Training to Be a Chef
A primer on the best training/education for aspiring chefs
If you are interested in becoming a chef and are looking for basic information on how to make that dream a reality, read our companion article “How to Become a Chef.” However, if you have already given the idea much thought and simply need a few facts regarding prices, prestige, and programs offered by some of the top culinary schools in the US, you have come to the right place.
1. Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), New York, NY
New York City’s largest center for culinary education has well-respected instructional programs in culinary arts, pastry and baking, culinary management, and hospitality management. ICE also touts the most opportunities for amateur cooks to improve their skills in cooking and baking as well as wine education courses. In terms of prestige, ICE was a finalist/winner of the International Association of Culinary Professional’s Awards of Excellence for Culinary Schools in 2002, 2003, 2006, and 2008.
Price: $30,278.90–$34,278.90 for their 650-hour curriculum with schedule options (along with varying prices) that include morning, afternoon, and evening intensive programs as well as twilight, weekend, and hybrid programs.
2. The International Culinary Center (ICC), New York, NY
Formerly known as the French Culinary Institute, ICC is an award-winning school specializing in fast-track culinary training with programs spanning culinary arts, pastry arts, cake design, bread baking, wine studies, and entrepreneurship. Recognized four times in a row as Best Vocational Cooking School of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals as well as the School of Excellence from the Accrediting Commission of Career Schools and Colleges, ICC’s Total ImmersionSM program has produced numerous talents such as ramen master David Chang, Food Network star Bobby Flay, and chefs for Michelin-rated restaurants such as Josh Skenes (Saison) and Hooni Kim (Danji).
Price: $38,500–$48,750 for their 600-hour Classic Culinary Arts course (price depends upon whether you choose to take the daytime schedule, which runs for six months, or the evening schedule, which runs for nine months). They also offer the Italian Culinary Experience course which includes instruction in Italy for $43,300 (housing and airfare to Italy not included).
3. Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts, numerous locations
Probably the most well-recognized institution because of their ever-present advertising campaigns, Cordon Bleu programs have become ubiquitous throughout the US. No matter the location, each individual school provides a similar curriculum based on classic culinary techniques and theoretical concepts combined with modern innovations and hands-on practical and creative application. Individual schools differ slightly in terms of prices and specific programs, but all bestow Associate’s degrees and professional certificates.
- Austin, TX (formerly known as Texas Culinary Academy) – $37,050 for the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) program and $19,550 for a professional certificate.
- Dallas, TX – $37,050 for the AAS program and $19,550 for a professional certificate.
- Boston, MA – $37,050 for the AAS program (as a resident student), $40,050 for non-resident students, and $17,550 for a professional certificate.
- Chicago, IL (formerly known as The Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago) – $37,050 for the AAS program (as a resident student), $40,050 for non-resident students, and $19,550 for a professional certificate.
- Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN – $37,050 for the AAS program (as a resident student), $40,050 for non-resident students, and $19,550 for a professional certificate.
- Scottsdale, AZ (formerly known as Scottsdale Culinary Institute) – $37,000 for the Associate of Occupational Studies (AOS) program (as a resident student), $40,000 for non-resident students, and $19,500 for a professional certificate. Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts at Scottsdale also offers distance learning opportunities including a Bachelor of Arts (BA) in Culinary Management for $25,000, AOS in Hospitality and Restaurant Management for $23,000, and AOS in Culinary Operations for $33,211.
- Sacramento, CA (formerly known as Kitchen Academy) – $37,068.50 for the AAS program and $19,560 for a professional certificate.
- Las Vegas, NV – $37,050 for the AAS program (as a resident student), $40,050 for non-resident students, and $19,550 for a professional certificate.
- Los Angeles, CA (formerly known as California School of Culinary Arts) – $37,068.50 for the AOS program (as a resident student), $40,070 for non-resident students, and $19,560 for a professional certificate.
- Portland, OR (formerly known as Western Culinary Institute) – $37,050 for the AOS program (as a resident student), $40,050 for non-resident students, and $19,550 for a professional certificate.
4. The International Culinary School at The Art Institute of Washington, Arlington, VA
This branch of The Art Institute of Atlanta boasts a wide-ranging curriculum that includes baking and pastry, culinary arts management, food and beverage management, and wine, spirits, and beverage management. Evening and weekend schedules, online and in-class formats, and hands-on instruction at the school’s own restaurant (Culinaire) provide a well-rounded and easily accessible program for students to learn everything from basic cooking techniques to menu planning, cost control, and foodservice technology.
Price: $30,237 for an 11-month Culinary Arts Certificate, $48,578 for the AA program, $28,311 for a 12-month Baking and Pastry Certificate, $30,237 for a 15-month Culinary Arts Skills Certificate, and $94,557 for their BA in Culinary Arts Management program.
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5. Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Hyde Park, NY
The oldest culinary school in the US, CIA has long been considered one of the best and remains a hot spot for companies looking to recruit eager young students and recent graduates. CIA awards both Associate’s and Bachelor’s degrees at its locations in NY, San Antonio, TX, and Singapore as well as professional certificates at its campus in St. Helena, CA. CIA’s list of notable alumni includes molecular gastronomist Grant Achatz, TV personality Anthony Bourdain, food truck impresario Roy Choi, and bizarre food lover Andrew Zimmern.
