7 Delicious Culinary Schools

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So, you want to learn to cook? Here's a menu of seven schools where you can trade your suit and tie or T-shirt and jeans for a toque and white jacket.

1. Culinary Institute of America

The nation's other CIA, which has branches in Hyde Park, the Napa Valley, and San Antonio, bills itself as the world's premier culinary college. The label is well deserved, as the list of CIA graduates reads like a who's who of the best restaurateurs, chefs, and food writers. The CIA offers degrees in Culinary Arts and Baking and Pastry Arts Management. While the CIA does not require applicants to submit SAT scores, it does require six months of experience in a professional kitchen, banquet facility, hospital kitchen, soup kitchen, or other non-fast-food facility. Students spend more than 1,300 hours in the kitchen while working toward their degree.

History: The CIA opened in 1946 as the New Haven Restaurant Institute, a vocational training school offering a 16-week program for World War II veterans. It became known as the Culinary Institute of America in 1951 and opened its Hyde Park facility in 1972. One year later, the school opened the Epicurean Room, a public restaurant where students gained hands-on experience in the kitchen. In 1995, the CIA opened a second campus in Napa Valley to accommodate the growing number of chef wannabes. After receiving a donation of $35 million from David Pace, the salsa mogul, in 2007, the school opened a campus in San Antonio to promote Latin American cuisines.

Tasty Tidbit: The college employs more than 130 chefs and instructors, including the largest concentration of chefs certified through the American Culinary Federation's 10-day master chef certification exam. A 2000 survey revealed that the average starting salary for graduates is $25,000 to $35,000 depending on whether they earned an associate's or bachelor's degree.

Famous Alum: Like deciding on an entrée at a five-star restaurant, it's difficult to pick just one. Anthony Bourdain, the celebrity chef, traveler, and author, graduated from the CIA in 1978 after attending Vassar College.

2. Le Cordon Bleu

Le Cordon Bleu began as a single school in Paris and has evolved into a worldwide training institution with eight official campuses and 29 affiliate programs. Roughly 20,000 students are enrolled in Le Cordon Bleu programs each year. Students at the Paris campus can earn diplomas in Culinary Arts or Pastry. For about $50,000, they take classes in both disciplines and work toward a Grand Diplome. One of the best schools that offers Le Cordon Bleu program outside of its eight main campuses is the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco.

History: Le Cordon Bleu, meaning "blue ribbon," derives its name from the symbol of L'Ordre du Saint-Esprit, an order of nobles created by King Henry III in the 16th century that regularly enjoyed magnificent feasts. The culinary arts school was founded in Paris in 1895 by Marthe Distel, a journalist and publisher of a cooking magazine. In 1896, the first cooking demonstration ever to be held on an electric stove was staged at Le Cordon Bleu in an effort to promote Distel's magazine and his new school. The publicity stunt worked, and Le Cordon Bleu established a reputation as one of the premier culinary arts programs in the world.

Tasty Tidbit: For an insider's account of life as a student at Le Cordon Bleu, check out Kathleen Flinn's memoir of her experience at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, The Sharper Your Knife, The Less You Cry. The memoir includes recipes, as well as anecdotes about Flinn's competitive classmates.

Famous Alum: Cooking icon Julia Child, who helped popularize French cuisine in the United States after graduating from Le Cordon Bleu and published best-selling cookbooks until her death in 2004, was the first woman inducted into the Culinary Institute Hall of Fame.

3. New England Culinary Institute

The New England Culinary Institute, which has two campuses in Vermont, operates under the mantra that students should "learn it by living it." To that end, students have the opportunity to work in a for-profit restaurant as part of their curriculum at NECI, where the student-to-instructor ratio is 10:1. NECI has a total enrollment of more than 500 full-time students, 76 percent of whom are 18 to 25 years old, and offers degrees in Culinary Arts, Baking and Pastry Arts, and Hospitality and Restaurant Management.

History: NECI was founded in 1980 by Fran Voigt and John Dranow, who made the learn-by-doing model the hallmark of the NECI education. When it opened, NECI was one of the first culinary arts schools to require physical education credits for graduation. "You know the saying, "˜Never trust a skinny cook?'" Dranow asked a New York Times reporter in 1987. "We decided to turn that saying on its head." The school offered free memberships to a nearby health club and students held quadrathalons, which involved running, biking, cooking, and foodservice.

