Culinary schools - which do you recommend?

There are highly talented, experienced chefs on food52. I have been considering going to a culinary school because there are so many gaps in my cooking education. Any recommendations? Thank you for checking in with the question!

  • Posted by: SKK
  • March 23, 2011


ChefJune March 30, 2011
SKK, are you considering relocating for culinary school? or do you really need recommendations for schools in your geographical area?

As for getting more knowledge, I've been cooking all my life (since age 3) but professionally only for 29 years. I seek out knowledge whenever and wherever I can find it. Right here on food52 is a good place! and there are many avocational schools where you'll find excellent teachers for courses that may interest you. One can never know too much about a subject, especially when one is passionate about it!

As far as schools for professional training, well, they also abound all over the country. And like going to university, it is frequently not so much about where you go, as it is about how well you apply yourself and do while studying there. A culinary degree will not guarantee you a job in a professional kitchen at a higher rate of pay than any other beginner. And the beginning pay in professional kitchens is painfully LOW. (Not to mention that the work is long, hot and tedious.)

So get a culinary degree, or professional training if you want it, and if you want to cook in a professional kitchen, I recommend getting a (part-time, maybe) job to see what it's like before you invest your hard-earned $$$.
ChefDaddy March 30, 2011
Innoabrd- I have always tried hiring from the closest culinary school where I usually (not always) build a relationship with the program. But, yes I once hired a lady who had once worked for a very well known food magazine and had gone to Le Cordon Blue in France. She talked a good game but couldn't cut it professionally. I knew it was time to let her go when she started to instruct the capable kitchen staff but couldn't cut vegetables to consistant thicknesses and took forever to do so. A fellow chef told me (I don't know for myself) The Le Cordon Blue in France is not for professional training. Either way you really don't know what kind of person you have hired until they are put to the test of the daily grind.
innoabrd March 30, 2011
Seems to me there's a few different 'grades' of culinary school experience:

There's the full-on 2-4 year professional course for folks who really are going to make a career out of it. It's damn hard work and really not appropriate for someone who's not ready to forsake all other things in life for the duration. Generally includes an intern period in a restaurant. If you have a life already and things like young kids, forget it unless you have the resources and inclination to have your children raised by a nanny. You might as well do it somewhere other than where you live now, you're not going to be home much anyway.

There're the longer courses designed for people with lives who are looking for something different to do with their lives, or just something to do with their lives. I dated a gal who'd done this, thinking she might go into 'catering'. Her food really wasn't that interesting and she hadn't really earned her chops. I could be wrong, but impression is that these courses are generally a waste of time and money and give people the false impression that on graduation they'll be able to go out and hold their own on the line in a professional kitchen. What say ye, Chefdaddy? Ever have someone from a course like this end up in a kitchen you were in?

There are shorter, 1-4 week courses, often taught out of season at professional schools, for non-professionals. These are often targeted on specific things, like making pasta or baking. These can be seen as a form of tourism, but if you take it seriously and go with the right person, you'll learn a hell of a lot in a week. I mean, what I wouldn't give to have been on one of Marcella Hazan's week-long courses! I did one in 2002 in Spain at the Irizar school. In one week Visi Irizar
taught me more about how to manage a kitchen effectively than I can believe.

Have I ever glove boned a chicken? No. But would that make my life any richer?

