The shortage of skilled kitchen labor: That’s what everyone keeps talking about, and it isn’t going to change any time soon. The National Restaurant Association predicts 1.7 million new restaurant jobs will be created in the decade leading up to 2026. To answer this demand, top culinary schools around the country are working to keep the employment pipeline filled with well-trained graduates. For operators and chefs, it helps to know the best programs to recruit from and how culinary education and foodservice careers are evolving.
Starting with lists that named more than 1,000 schools and educational programs, FSR researched and identified 22 top schools. Among this group, the culinary curricula and degrees are as varied as the opportunities for careers post-graduation—and that diversity reflects the needs of those hiring graduates as well as those applying to schools.
From baccalaureate degrees awarded by The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) and Johnson & Wales University, to diploma programs at the Institute of Culinary Education and the International Culinary Center, to associate degrees and certification programs at schools around the country, don’t expect the best culinary educations to look alike. There are, however, certain characteristics that hold true across all of the best culinary curricula.
The top schools have proven reputations with strong ties to leaders in the industry and alumni who are excelling in foodservice. Accreditation by organizations such as the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation (ACFEF) or the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges (ACCSC) adds a weighty stamp of authority. Costs range from six-figure tuitions akin to Ivy League degrees to more affordable programs that may be completed in months not years and often are funded by federal grants or scholarships. Real success is measured not in dollars invested but rather in how prepared graduates are and the school’s job placement rate.
The quality of the education depends upon many factors—the qualifications of chef instructors, the student-teacher ratio, and the amount of time spent in hands-on kitchen practice—all of which speak to the value and viability of the culinary curriculum. That educational expertise exists in trade schools as well as university settings. Kevin Arnett, culinary program director at the Institute of Technology Culinary School in Clovis, California, explains, “We have to place 80 percent of our students within 60 days of graduation,” or the program would be at risk to lose funding from the federal government.
The school, which has more than 240 students enrolled at its two campuses, has seven teaching kitchens and includes nine courses of full-time kitchen work. Recently the program transitioned to three sessions—morning, afternoon, or night schedules—so the school could bring class sizes down to 15 students per class instead of 25 to 30 people.
Whether a program is like IOT, which offers a Professional Associate in Occupational Studies (AOS) degree, or is a university offering a bachelor’s degree, top school administrators agree that a quality education begins with basic cooking fundamentals and a realistic perception of what an intense kitchen culture entails.
“What remains important is a sense of continuity. The rigorous teaching of the classic fundamentals of cooking can’t be short-circuited or sidestepped,” says Peter Lehmuller, dean of the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University. “Cooking fundamentals have to be taught: People have to know how to use a knife, how to bake properly and fold dough, how to sauté.”
Christopher Koetke, vice president of culinary arts at Kendall College, echoes that the foundational piece of a culinary education doesn’t change. He also notes the importance of preparing students for the pressure cooker culture inherent to kitchens: “What Kendall is known for is its intense learning environment. We don’t shy away from stress. We use real-life situations where students have pressures they will face in the industry. That is how you produce graduates who are ready for the industry.”
Another key aspect to having graduates who can lead the foodservice industry is to remain visionary and teach to the future. “Going forward, educators need to focus on teaching students how to connect food to overall health and wellness,” Lehmuller says. “All culinary students in the 21st century need to understand the relationship between diet and health in a more clearly articulated way than in the past—they have to know how to cook for human nutrition.”
Vision for the Future
For all the things that don’t change in the kitchen, leaders of top culinary schools see a world of difference in today’s foodservice careers and in the ways that education must evolve to prepare students for the future, frequently noting the rapidly changing foodservice landscape where the traditional path to careers in restaurants has been replaced with options across multiple industries.
There are also subtle differences in the students seeking culinary degrees. Mark Erickson, provost at The Culinary Institute of America, says there are more college-bound individuals entering the CIA. “For many years, the culinary path was not considered to be within the scope of a traditional college-bound student,” he says. “But today, because the profile of the chef has risen in the public consciousness and because of the recognition of it by other professions—such as the healthcare industry and business—it’s not just [a career path] for the pirates; it is a valid profession.”
