If you’re thinking of pursuing a career as a professional chef or in some other area of the food service industry, there are many things to consider. Should you go to culinary school .. and if so, which one? Many prospective students want to know if there is a ranking of the top schools, such as those done by the Princeton Review or U.S. News and World Reports for business and liberal arts institutions. Unfortunately, no such list exists for culinary schools or programs, at least not in any official, objective capacity.
So before you make a decision to attend culinary school, most professional chefs will advise you to spend two or three months working (or volunteering) in a restaurant kitchen, so you see first-hand what a career in the food service industry entails. Despite the perceived glamour, cooking and supervising a kitchen can be exhausting and tedious work. The hours are long and the pay is low, until you work your way up the food chain (no pun intended). So after you get a taste of what it’s like to work in a culinary environment, you are better suited to making a decision about whether to enroll in a culinary program ” and where.
Graduating from a well-respected culinary school will give you credentials and a leg up on other applicants seeking a career in the culinary arts. It is also likely to leave you thousands of dollars in debt. But choosing the right course of instruction will help you master the skills needed to oversee the kitchen of a prestigious restaurant, design and create delicate dessert pastries, or dream up innovative menu selections. The possibilities are endless.
To give you an overview, here are some of the top culinary schools in the country that have turned out graduates who have gone on to successful careers in the food industry.
Culinary Institute of America
1946 Campus Drive
Hyde Park, New York 12538-1499
(Also a campus in St. Helena, California)
Grant Achatz, executive chef, Alinea in Chicago
Sara Moulton, executive chef, Gourmet magazine
The Culinary Institute of America boasts more than 125 instructors from 16 countries, 41 kitchens and bakeshops, five public restaurants and accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Their curriculum is designed to produce graduates who will grow into positions of leadership in their chosen culinary profession.
Johnson & Wales University
8 Abbott Park Place,
Providence, Rhode Island 02903
(Campuses in Providence, Charlotte, North Miami and Denver)
Emeril Lagasse, owner/chef of Emeril’s New Orleans and other eateries
Tyler Florence, television chef and owner, Tyler Florence Kitchen Shop
More than just a cooking school, Johnson and Wales combines hands-on culinary training with a foundation in the liberal arts, business classes, social responsibility and relevant work experience. Their pioneering model of education prepares students for success in today’s global economy.
Baltimore International College
(formerly Baltimore International Culinary Institute)
School of Culinary Arts
210 S. Central Avenue
Baltimore, Maryland 21202
Tracey Hopkins, executive chef, Philadelphia Museum of Art
Eric Peterson, manager of Lewnes’ Steakhouse
Maryland’s only college for culinary arts and hospitality-related careers has been turning out future chefs, cooks, hotel managers and business owners since 1972. Degrees are offered in food and beverage management, professional baking and pastry, professional cooking and professional baking.
The Cordon Bleu Schools ” North America
There are 15 locations throughout the U.S., in Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Miami, Orlando, Pittsburgh, Portland, San Francisco, Scottsdale, St. Louis and an online study option.
Andrew Brochu, executive chef, Pops for Champagne in Chicago
Kyle Connaughton, head chef and technician, The Fat Duck Restaurant in Bray, England
Over the last century, Le Cordon Bleu has seen revolutionizing change as they have evolved from a Parisian cooking school to an international network of culinary arts and hospitality institutes. Their programs focus exclusively on culinary arts, pÃ¢tisserie and baking, and hospitality and restaurant management.
French Culinary Institute
New York, New York 10013
Bobby Flay, television personality and chef-ownerMesa Grill
Matthew Guidry, chef-owner ofMeauxbar Bistro, New Orleans
The French Culinary Institute creates a world-class culinary school that blends classic French techniques with American inventiveness in an exciting, fast-paced curriculum. Using a rigorous, hands-on curriculum called Total Immersion, instructors propel students into the workplace after just six intense months of classes.
30 locations throughout North America. Call or visit their Web site for a campus near you.
Akira Back, executive chef at the Yellowtail Sushi Restaurant and Bar, Las Vegas
Jamika Pessoa, owner, Life of the Party catering company and personal chef
The International Culinary Schools at the Art Institutes is America’s largest system of culinary programs offered at over 30 locations. Students enrolled in the program will use ingredients and techniques from around the globe. The focus is preparing graduates to pursue entry-level opportunities in the culinary profession with a broad range of experience and skills.
So how much will culinary school cost?
Not all institutions publish their tuition and fees for the obvious reason: prices can run between $28,000 and $50,000 on average. However, most schools want prospective students to contact them about enrollment costs, since there are often numerous financial aid packages available for promising students in the forms of loans, grants, scholarships and work/study options.
Another route to culinary school is finding a program at a local community college. These mostly public two-year institutions have highly rated certificate and degree programs that offer intensive study in state-of-the-art institutional kitchens and labs. They often employ staff members who are concurrently work at high-end restaurants and who teach the same basic and advanced techniques that you would learn at a more expensive proprietary culinary school ” at a fraction of the price of tuition, especially for students living “in-state.”