The Ultimate Culinary School Guide

Interested in a culinary career? Our guide outlines culinary school degrees, courses, career paths, and more.

Updated September 15, 2022 • 6 Min Read

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Accredited Culinary Schools Online

Pursuing a culinary degree can lead to diverse careers. Many trade schools and four-year institutions offer on-campus and online culinary programs. Graduates may work as chefs, caterers, or restaurant managers. Some restaurant jobs require on-the-job training. New employees work their way up through different jobs. Other culinary careers require a formal education.

This culinary school guide provides an overview of culinary degrees, courses, and careers. Prospective students can also read an interview from a culinary graduate.

Read on for a comprehensive culinary school guide.

What is Culinary School?

Culinary schools offer learners one or more majors. Common options include culinary arts, baking, and food business. Aspiring chefs learn about recipes. They also develop leadership and management skills. Prospective hospitality managers study hotel operations, finances, and event planning.

The time required to graduate varies by program. Learners can earn some certificates in about 12 months. Students pursuing an associate degree need about two years to graduate. Most bachelor's programs require four years to finish. Some bachelor's programs offer a three-year accelerated curriculum. Part-time learners take longer to earn a certificate or degree.

Programs vary by culinary school. Not every school offers the exact courses and programs in this culinary school guide. Prospective learners should thoroughly research schools before applying.

Frequently Asked Questions About Culinary School

Q. How much does it cost to go to culinary school?

Tuition varies by school. Some public trade schools charge out-of-state learners a higher tuition. Students should budget for textbooks, uniforms, and kitchen knives. Online learners may need to buy a new computer or upgrade their internet.

Q. How long does it take to become a culinary chef?

The answer depends on the career. Executive culinary chefs need many years of professional training and experience. Professionals sometimes only advance to this career when someone retires. Other positions require 2-3 years of experience and training. Professionals with an associate or bachelor's degree can sometimes earn a promotion sooner than those without a degree.

Q. Can you get a culinary degree online?

Yes. Many culinary schools offer online culinary programs. These programs include synchronous coursework and in-person externships. Enrollees may work in restaurants, hotels, or resorts. Like on-campus learners, online students must schedule work and family responsibilities around their education.

Q. How long does it take to complete culinary school?

The time frame depends on a school's graduation requirements and learners' enrollment status. Students can enroll in accelerated programs to graduate sooner.

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What Are the Admission Requirements for Culinary School?

Most culinary schools require a high school or GED diploma. Applicants to master's programs need a bachelor's degree. Some culinary schools require professional or academic references. Prospective students submit an essay and application fee. Some schools also require an interview and limit applicants to U.S. citizens.

First-year students can complete placement tests before enrolling. Learners who need remedial coursework may take longer to graduate than their peers.

Culinary Degree Levels

Students without professional or academic experience may want to consider a certificate or associate degree. Bachelor's and master's programs appeal to learners who want to advance their career. Admissions advisors can provide information about each degree's graduate outcomes. Keep reading this culinary school guide for an overview of degree options.

  • Associate

    An associate in culinary arts trains students for several careers. Graduates may work as junior sous chefs, assistant kitchen managers, or line cooks. The two-year curriculum features coursework in restaurant operations management. Learners also study baking fundamentals and healthy cooking techniques.

    Students complete general education courses such as finance. They supplement coursework with a culinary arts practicum and a fine-dining internship. Learners may complete these experiences at a restaurant or a college-run facility.

  • Bachelor's

    Associate degree holders can enroll in a bachelor's-completion program. These two-year programs cover topics such as nutrition throughout life and the business of cooking. Bachelor's programs involve internships and practicums.

    Applicants need at least 60 undergraduate credits. Some programs require a certain GPA. Graduates may work as private chefs, cookbook authors, or food industry product developers.

  • Master's

    Master's programs often appeal to professionals and recent college graduates. Degree-seekers may want to apply for management-level restaurant jobs or learn about entrepreneurship. Core courses cover business fundamentals and food systems. Students also explore design thinking for food. Some programs offer concentrations. Options include restaurant/foodservice and food product/concept.

    Applicants may need food industry experience. Most online master's programs run asynchronously. However, learners may need to compete 1-2 onsite seminars.

  • Certificate Program

    Learners who want a fast path to chef careers or restaurant jobs may enroll in a certificate program. These programs teach fundamental skills, including menu writing and hygiene best practices. Coursework covers topics such as professional plate presentation. Some programs allow customization through electives.

    Many schools offering certificates let graduates apply their education toward an associate degree. This benefit allows alumni to continue their education when convenient.

What Courses Will I Take in Culinary School?

Culinary schools train learners in culinary fundamentals. Students learn about high-volume production. They also explore wine and beverages. Learners gain skills through coursework and externships. Some programs require liberal arts and business management courses.

See below for common courses in culinary school. Keep in mind that course titles and descriptions vary by school. Students can visit their prospective school's website or contact an academic advisor for details. An institution's online catalog can also provide helpful information.