Tasty Tidbit: Laureen Gauthier, the Director of Curriculum & Education at NECI, baked a 6-foot-long chocolate replica of the Smithsonian Castle for the Smithsonian Institution's 150th anniversary celebration in 1996.

Famous Alum: Alton Brown began his career as a cinematographer before switching paths and moving to Vermont to attend the NECI. He graduated in 1995, worked briefly in a restaurant, and started his popular cooking show, Good Eats, in 1998.

4. French Culinary Institute

The French Culinary Institute boasts a world-class faculty, including award-winning French chef Jacques Pepin, and an impressive list of alumni. The roughly 600 students enrolled in the FCI's 600-hour Culinary Arts program have the opportunity to practice their skills by preparing four- and five-course meals at L'Ecole, the school's student-run restaurant in Manhattan. In addition to its full-time Culinary Arts and Baking and Pastry programs, the FCI offers specialized courses, such as the Art of International Bread Baking, and other workshops. Unlike the CIA, students don't need any culinary experience to apply. They will need $35,000 if they're admitted, however.

History: The French Culinary Institute was founded in 1984 by Dorothy Cann, who had served as director of the Apex Technical School, one of the country's largest trade schools, since 1978. Cann loved good food and believed that cooking should be taught like other trades. "The discipline that goes into learning cooking is the same as that for learning welding," Cann told the New York Times in 1985. "I don't want to put down cooking in any way because, of course, it is very much a creative profession. But at the same time it is a trade, and that's how you should learn it."

Tasty Tidbit: The Italian Culinary Academy, a sister school of the FCI, opened in 2007. Students enrolled in the 29-week program learn to prepare authentic Italian cuisine by spending 18 weeks in some of Italy's top restaurants. While students spend the other 11 weeks of the course in New York, classes are taught in Italian in keeping with the "total immersion" method.

Famous Alum: Celebrity chef Bobby Flay graduated from FCI in 1984. He opened his first restaurant, Mesa, to critical acclaim in 1991 and earned the FCI's first "Outstanding Graduate Award" in 1993. In addition to serving as an instructor at his alma mater, Flay publishes cookbooks, contributes to The CBS Early Show, and stars in multiple shows on the Food Network.

5. Kendall College

While it doesn't have quite the same name recognition as some of the other schools on this list, Kendall College is respected among people in the food industry. Nearly 600 students are enrolled in the downtown Chicago school's Culinary Arts program. Students refine their skills during a required three-month internship and the school's Culinary Advisory Board, made up predominantly of foodservice professionals in the Chicago area, helps instructors develop the curriculum and students find jobs after graduation. Kendall College features a student-run restaurant called The Dining Room.

History: Kendall College was founded in 1934 by two Scandinavian Methodist seminaries, who hoped to provide students with the tools they would need to become competent professionals. Those tools didn't include knives and spoons until 1985, when the Kendall College School of Culinary Arts first opened its kitchen doors to students. At first, the school offered an Associate Degree in Applied Sciences, but has since added a Bachelor of Arts in Culinary Arts and other degrees that are accredited by the American Culinary Federation. Kendall College was located in Evanston, Ill., from its founding until 2004. The campus is now on the Chicago River and provides students easy access to Chicago's many restaurants.

Tasty Tidbit: Kendall College is devoted to going green and became the first culinary-training program to receive the Green Award from the Foodservice Consultants Society International in 2007. The school created an educational video with tips on how to make foodservice operations more eco-friendly in 2008.

Famous Alum: Shawn McClain, a 1990 graduate, is the executive chef and partner of Spring, Green Zebra, and Custom House, three of the most popular restaurants in Chicago. McClain was a 2006 James Beard Award Winner as the best chef in the Midwest.

6. Tante Marie's Cooking School

Not to be confused with the Tante Marie School of Cookery in England that was recently purchased by Gordon Ramsay, Tante Marie's Cooking School is a small, private school in San Francisco that offers short-term courses in culinary and pastry arts. In addition to professional courses, the well respected school also offers various workshops for the more casual chef. Tante Marie's facility has two kitchens, one of which can be converted into a demonstration kitchen that seats up to 35 students. Enrollment for the professional, 22-week Culinary Arts course is limited to 16 students; tuition is $19,500.

