Choosing the Right Culinary Arts Program
There are many top culinary arts programs available and it can be tough to decide which one to apply for. The big-name colleges and universities have some of the top names in the culinary world as faculty and the tuition cost reflects that.
Choosing the right culinary arts program can save you thousands, or limit your career potential. This guide was developed to help you find the information for the top culinary arts programs in the country as a reference guide.
Online Cooking Classes
Some of the schools listed below offer online cooking courses (Some of them free!). If you are interested, check out some of those classes. While they are self-guided, it can be difficult. We have a comprehensive guide on some of the options available online that include guides and hands-on learning.
The Top Culinary Arts Schools in America
This list is in no particular order. We compare the top culinary arts programs from across the country based on this list including items like tuition costs, additional costs, and more.
- The Culinary Institute of America
- The Institute of Culinary Education
- International Culinary Center
- Johnson & Wales University College of Culinary Arts
- New England Culinary Institute
- Kendall College School of Culinary Arts
- L’Academie de Cuisine – CLOSED
- Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts
- Sullivan University National Center for Hospitality Studies
- San Diego Culinary Institute – CLOSED
What to Look for in a Culinary Arts Program
When choosing a culinary arts program the choices and options can be overwhelming at first and after a while they all kind of look the same. Each will pump up their faculty chef instructors quite a bit.
The American Culinary Federation is the top organization for professional chefs in North America and is responsible for regulatory oversight of all culinary schools.
Schools which are looking to be accredited must undergo an extensive evaluation of the curriculum, facilities, instructor certifications, and more. Becoming ACF certified is a big deal for many smaller culinary arts programs.
A good instructor is imperative to a good learning environment. Too many chefs in the business believe a position in a culinary arts program is a sort of half-retirement. Those who can, do. Those who can’t, teach. The main benefit for students in a chef instructor is the real-world experience they bring into the curriculum.
There are so many things that just cannot be taught or are not included in the regular curriculum of culinary arts programs. It is one of the big reasons why many chefs in the industry do not take culinary arts degrees as a top designation.
A chef instructor too far removed from the cooking industry will have lost that edge they developed in their career. On the flip side, the calm and relaxing nature of chef instructors is pleasant to have. Rarely are there loud, angry, shouting chefs anymore. Programs with seasoned chefs with experience teaching is a good balance to have as an instructor.
Look at the work history of your instructor. See how long they have been working as an instructor and reach out to some alumni to get their opinions.
Once you have the school picked out, check out how the costs break down and what is included. Many of the larger name schools will have everything built into the cost including room and board, tool kits, uniforms, textbooks, and more. It helps to know where your money is going.
A big move with universities and colleges these days is to externalize many of the costs associated with attending their programs. This can be added costs for things like transportation, meals, and additional equipment not included in the provided toolkit.
A lot of guides encourage you to ensure that the equipment is modern and plentiful. This is accurate to a degree, but most cooks coming out of culinary arts programs are not going to be using a combiterm oven at their first job.
But well-maintained and useable appliances are important. If you are able to, take a tour of the kitchen. Look for cleanliness and organization as this is a good indicator of the skill level of the instructors. There should be a well-stocked kitchen with many varieties of appliances and equipment to use.
Ultra-modern facilities are nice to use but there tends to be a lag behind the industry adoption of such technology so I would not place a huge emphasis on this when you are doing your tour.
Age of Culinary Program
Some schools exclusively cater to the culinary arts and in those cases check to see how long they have been operating. A good school has a rich history and positive success stories from alumni.
Age is a good indicator of trust, but that can be deceiving as well. Recently both the San Diego Culinary Institute and L’Academie de Cuisine have shut down after decades of operation.
Tuition Costs for Culinary Arts Programs
Current as of 2019
|Culinary Arts School||Degree Tuition Per Year||Certificate/Diploma Tuition||Room & Board Available|
|The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE)||N/A||$33,360||No|
|The Culinary Institute of America (CIA)||$72,920||N/A||Yes, Included|
|International Culinary Center (ICC)||N/A||$39,900||No|
|Johnson & Wales University College of Culinary Arts||$35,252||N/A||Yes, Not Included|
|New England Culinary Institute||$84,000||$17,610||Yes, Not Included|
|Kendall College School of Culinary Arts||$35,293||N/A||Yes, Not Included|
|Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts||$30,935||$18,085||Yes, Not Included|
|Sullivan University National Center of Hospitality Studies||$32,430||$18,630||Yes, Not Included|
Culinary Arts Degree vs Diploma
As indicated above, many of the culinary universities and colleges offer degrees through the culinary arts programs. These programs are often 2- to 4-year courses and include not only culinary arts courses but business and art courses as well.
