Culinary Arts Schools in California
Like its East Coast cousin New York, San Francisco anchors the West Coast's culinary arts scene, home to a similarly diverse and assorted collection of restaurants, restaurateurs and cooking trends. From the molecular gastronomy restaurant in San Francisco to the traditional beach-front hot dog stand in Los Angeles, California has something for every foodie.
In the north, the thought of the California culinary scene conjures images of sprawling vineyards, farmers markets stretched across cities like Palo Alto and Petaluma, jam-packed with tables filled with seasonal fruits and vegetables. Juxtaposed in Southern California are some of America's most famous -- and original -- fast food joints that offer a laid-back eating experience.
The culinary industry in California is one of the largest in the country, even outpacing New York. In 2016, according to the National Restaurant Association (NRA), there were more than 69,908 restaurants in the state that produce nearly $79.1 billion in sales annually. The industry employs more than 1.69 million individuals and is projected by the NRA to grow 10.1 percent by 2026. Some of these employees are likely graduates of culinary schools in California.
Famous California restaurants
San Francisco in the north and Los Angeles in the south are the two focal points of California's culinary arts ecosystem, drawing attention from critics and patrons from all over the world. For 2015, Michelin gave 40 restaurants 1-, 2- or 3-star rankings, with four restaurants -- all in wine country or San Francisco -- receiving three stars, Michelin's highest possible ranking.
The 3-star winners in Northern California include the following:
Benu (San Francisco). Located in the heart of the SOMA district in San Franciso, Benu is the result of chef and owner Cory Lee's culinary genius, a fusion of Asian inspiration and molecular gastronomy.
The French Laundry (Napa Valley). Earning its sixth straight 3-star Michelin ranking, The French Laundry is helmed by Thomas Keller, the only American-born chef who owns two 3-star Michelin restaurants.
Restaurant at Meadowood (Napa Valley). Chef Christopher Kostow has created Napa Valley's leading take on modern American cuisine, crafting an individualized, unique dining experience for each patron.
Saison (San Francisco). Joshua Skenes, executive chef and owner of Saison, has created a distinct culinary vision in Saison, where patrons are treated to 3-hour meals and an unpublished menu that has brought unparalleled critical acclaim.
Although Northern California's Michelin ranked restaurants receive critical renown, it is restaurants like Pink's in Hollywood, The Original Tommy's in Los Angeles or Philippe the Original in Chinatown that drive Southern California's culinary culture.
- Pink's. The long famous hot dog stand draws huge lines all day long and is well-known for its unique options, including a bacon burrito hot dog.
- The Original Tommy's. The anchor of Beverly and Rampart, The Original Tommy's is indeed the original hamburger joint, famous for its chili French fries, burgers and hot dogs.
- Philippe the Original. Situated in Los Angeles' Chinatown, Philippe the Original has been open for more than 100 years and has diners eating with each other on shared wooden tables.
Yet, diners don't need to venture to exclusive Michelin-ranked restaurants to find a good meal, especially in San Francisco. In 2014, Zagat named the following five restaurants as some of the best values in the area:
- Kokkari Estiatorio (Greek)
- Gary Danko (American)
- Quince (Italian)
- Acquerello (Italian)
- Boulevard (New American)
California culinary arts career outlook
Future chefs of America may not have the means or desire to move to France, Germany or Italy to work their way up through the culinary ranks to find a position in the industry. Prospective chefs in California can choose from a multitude of educational and career path opportunities at culinary schools. Typically, students at California culinary schools can choose from four subject areas of study:
- Culinary arts
- Baking & pastry arts
- Culinary management
- Hospitality management
This training can prepare graduates to become chefs, bakers, pastry chefs, restaurant managers, caterers, private chefs and more.
Employment projections for the culinary industry in California are strong (9.1 percent growth in 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics), while individual occupations, such as chef and food service manager are expected to see continued gains between 2012 and 2022.
Below is a table of state-wide average salaries and projected career growth for chefs, bakers and food service managers in California:
|Region||Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage|
|California||Food Service Managers||40,440||$60,840|
|California||Chefs and Head Cooks||21,370||$61,040|
In the two major metropolitan areas, San Francisco and Los Angeles, prospective students should find robust employment and career earning opportunities.
Although the hubs of San Francisco and Los Angeles are attractive locations for cooking or culinary schools training in California, prospective students of culinary colleges should do their research as the state has numerous other options and locations for education. With its diverse and award winning culinary experiences -- in both the north and the south, California is a surefire bet for those ready to move into a foodie-based career.
|Region||Career||Total Employment||Annual Mean Wage|
|Fresno, CA||Food Service Managers||570||$51,640|
|Fresno, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||320||$42,610|
|Modesto, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||N/A||$38,430|
|Modesto, CA||Food Service Managers||290||$48,980|
|Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA||Bakers||450||$32,110|
|Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA||Food Service Managers||960||$54,660|
|Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||220||$59,600|
|Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||1,040||$62,680|
|Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA||Bakers||1,160||$31,760|
|Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA||Food Service Managers||3,800||$54,810|
|Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||1,230||$44,210|
|Sacramento--Roseville--Arden-Arcade, CA||Food Service Managers||2,060||$53,110|
|Salinas, CA||Food Service Managers||300||$64,970|
|Salinas, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||200||$69,110|
|San Diego-Carlsbad, CA||Bakers||2,040||$32,030|
|San Diego-Carlsbad, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||1,760||N/A|
|San Diego-Carlsbad, CA||Food Service Managers||3,670||$68,770|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||Food Service Managers||N/A||$85,840|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||1,060||$83,490|
|San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA||Bakers||1,330||$37,430|
|San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA||Food Service Managers||320||$52,480|
|San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||70||$65,220|
|San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CA||Bakers||N/A||$28,400|
|Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA||Bakers||230||$33,870|
|Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA||Food Service Managers||270||$51,530|
|Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||N/A||$48,330|
|Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA||Bakers||190||$36,270|
|Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA||Food Service Managers||660||$63,020|
|Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||300||$59,120|
|Santa Rosa, CA||Food Service Managers||340||$75,990|
|Santa Rosa, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||270||$57,310|
|Santa Rosa, CA||Bakers||460||$34,770|
|Stockton-Lodi, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||N/A||$75,680|
|Stockton-Lodi, CA||Food Service Managers||560||$58,970|
|Vallejo-Fairfield, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||N/A||$70,600|
|Vallejo-Fairfield, CA||Food Service Managers||460||$55,710|
|Visalia-Porterville, CA||Food Service Managers||230||$47,980|
|Visalia-Porterville, CA||Chefs and Head Cooks||170||$56,190|
Check out the list of culinary schools in California below for more information on individual degree programs. Additional lists of California culinary schools by city make it easy to find a culinary college near you.
- Michelin, California, http://www.michelintravel.com/selections/2015-san-francisco-michelin-selections/
- Benu, http://www.benusf.com
- Saison, http://saisonsf.com/
- The French Laundry, http://www.thomaskeller.com/tfl
- Restaurant at Meadowood, http://www.therestaurantatmeadowood.com/
- National Restaurant Association, California, http://www.restaurant.org/Downloads/PDFs/State-Statistics/2016/CA_Restaurants2016
- Projections Central, California, projectionscentral.com
- Bureau of Labor Statistics, California, Occupational and Employment Wage Estimates, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ca.htm
- Zagat, California, http://www.zagat.com/best-restaurants/san-francisco