Hands-on kitchen classes and practical field experience help define the measure of success.
The lure of fame and fortune has made the chef profession a first choice for a growing number of people. Culinary schools can help to separate the serious chefs from wanna-be restaurant rock stars. FSR has selected America’s Top 20 culinary schools based on a number of criteria. First and foremost, the schools on our list offer programs that combine comprehensive classroom theory with a solid dose of hands-on work in well-equipped, on-campus kitchen classrooms and labs. Some of the schools on the list also have highly regarded full-service restaurants that are staffed by culinary program students and open to the public. The Dining Room at Kendall College in Chicago, for example, is both Zagat- and Michelin-recommended. So is L’Ecole, the on-campus fine-dining restaurant at the International Culinary Center (ICC) in New York. During their final two months of study, students at ICC’s New York campus work every station on the line in the restaurant.
Intensive off-campus experience through internships and externships is also part of the career preparation provided by the top-ranked schools. Externships are generally shorter in duration than internships. The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), for example, offers a 16- to 18-week worldwide externship program. At the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colorado, the Culinary Arts curriculum includes a three-week, off-site “Farm-to-Table Experience,” working directly with local farmers, ranchers, and artisans to learn sustainable practices.
El Centro College, in Dallas, requires its students to acquire at least 640 hours of field experience prior to graduation; Florida State College at Jacksonville requires completion of two internships of 300 hours each. Excelling students at Indian Hills Community College in Ottumwa, Iowa, are offered the opportunity to travel to Spain for two weeks of study and competition during their program, and the school can arrange for internships in Spain and France.
Aside from working with restaurants to secure externship/internship opportunities and post-graduate job placement, the top schools constantly reach out to culinary professionals beyond their own campuses to keep up with the skills, techniques, and knowledge that are necessary and relevant in kitchens across America. The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) in New York, for example, invites established chefs to share their insights and needs as part of a program advisory council, according to Maureen Drum Fagin, the school’s director of career services and administration. Through its externship program—the school placed 499 externs in 292 establishments across the country last year—ICE is also able to maintain a “constant feedback loop” connecting the chef-mentors and the school staff.