What Is Culinary School?

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by TBS Staff

Updated August 15, 2022

Aspiring chefs and restaurant managers can pursue culinary arts certificates through these programs to advance their skills and formalize their training.


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Blending practical kitchen training with theoretical food services training, culinary school prepares graduates for competitive careers in food services.

Graduates can work as head chefs, sous chefs, pastry chefs, and private chefs. They can also pursue careers in hospitality management or culinary arts management.

During culinary school, students learn foundational kitchen techniques, international cooking styles, and knife skills. Hands-on cooking classes cover skills like sauce preparation, baking and pastry techniques, and menu planning. In addition to cooking courses, culinary programs include classes on topics like food sanitation, inventory and cost control, and kitchen management.

What Is a Culinary School?

Culinary school trains students for jobs as chefs and cooks. Learners study cooking techniques and cultivate knife skills. Culinary arts programs incorporate classes on topics like cooking meats, baking, and plating and presentation. Many culinary arts programs include an internship to give students hands-on kitchen training.

In addition to cooking courses, culinary degrees include classes on food safety, cost control, and inventory management. Some programs include business and management training. These courses prepare graduates for leadership roles in the kitchen.

Many culinary schools offer electives or specializations, such as hospitality management, that allow students to tailor the degree to their goals and interests. Formal culinary education prepares graduates for professional certifications and competitive jobs in the food services industry.

Featured Culinary Schools

The Best Culinary Schools

  1. Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park

    Hyde Park, NY

    Founded in 1946, The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) is a highly regarded culinary school headquartered in Hyde Park, New York. CIA also has campuses in Napa and St. Helena, California, in San Antonio, Texas, and in Singapore.

    Its status as private and not-for-profit makes CIA unique among schools that focus solely on culinary training (most are for-profit), and helps ensure that it provides a top-notch education to its students. It is the first school to offer an Associate degree program in culinary arts (1971), as well as a Bachelor degree program (1991)

    CIA offers several Associate and Bachelor degree options, which allow for varying levels of specification and flexibility in choosing a career path. You could train to become a five-star head chef, a pastry chef skilled in the art of delicate, decadent sweets, or study Food Business Management and learn what it takes to run your own restaurant.

    You can start from scratch, but, notably, if you have prior experience working in a professional kitchen, you may qualify to study culinary arts in their accelerated program. Another unique offering at CIA is their BPS in Culinary Science, which would prepare you for a career in research and development in the food industry.

    Besides just providing a strong education, CIA works to help students with career placement and advancement. Each degree program includes a paid externship, giving students on-the-job experience as well as professional connections. Through industry leadership conferences and a large network of alumni, CIA helps its students connect with potential employers and get lined up with a career in their field.

    CIA boasts numerous celebrity chef alumni, with Anthony Bourdain being perhaps their most notable example.

    Degree Programs:

    • Bachelor of Business Administration - Food Business Management
    • Bachelor of Professional Studies - Applied Food Studies
    • Bachelor of Professional Studies - Culinary Science
    • Associate of Occupational Studies - Culinary Arts
    • Associate of Occupational Studies - Culinary Arts, Advanced Career Experience Program
    • Associate of Occupational Studies - Baking and Pastry Arts
  2. Institute of Culinary Education

    New York, NY

    The world-renowned Institute of Culinary Education (ICE) is the nation’s largest independent culinary school, with a cutting-edge campuses in both New York City and Los Angeles. Founded by Peter Kump in 1975, the school has been praised by top chefs and culinary industry leaders. The school offers diplomas in Culinary Arts, Pastry and Baking Arts, Hotel and Restaurant Management, Hospitality Management, The Techniques of Artisan Bread Baking, and The Art of Cake Decorating. The curriculum is intense and comprehensive, with most students completing their programs in six to twelve months.

    The Institute of Culinary Education credits its success to its innovative spirit, global curriculum, expert chef-instructors, dedication to students’ success and entrepreneurial spirit, not to mention its growing network, with over 14,000 graduates and connections to the best restaurants and food businesses in the nation. The school’s mission is to help each student find their culinary voice. Whether through a restaurant, a hotel, food media or a new food business venture, we aim to help each individual find their passion and creative spirit.

