California Culinary Academy: SF Weekly Exposé Spawns $40 Million Settlement

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Some students are getting their money back.
In 2007, SF Weekly investigative reporter Eliza Strickland ran a blockbuster story, demonstrating how the California Culinary Academy urged students to take on tens of thousands of dollars in government loans to pay for what many graduates considered substandard training. She learned that the San Francisco cooking school was part of a profitable industry notorious for bilking the students -- and the government, while raking in tons of money.

"There was a shocking lack of oversight," Strickland said when I spoke with her from her New York City home. "These companies weren't following the laws, and there was no one there to help them into accountable."

Nobody, perhaps, apart from Strickland herself. The June 6, 2007, issue of SF Weekly was picked up by the wife of Ray Gallo, a San Rafael plaintiff's attorney.

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Burnt Chefs
"She handed it to me. I read it, and my wife said, 'This is really terrible. Maybe you could help these people,'" Gallo recalls.

Gallo found some of the former students Strickland had met during her reporting. Word got around. Some 500 former students who felt they'd been duped by the school into taking on loads of debt to pay for shoddy classes came out of the woodwork.

After three years of legal complaints, depositions, and other courthouse maneuvers, notices went out earlier this month to students who attended the school between 2003 and 2008, saying they might get a piece of a $40 million settlement from CCA's parent, Career Education Corporation.

"Eliza did an important piece of work, and it opened the door to this lawsuit, which has afforded the class members with some relief from the problems that she described," Gallo says. "That's a great example of what good investigative journalism can do."

Strickland didn't yet know about the settlement when SF Weekly called her earlier this week.

"I'm very pleased to have helped out those students to some degree," she says. "The students I talked to -- and the graduates I talked to --  were in bad shape, and pretty depressed about wasting a lot of money on this program."

She continues: "Some were in pretty dire financial straits because they had put all their savings into this program and were paying ruinous interest rates. If I helped a few people pay off those loans, I'd be very happy."

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11 comments
Brandon Cory
Brandon Cory

I attended Le Cordon Bleu Las Vegas in 07-08 and i can relate to this story immensely. I paid 42k for "accelerated" classes that spent very little time from one subject to the next. Some instructors we better than others & granted its all in how you apply yourself. But the loans i took out were not worth the quality of education and materials received. Many of us were left with poor knife skills and shabby line cook work ethics, not enough to break into Sin City's culinary mecha and stand a chance. Not to mention is was quite clear to alot of us LCB would loan to any fool who could pick up a knife and sign a loan doc. Lets not even discuss their "job placement program" *it gives me agita just thinking about it.... After deferment after deferment my interest climbed by 10k leaving me with a mortgage sized student loan payment and very little to show for it in this shabby economy. I live off of luck and whit with a tall glass of desperation from month to month wondering why i did all that to begin with. After consolidating all my debt im still in sad shape and one wrong maneuver could leave me homeless and starving. These "for profit schools" are going to be the epicenter of the next housing crisis with their green eyed loan practices. 

Johnny Doe
Johnny Doe

Our firm is looking for clients that attended the CCA between September 2003 and October 2008. You may be entitled to compensation due to a recent class action that has settled. If interested, please e-mail me at gettothechopper40@yahoo.com.

Togao32
Togao32

Hi

I attended in oct 2001 to april 2003 when I graduated. Do I have a case? Togao32@yahoo.com

Debbie Dacus Jimenez
Debbie Dacus Jimenez

Johnny Doe , My son attented the CCA in Pasadena CA in 2003 and now he has an outstanding balance of a $40,000 loan on a very High intrest  rate , due to the faulty promises to the students and to my son about placing them with a job in the resturaunt industry, after graduating from the school . I 'am writing you for your help.

