Where Did Celebrity Chefs Go to Culinary School?

Posted on 09 Nov 2015 22:45

Today, there is a big debate whether culinary school is worth it for those wanting careers in restaurant cooking and/or ownership.

The expense, many say, is too much, and you can do just as well with apprenticeships, or by working your way up the ranks in various restaurants.

However, most highly successful chefs went to some type of culinary school.

Many of the most successful celebrity chefs also went to culinary school.

Of course, some may say that celebrity chefs are more TV personality than highly-skilled cook. In some cases, this may be true. But many of the most well-known TV chefs have successful careers away from the camera, including restaurant success.

Those considering a culinary career are curious as to where people like Alton Brown, Emeril Lagasse, and Bobby Flay went to culinary school. The following non-exhaustive list is just a sampling.

Culinary School with Most Celebrity Chef Graduates

It makes sense, before we begin, to answer the obvious question. Which culinary school in America has produced the most famous celebrity chefs? The answer seems clear: The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, which is often regarded as the top culinary school in the United States.

Of course, there are many fine culinary schools in America and abroad. Our first celebrity chef and a household name to most Americans is Julia Child.

Julia Child

It may surprise some people who grew up watching Julia Child on television that she actually did attend culinary school. She sometimes seemed to bumble and did not always adhere herself to the strictest of techniques. Well, Child's culinary skills and education were not honed by work in restaurants, like so many of today's celebrity chefs, but she not only attended culinary school, she went to one of the most famous culinary institutions in the world, Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School in Paris.

Julia Child's Kitchen on display at National Museum of American History

Julia Child's Kitchen, displayed at the National Museum of American History
The kitchen is much smaller than the photo makes it appear!
Image by RadioFan via wikimediaImage Credit

Tyler Florence

Out of all the Food Network stars, I've always been a particular fan of Tyler Florence. Few realize how long he has been a part of TV, 14 years. He attended Johnson & Wales University of Charleston, South Carolina, in the College of Culinary Arts.

Bobby Flay

Bobby Flay hadn't even completed high school when he attended The French Culinary Institute in New York, now called the International Culinary Center, where he was part of the first graduating class.

Alton Brown

Alton Brown, host of one of the most popular and long-lived cooking shows ever, Good Eats, displays an almost encyclopedic knowledge of food. Perhaps he didn't learn all of this at culinary school, but you'd be right to assume that he did go to cooking school. He went to New England Culinary Institute in 1994. Unlike other Food Network stars, his work there was no accident. Brown had already been working in television when he realized the potential of food TV and enrolled in culinary school not to become a restaurant chef, but to parlay this into developing a television project. He pitched Good Eats to the Food Network in 1999, and the rest is history.

Emeril Lagasse

Emerial Lagasse is of the most well-known celebrity chefs, and an early star of the Food Network. Before BAM!-ing his way to fame, Emeril Lagasse attended Johnson and Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, where he studied culinary arts.

Gordon Ramsay

Among his several television shows, Gordon Ramsay hosts Hotel Hell were he attempts to help hotels in trouble. This is similar to a hotel version of Kitchen Nightmares, and a competitor to the show Hotel Impossible ( which is much better, in my opinion). Many may question Ramsay's qualifications to give advice to hotel owners, but Ramsay didn't actually study culinary arts. Instead he attended Oxfordshire Technical College where he studied Hotel Management.

Martin Yan presenting at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Library, San Jose, California.

Long-time celebrity chef Martin Yan presents at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Library,
in San Jose, California

Image by San Jose Library via wikimediaImage Credit

Mario Batali

Mario Batali did not go straight to a culinary education. He first studied Spanish Theater and Economics at Rutgers University. He then attended Le cordon Bleu Cooking School in London, but was not happy there, and found he wanted to cook classic Italian food. He left Le Cordon Bleu and worked for several top London chefs, instead.

Giada de Laurentiis

Giada de Laurentis first studied anthropology before going to cooking school at no other than Le Cordon Bleu Paris, where she went for a full-boat "Le Grand Diplome." Many working chefs may question her lack of restaurant credentials, and her tapping into her family's celebrity status to procure her jobs, such as at Wolfgang Puck's Spago. While her credentials as a "working restaurant chef" may be questionable (she started a private catering company in 1998) her primary culinary education cannot be questioned.

