Culinary Arts Schools in Texas

From celebrity chefs like Tim Love to legendary restaurants like Hugo's, Texas and the culinary arts go together like chili and cornbread -- so long as the chili is sans-bean. The Lone-Star State's rich food heritage makes it a go-to destination for foodies and future food professionals alike. It is no wonder that members of the next generation of rock star chefs, bakers and restaurateurs attend culinary schools in Texas. Read on to learn more about the state's iconic cuisine, top-notch restaurants and booming food service industry.

Culinary Arts

The Melting Pot: The evolution of Texas cuisine

Some say everything is bigger in Texas, and flavor is no exception. The Lone Star State's culinary arts tradition is diverse, influenced by what the University of Texas defines as no fewer than 27 separate ethnic and cultural groups. The region's rich history and geography deserve credit, too. There would be no Tex Mex if border settlers had not borrowed from from Central American neighbors and no sopapillas (or "Indian fry bread") without the Tigua Pueblo Indians. African American slaves and domestic servants throughout the region completely redefined inexpensive cuts of meats and vegetables (think: hog jowl and salt pork) -- continued long after the Emancipation. Immigrants from a myriad of nations -- Wales, Scotland, Scandinavia, Austria, Hungary and Poland, among others -- brought with them their own food traditions, which evolved into some of Texas's trademark dishes, like pecan pie, biscuits and red-eye gravy and black-eyed peas. The French brought Cajun and creole cuisine while German and Czech settlers brought the sausages and smoking techniques that later served as the foundation for Texas's famous barbecue.

Students attending culinary colleges in Texas often learn how to recognize, appreciate and prepare foods derived from these important traditions, all while mastering the basic and classical culinary arts skills that define refined cooking. Texas culinary school graduates expect to leave school knowing not just how to prepare many of Texas's most famous dishes, but how to build upon and adapt them and make them their own.

Iconic Lone-Star dishes

Texas may be a melting pot of culinary arts traditions, but the signature dishes and techniques that have come to define it are decidedly unique. The following is a list of what the University of Texas and The Dallas Morning News consider to be among the most iconic -- and most "essential" -- Texas foods.

  • Barbecue. Hill Country German immigrants may have introduced the region to smoked meats, but the slow-smoked beef brisket and pork ribs that evolved from them are decidedly Texan. The Dallas Daily News notes that though spice rubs and last-minute sauce mopping is popular, true barbecue purists do not add any sauce at all.
  • Chili. From chuck-wagon beef chili to the nostalgic Fritos pie, chili is perhaps one of Texas's most famous culinary contributions. Chefs and home cooks use a myriad of different preparations and topics with their chili, but true aficionados insist that "real" Texas chili never, ever contains beans.
  • Chicken-fried steak. The origins of pounding, dredging and frying tough cuts of meat in Texas is hazy: The Dallas Morning News says some believe the technique emerged on the range, others that it evolved from German immigrants' schnitzel. Either way, the most traditional way to prepare chicken-fried steak is in a pan -- not a deep frier.
  • Enchiladas. The Tex-Mex culinary tradition spans a century, notes The Dallas Morning News, and cheese enchiladas with a meatless, ground-chile-style sauce rank among its most famous dishes.
  • Pecan Pie. Most Southerners love a good pecan pie, but according to The Dallas Morning News, only Texans have made it their official state pie. Variations range from classic filling and pastry preparations to bourbon-drenched pies with shortbread crusts.

This list is by no means comprehensive: It would take a novel to give Texas its due culinary credit. Other famous dishes include: fried chicken, sopapillas, chili con carne (the state's official dish), fried okra, fried chicken, King Ranch casserole, steaks of all varieties, and many, many more. Students attending cooking and culinary schools in Texas will undoubtedly study many of these important dishes.

Famous Texas restaurants

Future chefs and foodies rejoice: Texas's most famous dishes are only outnumbered by its share of famous restaurants. Publications like The Dallas Morning News and The Dallas Observer have tried to thin the sizable herd to a more doable bucket list of must-visit restaurants. Here are just a few of them.

