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Looking to Go Pro? 

A survey of area cooking schools

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Culinary school: who needs it, right? Charlie Trotter dropped out; Thomas Keller never went. Some see it as an ivory tower that's no substitute for the frying-pan-to-fire skills learned in a real working kitchen. Even Anthony Bourdain, a Culinary Institute of America grad, has said he'd rather hire an experienced dishwasher than a culinary school graduate. But faculty, administrators, and students across the city argue that there's no better way to get a well-rounded education in a such a short period of time--two years on average. And with the food-service industry growing at warp speed (the National Restaurant Association predicts 61,100 new jobs in the field in the next ten years in Illinois alone) culinary school might just be a better investment than that English degree. In addition to a mess of classes for the home cook at places like the Chopping Block and Sur la Table, enrollment at the city's cooking schools is booming. Which one's right for you?

Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago

361 W. Chestnut | 312-944-0882 or 877-828-7772 | chic.edu

DEGREES Associate of Applied Science in culinary arts and baking and pastry with a Le Cordon Bleu diploma; night school track available.

IN BRIEF Founded in 1983, CHIC turned out 508 graduates last year, with a new batch of students matriculating every six weeks. In 2000 it hooked up with the 111-year-old Paris-based Le Cordon Bleu, an internationally recognized school grounded in classical French technique. The facility also recently expanded from 8 to 13 teaching kitchens. The comprehensive 15-month program includes course work in restaurant management, general education courses in English comp, math, and nutrition, and a three-month externship.

TEACHING RESTAURANT CHIC Cafe, 361 W. Chestnut, 312-873-2032

WHAT THE SCHOOL SAYS "We are the only Le Cordon Bleu school in the Great Lakes region," says marketing director Erin Lough. "When someone hires one of our graduates they know they're proficient at Cordon Bleu standards."

WHAT THE STUDENTS SAY Students have high praise for the "fantastic, well-trained and approachable" faculty, but some complain about crowded entry-level classes and other administrative issues.

FAMOUS ALUMS Ron Bilaro, assistant to Oprah's chef Art Smith; Denise Norton, owner of Flavour Cooking School in Forest Park; Marilyn Pocius, author of The Cook's Guide to Chicago

WHAT'S THE DAMAGE? $39,950 total (culinary), $38,500 (baking and pastry); almost all students receive some form of financial aid.

The French Pastry School

226 W. Jackson | 312-726-2419 | frenchpastryschool.com

DEGREES Certificate of completion

IN BRIEF In 1995 veteran French chefs Jacquy Pfeiffer and Sebastien Cannone combined their experience and their recipes to open this school, affiliated with the City Colleges of Chicago. They've since added instructors (three currently) to teach an intensive six-month course in which students learn the fine points of French pastry and candy making, from basic baguettes and croissants to sophisticated showpieces.

TEACHING RESTAURANT None

WHAT THE SCHOOL SAYS "We are the only school in the nation that is solely devoted to pastry," says marketing manager Anne Kauffmann.

WHAT THE STUDENTS SAY "It's the passion of the chefs--they definitely go above and beyond," says Courtney Dohman. "The knowledge is unbelievable and the stories they tell are amazing....I remember chef John Kraus telling us at the beginning this is going to be a shock for people who've always gotten As, and I got a B in the class. Normally I would have been mortified, but I was so proud because of the level of excellence that they want from you."

FAMOUS ALUMS Sarah Levy, owner of Sarah's Pastries & Candies; Michelle Garcia, owner of Bleeding Heart Bakery

WHAT'S THE DAMAGE? $17,500, increasing to $19,500 next year; financial aid and scholarships are available.

Illinois Institute of Art--Chicago

180 N. Wabash | 312-280-3500 or 800-351-3450 | ilic.artinstitutes.edu

DEGREES AAS in culinary arts and Bachelor's in Applied Science in culinary management; certificate in baking and pastry

IN BRIEF The local outpost of the Art Institutes opened its culinary school here six years ago. For the associate's degree, students are prepped to work in every kitchen position below head chef; for the bachelor's they're schooled in every aspect of the restaurant business, including the back office and boardroom.

TEACHING RESTAURANT Backstage Bistro, 180 N. Wabash, 312-475-6920

WHAT THE SCHOOL SAYS "You have a chef and a restaurant management person running this school, and that's a big positive," says chef Mark Facklam, culinary arts director. "He makes sure all those restaurant-management-type classes like purchasing and cost control and menu management are up to snuff."

WHAT THE STUDENTS SAY "The environment is very friendly and it's very open," says Sabre Tyler. "So at any given time you might have one class cooking one thing, and baking and pastry cooking something else, and there's a bartering thing going on in the hallway, so students start exchanging dishes with baking and pastry and food production, and they're all feeding each other."