Cat Cora

Cat Cora has something in common with your friendly CulinaryLore writer: We both grew up in Mississippi. We both also grew up around the restaurant industry although her experience, as well as her talent, was a bit more hard-core than mine. This creative chef did not begin her education in the culinary arts. Rather, she studied Exercise Physiology. After receiving her degree she attended cooking school the Culinary Institute of America in New York.

Culinary Institute of America New York campus

Culinary Institute of America, New York Campus
The main building, Roth Hall, is on the left, and Colavita Center for Italian Food and Wine,
home of the famous Ristorante Caterina de' Medici, is on the right.
Several of the celebrity chefs listed here attended CIA

Amanda Freitag

Amanda Freitag is not as well-known as some of the other chefs on this list. But, for that matter, Cat Cora would not be known at all if not for Iron Chef America, and I might have a little bit of a crush on Freitag. It's my website, so, in she goes!

A regular host on the competition show Chopped, and also star, along with Ty Pennington (are you sick of him yet?), of American Diner Revival, and of Unique Eats on the Cooking Channel, Amanda Freitag attended The Culinary Institute of America in New York.

Amanda Freitag, Foodnetwork Star, Chopped Judge

Chef Amanda Freitag at Chopped party
Image by Zagat Buzz via Flickr (slightly cropped at bottom)Image Credit

Ming Tsai

Ming Tsai grew up working in his family's restaurant in Dayton, Ohio, Mandarin Kitchen. He didn't jump right into a culinary education. He first went to Yale University and received a degree in Mechanical Engineering (yikes!). However, while in University he spent his Junior year summer in Paris, attending Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School.

After graduating, he worked in restaurants all over the world with a number of prestigious chefs, getting his graduate's degree at Cornell University, where he earned a master's degree in hotel administration and hospitality marketing.

Aarón Sanchez

Like so many successful cooks, Chopped judge and Food Network start Aarón Sanchez grew up around the food business. From El Paso, Texas, he helped his mom in her catering business before the family relocated to New York, where she opened Café Marimba, where Sanchez cooked in the kitchen.

At 16 he went to New Orleans to spend a summer working with and learning from Paul Prudhomme. He attended and graduating from Dwight Preparatory School in New York, he went back to New Orleans and worked full-time for Prudhomme. Soon after, in 1996, he attended culinary school at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island, the same school that Emeril Lagasse, above, attended.

Martin Yan

Younger readers may not know Martin Yan, but he's been around a lot longer than most of the chefs here. His long-running PBS show, Yan Can Cook and his slogan, "If Yan can Cook, So can You!" will be familiar to older readers, though. He has also hosted three other shows, and has made appearances on Food Network, including as a judge on Iron Chef America.

Although was born in China, he's been teaching Americans how to cook for as long as I can remember, and his attitude is as sunny and encouraging as you can get.

His shows are laced with comedy, including his old signature routine of chopping vegetables extremely fast with a cleaver while not even looking, but grinning at the camera.

He worked with his family in restaurants from a young age, and after attending Munsang College, he attended the Overseas Institute of Cookery of Hong Kong. He later received a Master of Science in food science from University of California, Davis. He has been designated a Master Chef by the American Culinary Federation.

Michael Symon

Michael Symon rose to TV fame by competing in the Food Network TV series, The Next Iron Chef, winning, and then becomeing an unstoppable force on Iron Chef America. He was pretty much an unstoppable force in the restaurant industry before this, however, and it wasn't the first time he had appeared on Food Network, including losing to Chef Morimoto in Iron Chef America, before he became an Iron Chef himself. He went to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, like Cat Cora and Amanda Freitag, above.

Anthony Bourdain

Anthony Bourdain, the Kathy Griffin of the Culinary World, attended Vassar College for two years, and later, like so many of the chefs on this page, attended the Culinary Institute of America, where he graduated in 1978.

Sara Moulton

Sara Moulton was on of the Food Network's first stars, hosting Cooking Live, Cooking Live Primetime, and Sara's Secrets. She was also on-air food editor for Good Morning America and chef of the executive dining room at Gourmet magazine. Her current show in on Public Television, Sara's Weeknight Meals.

After graduationg from the University of Michigan with a major in history of ideas, in 1974, she attended the Culinary Institute of America in New York, in 1975. She won a scholarship from Les Dames D'Escoffier while there, graduating with highest honors.

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