If you want to be a chef — and these days, it seems nearly everyone does — you’ve got to have a first-class culinary education. And to get a first-class culinary education, you’ve got to go to Paris, or London, or at least Hyde Park, New York, home of the Culinary Institute of America.
Or New England.
Cooking schools are hot. Blame (or credit) such media phenomena as The Food Network, Hell’s Kitchen, and celebrity chefs from Ming to Mario: Students are flocking to a field that’s now seen as both prestigious and secure, as the proliferation of sophisticated restaurants in New England means there are plenty of jobs out there for qualified applicants. Whatever your reason for pursuing a culinary education, there’s a school for you in New England. Here are three of the best, each catering to a particular type of student.
Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, Cambridge, Massachusetts
If you’re a career changer, you’ll find plenty of company at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Founder Roberta Dowling says that 95 percent of the students are college graduates. “They’re doctors and lawyers who’ve decided they want to do something with food instead,” she notes. A random check of students working in the classroom kitchens turns up Becky Fingleton, who came here after doing marketing for a hedge fund; Matt Monteverd, who decided on cooking after earning a BA in economics; and Connie Petruzziello, who enrolled when she realized that she preferred cooking to real-estate research. In 10 months, students walk out with a solid grounding in classical, regional, and international cuisines, and the tools to get started in a culinary career. 617-354-2020; cambridgeculinary.com
Johnson & Wales University, Providence, Rhode Island
Students here quickly learn they don’t have to stay in the kitchen. “When freshmen come in,” says College of Culinary Arts dean Paul McVey, “about 99 percent want to be executive chefs. By the time they graduate [from J&W's four-year degree program], we’ve expanded their horizons, and they may go on to be food scientists, food service entrepreneurs, and so on.” Still, J&W students get plenty of hands-on cooking experience, and many do go on to become chefs. If you want to be the next Emeril, J&W is a great choice: It’s the alma mater of the current Emeril. 800-342-5598; culinary.jwu.edu
New England Culinary Institute, Montpelier and Essex, Vermont
From their first day, students are expected to cook for the public at one of NECI’s dining venues. It’s literally a trial by fire, and student Ifer Saipher says the experience was terrifying. “I was scared to death,” he recalls. “I was shaking.” But with experienced chef-instructors by their sides and classes that may number as few as five students, aspiring chefs soon learn real-world lessons. Indeed, by the time they’ve completed the two-year course — half of the program on campus and half spent in internships — they’re practically seasoned pros. Chef-instructor Dina Altieri compares NECI favorably with the CIA: “NECI is more hands-on, with an individual approach to learning. Students have to do more here.” 877-223-6324; neci.edu