History: Tante Marie's was founded by Mary Risley in 1979. Risley, who taught herself to cook by reading Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, worked in the investment business for 8 years before deciding that her true passion was cooking, eating, and writing. When she realized her dream and opened Tante Marie's, it was one of the first culinary schools in the county to offer all-day, year-round classes. The school has produced more than 3,000 graduates in the 30 years since. Risley is the founder of Food Runners, a nonprofit that delivers 10 tons of donated restaurant leftovers to soup kitchens, shelters, and needy residents throughout San Francisco each week.

Tasty Tidbit: The school offers "Party Classes" every Friday and Saturday. For $150 a person, a group of 20-30 friends or coworkers can use Tante Marie's kitchen to cook a three-course meal under the guidance of the school's chefs.

Famous Alum: Tori Ritchie, a cookbook author and regular contributor to Bon Appétit, produces 5-minute cooking segments for The CBS Early Show. She also teaches cooking and food writing at Tante Marie's and is a volunteer with Food Runners.

7. Johnson and Wales University

Johnson and Wales is a private school with more than 16,000 students enrolled in programs at its campuses in Denver, Miami, Charlotte, and Providence, R.I. For nearly a century, the school has been dedicated to producing employment-ready graduates in a number of fields through two- and four-year programs. Students in the Culinary Arts program receive hands-on training in university-owned or affiliated commercial facilities, such as a Radisson hotel and the Johnson & Wales Inn near the Providence campus.

History: Known as "America's Career University," Johnson and Wales was founded as a business school in 1914. A culinary arts curriculum wasn't offered at JWU until 1973, but the program quickly took off from there. In 1992, Johnson and Wales opened its Miami campus and formally established the College of Culinary Arts. The Denver campus opened in 2000, while the Charlotte campus opened in 2004.

Tasty Tidbit: The Center for Culinary Excellence, an 82,000-square foot facility with nine hot kitchens, seven pastry and chocolate labs, and a slew of features, is scheduled to open at Johnson and Wales' Providence campus this fall.

Famous Alum: Food Network regular Emeril Lagasse turned down a full scholarship at the New England Conservatory of Music to attend Johnson and Wales. He graduated in 1978 and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 1990, the same year that Esquire named Emeril's Restaurant "Restaurant of the Year." Lagasse has authored 12 cookbooks and is the chef/proprietor of 10 restaurants.

Run! IHOP Is Giving Away Free Pancakes for National Pancake Day

What better way to celebrate National Pancake Day than with a free stack of IHOP's signature buttermilk pancakes?
What better way to celebrate National Pancake Day than with a free stack of IHOP's signature buttermilk pancakes?
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If ever there were a day to forgo that container of leftovers in the fridge and treat yourself to breakfast for dinner, it’s today: IHOP is celebrating National Pancake Day by giving each customer a free short stack of buttermilk pancakes. The dine-in deal is available at participating locations from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m.—but the hours can vary, so you might want to confirm with your local IHOP before heading there.

While a pile of hot, syrup-soaked pancakes is definitely a good enough incentive to visit IHOP immediately, it’s not the only one. IHOP is also hosting a sweepstakes that offers thousands of instant-win prizes across all locations, and you can only enter by scanning the QR code on your table at IHOP. One lucky carb-loader will win the grand prize—pancakes for life—and other rewards include everything from $500 IHOP gift cards to IHOP merchandise like blankets, watches, duffel bags, customizable jackets, and even bikes.

The pan-tastic event is all in the spirit of charity, and IHOP is hoping to raise more than $4 million for the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Shriners Hospitals for Children, and the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society—you can donate online here. According to a press release, IHOP has contributed more than $30 million to its charity partners since beginning its National Pancake Day celebrations in 2006.

“IHOP launched its National Pancake Day event 15 years ago as a way to celebrate the best food ever—pancakes—and put a purpose behind the day by partnering with Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals and other charities to help kids in our communities,” Stephanie Peterson, IHOP’s executive director of communications, said in the release.

If you can’t make it to IHOP to claim your free short stack today, you can always celebrate National Pancake Day with a tall stack of homemade pancakes—find out how to make them extra fluffy here.

9 Royally Interesting Facts About King Cake

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It’s Carnival season, and that means bakeries throughout New Orleans are whipping up those colorful creations known as King Cakes. And while today it’s primarily associated with Big Easy revelry, the King Cake has a long and checkered history that reaches back through the centuries. Here are a few facts about its origins, its history in America, and how exactly that plastic baby got in there.

