What's the best culinary school in Chicago?
December 2, 2006 3:43 PM   Subscribe

What's the best culinary school in Chicago?

I've been working at a high-end commercial bakery for two months, having basically walked in off the street and asked for a job. I used to bake now and then at home and thought I was good at it, but now I know how much I don't know, and I want to keep learning.

I'm looking for a school that offers a degree in baking and pastry; intelligent instructors; instruction that gives time to food history and science - the academic side of things - in addition to hands-on skills; and a student body with a good proportion of college grads (like me). Can you recommend for or against any of the schools, based on personal experience, hearsay, or reputation?
posted by bigboggle to Food & Drink (5 answers total)
I don't have a direct answer, but I have what I think is a good idea about how you get your answer that may also help you in other ways.

Go to some of the better bakeries in town (or restaurants known for their pastry chefs) and ask the pros what they think. While not everyone will be friendly, my experience as a customer in these places suggests to me that you'll get a good reception much of the time (particularly if you don't show up in the middle of a meal rush). Besides getting answers that mean something, you'll also be doing valuable networking.

A few places to start with:

Alliance Bakery
Taste of Heaven
Hot Chocolate
posted by j-dawg at 4:26 PM on December 2, 2006

I know someone who just graduated from the Illinois Institute of Art culinary school. He had a Bachelor's degree before he started, so it only took him about 2 years. He recently completed an internship at Thomas Keller's restaurant in New York (Per Se), so I imagine it's got a pretty good program, although the person I know doesn't specialize in pastry.

I also know a woman who goes to Kendall and seems to enjoy it. She doesn't have a Bachelor's, and I don't think she's super into pastry, either (she used to work at Cousin's, and I think she might be vegan -- at least interested in vegan cooking). From what I can tell, Kendall's into hospitality and restaurant management in general.

It looks like the Cooking and Hospitality Insitute of Chicago offers a "Cordon Bleu" Associate's in Baking/Patisserie. That might be your best bet, or at least worth looking into.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 6:31 PM on December 2, 2006

My ex spent a lot of time checking out CHIC - he really liked the program, and probably would've gone there if we hadn't both been unemployed at the time. It is pretty expensive.
posted by echo0720 at 10:58 PM on December 2, 2006

I graduated from Johnson and Wales several years ago (culinary arts not baking and pastry) and would never do it again. My advice is to go to some of those places j-dawg recommended or some bakery you are particularly fond of, and ask for a job. You'll learn the skills and recipes, get on the job training, build your resume, and get paid (granted, not much) at the same time. Stay there until you think you've learned as much as you can from that chef and then move on to another spot specializing in something completely different and repeat the learning process. Hopefully in the time you would have spent in school, you've got as good or better foundation as culinary school could provide and it hasn't cost you anything. Oh, and be sure you're really willing to work baker's hours ;) Good luck!
posted by hangingbyathread at 11:58 PM on December 2, 2006

I didn't end up going, but I got accepted to and toured Kendall. It's a real 4 year college-most of the institutes only offer 2 year associates, so if you want a bachelor degree, Kendall is a good choice. It actually got it's start as a teacher's college. It looks like their course catalog is down, so I can't confirm, but I'm pretty sure they offer the requisite basic english/math classes you need for a BA there as well.
Like I said, I didn't end up going there, so I don't have in-depth experience, just the impressions I got from touring the campus. The campus is only a few years old-they just moved into a huge building that used to be the Sara Lee HQ. So brand new kitchens, with state-of-the-art equipment. I remember one of the things that impressed me the most was a kitchen specifically for working with chocolate, kept a different temperature from the other kitchens, with marble counter tops for tempering the chocolate. They have a partnership with Kraft that allowed them to have Food R&D classes where you could try to create or make improvements to products on the market. If you're really interested in Food Science, you might want to look into Food R&D. If you're interested in that, don't go to culinary school-you need a real science degree in diet and nutrition.
It's been a couple of years since I did my research, but it was not much more expensive than the institutes. They offered me a decent scholarship before I even asked (I had good but not amazing ACT scores), that would have made the price competitive with the institutes.
I did a summer day camp cooking school thing for high schoolers at CHIC. It seemed nice enough but afterward I still wanted to go to Kendall way more.
posted by Juliet Banana at 1:24 PM on December 3, 2006

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