Culinary professions have risen in prestige as well as in scope and diversity. “It’s not a linear path anymore,” Lehmuller says, “and we respond to that through internship opportunities, through study abroad programs, through relationships with medical schools. … We had to stop looking at culinary education as simply a feeder for the restaurant industry. Students want career opportunities; they want choice.”
That’s a scary reality for operators and chefs who are grappling with the labor shortage in the kitchen. Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder and CEO of The International Culinary Center, says, “Only about half of our current students want to do restaurant work.” A stark contrast to when the school started in 1984 and everyone was focused on restaurants.
The positive spin on that message is the ensuing diversity and talent pool impacting all facets of foodservice. Hamilton notes, “We have an education department that is constantly tweaking our curriculums. We used to teach restaurant management, but we’ve evolved that into culinary entrepreneurship because everyone isn’t necessarily pursuing a restaurant career.” She describes ICC graduates who are seeking work in schools, new product development, food trucks, and food media.
Still, it’s the restaurant alumni who bring the big bragging rights back to the schools. When she talked with FSR, Hamilton was returning from a visit with ICC grad Joshua Skenes, chef/owner of Saison in San Francisco. “We have two graduates among the Top 50 restaurants of the world—that would be Josh at Saison and Dan Barber at Blue Hill at Stone Barns,” she says. “They’re both very active with the school, and Dan teaches in the farm-to-table program.”
Despite the breadth of industries where job opportunities exist, Lehmuller acknowledges there are always students intent on becoming a celebrated restaurateur. “We have a core group of people who only want to do fine dining: That’s their passion and nothing else will do—and we will never try to dissuade them from that goal. We do try to help them understand it is a difficult task, but the reward is phenomenal.”
Despite those rewards and the demand for chefs in restaurant settings, the top culinary schools increasingly talk about all of the unconventional career paths that are open to graduates—and topics like nutrition, sustainability, entrepreneurship, business management, and food sciences are woven into discussions throughout the curriculum, rather than being an occasional mention or an isolated elective course.
That is certainly true at Kendall College, and Koetke notes the school’s curriculum continues to prepare more “high-level” courses to enable both the school and its graduates to effectively compete in today’s market. Kendall College is affiliated with the culinary programs at 21 campuses around the world, and Koetke says, “When we talk about where culinary education is going, it’s all about internationality.” But he doesn’t mean that simply in the sense of chefs exploring other cultures.
“Chefs have taken a different view,” he explains, “and are asking, ‘Why does food have to be better if it’s from somewhere else?’ What’s in my world that’s amazing?’ Now, chefs are looking inward instead of outward to make really interesting food. That might seem to suggest isolationism, where everything happens in its own little corner of the world, but internationality can only truly happen when you get people all over the world looking at their own special food—and then you have something to share. If everyone is only looking at French food or Spanish food, then why travel?
“But when you have chefs all over the world looking at their own [culture] and fixing the recipes of their grandmothers with regional ingredients and talking to local farmers, what comes out of that is amazing. The people who will be successful moving forward have to understand and be part of that internationality. Now, the world is so interconnected there is no other option.”
Why Hire a Graduate
When chefs and operators talk about the shortage of kitchen help, often what is needed are hard-working individuals willing to pay their dues on the line—so the questions become: Are culinary graduates willing to do this, and what skills do graduates bring that make them a better hire?
The answers vary by individual and by the type of degree earned, but conventional wisdom from operators and school administrators alike is that it’s hard to go wrong by hiring an individual who’s graduated from a top culinary program.
It’s also become easier to see what a graduate has accomplished in school, thanks to the ubiquitous presence of photo-snapping phones in the classroom, as Lehmuller explains: “The iPads and smartphones have produced positive results as well because they allow us to take pictures and document the personal portfolios of students’ work and progress.” By replacing in-class lectures with video, online quizzes, and other virtual tools, Johnson & Wales has leveraged technology to increase active learning, which helps long-term retention of the material. “Students come into lab class ready to start cooking, ask questions, and have a more interactive experience. The application of technology in the classroom is ground-shifting.”
