Culinary Arts Schools in Illinois

The country's culinary landscape continually shifts and changes, but there are three foundational cities that anchor that landscape: New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago. In Illinois, Chicago is the heartbeat of the culinary world, one home to critically renowned, award-winning chefs and restaurateurs. It's an exciting place to be for students interested in attending culinary schools in Illinois. Evidenced by the city's annual recognition from the James Beard Foundation, Chicago is home to top-flight culinary talent and tastes. In 2014, there were three James Beard award winners, including:

Culinary Arts
  • Jimmy Bannos, Jr. (The Purple Pig): Co-winner of rising star chef category
  • Dave Beran (Next): Best chef, Great Lakes
  • Maria Contreras, Christopher Lawton, Micah Stanley (Grace): Outstanding restaurant design (75 seats and under)

Dominated by the Chicago metropolitan region, Illinois' culinary arts industry is a $22.4 billion per year industry, according to the National Restaurant Association. This presents a huge opportunity for prospective students who are thinking ahead about their culinary career: more than 26,000 restaurants and drinking establishments can be found in the state, establishments that employ 500,000 individuals.

Famous Illinois restaurants and chefs

Restaurants, chefs, and restaurateurs across the state have and continue to garner national, and even worldwide, acclaim from publications including Michelin Guide, Forbes, and Wine and Spectator. However, the Illinois culinary scene is dominated in particular by two Chicago restaurants: Alinea and Grace. Both were named Five-Star restaurants by Forbes in 2014. More importantly, both earned the critical distinction of Three-Star recognition from Michelin.

  • Alinea - Executive Chef Grant Achatz, along with Nick Kokonas, founded the 64-table restaurant in 2005, a restaurant that has redefined the dining experience through an 18 to 22 course meal based on a seasonally driven menu.
  • Grace - Renowned Executive Chef, Curtis Duffy, opened Grace in 2012 and it has been a sensational hit, garnering accolades including a Five-Star rating from Forbes Travel Guide, AAA's Five Diamond Rating, Three-Stars from Michelin, and was named the best restaurant in the world by Robb's Report in 2013.

As the focal point of the culinary world in Illinois, Chicago is also home to two additional Five-Star and four Four-Star Forbes restaurants. Other Five-Star winners also include L20 and Sixteen, while the Four-Star winners include Everest, Les Nomades, Shanghai Terrace, and Tru.

Complementing the Three-Star rated Michelin restaurants, Grace and Alinea, are another 22 restaurants that earned Two- and One-Star recognition from Michelin.

Although Chicago is the epicenter of the culinary movement in Illinois, other cities such as Rockford and Evanston, are quickly becoming known as foodie destinations. For example, in 2014, Zagat named the some of the best restaurants in Evanston, a college town expanding its palette of tastes with an influx of new chefs and restaurateurs, including establishments such as Lou Malnati's Pizza, Campagnola (Italian), Jilly's Café (American), Coast Sushi and Sashimi (Japanese) and more.

Illinois career outlook for culinary careers and professions

The path to a culinary career typically begins with graduating from a culinary arts school. In Illinois, even famous chefs such as Chef Grant Aschatz of Alinea have attended a culinary institution for training. Prospective students have a wide selection of educational opportunities and career avenues to consider and pursue. Traditionally speaking, culinary schools in Illinois offer students four professional concentrations: Culinary Management, Baking & Pastry Arts, Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts.

Whether the goal is to own a restaurant, become a sous chef, head baker, pastry chef, executive chef, bartender or hospitality director, a degree in the culinary arts can pave the way to an entry-level position in the field. According to employment data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth at the career level varies both by location and profession. For example, bakers, chefs, and restaurant managers are expected to see job gains statewide between 2.9 percent and 5.7 percent between 2012 and 2022. Below is a career summary table for culinary careers in Illinois:

OccupationTotal Employment in Illinois (2013)Average Salary in Illinois (2013)% Job Growth in Illinois (2012-22)
Bakers 7,980 $25,060 5.7%
Chefs and Head Cooks 4,610 $42,210 4.9%
Food Service Managers 12,070 $47,170 2.9%

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013, and Projections Central

At the local level, the top five paying metropolitan areas in 2013 for chefs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, included the following:

  • Champaign-Urbana: $49,220
  • Lake County-Kenosha County: $46,040
  • Chicago-Joliet-Naperville: $44,930
  • Decatur: $44,920
  • Bloomington-Normal: $41,800

For restaurant managers, the top paying metro areas in Illinois included Bloomington-Normal ($55,470), Champaign-Urbana ($54,430), Chicago-Joliet-Naperville ($49,800), Lake County-Kenosha County ($48,300), and Decatur ($46,280).

For bakers, the best paying areas included Chicago-Joliet-Naperville ($24,840), Lake County-Kenosha County ($24,550), Peoria ($23,290), Kankakee-Bradley ($22,640) and Springfield ($22,410).

As the state -- specifically Chicago -- continues to place its mark on the culinary world, Illinois will long remain a popular place for graduates of culinary schools in Illinois to start their careers. Make sure to be fully aware of your options – if you're thinking of pursuing a culinary education in the state, be sure to peruse our list Illinois culinary schools below. Culinary arts schools, along with baking and pastry schools, are located throughout the state, so choose the one that looks right for you.

Additional Information on Culinary Colleges in Illinois from Chef2chef.net
Hotel Management Schools in Illinois


  • Forbes, Restaurant Rankings, http://www.forbestravelguide.com/restaurant
  • Michelin, Chicago Rated Restaurants, http://www.michelintravel.com/selections/2015-chicago-michelin-selections/
  • National Restaurant Association, Illinois, http://www.restaurant.org/Downloads/PDFs/State-Statistics/2014/illinois
  • Projections Central, Illinois, projectionscentral.com
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Illinois, Occupational and Employment Wage Estimates, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_il.htm
  • Zagat, Evanston Illinois, http://www.zagat.com/c/chicago-il/evanston-restaurants
  • Best Chefs America, Illinois, https://www.bestchefsamerica.com/chef-city
  • Forbes, Travel Guide Award Winners, http://blog.forbestravelguide.com/the-2014-forbes-travel-guide-star-award-winners

This list also contains online schools that accept students from Illinois .

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            Other Illinois Culinary Schools

            School Name City or Town Programs Offered
            Olivet Nazarene University Bourbonnais Family and Consumer Sciences
            Parkland College Champaign Foodservice
            Robert Morris College - Chicago Chicago Associate Degree Culinary Arts
            Northern Illinois University Dekalb Nutrition, Dietetics and Hospitality
            Illinois Central College East Peoria Culinary Arts - Associate in Applied Science