Watching Anthony Bourdain or The British Baking Show. Reading Christopher Kimball and Tamar Adler. Viewing Julie & Julia on repeat, or following Stanley Tucci through Italy. At some point, enthusiasm becomes a vocation, and a cook becomes a chef.
Once home cooks decide to pursue a culinary career, they have several decisions to make. While some Bachelors’s programs exist (and even a few master’s and doctoral programs), a two-year associate’s degree or even a diploma program can prepare students for most hospitality and restaurant positions.
When choosing a program, it’s essential to make sure the degree leads to the career goal.
An AOS degree—Associate of Occupational Sciences—focuses on practical, job-directed training.
Not all chefs have degrees; many learn as apprentices on the job, and an AOS program can replicate that kind of experience.
Associate of Applied Science and Associate of Arts degrees often have more academic components and usually provide a foundation for further study.
A tremendous culinary education mixes creative energy and expression with practical experience and career planning.
Artistry and technical reasoning command equal importance. Quick thinking and reasoning, sharpened through practical apprenticeships, deliver on the promise of innovative ideas.
Each of these schools have developed educational programs and professional relationships designed to provide the knowledge, training, and connections students need to forge careers in food-related industries.
These schools all have programs for aspiring chefs, but each one offers paths to so many more career areas in and out of the kitchen: food safety, food writing, craft brewing, farm-to-table culture, pastry chef, hotel management, entrepreneurship, tourism.
Culinary professionals looking for new or higher training can find specific programs, from single seminars to intensive, extended workshops. Whether mastering their crème patisserie or learning about obscure Italian varietal wines, students can expand their skills at any of these schools.
Formal training and diplomas may not be necessary for a culinary career, but employment statistics show graduates from these programs find placement in their choice of fields. On-campus restaurants and cafes, along with professional externships, ensure graduates leave with the confidence and training they need to compete in the fast-paced hospitality industry.
Here are our picks for 10 of the best culinary schools in the US.
Colorado State University (Fort Collins, CO)
Colorado State University’s Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition covers an array of programs in food-related study, including nutrition, hospitality management, and even fermentation studies. Students planning any sort of food career can find the training and support they need among the courses, facilities, and real-world experiences at Colorado State.
Bachelor of Science degrees in Hospitality Management and Nutrition and Food Science represent two distinct career paths: the food service industry or the health and fitness field. A third BS in Fermentation Science provides training for the brewing industry, either in production or management.
Specialty graduate programs and undergraduate minors include a food safety-focused plan of study. A coordinated program in Dietetics leads students to certification as a Registered Dietician Nutritionist.
Colorado State’s Culinary Lab serves as the kitchen classroom for the program, but the space also provides professional kitchen space for the extended community. The Food Processing Support Service lab extends valuable services to local food entrepreneurs, testing and analyzing products and advising on procedures.
Located on campus at the Lory Student Center, the Aspen Grille gives Colorado State hospitality students a place to practice their skills and locals a great place to eat. The restaurant partners with local, sustainable providers for a healthy and delicious menu.
Research in topics from obesity prevention to farm-to-table cuisine demonstrates the breadth of Colorado State’s program. With job placement from 86% to 93% six months from graduation, the food science programs at Colorado State create graduate success in multiple fields.
SUNY Alfred State College (Alfred, NY)
The Culinary Arts program at the College of Technology at SUNY Alfred State prepares students for careers as bakers, chefs, institutional food program supervisors, and entrepreneurs in the food industry.
Students in the program earn an Associate of Occupational Science degree, but also have the option to stay on for a Bachelors in Business Administration.
The AOS program in culinary arts allows students to acquire the skills they need in food safety, use of culinary equipment, estimating food costs, and preparing recipes.
Students complete 300 hours of supervised work experience before graduation, ensuring professional confidence and securing job experience for students.
A separate AOS degree program focuses on baking production and management. This program centers on practical training: students learn skills, techniques, equipment utilization, and all aspects of bakery production.
Students at Alfred State learn by doing. The culinary program prepares and serves 700 institutional meals each day in the program’s Production lab. The Refinery Restaurant functions as a commercial restaurant facility, giving students actual work experience while they earn their degrees.
