This is a ranking of the Top 20 Culinary Schools in the United States. The National Restaurant Association reports that in 2016 hospitality job openings are at an all time high. Since 2010, more than 2 million jobs have been created in the restaurant industry. The projected job growth rate for chefs is 9%, higher than the average for all other occupations between now and 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Food and beverage preparation and presentation has become a passionate, delicate art form for the professional chef to share with eager students. From the aromas of brick oven bread to the science of nutrition, students interested in Culinary School will find a variety of enticing options and experiences waiting in each program. And when it comes to Culinary Science mere theoretical knowledge will not suffice. Thus, in these top 20 schools, hands-on experience is a critical part of each curriculum and internships are a necessity.
However, one does not need to be interested in becoming a professional chef to enjoy cooking. Many of the schools offer one day classes for the cooking enthusiast. Whether your preference is professional meals, cake decorating, or just looking for some cooking tips, each school prides itself on the quality presented in every class and the personal experience available to each student.
In the heart of New York City within view of the Hudson River, the Institute of Culinary Education has been making its mark on history since 1975. Founded by Peter Kump, the 6 to 13 month training programs are organized into four major schools of study: Culinary Arts, Pastry and Baking, Culinary Management, and Hospitality Management. Numerous Continuing Education courses are also available through the School of Professional Development. Instruction is mainly based on classical French techniques. However, cuisines from Italy, Spain, China, India, and other international locations are also explored.
With 12 teaching kitchens, a Chocolate Laboratory, Hydroponic Garden, Mixology Center, and Culinary Technology Laboratory, the Institute has been recognized as managing the largest recreational cooking classes and wine education in North America. The IACP recognized the Institute of Culinary Education in 2015 with the “Culinary School of Excellence” award.
The French Culinary Institute was founded by the distinguished Dorothy Cann Hamilton in 1984, which became the fore-runner to the current International Culinary Center in New York City, New York. The school manages an additional campus in California and an auxiliary campus in Italy.
There are 10 professional training programs such as Bread Baking, Food Style and Media, Cake Techniques and Design, and Farm to Table courses. Professional wine programs are also offered at the New York and California locations. The International Culinary Center claims to be the only school with 11 Master Sommeliers on faculty. All educational programs embrace a Total Immersion system of hands-on learning. For those with a more amateur interest in the field, recreational one-day classes are available. The International Culinary Center is a four time winner of the IAPC’s ‘Culinary School of Excellence’ award, and was inducted into the Culinary Hall of Fame in 2013.
3. Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park (Hyde Park, New York)
A private institution founded in 1946, the Culinary Institute of America offers Associate’s degrees, Bachelor’s degrees, and Continuing Education credits for professionals. Programs of study include Culinary Science, Baking and Pastry Arts, and Management. The early curriculum of the school was founded in the techniques and recipes of Northern Europe. As the school has expanded, the curriculum has also grown to include cuisine studies from the Americas, Asia, and the Mediterranean. Nearly 3,000 students are currently in attendance.
There are four branch locations of the school, New York, California, Texas, and Singapore. The main campus is located in Hyde Park, New York. The California campus, added in 1995, is known for hosting the Worlds of Flavors Conference at Greystone. Nine unique restaurants are operated by the various campuses. Research projects are managed by the Department of Culinary Science and the Center for Foods of the Americas.
4. Arizona Culinary Institute (Scottsdale, Arizona)
At the Arizona Culinary Institute, students can expect to spend 80 percent of their time gaining hands-on experience in five professional fully equipped kitchens. Students will work towards a diploma in Culinary Arts, Baking, and Restaurant Management. Day and night programs are available which are both considered full time and follow the same curriculum. The Day program runs for 30 weeks with eight scheduled start dates, and the Night program runs for 40 weeks with four scheduled start dates. The curriculum for both tracks has nine consecutive classes including Saucier and Meat Fabrication, Restaurant Operations, and six required weeks of internship experience.
Weekly evaluations through both written and practical quizzes are given to track students’ progress and comprehension of the material. The average class has 12 – 15 students with no more than 20 students in a class at a time. The institute manages the du Jour restaurant where students run all aspects of preparing and serving food.
The school is accredited by the ACCSC and was the recipient of the 2009-2010 ACCSC School of Excellence award.
