How to Find the Best Culinary School: 19 steps to take

When our son indicated that he wanted to become a chef, we had limited knowledge of the culinary field as parents. All we knew is we loved good food but don’t like making it (This probably explains why he wanted to be a chef). A significant concern was finding an excellent culinary school, but with little knowledge of how to do this, we learned through trial and error and eventually found a school we were happy with. This article is for both aspiring chefs and parents. We share our experience in the hope that it will make your journey to finding an excellent culinary school much more effortless.

When searching for a good culinary school, the following is essential:

1. Explore the culinary scene to know what a good school is.

An excellent place to start, especially as a parent, is to build a good knowledge base about the culinary world. Find out what being a chef is all about and what training is involved. This will help you to know what to look for in a good culinary school.

2. Gauge culinary schools in your area to make comparisons.

Find out what culinary schools are in your area and which are among the top. Study and compare what they each offer. This will broaden your culinary knowledge and further your understanding of what good culinary schools offer. You will thus gain clarity on which school provides the best and most suits you.

3. List schools you are interested in and plan a visit.

Don’t just visit one culinary school. By visiting a few culinary schools, you can:

  • make further comparisons and gauge the look and feel of the school;
  • meet some of the instructors and assess how you, as a student chef and as a parent, connect with them;
  • assess the cleanliness and maintenance of the facilities, especially the cooking areas.

The best is to arrange a visit when the school is in operation to let you know what it would be like should you attend. You can then see how practical lessons in the kitchen are done, the cleanliness and order maintained, and how the chef instructs and engages the students.

4. Ask the right questions to gain details on the school.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Make a list of questions you need to be answered when calling or visiting the school. We also emailed our questions and were also able to glean something from the school by how quickly our queries were responded to and the quality of the responses.

You can also ask about things like:

  • What is needed for culinary school? What does the school provide, and what must be purchased in addition to this?
  • What food establishments is the school associated with where practical training will be done? If the school is associated with recognised hotel or restaurant names, it will likely give you peace of mind about your school choice.
  • What support is given to chef students when they are doing on-site training?
  • Ask about additional, hidden expenses like parking or re-write fees if a student fails an exam.
  • How student competence is assessed,
  • Bursaries offered, as some schools do provide bursaries for their students,
  • Competitions the school participates in giving students further culinary exposure and experience.

5. Assess if what the culinary school offers is worth it.

Evaluating whether the culinary qualifications offered and the duration and cost of training are worth it is an important step.

As culinary training can be expensive due to increases in food prices, costs associated with employing good, quality instructors, and the equipment needed, it is essential to weigh the school’s qualifications and how long it will take you to achieve them against the cost.

You can find reasonably costed schools which offer a lot. You must do a thorough search. In our experience, we, for example, discovered two similar qualifications provided by two different schools, one covered over a shorter period and the other stretched over a longer time and was more costly.

Most schools offer certificate and diploma qualifications. The certificate is usually a one-year course, and the diploma is about a two-to-three-year system. Usually, the diploma course offers more, is much more intense, includes more extended industry-integrated training, and prepares you better for being a professional chef.

All this will naturally be a more significant advantage when job-seeking. However, it also depends on what you can afford. Suppose you can’t afford diploma-level training. In that case, you can start with certificate-level training and later, as you can afford, do more miniature courses to gain further training and qualifications.  

Assess what is included in the course fee, as this can vary across different schools. Some schools, for example, have one price that consists of the essentials a student needs for culinary school. This is often referred to as a starter kit and includes things like the chef uniform or chef whites, as the uniform is called, starter chef knives, and essential kitchen equipment like measuring tools and textbooks.

Other schools exclude the starter kit from the cost; this must be purchased separately before training can commence. Find out the specifics of the school you are interested in.

6. Make sure the quality of training instructors.

The training you receive will only be as good as your instructors. Make sure that the institution uses trained, qualified instructors with a wealth of experience from which you can benefit.

7. Ensure the school has good cooking and patisserie tuition.

While this may seem an unnecessary step to mention, as culinary schools generally offer training in both, it is crucial to evaluate the course content of both and ensure it is of good quality and allows you to obtain an accredited qualification in either.

Having good quality, recognised courses in both allows a student to decide if they are more suited to the one than the other and pursue this at the same institution.

On one of the open days we attended, we spoke to a student chef who, after one year of culinary training, decided pastry and baking were more what she was interested in. The way this institution structured the course allowed for the student to continue second-year training in patisserie, and this combination, in turn, led to a higher qualification.

While some culinary schools only focus on training professional chefs, others, in addition, offer training to anybody who wishes to polish their cooking or baking skills.

8. Assess the course content and training duration.

An excellent culinary course should develop an all-around professional chef.

The content of the course must be suitably aligned to train a student as a culinary chef. One curriculum we looked at focussed a lot more on culinary theory and the hospitality aspect of the training, both essential. Still, there was not enough emphasis on the hands-on practical skills needed in culinary training.

While the curriculum content also depends on the duration of the course, from our research, an excellent culinary approach should include theoretical and practical training at culinary school and workplace training in a food establishment.

An added advantage is when leadership, management and entrepreneurship skills are included. As a culinary career can be challenging, a good one should prepare students for the reality of the industry and have soft skills like communication, teamwork and handling conflict.