One of the biggest hurdles facing culinary arts students is career progression. While almost every graduate will start off as a prep cook in a professional kitchen, many will outgrow this environment quickly and want to achieve greater heights. With a diploma, you are paying to lay your foundations squarely within the culinary arts realm. There is nothing wrong with that, though. For those who love cooking and the cooking industry, this is the best route for them.
But if you are looking to grow beyond line cooking and one day run your own restaurant business, a degree can grow into a graduate program focusing on restauranteur and business management. If you were to go down this path after 10 years in the culinary industry, you would have to start from square one and achieve your associates/bachelor’s degree before moving on. The silver lining here is that you can focus exclusively on business management, hospitality, or other related fields.
Degree programs are much more expensive and can cost upwards of $100,000 while diploma programs cost around $20,000.
Pros and Cons of a Culinary Arts Degree
- Internationally recognized degree program
- Typically backed by a major university
- Graduate and Masters program pathways
- Versatile, adaptable to lifestyle changes
- In-depth and comprehensive
- Cheaper alternatives for degrees
- Limits in scope
Pros and Cons of a Culinary Arts Diploma
- Relatively Low Cost
- Shorter curriculum
- Provides a solid foundation for a culinary career
- Does not dive deep into topics
- No career advancement outside culinary arts
- Limited entrepreneurship opportunities
- Large amount of for-profit organizations
Should You Go to Culinary Arts School?
A question I receive a lot. The answer isn’t a simple yes or no. It is important to take this information with the context of your ambitions and goals in life. The fact of the matter is culinary arts school is expensive and 50% do not last in the industry past 5 years.
For some people, it is a must. Their desires and passion are cooking. For those, I say nothing would be worth more of your time. I have seen countless bad habits from 10-year veterans in professional kitchens. Line cooks who are not formally trained have a lot of difficulty with the more technical and advanced aspects of culinary arts. And that is where your culinary arts degree/diploma will start to shine.
You Have to Start at the Bottom
For your everyday mom and pop restaurant serving burgers, steaks, fries, etc., a culinary arts degree is overkill. Typically the chefs at these establishments are not formally trained themselves. The brigades they hire reflect who they are and thus the disdain for the culinary arts students is born.
The bottom rungs of the cooking industry are where you will likely start. Prepping, stocking, manning the garde manger or fry station. These are not glamorous positions and your fellow cooks are right – in this environment, your culinary arts training is just about useless.
But what you learn at these rungs is vital. Time management, stress management, creativity and, if you are lucky, strong mentorship. These are the things they cannot teach you in an expensive culinary arts program. And if you walk into a job as if it is too good for you and beneath you, you will be made an example of.
Getting Your Big Break
When your time comes, you will be offered an opportunity to leave behind what you will have undoubtedly become fond of and move up to a more advanced restaurant. You will likely have to stage for a couple of dinner services so the chef and sous can see what you are made of.
But this is what you have been waiting for. The combination of your formal culinary arts training and your experience handling stress and time management come together. It was at this point in my career when I started seeing just what a professional brigade can accomplish. I started hearing phrases I last heard in culinary arts school like ‘patissier’, and ‘mise en place’. I saw proper stations and proper expediting being done. It was magical.
It took a while to really take advantage of all my culinary arts training, but when I did I was glad I had it. I did not feel out of place like I would have without it. But in the lower rungs of the burger bars and fried food establishments, I felt like my training was not as useful. I definitely could have picked up 90% of the skills required with just on the job experience.
Community College or University Culinary Arts Program
Community colleges are a solid option for anyone considering a culinary arts program. They offer lower program costs, can be more accessible as they may have a program in your home town, and can be a great resource to draw from.