5. L’Academie de Cuisine (Gaithersburg, Maryland)
L’Academie de Cuisine operates two separate schools, one for professionals and one for recreational cooking, located in Gaithersburg, Maryland and Bethesda, Maryland respectively. Founded by the classically French trained chef Francois Dionot in 1976, the school offers two major professional programs: Culinary Arts and Pastry Arts. In addition to the traditional classroom study, both programs require a 26-week apprenticeship in a fine dining establishment before graduation. Students will complete a total of 1,620 clock hours for both degrees. Day and evening courses are available.
Home of the USA World Pastry Cup team, L’Academie de Cuisine has been the recipient of the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ “Cooking School of the Year” award. The school maintains a number of partnerships with professional organizations including IACP, RAMW, and Women Chefs and Restaurateurs.
6. International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Washington (Washington DC)
The Art Institutes are a large system of schools throughout the United States with over 50 locations dedicated to four main areas of study, Design, Media Arts, Fashion, and Culinary. The Art Institute branch located in Washington, D.C. opened in the year 2000. It offers the following culinary programs: Diploma or Associate degrees in Baking and Pastry or Culinary Arts, or a Bachelor of Science in Culinary Arts Management. Unique to this school is the ability for students to complete the Culinary Management degree online.
The program curriculums are based on the principles of the French chef Escoffier. The Culinaire Restaurant is the school’s main hands-on instructional environment. Due to a strong partnership with the Universita dei Sapori, students have the unique opportunity to study traditional Italian cuisine for two weeks in Italy.
7. Kendall College of Culinary Arts (Chicago, Illinois)
The Laureate International Universities is a global network of institutions for higher education, of which the Kendall College of Culinary Arts is a part. Kendall College manages four major professional schools: Business, Education, Hospitality Management, and Culinary Arts.
The School of Culinary Arts at Kendall College offers three quality hands-on degree programs: a Bachelor of Arts in Culinary Arts, an Associate of Applied Science in Culinary Arts with an accelerated option also available, and an Associate degree in Baking and Pastry. Additionally, there are two opportunities for continuing education credits in the TASTE Intensive Classes and the Culinary Teachers Academy.
There are several facilities managed by the School of Culinary Arts including 12 professional grade commercial kitchens, an outdoor bread oven, specialized chocolate/sugar and garde manger kitchens, and a sustainable garden for growing and harvesting organic produce.
8. Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts (Lancaster, PA)
YTI Career Institute was founded in 1967 as a private post-secondary institution for higher education. Accredited by the National Association of Trade and Technical Schools, YTI offers various specialized technology and business degrees across five campus locations. The Lancaster, Pennsylvania location is home to the Pennsylvania School of Culinary Arts.
There are two programs offered at the School of Culinary Arts. The Culinary Arts/Restaurant Management Program requires 90 total credits and takes an average of 21 months for students to complete. The Pastry Arts Program requires only 58 credits before graduation and typically takes 12 months to complete. Both programs were awarded Exemplary Status by the ACF in February of 2015.
Additional facilities operated by the School of Culinary Arts include four kitchen laboratories and a 2,000 square-foot instruction dining room with enough seating for 72 people.
9. Sullivan University (Louisville, Kentucky)
Recognized as the largest private institution for higher education in the state of Kentucky, Sullivan University has grown to an enrollment of over 6,000 students. Founded in 1962, the school maintains two physical campus locations and a strong online presence. One of the highlights for the Louisville, Kentucky campus is the National Center for Hospitality Studies.
The NCHS offers nine degree programs ranging from a Diploma in Personal/Private Chef to a Bachelor of Science in Hospitality Management. There are more than 650 students enrolled in the various tracks. In addition to the Winston’s Restaurant on campus, the NCHS is able to take advantage of its location near the center of Louisville which has been ranked as one of the Top 10 restaurant cities in the United States.
As a point of pride for the school, the NCHS Culinary program was the only one in America to be formally invited in 2008 to cook for the Olympic athletes and sponsors in the Beijing Olympics.
10. New England Culinary Institute (Montpelier, Vermont)
Fan Voigt and John Dranow founded the New England Culinary Institute in 1980 as a private school where each student is individually screened for their passion of cooking before admission. Starting the only seven pupils taught by Chef Michel LeBorgne, there are now over 500 students in attendance with an extensive alumni network of more than 5,000 in all 50 states and from 15 countries. The location of the school has been advantageous as Vermont is often recognized as the epicenter of the local and sustainable food movement.