    In 2016, Institute of Culinary Education was named “The Best Culinary School in America” by The Daily Meal, a leading food and lifestyle website and Culinary School of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) in 2015, 2011, 2008 and 2003.

    Many alumni have become recognized industry leaders, and are regularly nominated or win top industry awards such as the James Beard Award, IACP Awards, Food & Wine’s “Best New Chefs,” and Dessert Professionals’ “Top Ten Pastry Chefs.”

    Need help with housing or relocation? Check out Institute of Culinary Education’s housing options.

    Diploma and Certificate Programs: ICE students can transfer 29 credits toward an associate or bachelor's degree in one of 27 disciplines through partnership with Excelsior College.

  3. International Culinary Center

    New York, NY

    The International Culinary Center (ICC) is a private, for-profit culinary school headquartered in New York City.

    The New York City campus is located in the famously chic and bustling Soho neighborhood, within walking distance of New York’s Chinatown, Little Italy, and the Lower East Side. Originally, named the French Culinary Institute when it was founded in 1984, ICC is known internationally as a high-caliber culinary school that produces highly qualified and skilled chefs.

    With seven Diploma programs on its academic menu, ICC gives students plenty of options for study and specialization. You can pursue the classic track of Professional Culinary Arts or specialize in pastry, baking, or cake design, but also have the unique option of studying the culinary arts with an emphasis on farm to table techniques. The Intensive Sommelier Training Diploma program, another unique option, prepares students for sommelier certification, with the chance for on-site certification exams. The Culinary Arts diploma comes with a 200-hour externship to give you on-the-job experience, and help with professional networking.

    ICC has entered into a unique relationship with The New School (a leading university that’s home to Parsons School of Design and Mannes College of Music) in New York City. ICC grads can earn up to 60 credits toward a bachelor’s degree at The New School, or 30 toward an associate degree.

    The programs at ICC are fast-track and start on a year-round, rolling basis, with the intent of getting you through school and into the workforce faster. To aid in this pursuit, ICC offers numerous career placement and advancement opportunities, including individualized one-on-one career counseling services, career fairs, and a large network of alumni in the industry who can help you get started in your culinary career.

    ICC claims numerous celebrity chef alumni, including Dan Barber and Bobby Flay, as well as legendary deans, such as Jacques Pépin and Jacques Torres.

    Degree Programs:

    • Bachelor of Business Administration - Professional Culinary Arts/Hospitality and Tourism Management (HTM) concentration (Offered through partnership with Pace University’s Lubin School of Business.)

    Diploma and Certificate Programs: Students can earn 60 credits toward a bachelor's degree or 30 credits toward an associate degree through partnership with The New School

  4. Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts

    Austin, TX

    Taking its name from the legendary French chef, the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts is a private, for-profit culinary school headquartered in Austin, Texas, with a second location in Boulder, Colorado; it also has distance programs for those seeking to get their chef training online.

    At its Austin campus, Auguste Escoffier offers an Associate degree and Diploma programs designed to ensure you are well trained in the culinary arts, and are ready for a career in the industry. The programs culminate in externships that are designed to give students on-the-job experience and help develop professional connections. As a unique bonus, among its course listings, Auguste Escoffier has a farm to table course, keeping up with contemporary culinary trends.

    Auguste Escoffier offers lifetime career placement assistance, starting while you are enrolled, and continuing as an alumnus, through job preparation and writing assistance, networking, industry referrals, and job listings.

    Degree Programs:

    • Associate of Applied Science - Culinary Arts

    Diploma and Certificate Programs:

    • Diploma - Culinary Arts
    • Diploma - Pastry Arts
  5. L’Academie de Cuisine

    Gaithersburg, MD

    L’Academie de Cuisine is a private, for-profit culinary school located in the Washington D.C. area. Founded by the famous Francois Dionot in 1976, L’Academie is committed to developing high-caliber culinary professionals.

    The schools focuses on quality over quantity, offering two Certificate program options to study Culinary Arts and Pastry Arts that are built on a dedicated focus to skill, knowledge, and job-readiness. The programs are structured in three phases, establishing fundamentals, advanced techniques, and culminating in a paid apprenticeship at a fine restaurant, to develop on-the-job experience and professional connections.