  • Culinary Fundamentals

    This first-year course introduces students to skills all culinary workers need. Coursework covers cooking techniques, kitchen equipment, and multitasking. Learners master basic knife skills and French culinary terms. They also study how to make sauces and measure ingredients.
  • High-Volume Production Cookery

    Workers in casual dining and retail establishments use specific equipment to ensure enough prepared food remains on hand. Students analyze station setup and serving techniques. They also study preparation methods. Learners develop efficiency and time management skills.
  • Wine and Beverage Studies

    Many restaurants make money by selling alcoholic beverages. Learners explore wine's history and different growing regions. They also study the best food and beverage pairings. Students learn how to store alcohol correctly. Coursework also covers working with alcohol distributors. Learners must take restaurant management or a similar course as a prerequisite.

Culinary Career Paths

Graduates can explore a variety of culinary careers that align with their interests. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects jobs for chefs to grow 25% from 2020-2030. This rate is much faster than average.

Many management-level culinary careers offer competitive pay. Chefs and head cooks make an annual median salary of $53,380, according to the BLS. Top-earning chefs can earn more than $90,000. Salaries vary by employer and geographic area.

What is ACF Accreditation?

Top culinary schools offer programs that feature accreditation from the American Culinary Federation (ACF). ACF judges a school's standards and credibility. The federation also judges an institution's professionalism and practices. Secondary and postsecondary schools can pursue ACF accreditation.

The best culinary schools feature ACF and regional accreditation. The U.S. Department of Education charters regional accreditation agencies to evaluate postsecondary institutions. Schools without regional accreditation may not provide a quality education. Graduates from these schools may also face difficulty finding a job or enrolling in another academic program.

Interview with an Executive Chef

Ryan Grimm, executive chef at the California Biscuit Company in West Hollywood

About Ryan

  • Formally the executive chef at the downtown Los Angeles gastropub, Eat Drink Americano
  • Graduated in 2006 from the California Culinary Academy (CCA), an affiliate of Le Cordon Bleu
  • Has worked in small fine-dining restaurants and at Disney
  • Has worked in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Orlando, and Seattle
  • Recently finished a self-driven study in Southern cuisine. This included working briefly in some of the South's best restaurants.

Ryan's Culinary Philosophy

I strive to be the best I can each day. I believe that food is so much more than just nutrition and fuel for our bodies. Food can alter a person's attitude and affect their entire day. If a guest arrives and is having a bad day, I can turn it around with great food and amazing service. That's my goal every time a guest walks through my door. I want everyone to leave with a smile on their face.

Q. How Did You Become Interested in Working As a Chef?

I grew up seeing my mom, dad, and grandmothers in the kitchen. I always enjoyed working in the kitchen. I never thought about it as a career until I was in 11th grade. My friends and I were hanging out at my house after school. Everyone was hungry, but nobody wanted to leave the house to get food.

I put something together in the kitchen. Everybody said they enjoyed it. When everyone finished, they threw money on the table. Then it clicked in my mind that I could earn money by cooking.

Q. How Did You Choose Your Culinary School?

I chose the California Culinary Academy, Le Cordon Bleu. I looked at several schools and talked with my high school's culinary instructor. Several factors influenced my decision. For one, the school was one of the top in the country. It was also far enough from my home that I was on my own. However, it was close enough that I could go home regularly.

Q. What Was the Best Part of Culinary School?

The two best parts about the CCA were the knowledgeable instructors and the unlimited access to ingredients. We could use what we needed or wanted. If the school didn't have an ingredient we wanted to learn to use, the instructor ordered it. We would have it in a day or two.

Q. What Was the Most Challenging Part of Culinary School?

The most challenging part was that you only got out what you put in. This goes for many schools and most of life. Many students didn't feel like they were getting their money's worth, so they dropped out. Others dropped out because they didn't care about school and wanted to party.

But for students who did their schoolwork and engaged in class, culinary school was a positive experience. I spent my free time working at the school. I was a teacher's assistant and a cook at CCA's top restaurant. This doubled my learning time.

Q. How Did Culinary School Prepare You for Your Career?

Many people thought that attending culinary school would automatically lead to top chef jobs. But not so much. Culinary school gives students a solid base in the culinary field. We weren't walking out the door as young Thomas Kellers, but we left with the skills and knowledge to get our foot in the door.

I learned recipes and techniques. I also learned how to open and run a restaurant. I can review a profit-and-loss (P&L) statement and discern enough information not to embarrass myself. I can also produce a P&L statement if necessary.

Q. What Advice Would You Give Aspiring Chefs?

Working in a kitchen often involves long hours, low pay, harsh working conditions, and little praise. You only get what you put into it. Read all the cookbooks you can. Research different cuisines. Travel and take every opportunity to work in different kitchens.

Also, always network. Networking can make or break your career. You need a culinary network that includes suppliers, cooks, dishwashers, front-of-house members, and managers.

Find Culinary Schools Near You

State

Many chefs achieve success by learning as they go in the kitchen. However, culinary schools give learners a solid foundation in the field. Students learn through practical experience and textbook theory.

Trade schools and community colleges offer culinary programs. Four-year institutions also offer culinary degrees. Prospective students should consider their budget and career goals to choose the best culinary school.

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