  • Kreuz Market and Smitty's. These two world-famous barbecue joints are located in Lockhart -- the Dallas Observer-anointed Barbecue Capital of Texas -- but their histories read much like a soap opera. In 1999 a family feud emerged when the patriarch of the nearly-century-old Kreuz Market passed away. The original Kreuz Market was renamed Smitty's, prompting disgruntled family members to establish a new Kreuz Market down the street. Residents took sides, but both establishments remained popular. The family overcame their differences in 2012 and co-created a whole new restaurant in Bee Cave.
  • Gaido's. This coastal Galveston restaurant has dished up fine Texas cuisine for more than a century, though The Dallas Observer notes that the Watkins' bisque in all its locally-sourced shrimp glory is perhaps its most famous dish. Gaido's elegantly draped dining rooms harken to its earliest days.
  • Hugo's Regional Mexican Cuisine. Hugo's was founded by critically acclaimed chef Hugo Ortega, a Mexican immigrant who began as a dishwasher and worked until he became what The Dallas Observer called the American Dream personified. Hugo's is widely regarded as one of the best Mexican restaurant in Houston, and in 2014, The Daily Meal ranked it among the 101 best restaurants in America.
  • Underbelly. Underbelly is another Houston-based restaurants that earned top nods from critics and various publications, including The Dallas Observer and The Daily Meal. Spearheaded by chef Chris Shepherd, Underbelly serves a diversity of ethnic dishes prepared with locally produced, caught, raised and grown ingredients. Unlike many stuffier establishments, Underbelly features what The Dallas Observer calls a warm, casual environment and an open kitchen.
  • Fonda San Miguel. This colorful Austin restaurant was established in 1975 by Tom Gilliland and Miguel Ravago, and according to The Dallas Observer, has played a key role in shaping Mexican cuisine in Texas (and the nation). Chef Ravago relocated to Spain in 2008, but returns to Austin at least once a month. The highly-regarded Chef Oscar Alvarez heads the kitchen in his absence.

A number of famous chefs got their starts in Texas restaurants such as these, and if statewide projections hold true, demand for culinary professionals of all stripes will continue to grow for years to come.

Looking ahead: Culinary jobs and Careers in Texas

Demand for culinary arts professionals is historically variable, at least from a national perspective. Not so in Texas where the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov) and Projections Central predict solid growth for a number of food-related professionals through at least 2022. Though not always required, formal training in culinary schools in Texas can prepare graduates to succeed in what can be a competitive field, especially within high-end and well known restaurants. Just remember that these culinary schools often offer programs for many different types of professionals. Among them:

  • Culinary arts
  • Baking and pastry arts
  • Restaurant management
  • Hospitality management
  • Bartending and mixology
  • Sommelier training

While no degree or certificate can guarantee a culinary school graduate's success, the BLS reports that both earnings and job outlook tend to improve with education. The following chart provides wage and projections data for a number of different culinary professionals in Texas.

Job TitleTotal Employment in Texas (2013)Average Salary in Texas (2013)% Job Growth in Texas (2012-2022)
Chefs and Head Cooks 5,880 $45,140 19.4%
Personal Chefs 120 $25,340 14.5%
First Line Kitchen Supervisors 77,280 $31,400 30.6%
Restaurant Cooks 87,140 $21,560 34.3%
Bakers 11,290 $22,210 20.8%
Food Service Managers 16,340 $53,210 16.6%

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

Keep in mind that geography can impact earnings and career outlook as much as education. Here is a regional breakdown of some of Texas's biggest metropolitan areas.

Dallas - Fort Worth - Arlington

The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area is Texas's most populous, which means there are a lot of workers to support a booming local food scene. The Texas Workforce Commission predicts that demand for Dallas-area chefs and head cooks will grow by about 16 percent between 2012 and 2022 -- slower than the statewide projections that same year -- but demand for restaurant chefs will grow by a much more robust 30 percent. Demand for private chefs is expected to grow by 20 percent, but it is important to note that the number of personal chefs in the Dallas area is slight enough that this translates to just 10 new openings overall. Earnings for Dallas food professionals also vary, but are comparable to BLS-reported statewide averages in 2013.