Thanks so much ,

Debbie Jimenez

Karriehills
Karriehills

I graduated CCA in 1997... I am still paying off loans..... Job placment... help from the career counselors.. N/A. Never have I recieved help with job placements from the CCA throughout my Culinary Carrer. I have been struggling to find a good paying postion for over 10 years. Yes that has included Exucutive Chef postions.I have found myself on unemployment throughout my career at least 3 times. Upon graduating... I had already received negative feed back in the Culinary field. I cook for the love/passion for it. I was sold a raw deal.... with high expectation of a well paying career from a World renound Culinary School, that no matter what the field would endear the Academy would be there to guide fellow graduates, with both new delevoping trends, further eduational classes and job placments. I waited 2 years for help with job placement. Mutiple phone calls and follow up messages, before I finallyl just gave up!!!!!!

We have been exploited

At the time I thought I was heading in a great direction, loved the school and all it offered. But to find out the that the credibility was not superior. As I am still paying off the loans today. And the industry is not at all what CCA portrayed it to be. I do love to create food and I am exceptional at what I do. But it has been an on going job to find a job. Maybe this Settlement explains HOW (us) graduates have been exploitedand are still in debt. And are still seeking career jobs.

Uncle Fishbits
Uncle Fishbits

I remember when Burnt Chefs was out... can't believe that was 2007. I doted on that article.. it was brilliant journalism. Very cool. Congrats and Thanks to the author.... it is simply brilliant.

Amy
Amy

i go to the school now, and i still feel like im being ripped off, i was rushed into it without really being explained the money situations.

Albert
Albert

james is right! i say, before you go to CCA, work for free at a fine dining restaurant. That way, you'll know if its the right profession for you. work for about a couple of weeks. you'll probably learn more at a restaurant, than at CCA.

when i attended CCA, i had never worked in the restaurant industry ever! when i graduated, i felt like i still didn't learn all that i needed to work at a restaurant. the worst feeling was to have some chef's play favorites to some of the people in class. They were the "teacher's pets." They got the most attention and knew how to cook. and the ones who were struggling were just ignored. the good students were usually assigned entres like steak, turkey, lobster, etc while other students got stuck making simple foods like salad, and all that was required were to just cut vegetables like a prep cook. I think, throughout the whole time i was there, no one ever taught me how to properly cook a steak, pig, chicken or lamb because I never got the opportunity too cook it. I think there was even one day where all we did was just carve pumpkins.

now, is learning how to carve pumpkins worth $50,000+ in loans? whats worse, is NOT knowing how to cook after graduating from a culinary school???

as far as the restaurant industry, the school didn't tell me anything about the downsides of being a cook or chef. once you've worked in the industry for awhile, you'll find out if this is the right career choice for you. I had to find out the hard way and find out that being a cook wasn't what i wanted to be. i just found out that recently, half of of my class got jobs doing nothing related to food. some of them just went back to school to get a different degree.

all i gotta say is, is that if you're still interested in going to school for cooking, just go to a community college like city college in sf and save yourself some money.

Rudy Sanchez77
Rudy Sanchez77

Or how much you will really make when you graduate

Albert Austria
Albert Austria

a regular line cook can make about $8 to $10 an hour, sometimes with no benefits. if you're lucky, hotels like the four seasons pay $14 with benifits. if you end up working for a fine dining restaurant or five star hotel, the conditions that you will have to go through are similar to working for chef ramsey on that tv show hell's kitchen. if you're not prepared, you will go through a lot of verbal abuse, much like the military. my dad, who was just a line cook had suffered some pain to his back and right arm from lifting and cutting for more than 20 years. now he's filing for disability.

if you're okay getting yelled at, and sometimes have food get thrown at you; the long hours; having to work during holidays; the possibility of getting injured on the job; servers and customers that give you a hard time; having to pay a ridiculous amount for school, just so that you can learn how to torne potatoes; but still have a passion for cooking?...then being a chef is the right job for you!!!!

James
James

get out now. you don't need the school. go to any restaurant and ask if you can be an unpaid intern. they will let you peel potatoes free of charge as long as you show up in your whites. there is no sense in paying CCA to work for someone else for free. eventually, if the chef likes you, he'll hire you on garde manger or something. if it doesn't work out, at least you're not in debt and are free to pursue something else.

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