Price: $52,920 for a two-year Associate’s degree and $105,840 for a four-year Bachelor’s degree at the Hyde Park campus.
6. Kendall College School of Culinary Arts, Chicago, IL
Founded in 1934, Kendall College is one of the few institutions that offer a Bachelor’s degree in culinary arts as well as their AAS and certificate programs. Their four-year program covers international cuisine, nutrition, business administration, finance, marketing, and personnel management. Kendall was recently named one of the top 20 culinary schools in America by FSR Magazine in June 2014 and previously received the Academy of the Culinary Arts Cordon d’Or - Gold Ribbon Cooking School of the Year Culinary Academy Award for 2008.
Price: $12,950 for the Culinary Certificate program, $53,946 for a two-year Associate’s degree, and $107,892 for a four-year Bachelor’s degree.
7. Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts, Boulder, CO and Austin, TX
Named for legendary chef Auguste Escoffier, this institution provides professional programs focused on the farm-to-table philosophy and based on the principles that helped the King of Chefs modernize traditional French cooking methods. In addition to programs in culinary and pastry arts, they also provide instruction for home cooks to expand their skills.
Price: $26,750 for the 40-week Culinary Arts program and $22,000 for the 32-week Pastry Arts program (room and board not included).
8. L’Academie de Cuisine, Gaithersburg, MD
The premier culinary school in the Washington, DC area and one of the finest in the US, L’Academie de Cuisine offers classes for children, adults, and professionals with diverse courses such as Fundamental Culinary and Pastry, International Culinary Techniques, and Professional Culinary Development. Their curriculum earned the 1997 Award of Excellence in the cooking school category from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
Price: $30,500 for the Culinary Arts program (50–62 weeks long depending on day or evening schedule) and $26,500 for the Pastry Arts program (50–62 weeks long depending on day or evening schedule).
9. Johnson & Wales University (JWU), Providence, RI
In 1993, JWU became the first school in the US to grant a BS degree in Culinary Arts and it’s now the largest food service educator in the world. Their globally recognized College of Culinary Arts was inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame in 2012 and counts celebrity chefs Emeril Lagasse, Graham Elliot, and Tyler Florence among past graduates. Programs include baking and pastry, culinary arts, culinary nutrition, food service management, and food entrepreneurship. JWU also operates campuses in Cranston, RI, Miami, FL, Denver, CO, and Charlotte, NC.
Price: $54,312 for a two-year Associate’s degree and $108,624 for a four-year Bachelor’s degree.
10. New England Culinary Institute (NECI), Montpellier, VT
In operation for more than 30 years, NECI offers a unique educational model based on small classrooms, low student-teacher ratios, individual attention, and hands-on training in one of their restaurants. Aspiring chefs learn and apply their skills within the teaching kitchens of NECI on Main, La Brioche Bakery and Café, Chef’s Table, Dewey Café at Vermont College of Fine Arts, and National Life Cafeteria. NECI’s academic programs include degrees in culinary arts, food and beverage business management, and baking and pastry as well as certificates in professional cooking and professional baking and pastry.
Price: $73,520 for AOS in Culinary Arts or Baking and Pastry Arts, $113,560 for BA in Culinary Arts, $25,200 for online BA in Culinary Arts (Associate’s degree required), $53,040 for AOS in Food and Beverage Business Management, $93,090 for BA in Food and Beverage Business Management, and $25,200 for online BA in Food and Beverage Business Management (Associate’s degree required).
11. Sullivan University, Louisville, KY
In 2008, Sullivan University was selected as the only culinary program in the US to be formally invited to cook for Olympic athletes and sponsors in Beijing, China, but the University’s National Center for Hospitality Studies (NCHS) has been in existence since 1987. Winston’s Restaurant at Sullivan University was named the best teaching restaurant facility in the US by the American Culinary Federation in 2007 and has won multiple Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence.
Price: $27,960 for Diploma in Professional Cooking, $20,970 for Diploma in Professional Baking or Personal Private Chef, $41,940 for AS in Culinary Arts, Baking and Pastry Arts, or Professional Catering, and $38,400 for AS in Beverage Management, Hotel and Restaurant Management, or Event Management and Tourism.
12. San Diego Culinary Institute (SDCI), San Diego, CA
SDCI has the highest minimum standard for experience among chef instructors of any of the schools on this list. Their chef instructors have a minimum of 5 years’ experience as an executive chef, an average of 25 years of total culinary experience, and possess the Certified Executive Chef designation. SDCI does not employ classroom assistants or associate instructors, so all students work closely with a chef instructor to learn and practice each technique. The Commis de Cuisine program takes 8–11 months to complete depending upon full- or part-time enrollment and the Pastry program takes approximately 8 months to complete. Both programs conclude with a 200-hour externship at a fine dining restaurant, resort, hotel, or catering company. In addition to culinary coursework, career development assistance is also offered including help in opening a new restaurant or starting a business.
Price: $37,398 for the Advanced Professional Diploma in Cuisine Commis Culinary program and $35,428 for the Advanced Professional Diploma in Pastry program.
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