Using an apprenticeship model of education, students will receive hands-on experience not only in the classroom but also through the required 700-hour internship. There are nine programs including Food and Beverage Business Management and Baking and Pastry Arts. Three of the programs may be taken completely online. Restaurants which the school operates include the Chef’s Table, NECI on the Main, and La Brioche Bakery & Café.
11. Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts (Austin, Texas and Boulder, Colorado)
Founded in 1991 by Joan Brett, the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts was originally known as the Cooking School of the Rockies. In 2011 the school became an affiliate of the Auguste Escoffier Foundation and Le Musée Escoffier de l’Art Culinaire in France and so changed its name in honor of Auguste Escoffier. Known as the ‘King of Chefs’, Escoffier developed over 5,000 recipes and innovative approaches to kitchen management which are the foundation for the current curriculum.
The School of Culinary Arts manages two campus locations and offers programs in Culinary Arts or Pastry Arts. The Culinary Arts program may be taken as a 40 week diploma track or 60 week Associate’s track. Each track requires a 10 week externship and six week Farm to Table experience. The Pastry Arts program is offered as a 32 week diploma which requires a 225 hour externship. Online programs may be taken through the Escoffier Online International Culinary Academy.
12. The Culinary Institute of New Orleans (New Orleans, Louisiana)
The Culinary Institute of New Orleans was founded in 1984. This private 2-year institution has the benefit of being located in what has been called the ‘Food Capital’ of the world. Among the Jazz and Music Festival, Mardi Gras, and Voodoo Fest, New Orleans is well known for a variety of local cuisines and specialties such as the beignets, Italian Muffuletta sandwiches, and the praline candy.
Taking the best of both worlds, the Culinary Institute operates the Jazz Brunch TV show in association with Marketing A.P.S., hosted by Bob Koehl and Lonnie Varisco, the Head Chef of the school. Additionally, the Institute manages the Cricket Club restaurant, which serves gourmet cuisines prepared by interning students. Affiliations are maintained with Famous Chefs and Princess Foods, a Women Business Enterprise specializing in culinary products.
13. Johnson & Wales University (Providence, Rhode Island)
As a career oriented institution for higher education, Johnson and Wales University operates six schools and colleges, one Center for Physician Assistant Studies, and a Graduate Studies division. Founded in 1914, the various programs are offered throughout four campus locations and a distance learning option.
The College of Culinary Arts offers an Associate’s degree in the field in addition to Bachelor of Science programs in Baking and Pastry Arts, Culinary Arts and Food Service Management, Culinary Nutrition, Food Service Entrepreneurship, and Business Studies. Two recreational classes and also offered: Chef’s Choice and Wine and Beverage Education.
Students who are required to complete internships may do so at the various facilities managed by the University including country clubs, casinos, and contract food service providers. There is also a unique Culinary Arts Museum. Select second-year students may be offered the opportunity to participate in a Culinary International Exchange with schools in Ireland and the Azores for one term.
14. San Diego Culinary Institute (San Diego, CA)
Known as the birth place of California, San Diego has a mild year-round climate, a natural deep-water harbor, and extensive beaches. It is also home to the San Diego Culinary Institute. There are two academic divisions: the Savory Kitchen and the Sweet Kitchen. The curriculum is divided into three course sequences: the Introductory Lecture Series, the Lab Series, and the Externship. Approximately 80 percent of course work is done in the fully equipped kitchen classrooms. A total of 220 hours of externship experience are expected before graduation.
The Advanced Professional Diploma in Cuisine and the Pastry Program both use the Commis Method of study, with emphasis given to the techniques of cooking, not just learning recipes. Students can expect a comprehensive overview from Flavor Theory to Culinary Business and Professionalism.
15. Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA)
Since 2013, the Center for Hospitality and Sports Management in Drexel University has offered Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Culinary Arts and Food Science. The Bachelor’s in Culinary Arts and Science are four year programs, with one six month co-op experience required. Two concentrations are available in Food and Beverage Management and Culinary Science.
The Master’s in Food Science requires an additional 45 credits post-baccalaureate. There are four main areas of study in the program: Food Engineering, Sensory Science, Food Safety and Food Microbiology, and Food Chemistry.
