Home » Four Top-Class Culinary Schools In the USA

Four Top-Class Culinary Schools In the USA

Traveling Gourmet

by Jeff Heilman
Traveling Gourmet (Photo by Stokkete)

Indulge your culinary passion at this quartet of top-class culinary schools around the USA and their satellite locations.

(Photo by Stokkete)

Think you know your way around the kitchen?

Cooking is about continuous learning, practice, and improvement, from knife skills and shopping for ingredients to temperature settings and timings, there are countless techniques and methods to master. Take steak for example. Assuming you have properly seasoned and correctly fired your ribeye, tenderloin, strip, or other cut, what’s your first move after taking it off the grill? If you poke it, cut the middle to check for doneness, or slice right away, you’ve already screwed up. In Anthony Bourdain’s immortal words, “do not fucking touch” the meat for five to seven minutes to keep the juices cooking. Whatever your skill level, taking classes at a professional culinary school that offers public programs is the surefire way forward. My first such experience, at the celebrated Lenôtre Culinary Arts School in Paris (ecole-lenotre.com/en/) in 2008, opened my eyes and fired my appetite for more.

Amid much Champagne, wine, and camaraderie, our instructor, Chef Jacky Legras, showed our group how to chop, sauté, season, and blanch as we prepped, cooked, and enjoyed a delicious three-course meal of tomato and basil tarts, veal medallions and creamy herb risotto, and apricot tiramisù. Legendary French pastry chef Gaston Lenôtre founded the cooking school in 1971; his son Alain founded The Culinary Institute Lenotre (culinaryinstitute.edu) in Houston, Texas in 1998.

Culinary schools are also ready-made recipes for success for people in life or career-change mode. Indulge your culinary passion at this quartet of top-class culinary schools around the USA and their satellite locations.

Student Chef presentations (Photo by Wavebreak Media)

Student Chef presentations (Photo by Wavebreak Media)

THE CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA
(New York, California, Texas, Singapore)
Connecticut, famed as a cradle of American culinary know-how, includes the nation’s first cookbook, American Cookery, published in Hartford in 1796. Later, in 1946, Connecticut-based attorney Frances Roth and Katharine Angell, wife of Yale University President James Angell, opened the New Haven traveling gourmet arts,” related Johnny Hernandez, class of 1989, who grew up in his late father’s San Antonio café and was involved in bringing the Latin American-focused CIA campus to his hometown. One of San Antonio’s most accomplished chef-restaurateurs and culinary ambassadors, Hernandez welcomes the CIA Alumni Council to town each spring for his annual Paella Challenge fundraising event, which the Council helped to launch 14 years ago.

Speaking of Spanish classics, the “Spain and the World Table” class I took at CIA’s Hyde Park campus was a highly engaging, informative, and enjoyable affair. I have also enjoyed great meals at the student-run restaurants in San Antonio. Food and wine enthusiasts can choose from a feast of educational opportunities, from single-day and private classes to immersive multi-day boot camps, at all CIA campuses.

From “A Taste of Hawaii” and “Bistros and Brasseries” (Hyde Park) to “Mexican Cuisine Boot Camp” and “How to Taste Wine in 90 Seconds” (San Antonio) to “Julia’s Kitchen: Celebrating French Cuisine” and “A Celebration of Bourbon and Cocktails from The New South” (Napa), tantalizing courses run the gamut. Onsite student-run restaurants Restaurant Institute to train returning World War II veterans in the culinary arts. Opened with 50 students and a chef, a baker, and a dietitian, their pioneering concept later become “the culinary center of the nation.” Renamed the Restaurant Institute of Connecticut in 1947 and then the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in 1951, the school relocated in 1972 to a former clifftop Jesuit seminary overlooking the Hudson River in Hyde Park, NY. Adding satellite campuses in California’s Napa Valley (1995), San Antonio, Texas (2008), and Singapore (2010), “The Harvard of Haute Cuisine” celebrates its 78th anniversary this year as one of the world’s premier culinary colleges.

To date, the CIA has produced more than 50,000 chefs and other professionals across the culinary spectrum worldwide. Bourdain, class of ’78, is among CIA’s most famed graduates. Others include Grant Achatz (‘94) of Chicago’s three Michelin-star Alinea and other concepts; Cat Cora (‘95), the Food Network’s first-ever female Iron Chef; and L.A. food truck pioneer Roy Choi (‘98).