Ranked as one of the top culinary arts programs in New York State, Alfred State offers a practical approach to getting students trained and working within the culinary field.
University of North Alabama (Florence, AL)
The University of North Alabama offers a full, four-year Bachelor of Science in Culinary Arts. Students may also choose a culinary arts or food management minor.
Students in the program learn all aspects of food safety, preparation, and service. Coursework in baking, wine and spirits, regional cuisine, and many other topics train students for careers in commercial food production at all levels.
The school also offers a BS in hospitality and events management, where students work with local businesses in collaborative projects and internships.
North Alabama began its program, the first culinary arts degree in the state, to prepare students not only to be chefs and bakers but also to understand the business of the food industry.
With a location between Memphis, Nashville, Birmingham, and Atlanta, the University of North Alabama program is near major restaurant markets.
Boston University (Boston, MA)
Programs in Food & Wine at Boston University Metropolitan College range from intensive certificate programs to an MA in Gastronomy. Online offerings, seminars, and specialty courses make Boston University both practical and prestigious.
The Certificate Program in Culinary Arts, founded by no less than the legendary Julia Child and Jacques Pépin, offers an intensive, 14-week training program.
The program provides a traditional approach to culinary study, rooted in classical French techniques. Limited to 12 students per semester, the program ensures participants individual guidance and detailed training.
Professional programs include a certificate program in cheese studies, a course in regional Italian cuisine, a history of pastry, and a program on becoming a personal chef.
The Pépin Lecture Series, open to the public, brings experts, professors, and world-famous chefs to campus for talks on a variety of topics.
Students interested in studying wine can pursue a four-level certificate program in wine studies, including wine history and winemaking.
A Food Studies graduate certificate offers a more integrated program for professionals, and the school’s unique Masters in Liberal Arts in Gastronomy presents a comprehensive educational foundation for a culinary career.
The program facilities include a state-of-the-art laboratory and a culinary library. Boston University alumni hold positions as chefs, product developers, sommeliers, food and wine editors and columnists, and culinary professors worldwide.
Kendall College of National Louis University (Chicago, IL)
For students eager to learn the sophisticated skills for the high-end hospitality industry, Chicago’s Kendall College National Louis University offers a full complement of culinary coursework. Students can earn a Bachelor’s degree in culinary management and hospitality management; professionals can take specialized courses to add to their skill set.
Other associate’s and bachelor’s degrees in baking, wine, and culinary arts allow students to find the right program for their needs and interests.
The school’s Chicago location and strong association with the hotel industry there allows students to complete Capstone Projects among some of the finest hospitality professionals.
Kendall offers a comprehensive pastry and baking program, from the foundations of baking to elaborate sugar constructions. Students planning a career in event baking or in becoming a confectioner can learn the necessary skills through this detailed program.
Courses for wine stewards and future sommeliers train students in every facet of the wine industry, from production methods to tableside recommending.
A recent change in school leadership led to a move, new facilities, and a commitment to academics and expansion. National Louis’s acquisition of Kendall’s program brought more academic options for Kendall students.
Institute of Culinary Education (New York, NY)
The Institute of Culinary Education in New York City offers diploma programs in five culinary fields, along with professional development courses for working chefs. Students can choose morning, midmorning, afternoon, evening, or weekend program timetables with the flexibility to accommodate work or care schedules.
The school approaches culinary study with a comprehensive, classical approach, rooting its culinary arts program in French cooking but moving on to global cuisines. Three-month post-graduation work abroad programs take students around the world to apply their skills.
The campus boasts some of the most particular and diverse facilities of any culinary school. A hydroponic farm grows herbs, edible flowers, and over 250 crops. The mixology lab gives future bartenders a place to design their own craft cocktails.
At the Institute of Culinary Education, “chocolate lab” means something very different than it does in most other places.
Students gain real-world experience when clients host events and hire ICE students to cater events. After over 400 hours of classwork, ICE students each complete an externship selected to coincide with their career plans. More than half of ICE’s externships lead to full-time job offers, and the program has an 81% employment rate.