A course ranging from 1-3 years can include the following elements:

  • Understanding hospitality and tourism
  • Personal and workplace hygiene and safety
  • Food safety and quality assurance
  • Environmental awareness and sustainability
  • Basic principles of kitchen work
  • Numeracy and units of measurement
  • Food production theory and science basics
  • Theory and practice of preparing, cooking, and finishing dishes
  • Nutritional cooking
  • Stock and cost control
  • Menu planning and recipe costing
  • Gastronomy and global cuisines
  • Bakery principles
  • Beverage product knowledge and service
  • Communication and business management
  • Staff relations and supervision
  • Computer literacy
  • Personal development

9. Ensure a proper practice-to-theory learning ratio.

In culinary training, the course content must also be geared towards developing a culinary artist with competent theoretical knowledge and practical experience.

As the emphasis in culinary training must be the application of knowledge, ensure that the school you are interested in has the right split between the two, with a greater emphasis on practical learning.

From our research, a division of about 30% theory and 70% practical is a healthy proportion of good culinary training.

10. Ensure the school has the proper credentials.

It is vital to ensure that the certificate, diploma or degree course you are completing is accredited. You want a qualification recognised within your country and if you want to work overseas, recognised internationally.

To this end, know your country’s national accreditation bodies. If this body approves the course, you know it is a valid qualification.  

In South Africa, for example, the Quality Council for Trades and Occupation (QCTO) regulates the design, implementation, assessment, and certification of culinary qualifications. The South African Qualifications Authority (SAQA) is another quality assurance body that evaluates and accredits national and international courses.

There are also various bodies that good culinary schools need to be associated with. These are national and international.  For example, South Africa has the South African Chefs Association (SA Chefs), a recognised food and culinary industry authority. The World Association of Chef’s Societies (WACS) is a global network of chef’s associations.

11. Ensure the school offers international qualifications.

From speaking to a few chefs, the consensus seems to be to gain a national qualification and then an international one. This allows you more scope and work opportunities.

An international qualification is gained by either completing the City and Guilds exam or the Highfield exam. These are international based awarding bodies granting global capabilities, and the best culinary schools are registered with one or the other, depending on what courses they offer.

A culinary school will align its courses with preparing learners to complete one of these international exams. Some culinary schools prepare students for the City and Guilds exam, while others use Highfield. Either of these will get you an international chef qualification.

12. Research the track record and reputation of the school.

Find out how long the school has been around and its overall reputation.

A culinary school may not rank at the top of the top schools, but it needs to have a good track record, so find out about its history, its origins, how long the school has been around, its overall reputation, the staff turnover rate, how and by whom it is managed and the pass rate of the school. 

Ask questions about where many of the school’s students move on to and are employed after completing their culinary studies at the school you are interested in.

13. Assess the student-instructor ratio.

As culinary training is hands-on, and you want to receive quality training, check the size of the group and available instructors.

If groups are too big, you will not likely receive the most effective instruction and sufficient attention. One instructor per 16 students appears to be the average ratio.

14. Assess the training kitchen facilities.

Besides checking out the cleanliness and hygiene standards of the kitchens, pay attention to the layout and size of the kitchen and whether that seems suited to the size of the training group and whether there are sufficient workstations to accommodate students.

We visited a school while a practical was taking place, and the kitchen size seemed unsuited to the number of students present.

15. Find out the nature and duration of industry training.

An excellent culinary school includes practical training in the kitchens and food outlets of the school.

Still, it must also include industry placement in hotels and restaurants where students work with experienced chefs and have a taste of real-life work. A spin-off from this exposure is that student chefs have the chance of job placement should they prove themselves to be hard-working and ambitious student chefs.

It is also essential that this exposure is long enough to gain sufficient experience and that the culinary school offers their students the support they need and tracks their progress to ensure that they are getting the diversity of hands-on training provided by the institution where they are placed.

16. Weigh-up things travel time and campus set-up.

Practical considerations like how far the culinary school is from home, how much travel time is involved, and how accessible it is must also be considered, especially if a student needs to use public transport to get to culinary school.

If using a car to get to campus, find out about parking facilities and if there are additional costs involved with this.

Take note of where the school is situated, the available facilities, and the surroundings. One of the schools we visited was in a building in a busy city area, which was not easy to access because of high traffic volume compared to another that was better situated and accessible, with a pleasant outside place where students could relax during breaks.

17. Speak to former students and current learners.

Often reviews on websites of culinary schools are available to help get an impression of a culinary school.

Even better, take it a step further and speak to a former student or parent to gain first-hand information about their experience and ask the questions you need to be answered.

Such students are often available on open days, assisting with presentations, hosting guests, or serving snacks. Start conversations to aid your decision-making. If this is not an option, don’t be afraid to ask the institution for the contact details of previous students who don’t mind talking to you.

18. Check that you meet the entry requirements.

It’s no use finding the school you love but finding out that you don’t meet the requirements, so make sure of this upfront.

Most culinary schools will accept students with a nationally recognised school leavers certificate, or an equivalent, like the GED high school qualification.

Some schools may recommend, as a benefit, or specifically need that you take hospitality-related subjects at school. Most require that you are proficient in the language in which instruction will take place and that you have a Maths skill.

19. Have a parent-student conversation.

Talk about what you liked best and least about each culinary school you assessed and the pros and cons of each.

Weigh this up before making a final decision about the best school for you. This can also be an excellent time to consider a genuine commitment to a culinary career before embarking on this career.


When looking for an excellent culinary school to obtain your chef qualification, there are several things to consider. Against this, you may also have to consider things like your available financial resources. Ultimately, you want to find a school with many qualities listed in this article to ensure an excellent culinary education.

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