I see in your profile you want to learn how to make cheese. Why not do a short course from some folks who really know the subject and get a feel for it?
Ms. T. March 29, 2011
One more suggestion: Tante Marie's Cooking School in San Francisco. They have both a professional program (6 months) and casual classes that range from a few hours to a whole week. I've done a few of the evenings, and they've been excellent.
Fran M. March 29, 2011
God I just Love all of you guys! I am so glad I found this site. I too wish I had enough time in the day to try all of your recipes. That's my goal. I guess that makes me a wanna be. I would go to get educated if I had the money. I truly admire all of you that did.
bananapudding March 29, 2011
I second glutenfreegirl's recommendation of the New England Culinary Institute. They have a Certificate program that is shorter than doing a full Associate's or Bachelor's program (approx. 4 months at the school and 4 months of internship, which you could do anywhere). But like ChefDaddy said, be prepared for a physically and mentally demanding experience. Other schools probably offer the shorter option as well, which might be good if you want to get a strong foundation without committing to a years-long program.
Peanut March 28, 2011
Speaking only of personal, not professional, track courses, I found NYC's ICE to be good but not great. I took a "Techniques" course to ground myself in the basics and learn how to do things the "right" way. My classmates (there were 15-20 of us) varied greatly in terms of experience, with some having basically no cooking experience whatsoever. It was a casual atmosphere, with not a lot of supervision possible for individual students. The quality of the handouts was appalling - crooked, blurry photocopies, in many instances with information that was corrected/contradicted by the instructor. Did I learn a few things? Yes. Did I, as a part of a group, make some good food? Yup. Did I get the experience and feedback I was looking for to help strengthen my foundational skills? Not really. Take a class at ICE for fun and with an open mind, but I don't recommend their recreational courses for serious cooks. Sorry.
ChefDaddy March 25, 2011
@ Betteiren- Sorry, but after reading again it still seems like a negative shot at culinary professionals. And. being that I have based my life and career on a culinary school education I could not read your post and not say anything.

About eight years ago I met a chef who was the department head/ instructor at a local culinary program at our community college. Being a CIA graduate he modeled his program after CIA and is turning out some great new young chefs. I have taken it upon myself to be a liason for the program and I am constantly trying to funnel young cooks that are working dead end jobs to the program. So, when it comes to education and self improvement I try to be as positive as possible. So, when someone asks for culinary school advice and I hear a negative tone. I speak up. Sorry.
betteirene March 24, 2011
Whoa, ChefDaddy. . .didn't mean to hit such a raw nerve.

First of all, you should be able to tell from my answers to questions that I have no insecurities. Limitations, yes. Insecurities, no.

Second, sons #2 in IL and #5 in WA are chefs. They went to school. They make more than $12 an hour deciding menus, dealing with vendors, hiring and firing, etc. and it was all my fault: They started cooking in junior high so that they could have dinner at a decent hour instead of at 9 or 11 when I got home from work, and they liked it and were so good at it that I ENCOURAGED them to go. (On second thought--strike the title of "chef" from son #2--he works at a hospital, and we all know that hospital food comes out of cans, right?)

Third, as I stated in my very last paragraph, if I had the money, I'd go back to school. I would love to be one of those chefs who chide people for not knowing how to make headcheese. I think I'd be good at it. ; )
SKK March 24, 2011
Mrs. T, spiffypaws, Bevi - thank you. I am now researching your recommendations.
ChefDaddy March 24, 2011
@bettierene- I usually like to read your posts but this one took a shot at culinary professionals and it seems your insecurities were doing the talking. Why is it that people that didn't take time to seek an education always put education down? Yes, you may spend 40,000 on an education for a $12 hr job but that's where you start not stay unless you don't have what it takes to continue to an executive chef postition or chef/owner. Furthermore you are not any kind of wannabe for seeking and going to a highly regarded culinary school. If you want to work at a truck stop that's your biz but if you want a career in the culinary arts and work for talented chefs that you can learn from. Go to culinary school. I don't know one chef that would hire anybody with out a culinary school education. Oh, and by the way you do learn to cook by cooking in culinary school.
Bevi March 24, 2011
Most of my "training" came form working with my grandmother and dad in our resort kitchen. The food was very simple, but fresh. I lived in Israel for almost 3 years and was exposed to Middle Eastern cuisine by cooking alongside a very creative home cook who believed in fresh food. I have taken a few courses here and there, but I love this site because there are very creative and talented people who know how to enhance and build upon flavors in ways that I would never dream of. In my dreams, I would love to take the summer course at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. I do not know from personal experience, but I have heard from a variety of people that the Institute of Culinary Education in NYC offer some good courses.
betteirene March 24, 2011
With my professional experience and my personal experience as the wife of a picky eater, the mother of six, grandmother of seven, a cake decorator, gardener who's grown pretty nearly everything, and a person who's lived in seven states and three Asian countries, I still have "so many gaps in my cooking education." Sigh.

