CIA and Johnson & Whales are known to be great schools. My honest opinion though is this. Save your money.
Find a good restaurant near you and ask to start at the bottom and learn. Or, contact your local ACF (American Culinary Federation) chapter and ask about their apprenticeship program. That way you can learn the same things and earn money doing it instead of paying $60,000.
I’ve been a chef for 15 years and I wish I had gone this route instead.
This is a school I've heard good things about. It is a bit far from Iowa but it can be a good out-of-state option.
Seth D.’s Answer
1) Culinary Institute of America
Tie for second:
2) International Culinary Center
3) Johnson & Wales University
There used to be Le Cordon Bleu in this country but they got sued out of existence.
I hope this helps!
I am however going to start by NOT answering your question but asking you some questions...
What is your goal in the education phase of your career? Knowledge and skills practice? Networking? Job application credentials? Specific area of culinary or general? Your answers (to yourself) will guide you into the type of school and to the best school FOR YOU. There is no one Best School or even a ranked list...I feel it is too individual an ask to answer that for someone else.
That being said, here is a recent article that I could not find fault with. 13 really good suggestions to explore. Use this (and find other research to find the best for you. Big school, small school, close to home, international, very focused, lots of other offerings, budget, and just general feel/comfort with the place (go visit as many as you can in your search, the “feel” and “fit” and your ability to thrive are more important than the reputation.
From my experience:
I have worked with Culinary Institute of America’s graduates who all had a solid basic knowledge, a good sense of discipline, and were trained to be very professional.
I have worked with graduates of the Montpelier VT program listed who had a really good grasp of the basics, good focus and discipline, and a better sense of the real world of the industry than any other programs I have seen
The Culinary Academy, in Switzerland, turns out very experienced graduates, confident and knowledgeable about a wider variety of cuisines and probably a more in-depth knowledge of them than I have seen from other programs. They have more hands on experience in more things.
Kendall School of Culinary Arts, in Chicago, is highly spoken of by my peers based on students they have worked with but I have no direct experience there
I don’t want to speak too negatively about it, because many great Chefs come out of there, but I feel Johnson and Wales is overpriced and over-rated. I have not seen the quality keep up with their growth...some do great, some do fine, many come out ill-prepared but with an entitled attitude, in my experience.
I myself am a graduate of no more than a Community College program who worked hard, listened, watched, and learned over the course of my 31 year career with a large hotel chain and still watch and learn every day even after being an Executive Chef for 16 years. This industry is lifetime learning not just 4 years of College then onto all your successes and rewards. In fact, many have succeeded without culinary school. I do think however, that school gives you a base knowledge, discipline, and skill set as well as the experience to grow and learn and network, so I do recommend it!!!
Best of luck!!!