    To help with career placement and advancement, in addition to the apprenticeships that are part of the certificate programs, L’Academie maintains a jobs listing board, and has a strong alumni network. The goal of L’Academie is not just to produce great chefs, but to produce great chefs with stable, lucrative careers in the industry.

    L’Academie also boasts celebrity chef alumni, such as Carla Hall “The Chew.”

    Diploma and Certificate Programs:

    • Certificate - Culinary Arts
    • Certificate - Pastry Arts
  6. Johnson and Wales University

    Providence, RI

    Johnson and Wales University is a private, not-for-profit university based in Providence, Rhode Island, with additional locations in North Miami, Florida, in Denver, Colorado, and Charlotte, North Carolina. It is unique because it is a full-fledged university that offers Bachelor and Associate culinary degree programs in addition to more typical degree programs, such as engineering, humanities, and social sciences.

    With 10 different culinary program options to choose from, Johnson and Wales presents students with plenty of opportunities for specialization, including the options to combine culinary studies with management studies. Because of this, Johnson and Wales prepares students for a wide variety of industry positions. Their degree programs include internships, so as to give students on-the-job experience and help develop professional connections.

    To help you get started on a career, Johnson and Wales offers numerous career placement and advancement services, such as career fairs, seminars, networking events, and a jobs listing database. Another perk is that, as a full university, Johnson and Wales has numerous student organizations and clubs on campus that host events and activities, allowing you to have a complete college experience.

    Degree Programs:

    • Bachelor of Science - Culinary Arts
    • Bachelor of Science - Culinary Arts and Food Service Management
    • Bachelor of Science - Baking and Pastry Arts
    • Bachelor of Science - Baking and Pastry Arts and Food Service Management
    • Bachelor of Science - Restaurant, Food, and Beverage Management
    • Bachelor of Science - Food and Beverage Entrepreneurship
    • Bachelor of Science - Culinary Science
    • Bachelor of Science - Culinary Nutrition
    • Associate of Science - Culinary Arts
    • Associate of Science - Baking and Pastry Arts
  7. Metropolitan Community College Nebraska

    Omaha, NE

    Metropolitan Community College Nebraska (MCCN) is a public, not-for-profit institution that offers several Associate degree and Certificate options to study the culinary arts and culinary industry management.

    The goal of MCCN is to provide quality, low-cost educations that prepare students for careers as chefs, restaurant managers, and more. While it may not have all the perks of a private school, its four-figure tuition price tag is hard to beat; MCCN is the school with the lowest cost of tuition on this list.

    Students at MCCN can pursue paid internships, and work in the school restaurant, serving the public while gaining valuable on-the-job experience and engaging in professional networking. In addition to hands-on program curriculums, students can expand their knowledge and hone their skills through the Culinary Competition Team, which also provides opportunities for networking. The Career Services office at MCCN helps students with career placement and advancement through counseling, networking, and other means of assistance.

    Degree Programs:

    • Associate of Applied Science - Culinary Arts and Management with option for general study, or Baking and Pastry emphasis
    • Associate of Applied Science - Hospitality and Restaurant Leadership with option for Food and Event Management emphasis, or Hospitality Entrepreneurship emphasis

    Diploma and Certificate Programs:

    • Certificate of Achievement - Culinary Arts Management
    • Certificate of Achievement - Baking and Pastry
    • Career Certificate - Culinary Arts Foundations
    • Career Certificate - ManageFirst
  8. Kendall College of Culinary Arts

    Chicago, IL

    Another unique option at Kendall is the Accelerated Associate of Applied Science degree in Culinary Arts, designed for those who already have a Bachelor degree in another subject. If the Culinary Arts isn’t your first field of study, if perhaps you are coming to it later in life, this could be an attractive option for you, as it will allow you to skip the general education requirements and complete your degree faster.

    Students at Kendall are offered numerous career placement and advancement opportunities, such as working in the open-to-the-public restaurant The Dining Room, as well as internships. Kendall also offers career services in the form of counseling, job fairs, workshops, networking, and more.