Culinary school will only take you so far. Yes, there are a few people on this site who have been to culinary school and who get paid for cooking for others. A very few. A very, very few. Most of us learned how to cook (and how NOT to cook) by actually cooking. And by asking questions, and by reading, and by watching TV and by talking to friends and neighbors and co-workers about what to make for dinner. And by experimenting. . .Hmmm--what would happen if I combined a little rosemary with a lot of mint in this teeny lamb chop?

I received most of my professional training at an Illinois truck stop in the 80s from Mrs. C and Ruthie, prep cooks who were an American version of England's Two Fat Ladies. They were so knowledgeable and opinionated and funny that after a year of working in the business office, I asked if the restaurant would hire me. I was lucky enough to be paid for learning what they taught me, and they taught me a lot.

I never attended culinary school but I've cooked at a fast-food place in high school, was a prep cook, line cook or pastry chef at a truck stop, a cafe and a restaurant; I've been a production baker and now I'm a cake decorator. None of that matters here. Scroll down to the bottom of this page and click the "About food52" tab. I'll wait while you count the number of times the word "home" or the phrase "home cook" appear. Pay particular attention to the words "love" and "care" and "passionate." Those words are what I signed up for when I joined food52. This place reminds me of hanging out in the back prep kitchen with Ruthie and Mrs. C. I'd rather hang out here with regular people who went to "been there, done that" school than with snooty Anthony Bourdain-wannabes who spent $40,000 to get a job that pays $12 an hour but who deride me because they know how to make headcheese and I don't.

I certainly hope that you, in a fit of introspection, came to the realization that there are "so many gaps in your cooking education" because you have found, here, so many recipes and ways with food that your head is swimming and there's so little time in the day to try them all. I would hate to think that you think we think you're not capable of developing a winning recipe or worthy of responding to someone's dilemma just because you haven't been to culinary school.

That said, if I had an extra $20,000 for tuition plus another $20,000 or so for living expenses, I'd sign up at the San Francisco Baking Institute. Or Ballymalloe, if Rachel Allen is teaching. Or a class with Patricia Wells in Provence. (I can dream, can't I?) There are also many very highly-regarded and affordable culinary arts programs at not-for-profit community colleges, such as Joliet Junior College or Kendall College in Illinois.
Ms. T. March 24, 2011
The CIA in St. Helena, CA has a one-week program called "Career Discovery" that is designed for people who think they might want to pursue a culinary career. I haven't tried it, but I'm thinking about it! See you there in July? I've also heard good things about Cook Street School of Fine Cooking in Denver.
spiffypaws March 23, 2011
Try interning at a local restaurant or with a caterer first. Restaurant work is physically and mentally very demanding. Culinary school is also very demanding. The schools want to recruit as many students as possible and make it sound glamorous and fast paced. Well, it is fast paced, but certainly not always glamorous! Do a lot of research. Look at the average pay of graduating students. Talk to graduates. I did this 7 years ago and have absolutely no regrets, even though my family thinks I'm crazy.
SKK March 23, 2011
Thank you gluten free, chefdaddy, JamieB and usuba dashi. All taken into consideration. By the way usuba dashi, of course the Irish know how to cook! Way to stand up for their culinary talent!
usuba D. March 23, 2011
Ballymaloe . . .you will learn things from Darina that other schools can't teach you. Do the 12 week course. Oh, by the way, it is in Cork Ireland and yes the Irish do know how to cook!!
JamieB March 23, 2011
Check out this great article by Andrew Zimmern. It is very true.
ChefDaddy March 23, 2011
Are you willing to move to a new location for a school? Are You older than your mid 30's ? Can you stand on your feet for eight + hours a day? Are you in really good physical shape? Can you work in hot kitchen for an extended period of time, daily?

The reason I ask these questions is that culinary school is a physically demanding education. One that requires hands on learning. Don't get me wrong you will have lecture classes and lots of homework or projects and events. But this will be an undertaking of a huge magnitude. And the only reason I say any of this is because you said " for personal reasons". I don't mean to scare you but I just hope you know what your getting yourself into. And the only reason I say this is because so many people quit the first six weeks because they didn't have anybody tell them how hard it is.

I wish you good luck!
glutenfreegirl March 23, 2011
New England Culinary Inst..
SKK March 23, 2011
Personal first, possibly later professional.
nutcakes March 23, 2011
Is this for personal or professional purposes? What are your short and long term goals?
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