“My Dad’s dream was for me to train at the CIA, knowing of the importance of education and my calling to the culinary arts,” related Johnny Hernandez, class of 1989, who grew up in his late father’s San Antonio café and was involved in bringing the Latin American-focused CIA campus to his hometown. One of San Antonio’s most accomplished chef-restaurateurs and culinary ambassadors, Hernandez welcomes the CIA Alumni Council to town each spring for his annual Paella Challenge fundraising event, which the Council helped to launch 14 years ago.

Speaking of Spanish classics, the “Spain and the World Table” class I took at CIA’s Hyde Park campus was a highly engaging, informative, and enjoyable affair. I have also enjoyed great meals at the student-run restaurants in San Antonio. Food and wine enthusiasts can choose from a feast of educational opportunities, from single-day and private classes to immersive multi-day boot camps, at all CIA campuses.

From “A Taste of Hawaii” and “Bistros and Brasseries” (Hyde Park) to “Mexican Cuisine Boot Camp” and “How to Taste Wine in 90 Seconds” (San Antonio) to “Julia’s Kitchen: Celebrating French Cuisine” and “A Celebration of Bourbon and Cocktails from The New South” (Napa), tantalizing courses run the gamut. Onsite student-run restaurants add yet more flavor and dimension to the visitor experience. 1946 Campus Drive, Hyde Park, NY: Tel.: 845-452-9600. ciachef.edu

Cuisinart Center for Culinary Excellence (CCCE) Photo Mike Cohea for JWU

Cuisinart Center for Culinary Excellence (CCCE) Photo Mike Cohea for JWU

JOHNSON & WALES UNIVERSITY
(Providence, Rhode Island and Charlotte, North Carolina)
Another pair of visionary women brought to life the future Johnson & Wales University (JWU), so named in 1988, and its esteemed culinary arts program, one of seven colleges comprising JWU today.

Remembered as JWU’s “founding mothers,” teachers Gertrude Johnson and Mary Wales, previously at Rhode Island Commercial School, established this Ocean State original in 1914 as a business school. In 1972 and 1973 respectively, the institution, then known as Johnson & Wales College, added new associate degree programs in

culinary arts and hospitality. Opened in 1973 the new College of Culinary Arts later evolved into the College of Food Innovation & Technology (CFIT) in 2020. Opened in 2011 in Providence, the state-of-the-art Cuisinart Center for Culinary Excellence (CCCE) became the country’s first LEED-certified culinary facility.

CIA Culinary Boot Camp

CIA Culinary Boot Camp

Notable alumni include celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse (‘78), whose fame includes succeeding legendary Paul Prudhomme as executive chef of landmark Commander’s Palace in New Orleans before opening his own equally renowned New Orleans restaurant Emeril’s in 1990. Chris Santos (‘93) is the star chef behind NYC’s Stanton Social (since reborn as steak-driven Stanton Social Prime inside Caesars Palace in Las Vegas) and hotspot Beauty & Essex, with outposts including The

Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas. Michelle Bernstein (‘94), the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef in the South in 2008, is a serial fixture of the Miami scene. JWU is also synonymous with hospitality management stars, including industry icon 2009 honorary degree recipient and industry icon Roger Dow, a longtime Marriott International executive who served with dis- tinction as president and CEO of the U.S. Travel Association, and David Salcfas (’88), another Marriott veteran who managed several of the brand’s leading NYC properties and now serves as general manager of the Hard Rock Hotel New York.

Honored by JWU with the Alumni Service Award in 2023, Salcfas, reflecting on how JWU had changed his life and ignited his passion for being in the kitchen, stated that “We have the power to truly change lives.”

Providence’s prominence as a culinary capital is directly tied to JWU’s influence on its restaurant scene. “Many alumni fall in love with the city and choose to stay here, opening their own places or building food businesses,” said Kristen Adamo, president & CEO of the Providence Warwick Convention & Visitors Bureau. “The students also make a huge impact on tourism, working part-time jobs in restaurants and hotels while they pursue their degrees. They are invested in the industry and its future, and I think that having a server who might want to open their own restaurant, or a front-desk person who wants to run a hotel someday, elevates our customer service citywide.”