Greater Houston

As the review of some of Texas's most famous restaurants suggests, Houston is a sort of culinary mecca making it a popular destination for those who graduate from cooking and culinary schools in Texas. Thankfully the metro offers a good deal of career opportunity: The TWC projects that demand for chefs and head cooks in the South Texas region will grow by 20 percent between 2012 and 2022. Demand for restaurant chefs and food service managers is expected to grow by 34.2 percent and 21.7 percent, respectively. BLS data suggests that mean annual wages for chefs, restaurant cooks, restaurant managers and kitchen supervisors were on par with the Texas average in 2013.

Greater San Antonio

The TWC projects that demand for chefs and head cooks in the Alamo region (including San Antonio) will grow by 17.9 percent between 2012 and 2022 while demand for all restaurant cooks will grow by 30 percent. Demand for food service managers and first-line kitchen managers is expected to grow by 15.4 percent and 27.9 percent, respectively. While BLS-reported mean annual wages for most culinary professionals in San Antonio were comparable to the statewide average in 2013, chefs and head cooks earned a bit more -- nearly $45,000.

Learn more

This guide proves there is no shortage of culinary passion (and opportunity) in Texas. There can also be a great deal of competition for budding chefs and other professionals, especially at well known and highly-rated restaurants. Culinary schools in Texas can give many candidates an edge in tight job markets. Programs can vary tremendously, however, both in scope and style. Contact prospective culinary schools directly to learn more.


  • May 2013 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: Texas, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April, 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_tx.htm
  • Long Term Occupational Projections, Projections Central, 2013, http://projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
  • "The HIstory of Texas Cuisine," University of Texas, Darla Stewart, http://www.utexas.edu/gtc/assets/pdfs/texas_cuisine.pdf
  • "The 10 most essential Texas foods -- and two iconic Texas drinks to wash them down," The Dallas Morning News, November 20, 2013, Kim Pierce, http://www.dallasnews.com/entertainment/restaurants/headlines/20131120-the-10-most-essential-texas-foods -- and-two-iconic-texas-drinks-to-wash-them-down.ece
  • 101 Best Restaurants in America in 2014, The Daily Meal, February 20, 2014, Aurthur Bovino, http://www.thedailymeal.com/101-best-restaurants-america
  • "30 Essental Texas Restaurants to Visit Before You Die," Dallas Observer, January 17, 2013, Katharine Shilcutt, http://www.dallasobserver.com/2013-01-17/restaurants/30-essential-texas-restaurants-to-visit-before-you-die/
  • May 2013 Metropolitan and Nonmetropolitan Area Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 1, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oessrcma.htm
  • Employment Projections, LMCI Tracer, Labor Market Information, Texas Workforce Commission, 2013, http://www.tracer2.com/?PAGEID=67&SUBID=114

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

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            Other Texas Culinary Schools

            School Name City or Town Programs Offered
            Abilene Christian University Abilene Foods & Nutrition Studies
            Tarrant County College Arlington Culinary Arts
            Culinary Academy of Austin Austin Culinary Arts
            Lamar University - Beaumont Beaumont Bachelor of Science Hospitality Management
            University of North Texas Denton Hospitality Services Management
            El Paso Community College El Paso Culinary Arts
            The Culinary School of Fort Worth Fort Worth Culinary Arts and Pastry Arts
            University of Houston - University Park Houston Hotel & Restaurant Management
            Sam Houston State University Huntsville Family and Consumer Sciences-Food Service Management
            Central Texas College Killeen Associate in Applied Science in Hospitality Management
            Texas Tech University Lubbock Food Sciences and Tech.
            San Jacinto College - Central Campus Pasadena Culinary Arts/Chef Training