    Degree Programs:

    • Bachelor of Science - Culinary Arts
    • Bachelor of Arts - Business with Culinary Entrepreneurship Concentration
    • Associate of Applied Science - Culinary Arts
    • Accelerated Associate of Applied Science - Culinary Arts
    • Associate of Applied Science - Baking and Pastry
  9. New England Culinary Institute

    Montpelier, VT

    The New England Culinary Institute (NECI) is a private, for-profit culinary school that offers numerous Bachelor and Associate degree and Certificate options, as well as online programs for those seeking an online chef school.

    NECI offers thorough, hands-on programs that put plenty of emphasis on on-the-job experience through internships (requiring two each for its Associate and Bachelor degree programs). It’s options of study include Business Management in addition to Culinary Arts and Baking, in order to prepare students for a career in running a kitchen, not just working in one.

    There are numerous support options available at NECI for career placement and advancement, including the internships, career counseling, professional development workshops, and networking opportunities. In addition to this, there are student clubs and organizations on campus that host events and activities for students, to make sure you are getting the most of your time spent in college.

    NECI boasts notable alumni, such as celebrity chef Alton Brown.

    Degree Programs:

    • Bachelor of Arts - Culinary Arts
    • Bachelor of Arts - Baking and Pastry
    • Bachelor of Arts - Food and Beverage Business Management
    • Associate of Occupational Studies - Culinary Arts
    • Associate of Occupational Studies - Baking and Pastry
    • Associate of Occupational Studies - Food and Beverage Business Management

    Diploma and Certificate Programs:

    • Certificate - Professional Cooking
    • Certificate - Professional Baking and Pastry
  10. Sullivan University National Center for Hospitality Studies

    Louisville, KY

    Sullivan University is a private, for-profit university. Although it offers numerous programs in other fields of study, such as pharmacy and business, Sullivan is probably best known for its culinary school division at its National Center for Hospitality Studies. Its main campus is located in Louisville, Kentucky, a city known for bourbon and a rapidly growing culinary scene; Sullivan has a second campus in nearby Lexington.

    The programs at Sullivan are committed to ensuring career-readiness, with options to focus on becoming a chef, a baker, or working in management, as well as the unique option of studying to work as a personal chef. Sullivan offers Associate degree and Diploma programs. Through a year-round schedule broken into 11-week quarters, students can earn their titles on a fast track, with the option to complete an AS program in 18 months.

    The Career Services office at Sullivan can help you with career placement and advancement while enrolled, or as a graduate, through networking, advising, and other assistance with your job search.

    Degree Programs:

    • Associate of Science - Culinary Arts
    • Associate of Science - Baking and Pastry Arts
    • Associate of Science - Hotel and Restaurant Management

    Diploma and Certificate Programs:

    • Diploma - Personal/Private Chef
    • Diploma - Professional Baker
    • Diploma - Professional Cook
Top Culinary Schools

Best Culinary Schools Ranking Guidelines

We selected schools based on quality, curricula, faculty strength, school awards, rankings, and reputation. This is an updated ranking. While our ranking continues to weigh general culinary excellence, we added additional considerations for cost as well as degree offerings through the schools and their partnerships with other universities.

Popular Questions About Culinary School

Are There Online Culinary Schools?

Students with professional and personal responsibilities may prefer the flexibility of online courses. Some culinary schools offer online classes, particularly in areas like food service management, food safety, and cost control. However, as a hands-on field, culinary arts programs require some in-person courses.

How Much Does Culinary School Cost?

The cost of culinary school varies by school and program. In general, culinary programs offered by community colleges cost less than programs at four-year institutions. Additionally, some programs offer tuition discounts to in-state students. Learners can take advantage of financial aid opportunities, like scholarships and grants, to offset annual tuition costs.

However, tuition isn't the only important factor when considering the cost of a degree. Prospective students should carefully research the reputation of potential schools, which can significantly impact employment prospects after graduation. A program with a strong reputation may cost more in tuition but offer more long-term value with respect to employment opportunities than a cheaper program with a weak reputation.

How Do You Get Into a Culinary School?