1. The King Cake is believed to have Pagan origins.

The king cake is widely associated with the Christian festival of the Epiphany, which celebrates the three kings’ visit to the Christ child on January 6. Some historians, however, believe the cake dates back to Roman times, and specifically to the winter festival of Saturnalia. Bakers would put a fava bean—which back then was used for voting, and had spiritual significance—inside the cake, and whoever discovered it would be considered king for a day. Drinking and mayhem abounded. In the Middle Ages, Christian followers in France took up the ritual, replacing the fava bean with a porcelain replica engraved with a face.

2. The King Cake stirred up controversy during the French Revolution.

To bring the pastry into the Christian tradition, bakers got rid of the bean and replaced it with a crowned king’s head to symbolize the three kings who visited baby Jesus. Church officials approved of the change, though the issue became quite thorny in late 18th century France, when a disembodied king’s head was seen as provocation. In 1794, the mayor of Paris called on the “criminal patissiers” to end their “filthy orgies.” After they failed to comply, the mayor simply renamed the cake the “Gateau de Sans-Culottes,” after the lower-class sans-culottes revolutionaries.

3. The King Cake determined the early kings and queens of Mardi Gras.


A Mardi Gras King in 1952.

Two of the oldest Mardi Gras krewes (NOLA-talk for "crew," or a group that hosts major Mardi Gras events, like parades or balls) brought about the current cake tradition. The Rex Organization gave the festival its colors (purple for justice, green for faith, and gold for power) in 1872, but two years earlier, the Twelfth Night Revelers krewe brought out a King Cake with a gold bean hidden inside and served it up to the ladies in attendance. The finder was crowned queen of the ball. Other krewes adopted the practice as well, crowning the kings and queens by using a gold or silver bean. The practice soon expanded into households throughout New Orleans, where today the discovery of a coin, bean or baby trinket identifies the buyer of the next King Cake.

4. The King Cake's baby trinkets weren't originally intended to have religious significance.

Although today many view the baby trinkets found inside king cakes to symbolize the Christ child, that wasn’t what Donald Entringer—the owner of the renowned McKenzie’s Bakery in New Orleans, which started the tradition—had in mind. Entringer was instead looking for something a little bit different to put in his king cakes, which had become wildly popular in the city by the mid-1900s. One story has it that Entringer found the original figurines in a French Quarter shop. Another, courtesy of New Orleans food historian Poppy Tooker (via NPR’s The Salt), states that a traveling salesman with a surplus of figurines stopped by the bakery and suggested the idea. "He had a big overrun on them, and so he said to Entringer, 'How about using these in a king cake,'" said Tooker.

5. Bakeries are afraid of getting sued.

What to many is an offbeat tradition is, to others, a choking hazard. It’s unclear how many consumers have sued bakeries over the plastic babies and other trinkets baked inside king cakes, but apparently it’s enough that numerous bakeries have stopped including them altogether, or at least offer it on the side. Still, some bakeries remain unfazed—like Gambino’s, whose cinnamon-infused king cake comes with the warning, "1 plastic baby baked inside."

6. The French version of the King Cake comes with a paper crown.


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In France, where the flaky, less colorful (but still quite tasty) galette de rois predates its American counterpart by a few centuries, bakers often include a paper crown with their cake, just to make the “king for a day” feel extra special. The trinkets they put inside are also more varied and intricate, and include everything from cars to coins to religious figurines. Some bakeries even have their own lines of collectible trinkets.

7. There's also the Rosca de Reyes, the Bolo Rei, and the Dreikönigskuchen.


"Roscón de Reyes" by Tamorlan - Self Made (Foto Propia).

Versions of the King Cake can be found throughout Europe and Latin America. The Spanish Rosca de Reyes and the Portugese Bolo Rei are usually topped with dried fruit and nuts, while the Swiss Dreikönigskuchen has balls of sweet dough surrounding the central cake. The Greek version, known as Vasilopita, resembles a coffee cake and is often served for breakfast.

8. The King Cake is no longer just a New Orleans tradition.

From New York to California, bakeries are serving up King Cakes in the New Orleans fashion, as well as the traditional French style. On Long Island, Mara’s Homemade makes their tri-colored cakes year round, while in Los Angeles you can find a galette de rois (topped with a nifty crown, no less) at Maison Richard. There are also lots of bakeries that deliver throughout the country, many offering customizable fillings from cream cheese to chocolate to fruits and nuts.

9. The New Orleans Pelicans have a King Cake baby mascot—and it is terrifying.

Every winter you can find this monstrosity at games, local supermarkets, and in your worst nightmares.

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