In culinary circles the debate over the best culinary schools is a heated one, with strong opinions on all sides. From prestigious institutes and culinary academies to community college programs, America is home to a vast array of culinary schools for those wishing to receive instruction. These schools vary widely in terms of cost, curriculum and prestige, but a select few stand out and are recognized the world over.
Perhaps the best known is the Culinary Institute of America, commonly called the CIA. The Institute’s primary campus is in Hyde Park, New York, with branch schools in Texas, California and Singapore. The school began in Connecticut in the 1940s as a facility to train returning World War II soldiers in culinary arts. From there the school expanded, went through various name changes and moved to its current location in New York. The school is widely regarded as one of the best schools in the world and can boast several celebrity chefs among its alumni, including Rocco Dispirito, Anthony Bourdain and Cat Cora. Multiple degree programs are offered, including Associate and Bachelor programs; however, a minimum of six months of food service experience is required to attend. An accelerated program is also available to professionals with at least four years of experience.
The school hosts the American Culinary Federation’s grueling Master Chef exam. The test is so demanding that only a handful attempt it and even fewer pass. The Institute itself employs the highest number of Master Chefs of any school and has faculty from around the world, many of whom are award-winning authors of textbooks and other media.
Johnson and Wales University is the largest educator of chefs and food service professionals in the world with a well-known and respected Culinary Arts program. The main campus for the school is in Rhode Island with branch campus in Florida, Colorado and North Carolina. The school also boasts a number of celebrity chefs among its alumni, including Tyler Florence and Emeril Legasse.
Any list of culinary schools would be incomplete without considering what is perhaps the oldest culinary school, Le Cordon Bleu. The name is shrouded in centuries-old mystery, but the school itself opened in 1895 in Paris. After a brief closing during the German occupation in World War II the school reopened and has become the largest culinary institution in the world, with 35 schools on five continents. Celebrity chefs Mario Batali and Giada De Laurentiis attended, as well as Julia Child, who attended the school while she lived in France and is one of its most well-known graduates.
A culinary education can be grueling and intense but also incredibly rewarding. The culinary field requires a complex knowledge of food, science and art in an ever-changing and expanding industry. The experience is not to be undertaken lightly. Culinary schools are often expensive and very demanding. However, the work required to obtain an education from one of these institutions is rewarded with a level of respect for the name behind the degree. Each of these schools has a tradition of excellence and a list of notable graduates to support their position as one of the top schools locally and internationally.