Cooking school is a fairly modern institution, both in the United States and Europe. In fact, the most famous cooking school in the world is probably Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, which began offering instruction in 1896.
At about the same time, here in the United States, Fannie Farmer had graduated from the Boston Cooking School and was about to publish her first cookbook, The Boston Cooking-School Cookbook. It turned out to be enormously successful and influential, introducing American home cooks to precise measurement and detailed instructions. In fact, the book is still in print today and Fannie Farmer, who died in 1915, remains an American cooking icon.
The American Culinary Federation (ACF) was founded in 1929, giving a national platform to what had been an assortment of professional chefs’ clubs and associations. The ACF helped professionalize the culinary arts in the US, sponsoring apprenticeship programs that remain active today. The ACF also certifies cooking schools around the country, offering its seal of approval for well run institutions.
Cooking schools really took off in the late 1940s, as soldiers returning from World War II looked for careers that made use of the skills they had learned in the armed forces. Postwar prosperity led to a boom in the entertainment and tourism industries. People ate out more than ever before, and trained chefs were needed to prepare meals for them.
Another factor that fed into the rising popularity of cooking school was the influence of television, which was just getting started in this era. Trained chefs like James Beard became household names, long before the advent of the Food Network. And, of course, Julia Child became the most famous advocate for good food and culinary training this country has ever known. Her show, The French Chef, debuted in 1963.
The most respected American cooking school is the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), which was founded in 1946. Today it has campuses in three locations: Hyde Park, New York; St. Helena, California; and San Antonio, Texas. Among its many well known alumni is Grant Achatz, whose Chicago restaurant Alinea was recently judged the best in North America.
History of Cooking School
Another highly respected cooking school is the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University, which currently has four campuses throughout the US. No school produces more chefs and food professionals than Johnson & Wales, with approximately 5,000 students enrolled at any given time.
American cooking schools initially focused on training students to become chefs in the classical French tradition. While this remains the bedrock of much of today’s culinary training, cooking schools teach much more than how to deftly wield a knife or whip up a sauce béarnaise in a flash. Cooking schools also offer business and management training, language courses (because many students are likely to train or work abroad at some point), and chemistry, to name just a few courses.