As part of Continuing Education credits, Drexel University offers the National Restaurant Association ServSafe program. This requires eight hours of classroom time and eight hours of home study.
Industry and Community Partners of the school include The Philly Chef Conference, the Bistro Garden, Carla Hall’s Southern Kitchen, and many others.
16. The French Pastry School (Chicago, Illinois)
Kennedy-King College is a two year community college founded in 1935. Part of the City Colleges of Chicago, Kennedy-King enrolls over 1,000 students and is home to the French Pastry School. Dedicated to refining the art of baking, the French Pastry School was founded in 1955 by Chefs Jacquy Pfeiffer and Sébastien Canonne.
L’Art de la Pâtisserie program was started in 1999. This 24 week degree is for students to obtain a certificate in pastry and baking. L’Art du Gâteau is a 16 week certificate program for Professional Cake Baking and Decorating, which was recently added in 2010. Finally, the L’Art de la Boulangerie program, which started in 2011, is a comprehensive, 10-week bread baking certificate.
All certificate programs are full-time only and may account for 16 to 24 college credit hours. Professional chefs may also participate in a number of three to five day long Continuing Education classes.
17. Boston University Metropolitan College (Boston, Massachusetts)
Metropolitan College is one of 17 degree-granting institution which comprise Boston University. Originally founded as part of the Division of Continuing Education in 1965, the College now offers over 60 undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs. Two of those programs include the Graduate certificate in Food Studies, and the Master of Liberal Arts in Gastronomy.
The Master’s degree in Gastronomy is a 40 credit program with a master’s thesis option at the end for qualified students. Four areas of concentration are available: Business and Entrepreneurship, Communication, Food Policy, and History and Culture. Students will gain valuable hands-on experience in the culinary arts laboratories and wine studies courses. The program was founded in the 1980’s by Julia Child and Jacques Pepin.
The Food Studies certificate requires 16 credits, many of which are shared with and may be applied towards the Master’s in Gastronomy.
18. San Francisco Cooking School (San Francisco, California)
Ideally located in a city with 50 percent more restaurants per household population than New York, the San Francisco Cooking School is a private institution offering intimate classes of no more than 14 students. There are four enrollment options, three full-time start dates and a part-time option only available once per year. Students have 30 elective hours to help personalize their curriculum. There are no lecture halls or demonstration classrooms. Students are taught directly in the fully equipped, state-of-the-art kitchens.
The Culinary School is directed and taught by Chef Catherine Pantsios and the Pastry School is directed by Nicol Plue. The Pastry program was designed by SFCS Dean and Pastry Chef, Bill Corbett and Advisor and Pastry Chef, Lincoln Carson.
Both programs end with Restaurant or Pastry Week, a precursor to the externship. Restaurants providing externship experience to students include Twenty Five Lusk, Aziza, NOPA, Absinthe, and many others.
19. Monroe College (New Rochelle, New York)
Founded in 1933, Monroe College has been ranked as the most affordable private school in New York State. Today there are nearly 7,000 students enrolled within seven undergraduate and six graduate programs.
Within Monroe College is the Culinary Institute of New York. Located just 25 minutes from the city and its 23,000 restaurants, the Institute was founded in 2009. There are now five ACF Chef Instructors on staff. There are three academic programs offered at an Associate’s level: Culinary Arts, Pastry Arts, or Hospitality Management. Bachelor’s and Master’s level studies are available for the Hospitality Management program only.
To enhance student’s educational hands-on experiences, Monroe College opened the Dining Lab in 2013 and operates the Pastry Kiosk, a student run café.
20. The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
The Restaurant School at Walnut Hill College was founded in 1974, making it one of the first schools in the Philadelphia area to offer education in hospitality.
Students will receive hands-on training in the six state-of-the-art kitchens and four public restaurants. The academic year is divided into four 10-week terms. There are four programs all available at either an Associates or Bachelors level: Culinary Arts, Pastry Arts, Restaurant Management, and Hotel Management. The Associate’s degree can be completed in as little as 18 months and the Bachelor’s in 36 months.
The school maintains 16 professional membership associations including the National Restaurant Association and the American Institute of Wine and Food.
Top 20 Culinary Schools
This article was written by Stephen DeRose. Stephen writes articles about education for different venues and has worked for multiple test prep and admissions companies, such as Kaplan and the Huntington Learning Center.