The question of whether or not a formal culinary education is necessary comes up often, asked by potential students as well as by those recruiting graduates. Erickson counters the oft-raised, “Do you need to go to culinary school to be a chef?” with his own challenge for potential CIA grads: “Define what you mean by chef. Because, do you need to go to school to be a line cook? No, that is not necessary. But there’s a vast difference in being a line cook and being a chef. When you think about the skill set required of a chef—meaning a leader of a kitchen who is running a multi-million-dollar business and is skilled at his craft but also able to be a business person and interact with the media—those are skills that you just don’t learn by working on the line.”
That said, Erickson fully expects CIA grads still have some learning and experience to acquire. “My advice to young graduates is that the pathway to becoming an executive chef is very similar to that of becoming a doctor. … Go find a great place to do your residency where you are going to work in a very intense environment, whether it’s on the line or in food production, under the tutelage of somebody who is a master or an experienced professional. That crucible is going to be the place where your character as a chef is going to be fired—and, just like a residency for a doctor, it’s intensive hours, it’s a lot of stress, and it puts you in situations where you have to think very quickly on your feet. What happens is that things you know in theory become ways you react instinctively.”
ACCET Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
ACCSC Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges
ACFEF American Culinary Federation Education Foundation
IACP International Association of Culinary Professionals
WACS World Association of Chefs Societies
Note: Tuition does not include room and board. In most cases, fees are included or noted.
Top Culinary Schools Offering Bachelor’s Degrees
The Culinary Institute of America
Hyde Park, New York; St. Helena, California; San Antonio, Texas; Singapore
Accreditation: The Middle States Commission on Higher Education
Programs: Culinary Arts / Baking and Pastry Arts / Culinary Science / Food Business Management / Applied Food Studies
Degrees: Bachelor’s and Associate degrees / Certificates for Advanced Studies
Time: Eight semesters plus one externship semester
Tuition: $15,365 to $17,320 per semester, varies by campus
Students at the CIA are required to work in campus-based restaurants. Bachelor’s degree students also develop and execute a charity dining event as part of their senior project. In addition to casual bakery cafés at each campus, the flagship Hyde Park campus restaurants feature contemporary American, Italian, or French cuisine. The California campus has two restaurants that highlight wine, farm-to-table fare, and environmental stewardship. The restaurant on the San Antonio campus features Latin American cuisine. In addition to providing students with ample hands-on restaurant experiences, the CIA reports that about 90 percent of its students receive some form of financial aid.
International Culinary Schools at The Art Institutes
A system of more than 50 schools throughout North America; 28 campuses have Culinary Programs.
Accreditation: ACFEF on 21 campuses
Programs: Culinary Arts / Baking and Pastry / Culinary Management
Degrees: Associate of Applied Science (AAS) / Culinary Diploma / Bachelor of Science
Time and Tuition*: An AAS degree typically requires six quarters, with a total cost of $45,000 to $50,000; a Culinary Diploma requires four to five quarters, with a total cost of $29,000 to $32,000; and a BS degree requires 12 quarters, with a total cost of $93,000 to $95,000. (Requirements and costs are estimated; actual costs vary by campus.)
Johnson & Wales University
Providence, Rhode Island; Charlotte, North Carolina; Denver, Colorado; North Miami, Florida
Accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges
Programs: Culinary Arts and Foodservice Management / Culinary Arts / Culinary Nutrition / Baking & Pastry Arts / Baking & Pastry Arts and Foodservice Management / Beverage Industry Operations and Retail Management / Restaurant, Food & Beverage Management / Food & Beverage Entrepreneurship
Degrees: Associate in Science / Bachelor of Science / Continuing Education / Master of Teaching (Programs and degrees vary by campus.)
Time to complete: Three to four years, with options for accelerated graduation in four terms instead of six terms available in some instances.
