening at a time when there's a shortage of chefs, cooks and managers," said Smilow, whose ICE school is subject to the same new federal regulations as LCB. The closings, he said, came down to financial reality: "[Le Cordon Bleu] was part of a publicly traded company with a desire to meet Wall Street expectations. We're all figuring out where we're going to stand, and I guess Le Cordon Bleu figured it wasn't going to look good for them."