If you are worried about whether or not a community college will open the same doors for you, keep in mind that we are talking about diplomas and not two or four-year degrees. As long as the accreditation is in line with national standards, you will more or less receive the same level of quality when it comes to curriculum.
The chef-instructors will not be as highly qualified as some of the larger name schools which can limit the depth of technical skills you will receive such as advanced pastries, charcuterie, or advanced garnishes.
Externships have a bonus as you will likely be working with local restaurants and alumni, which can help open the door for your career. Networking is an important aspect of any career.
Culinary Arts Student Tool Kits
If you are heading into a culinary arts program or you are planning to apply for one, a portion of the cost outside of tuition will be your tool kit costs. Many schools send out a list of these tools upon acceptance into the program. Some schools include these kits with tuition, and others do not.
Culinary arts programs can be quite expensive and saving as much as you can while still using top quality tools is important to your success. When I went through a culinary arts programs, there were some items I wish I had invested more money into and items I wish I invested less.
With an understanding of all the tools that the majority of culinary arts schools require, I have put together a low-cost guide for choosing the proper tools for your first year in culinary arts school.
Will Your Culinary Arts Program Supply Your Kit?
We asked the top 10 culinary arts programs if they supply the tool kit.
|Culinary Arts School||Tool Kit Provided|
|The Institute of Culinary Education (ICE)||Yes|
|The Culinary Institute of America (CIA)||Partial|
|International Culinary Center (ICC)||Partial|
|Johnson & Wales University College of Culinary Arts||Partial|
|New England Culinary Institute||Partial|
|Kendall College School of Culinary Arts||Partial|
|Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts||Partial|
|Sullivan University National Center of Hospitality Studies||Partial|
The answer tended to be yes we supply kits, but when I took a look at many of the included kits I found them lacking or very bare. Especially when you are spending $400-$800 of your total costs on this kit, it is important to see where it is going.
Ask your school’s admissions department if it is possible to supply your own tools. I found that much of the included tools were lower quality and not worth the stated cost.
Recommended Tools & Equipment and Cost
Drawing from my own experience in a culinary arts program as well as what other graduates have told me, I have put together a complete guide for your culinary art tool kit. Use this list to supplement what the school provides, as a replacement of the kit if possible, or if your school provides you with a list, a solid list.
Our recommendations are based on the research of the major culinary arts school equipment requirements, past alumni recommendations, and personal experience. The links are affiliate links to Amazon and clicking through and purchasing from Amazon earns us a commission at no cost to you. If you decide to use our links, thank you for your support of our site.
The Culinary Cook Cutting Board
This cutting board was designed in conjunction with industry chefs and cooks. Its grid pattern and reference guide give the user a step up over anyone else in the kitchen. Be sure to pick one up if you are heading to culinary school. You can check it out by clicking here.
How We Chose The Products
If you have checked out any of our other posts on products, you will find some differences in what we recommend there versus what we recommend here. As much as I enjoy playing with expensive knives, first-year culinary students should look at their first toolkit as a practice kit to really beat up on and train with. The products listed below are good quality at an affordable price and perfect for first-year culinary arts students.
Can you get higher quality items? Absolutely. In fact, some items you can buy for life including your chef knife. But an expensive knife does not make you a professional. The tools listed below offer substantial value. If your culinary arts program does not include some of the items listed, I highly recommend picking them up anyway.
Under $350 Culinary Arts Student Toolkit August 2019
|8″ Chef Knife||$39.99||Click Here|
|6″ Flexible Boning Knife||$12.50||Click Here|
|10″ Bread Knife||$14.99||Click Here|
|10″ German Steel||$11.89||Click Here|
|2.5″ Peeling Knife||$5.82||Click Here|
|7″ Flexible Fillet Knife||$36.93||Click Here|
|Kitchen Shears||$17.95||Click Here|
|3.5″ Paring Knife||$6.50||Click Here|
|Knife Roll||$59.99||Click Here|
|Bench Scraper||$5.50||Click Here|
|12″ High-Temperature Spatula||$11.00||Click Here|
|Instant Read Thermometer||$15.99||Click Here|
|Kitchen Scale||$29.95||Click Here|
|Measuring Spoon Set||$8.66||Click Here|
|Heat Resistant Scraper||$7.26||Click Here|