Tuition: $30,396 per academic year, plus a $350 fee in the first year
Within its College of Culinary Arts, the average associate degree–seeking person graduates within two years. The average bachelor’s degree–seeking person graduates within four years.
Kendall College School of Culinary Arts
Accreditation: ACFEF and the Higher Learning Commission
Programs: Culinary Arts / Baking and Pastry
Degrees: Associate of Applied Science / Accelerated Associate of Applied Science / Bachelor of Arts
Time: Seven to 13 quarters. The Accelerated Degree, which can be completed in five quarters, is available to individuals who already have a bachelor’s degree.
Tuition: $8,041 per quarter for full-time students; $655 per credit hour for part-time students (Additional fees are incurred for uniforms, supplies, kitchen tools, labs, and internships.)
New England Culinary Institute
Programs: Culinary Arts / Professional Baking and Pastry / Food, Beverage, and Business Management / Hospitality and Restaurant Management
Degrees: Certificate in Professional Cooking / Certificate in Professional Baking and Pastry / Associate in Occupational Studies / Bachelor of Arts
Time and Tuition*: Professional Certificates require six months, cost $8,300
– An AOS degree in Culinary Arts takes 24 months, cost $61,300
– An AOS in management takes 15 months, cost $40,300
– A BA in Culinary Arts requires 39 months, cost $88,550
– A BA in management requires 15 months, cost $32,050
*(Costs quoted are for graduates who completed degrees in 2015.)
The job placement rate for graduates earning an AOS in Culinary Arts in 2015 was a perfect 100 percent; the job placement rate for those with a BA in Culinary Arts was 76 percent. In 2015, the placement rate for graduates with a Certificate in Professional Cooking was 82 percent, and for graduates with a Certificate in Professional Baking and Pastry the job placement rate was 95 percent.
Oklahoma City, Tulsa, and Moore, Oklahoma
Programs: Culinary Arts / Pastry Arts / Hospitality and Restaurant Management
Degrees: Culinary Diploma / Applied Science / Bachelor of Science
Time and Tuition: The Culinary Arts program is designed to take 68 weeks, tuition $31,72
– The Pastry Arts program is designed to take 47 weeks, tuition $22,520
– The Hospitality and Restaurant Management program is designed to take 104 weeks, tuition $46,020
Platt College, which has five campuses in Oklahoma, offers culinary programs at its Tulsa, Oklahoma City, and Moore locations. Platt College operates three restaurants on its campuses where culinary students work: Foundations Restaurant in Tulsa; Chefs di Domani in Oklahoma City; and The Union Restaurant & Bakery in Moore.
The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College
Programs: Culinary Arts / Pastry Arts / Restaurant Management / Hotel Management
Degrees: Associate of Science / Bachelor of Science
Tuition and Fees for 2016: $7,530 to $11,295 per term, depending on full-time vs. part-time enrollment
Time: AS degree requires 15 to 18 months; BS degree requires 36 months
In 2015, the total cost for those graduating with a BS degree in Culinary Arts was $91,100 and the school’s job placement rate for those graduates was 100 percent. The total cost for graduates obtaining an AS degree in Culinary Arts or Pastry Arts was $45,650 and the job placement rate was 83 percent and 74 percent, respectively. The school operates four on-campus restaurants, open to the public, where students work and learn.
Top Culinary Schools Offering Certificates/Diplomas/Associates Degrees
Arizona Culinary Institute
Programs: Culinary Arts / Baking / Restaurant Management
Degrees: Diploma in Culinary Arts
Time: 30 weeks (Day), 40 weeks (Night)
The average class size is 10 to 15 students, and 80 percent of the time students spend in the kitchen involves hands-on work. The school boasts a placement rate of more than a 90 percent five-year average.
Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts
Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colorado
Accreditation: ACFEF, ACCET, IACP, and WACS
Programs: Culinary Arts / Pastry Arts
Degrees: Applied Science Degree in Culinary Arts / Diploma in Culinary Arts / Diploma in Pastry Arts
Time: 40-week and 60-week programs, plus required externships
Tuition: $17,250 to $29,950, varies by degree and campus
Both schools existed prior to becoming Auguste Escoffier schools: The Austin campus was founded in 2001 as the Culinary Academy of Austin, and the Boulder school began in 1994 as the Culinary School of the Rockies.
Culinary Institute LeNôtre
Accreditation: ACCSC and ACFEF
Programs: Culinary Arts / Baking and Pastry Arts / Hospitality and Restaurant Management
Degrees: Four Elite Diplôme Programs / Three Associate Degree Programs
Time: 80 weeks (Day); 90 weeks (Night)
Tuition: $36,616 to $49,095
At the Culinary Institute LeNôtre, student options include working in an on-site gourmet restaurant, plus the Le Bistro & Wine Lounge, an organic garden, and a summer externship to France. Chef instructors have a minimum of 10 years experience and the average ratio is 12 students per chef instructor in the kitchen labs. Students spend 85 percent of their time in the kitchen labs in hands-on learning. The school offers specialty electives such as Hotel, Hospitality, and Restaurant Management, a sommelier course, and Advanced Artistic Skills in Pastry Décor.
El Centro College
Programs: Culinary Arts / Baking and Pastry / Food and Hospitality Service
Degrees: Associate of Applied Science / Certificate Programs
Time: Three to Five Semesters
Cost per semester: $708 (in district); $1,332 (out of district); $2,008 (non-Texas resident)
Faulkner State Community College
Gulf Shores, Alabama
Programs: Culinary Arts / Pastry and Baking Concentration / Hospitality Management / Events Planning
Degrees: Associate of Applied Science / Certificate Programs
Time: Two-year degrees consisting of six semesters; also three-semester and two-semester certificate programs
Tuition per semester: $1,728 to $2,160 in-state; $3,108 to $3,885 out-of-state
Institute of Culinary Education
New York City
Accreditation: ACCSC, licensed by the N.Y. State Education Department, and approved by the U.S. Department of Education
Programs: Culinary Arts / Pastry and Baking Arts / Hospitality Management / Culinary Management
Awards: Diploma programs, entailing eight to 12 months
Cost: Culinary Arts or Pastry and Baking Arts: $33,890 to $40,100 / Management Programs: $13,920 to $15,990
Students pursuing Culinary Arts, Pastry & Baking Arts, or Hospitality Management spend 210 hours in externship programs in addition to the 400 to 440 hours spent hands-on in class. Students interested in owning and operating their own food businesses can double major in Culinary Management and Culinary Arts or Pastry & Baking Arts. Hospitality Management students can apply their ICE diploma toward an Associate Degree from Excelsior College. The ICE program has flexible morning, afternoon, evening, hybrid, and weekend schedules. Tuition includes an iPad, books, knives, tool kits, and electives. Financial aid, scholarships, and tuition discounts are available to all ICE students who qualify.
In 2015, ICE was named “Culinary School of the Year” by the IACP, an honor the school also received in 2003, 2008, and 2011.
Institute of Technology Culinary School
Clovis and Modesto, California
Accreditation: ACCSC and ACFEF
Programs: Culinary Arts / Baking and Pastry
Degrees: Specialist Diploma / Professional Associate in Occupational Studies (AOS)
Time and Tuition: Specialist Diplomas entail a 30-week or 40-week program, tuition $18,025 to $20,025. The Culinary Arts Professional AOS Degree requires 70 weeks, tuition $31,025.
The International Culinary Center
New York City; Campbell, California; and Italy
Programs: Culinary Arts / Pastry Arts.
Degrees: Culinary Diploma / Grand Diplôme
Time: Programs available in 6-month, 9-month, and 14-month plans.
Tuition: $29,500 to $39,900
At the International Culinary Center in New York City, students tend to be a little older, typically age 24 to 30. Founder and CEO Dorothy Cann Hamilton has seen a lot of evolution since the school opened in 1984, but what hasn’t changed is the passion of culinary students.