Culinary Institute Lenôtre (Houston, TX)
With all factors making the Culinary Institute Lenotre a highly-ranked culinary school, its lifelong commitment to graduates and high employment rates make it a practical choice. An impressive 94% of students find work before graduation.
Lenotre offers AAS degrees in culinary arts and in pastry and baking arts. International chefs make up the faculty; coursework includes hands-on kitchen skills, training in wine, management, foreign language, and additional academic coursework. In-house restaurant Le Bistro provides a training facility for students.
The baking and pastry arts program follows up the baking fundamentals classes with a ten-week practicum that includes training time in New Orleans. Baking and pastry students can also choose a concentration in more general culinary arts, hospitality, or advanced pastry décor.
For practicing professionals, ten-week intensive “sabbatical classes” offer a way to expand skills in a short span of time. Weekly hands-on classes and seminars provide training of all kinds, including 27 classes focused on baking and pastry.
Lenotre’s name comes from its founders, Alain and Marie Lenotre. Chef Alain’s father was renowned French pastry chef and culinary educator Gaston Lenotre.
Drexel University (Philadelphia, PA)
Drexel combines elements of culinary arts with business, food science, and hospitality management to create a degree program for students who want a more comprehensive understanding of how food works. Drexel thinks of food workers as practical scientists, and the program helps students cultivate those skills.
Faculty at Drexel include chefs and scientists, academic and practical professionals. Students can complete the four-year degree program with or without an additional six months in the Drexel Co-op Program.
Unlike many internship programs, Drexel’s Co-op lasts a more significant amount of time and can be a paid position. Drexel helps students find the right co-op situation, one that will further their career goals specifically.
For future entrepreneurs and managers, Drexel offers a BS/MBA in hospitality management and business, a five-year dual degree program conducted jointly with Drexel’s LeBow College of Business.
Located in the great food city of Philadelphia, Drexel provides experiences to underpin students’ professional journeys. From coffee roasting to casino management, Drexel graduates bring training and knowledge to a range of culinary careers.
Stratford University School of Culinary Arts (Fairfax, VA)
The School of Culinary Arts at Stratford University provides practical training, with AAS degrees in both advanced culinary arts and advanced baking and pastry arts. Students can also opt for a Culinary Arts Diploma instead.
Coursework focuses on food preparation techniques, service skills, and other positive traits for working in a fast-paced kitchen environment. Coursework can be completed in person or online.
A fine dining restaurant on campus allows students to practice meal preparation and service. Ranked in the top ten nationally by Niche, Stratford offers its program on several of its campuses. Small classes and engaged teaching make Stratford a positive student experience.
Johnson & Wales University (Providence, RI)
Probably the best-known American culinary school, Johnson & Wales offers more BS degree programs than any other. Students can earn a Bachelor of Science in baking, food technology, beverage management, food science, dietetics, and sustainable food systems.
To reflect its broad approach to study, the school changed its full name to the Johnson & Wales College of Food Innovation & Technology.
The richness of food culture at Johnson & Wales make it the first choice for all-around chef education, providing all aspects of technique training while introducing business and social concepts related to food service work.
Campuses in Providence and Charlotte provide access to students in different regions.
Ongoing work like the Maple Project demonstrates Johnson & Wales’ idea that food scientists and food experts can work to improve the quality of our lives.
Johnson & Wales graduates can approach their work knowing they’ve been prepared with not only the skills and technique needed to sustain a food service career, but also the confidence and patience to develop new ways of thinking about food.
Charlotte applied food science majors work with the North Carolina Food Innovation Lab on new plant-based foods.
Johnson & Wales fosters a sense of exploration and discovery in its students, whether they’re interning on a special project or working during a typical day on campus. Its mission to improve food culture continues to expand.
Celebrity chefs Emeril Lagasse, Andrew Gruel, Beau Macmillan, and Graham Elliot all attended Johnson & Wales. Judging by their representation among the James Beard nominees, great chefs will be coming from Johnson & Wales for years to come.