FAMOUS ALUMS Mario Garcia, sous-chef at Hilton Chicago and named a top local professional under 30 by the Sun-Times in 2003; Andrew Johnson, pastry chef at Charlie Trotter's; Marc Kuchenbecker, head chef at the Tasting Room at Randolph Wine Cellars; Michelle Medina, sous-chef at the Peninsula Hotel's Pierrot Gourmet cafe

WHAT'S THE DAMAGE? $37,690 total for the AAS, $70,450 for the BAS; $630 for knives, utensils, and uniforms. Financial aid and scholarships are available.

Kendall College, School of Culinary Arts

900 N. North Branch | 866-667-3344 | kendall.edu

DEGREES BA and AAS in culinary arts, with accelerated AAS option; AAS in baking and pastry; certificates in baking and pastry, professional catering/personal chef, and professional cookery

IN BRIEF Founded in 1985, it's the only school in town to offer a BA that combines practical training with course work in management, business, nutrition, English comp, Spanish, and more. (For more see Martha Bayne's story on page 10.)

TEACHING RESTAURANT The Dining Room at Kendall College, 900 N. North Branch, 312-752-2328

WHAT THE SCHOOL SAYS "Here students are sitting in the best facility in the United States right now," says president Howard Tullman. "And I don't say that only because we built it--I say that because of the way time works. The newest facility is always the one that can take advantage of the newest technology and equipment."

WHAT THE STUDENTS SAY "It's probably one of the hardest things I've ever done," says Alvin Go, a 28-year-old former chemistry major who's attending classes while working on the line at Lula Cafe. He praises Kendall's accessible faculty and extracurricular options. "I see the postings at the school and I'm, like, 'Wow--this chef is coming here?'" It's a great foundation for a career, he says, though he admits he's probably picked up as much practical knowledge in his five months at Lula.

FAMOUS ALUMS Shawn McClain (Spring, Green Zebra, Custom House), "Hot Doug" Sohn, Mindy Segal (Hot Chocolate), Eric Aubriot (Aubriot, Tournesol, Narra), and John Manion (Mas)

WHAT'S THE DAMAGE $21,000 a year; financial aid is available.

Robert Morris College Institute of Culinary Arts

401 S. State | 800-762-6819 | robertmorris.com/culinary

DEGREES AAS in culinary arts; graduates can proceed to a bachelor's in business administration with a concentration in hospitality management or a baking and pastry program

IN BRIEF The newest culinary program in the area has grown exponentially since it opened in 2003 at Robert Morris College's Aurora campus, setting up shop downtown in 2004 and in Orland Park last year. Students learn how to work the front and back of the house, with an emphasis on business and technology. A study-abroad program in Italy is also available.

TEACHING RESTAURANT None

WHAT THE SCHOOL SAYS "Everybody knows that nine out of ten restaurants close within a year, and the reason they do is because they're poorly managed, not necessarily because the food is bad," says Nancy Rotunno, executive director of the culinary program. "Since we have such a strong business background--that's our main focus--we were able to take the resources and the stuff that we have always done for our business and technical programs and incorporate them into culinary."

WHAT THE STUDENTS SAY "It's hands-on learning," says Caitlyn Derrico. "There are a lot of events that we go and help with outside of school, and you meet a lot of chefs and get your name out there."

FAMOUS ALUMS None yet. Students from the first graduating classes are working at Tru and Heaven on Seven and in R & D at McDonald's corporate headquarters.

WHAT'S THE DAMAGE? $5,300 per quarter; the AAS program is six quarters, the bachelor's twelve. The school gives scholarships of its own and assists in locating outside aid.

Washburne Culinary Institute

7059 S. South Shore Dr. | 773-602-5487 | kennedyking.ccc.edu/washburne

DEGREES AAS in culinary arts and baking and pastry; certificates in the same

IN BRIEF Washburne, part of Kennedy-King College, relocated last year and will soon move again, to a 150,000-square-foot facility on 63rd and Halsted that's scheduled to open in September 2007. The new digs will allow the school to triple the number of students it admits yearly (currently 100).

TEACHING RESTAURANT The Parrot Cage, 7059 S. South Shore Dr. 773-602-5333

WHAT THE SCHOOL SAYS "It's been around since 1937, which makes it by far the oldest cooking school [in the U.S.] with the most experience," says provost William Reynolds. "And being part of the city college system, it gives you quite a big break on the tuition."

WHAT THE STUDENTS SAY "A lot of people I had known were graduating from Washburne," says Eioleta Morales. "I was thinking, 'What should I choose, a school with higher prestige or Washburne?' I decided I'm going to Washburne because all the people I met there are somebody now--they own their own business. They're teachers, but they're chefs."

FAMOUS ALUMS Larry Raymond, creator and co-owner of Sweet Baby Ray's barbecue sauce; John Meyer (BJ's Market and Bakery); Jimmy Bannos (chef and owner of Heaven on Seven); Mary Beth Liccioni, co-owner and manager of Les Nomades

WHAT'S THE DAMAGE? $11,163 for the culinary arts AAS, plus $2,037 for the baking and pastry degree; 95 percent of current students get financial aid.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustrations/Paul Dolan.

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