Combining hands-on experience with demonstrations by professional chef-instructors, JWU’s three-hour “Chef’s Choice” recreational classes explore world cuisines, cooking skills and more, including family-style dining at the end. Plus, customized corporate experiences and competitive challenges. 8 Abbott Park Place, Providence, RI. Tel :800- 342-5598. 801 West Trade Street, Charlotte, NC. Tel: 866-598-2427. jwu.edu

PARK CITY CULINARY INSTITUTE
(Salt Lake City and Park City, Utah)
When I first connected with Laurie Moldawer in 2015, she was one year into her new career and venture in the culinary arts as founder, owner, and director of the Park City Culinary Institute in Park City, UT. Tenth- anniversary celebrations this year include graduating her 1,000th student.

Having discovered Park City while driving cross country, she found enchantment and opportunity. “The local government was focused on bringing culinary program- ming and education to town, to help build an off-season economy and visitor resource,” recalled Moldawer, a former finance and tax professional who had relocated to the fabled mountain town from New York City. “Earlier in my corporate career, I had attended Le Cordon Blue in Paris for fun. Passionate about food and with that as my model, I decided to create a culinary school.”

The Institute’s motto is to help guests become “”Fearless in the Kitchen.” Many of her students have followed her path. “I always think of our demographic as burned-out lawyers and bankers who always wanted to work with their hands and create art,” said Moldawer. “We also see many entrepreneurs, including people who dream of starting small food businesses, restaurants, gastropubs, and bakeries. The founders of two local success stories, Kodiak Cakes and Crumbl Cookies, have attended classes for fun and fresh business inspiration. Pharmacists and chemists also like us. Park City’s nationally acclaimed High West Distillery was founded by a bio- chemist from Pfizer!”

While the original Park City venue still hosts cooking classes, private chef dinners and other events, the Institute has since relocated to Salt Lake City, where home cooks can choose from a menu of hands-on classes, chef demonstrations, culinary competitions, and more. From “Asian Street Food” to “Handmade Pasta with a Wine Pairing,” the Institute is a feast for beginners and connoisseurs alike.

“From the aroma to the sizzle, we account for all five senses when teaching each student about the art of making beautiful dishes,” said Moldawer. Her special- ties include sauces, which she calls “a major difference between restaurant food and home-cooked food.” Examples include the Maillard reaction, or the French technique of deglazing the “fond” or caramelized ingredients in the pan and thickening with butter or cream to flavor sauces that complement dishes. 1484 S. State Street. Salt Lake City, UT. Tel: 801- 413-2800. parkcityculinaryinstitute.com

INSTITUTE OF CULINARY EDUCATION
(New York City and Los Angeles)
Few culinary schools can match the pedigree and national preeminence of the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE). Like an expertly constructed dish, ICE reflects a rich blend of ingredients. Founder Peter Kump, who launched ICE in his Manhattan apartment in 1975 with five students, was a force on the American culinary scene as a chef and as co-founder, with Julia Child, of the James Beard Foundation. Following Beard’s death in 1985, Kump arranged for the purchase and transformation of Beard’s Greenwich Village brownstone into a culinary education center and event space for highly prized Beard House dinners.

In 1984, yet another visionary woman, food aficionado Dorothy Cann Hamilton, established The French Culinary Institute (FCI), which later merged with ICE. After schooling at an intensive Parisian culinary institute, Hamilton saw that no such program existed in the U.S. Modeled after her father’s popular Apex Technical School, where she was a director, Hamilton launched FCI in a converted ware- house in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood.

Founding FCI deans included culinary masters Jacques Pépin and chocolatier Jacques Torres. Bobby Flay was in the first graduating class. Other powerhouse alumni include Dan Barber (Blue Hill at Stone Barns), David Chang (Momofuku), Christina Tosi (Milk Bar), and Wylie Dufresne (former NYC molecular gastronomy sensation WD~50).

Expanding its curriculum to include bread, cake, and wine programs, ICF became The International Culinary Center (ICC) in 2012. Three years later, Hamilton, who served as FCI’s executive chef, joined Julia Child, Thomas Keller, and Alice Waters as the only four Americans to date to receive the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award, for promoting French cuisine in the United States.

In 2020, the International Culinary Center joined forces with ICE. Having added a second location in Pasadena, Calif., Julia Child’s birthplace (and mine) in 2018, ICE is dedicated to helping professionals and enthusiasts to “Find their Culinary Voice.” Spacious kitchens, labs, and culinary sets in each location are the stage for learning every imaginable cuisine, skill, technique, and trend from ICE’s culinary and hospitality experts. 225 Liberty Street, 3rd Floor, NY, NY. Tel: 888-354- CHEF. 521 East Green Street, Pasadena, CA. Tel: 888-718-CHEF. ice.edu.


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