L’Academie de Cuisine
Programs: Culinary Arts / Pastry Arts
Degrees: Certificate of Graduation
Time: The day program takes 12 months to complete; the night program takes 15 months. Both include a six-month paid apprenticeship in a fine-dining kitchen.
Tuition and fees: $30,500
In addition to providing substantive, professional training programs that prepare students for employment, the school maintains a job board and networking opportunities for alumni.
Kansas City and St. Louis, Missouri, and Cordova, Tennessee
Accreditation: ACFEF and ACCSC
Programs: Culinary and Restaurant Management / Culinary Fundamentals
Degrees: Associate of Occupational Studies / Certificate and Diploma programs
Time and Tuition: The Culinary Fundamentals program takes 40 weeks, awards a diploma, and costs $22,100. An AOS degree in Culinary & Restaurant Management takes 70 weeks and costs $37,300.
Lincoln Culinary Institute
West Palm Beach, Florida
Accreditation: ACCSC and ACFEF
Programs: Culinary Arts / International Baking & Pastry / Culinary Management
Degrees: Associate of Applied Science Degree / Undergraduate Certificate
Time: 77 weeks for AAS degree; 51 weeks for certificate
Tuition and Fees: $35,874 for AAS; $26,118 for certificate
For those who graduated in 2015 with an AAS degree, 60 percent completed the program in 77 weeks; job placement for those who completed the program is 89 percent. For those who graduated from the certificate program, 83 percent finished in 51 weeks; job placement for those graduates is 79 percent.
San Diego Culinary Institute
La Mesa, California
Programs: Commis de Cuisine / Baking and Pastry Program
Degrees: Advanced Professional Diploma in Cuisine / Advanced Professional Diploma in Pastry
Time: Full-time students complete the cuisine or pastry program in eight months, part-time or evening students complete the program in 11 months.
Tuition: $23,556 for Cuisine; $22,482 for Pastry
San Francisco Cooking School
Downtown San Francisco
Programs: Culinary Arts / Pastry Arts
Degrees: Professional Certificate
Time: Full-time students complete the program in six months; part-time students complete it in 12 months.
Tuition: $29,275 (Culinary) / $28,450 (Pastry)
Enrollment is capped at 14 students per session, which means the school can graduate 98 students a year. Although small in size and relatively new, San Francisco Cooking School has distinguished itself by the company it keeps, fostering partnerships with chefs, restaurants, and foodservice leaders in the area. The school’s Board of Advisors includes chefs and owners from the city’s prominent restaurants including Stuart Brioza, chef/owner of State Bird Provisions and The Progress; Brandon Jew, chef/owner of Mister Jiu’s; Belinda Leong, pastry chef/owner of B. Patissere; and Lincoln Carson, executive pastry chef of the Michael Mina Group—to name just a few.
Star Career Academy
Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey; Newark, New Jersey; New York City; Syosset, New York; Philadelphia
Programs: Commercial Cooking / Professional Cooking / Professional Baking & Pastry
Degrees: Diploma or Professional Certificates
– Diplomas are awarded at Egg Harbor, Newark, and Philadelphia.
– The Commercial Cooking Certificate and Professional Cooking Certificate are awarded at New York City and Syosset.
– The Professional Baking and Pastry Certificate is awarded at Syosset.
Time: Nine to 13 months
Tuition: $10,089 to $17,675
Requirements vary by program. Tuition and fees in the 2015–2016 school year ranged from $10,688 to $17,675, with additional costs for supplies from $1,680 to $4,062. The Baking and Pastry Arts program at Syosset takes six months, with a cost of about $13,000.
National Center for Hospitality Studies. Louisville and Lexington, Kentucky
Programs: Culinary Arts / Baking & Pastry Arts / Hotel Restaurant Management / Event Management and Tourism
Degrees: Associate degrees offered in all programs. Career Diplomas are offered for Personal/Private Chef, Professional Baker, and Professional Cook.
Time: Full-time students complete Career Diploma programs in nine months and Associate programs in 18 months.
Tuition and fees: Vary by program