The prerequisites for culinary school vary by program, but students typically need a high school diploma or the equivalent for admission. Many culinary colleges also set a minimum age for admission, often 17 years old. Some programs may feature additional requirements; however, applicants generally do not need to demonstrate cooking skills before entering the program.

How Long Is Culinary School?

The length of a culinary program varies by the type of program and a student's enrollment status. A culinary bachelor's degree generally takes four years of full-time study to complete, while an associate degree takes two years full time. Students can also pursue a culinary certificate or diploma, which typically take less than one year to complete.

Students can also attend full-time programs, which more closely align with an apprenticeship model than a traditional university model. Full-time programs typically feature 6-8 hours of class per day, five days per week, similar to a full-time job. This schedule results in an intensive program that often allows students to graduate in 6-8 months.

How Do You Become a Certified Chef?

After attending culinary arts school, prospective chefs can earn certification. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, certification can lead to career advancement and higher pay. The American Culinary Federation (ACF) offers 16 professional certifications, such as culinarian, pastry chef, and sous chef. ACF also offers certifications for private chefs.

Certification candidates must meet education and professional experience requirements.

Certification candidates must meet education and professional experience requirements. ACF certifications generally require graduation from an accredited program and passing scores on written and performance exams. The certified master chef credential requires lower-level certification, courses in restaurant management, and passing exam scores.

Certified chefs must renew their credentials every 1-5 years by meeting continuing education requirements. ACF offers continuing education opportunities, including online classes and conferences.

What is ACF Accreditation?

Culinary schools that meet standards for quality can earn ACF accreditation. Granted by the American Culinary Federation Education Foundation Accrediting Commission (ACFEFAC), ACF accreditation recognizes schools based on faculty qualifications, curricula, and student services. Schools must undergo regular reviews to maintain their accreditation status.

Accreditation expands financial aid opportunities for students, and some employers only hire candidates with an accredited degree. Additionally, most certifications require graduation from an accredited program. ACFEFAC holds recognition from the Council for Higher Education Accreditation as a programmatic accrediting agency.

Food Service Careers

Cooking school prepares graduates for many roles in the food service industry, including chefs, head cooks, and food service managers. We cover several common careers for culinary arts graduates below.

Chefs and Head Cooks

Chefs and head cooks oversee food preparation for restaurants. They monitor and train kitchen staff, ensure the quality of ingredients, and inspect work areas to promote cleanliness. They also develop recipes and order food for the restaurant. Many chefs and head cooks attend culinary arts school to build cooking skills and gain experience with menu planning, inventory, and food sanitation.

Median Annual Salary


Projected Growth Rate


Food Service Managers

Food service managers oversee daily operations at restaurants and other places that serve food and beverages. They manage the business, promote customer satisfaction, and direct kitchen staff. They also hire and train employees, order food and beverages, and oversee food preparation. Additionally, food service managers manage payroll records and make sure employees follow health and food safety procedures. A hospitality or food service program prepares graduates for jobs as food service managers.

Median Annual Salary


Projected Growth Rate



Bakers make breads, pastries, and other baked goods by mixing ingredients and following recipes. They must ensure the quality of ingredients, prepare equipment for baking, and mix dough before baking it in an oven or grill. They may produce baked goods for grocers, restaurants, wholesalers, and institutional food services. Bakers often gain training on the job, but attending culinary school can help bakers gain additional training and advance their careers.

Median Annual Salary


Projected Growth Rate



Cooks prepare foods at restaurants and other establishments that serve food. They check food for freshness, prepare ingredients, and cook dishes. Cooks may also arrange and serve food. Additionally, cooks must clean their work area and store ingredients. Many cooks attend culinary school to gain training in advanced cooking techniques.

Median Annual Salary


Projected Growth Rate



Bartenders mix drinks and serve them to customers at restaurants and bars. They often welcome customers to the establishment, provide information about daily specials, and take drink orders. Bartenders may serve wine, beer, and mixed drinks. They may also check customers' identification, accept payments, and oversee the bar's operation. Some bartenders attend bartending school or take culinary school classes to build their skills.

Median Annual Salary


Projected Growth Rate


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