Culinary Schools in California


From the certificate to the bachelor’s level, culinary schools in California offer programs in culinary management, baking and pastry arts, catering, food sales and marketing, and food science. The curriculum may cover both cooking techniques, like broiling, roasting, and knife skills, as well as restaurant management topics, like menu planning and food safety. Students typically learn through hands-on practice, as well as lectures, demonstrations, and field trips.

Food Scene

The culinary arts make for an exciting career option in the Golden State, with its abundance of celebrity chefs, innovative cuisine, agricultural diversity, fresh seafood, and world-class wines. From sushi to California pizza, the California food scene is known for promoting outdoor eating and attractive food presentation. California cuisine emphasizes the use of freshly prepared local ingredients and is a fusion of French, Italian, Mediterranean, and Asian food. There is also a strong Latin influence in the state’s food culture, because of California’s Spanish roots. Major cities in California known for their restaurants include Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, San Jose, Sacramento, and Irvine.


Although working your way up in a restaurant without having earned a formal education may have been enough to make it as a chef in the past, holding a culinary arts degree is now considered more important than ever—especially considering that most of today’s leading chefs are culinary school graduates. Culinary graduates may pursue careers as a chef de cuisine, sous chef, pastry chef, food stylist, restaurant manager, personal chef or caterer, among other possibilities.

Salary and Employment Overview

According to the State of California’s Employment Development Department, the median annual salary for chefs and head cook positions in California was $45,573 in 2013. The bottom 10% earned $25,498, and the top 10% earned $83, 554. There were 1110, 340 restaurant cooks positions in 2013, making this the most highly employed culinary occupation, while in comparison, there were only 10, 800 chef and head cook positions. However, from 2010 to 2020, chef and head cook positions in California are expected to increase at a faster than average rate of 20.9%, amounting to an estimated 460 new job openings each year. In 2013, California had the highest employment level for chef and head cook positions in any state, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

2013 1st Qtr California Employment and Annual Wages
Employment Mean 10th Percentile Median 90th Percentile
Chefs and Head Cooks 10,800 $50,587 $25,498 $45,573 $83,554
Cooks, Fast Food 115,740 $19,521 $17,468 $18,896 $23,764
Cooks, Institution and Cafeteria 23,980 $30,127 $20,149 $28,592 $43,923
Cooks, Private Household 100 $39,566 $22,093 $34,826 $48,947
Cooks, Restaurant 110,340 $24,885 $18,277 $23,477 $33,893
Cooks, Short Order 15,060 $24,450 $18,290 $23,289 $31,495
Cooks, All Other 2,520 $29,673 $19,522 $28,070 $41,852
Food Service Managers 29,020 $53,979 $34,649 $48,613 $80,065
Lodging Managers 4,020 $55,650 $33,149 $48,595 $88,291
Food Preparation and Serving Workers Supervisors 87,300 $31,753 $20,760 $28,468 $48,429
Bakers 21,700 $26,649 $18,284 $23,907 $39,948

Source: State of California’s Employment Development Department

Professional Organizations

California has a number of professional organizations in the hospitality and culinary field, including the American Culinary Federation (ACF), the United States Personal Chef Association (USPCA), the American Personal & Private Chef Institute & Association (APPCA), the American Institute of Wine and Food (AIWF), Les Dames d’Escoffier International (LDEI), the Bread Baker’s Guild of America, the California Restaurant Association (CRA), and the California Hotel and Lodging Association (CH&LA).

The American Culinary Federation (ACF)
Offering 14 certifications, the ACF is a national organization for chefs and cooks with individual chapters spanning the country. The ACF Chapters in California are as follows:

  • ACF Orange Empire Chefs & Professional Cooks Association (Costa Mesa)
  • ACF Chefs de Cuisine Association of California (Los Angeles)
  • ACF Heart of the Valley (Modesto)
  • ACF Monterey Bay Chapter
  • ACF California Capital Chefs Association (Sacramento)
  • ACF Southern CA Inland Empire Chefs & Cooks Association (San Bernardino)
  • Chefs de Cuisine Association of San Diego
  • ACF Chefs & Culinarians of San Diego
  • ACF San Francisco Chapter
  • Ventura Chefs Association

The United States Personal Chef Association and The American Personal & Private Chef Association
The USPCA and the APPCA provide membership for personal chefs. Offering a number of training options, among them a Certified Personal Chef credential, the USPCA has California chapters in Northern California, San Francisco, and the Bay Area. The APPCA is headquartered in San Diego and supplies members with affordable training products and web referrals from their online personal chef directory, among other benefits.

The Bread Baker’s Guild of America
Located in Sonoma, the Bread Baker’s Guild of America is comprised of professional and home bakers, farmers, millers, and bakery owners. With the goal of producing baked goods of the highest quality, members can participate in master classes, wheat field and mill tours, and regionally held bread festivals.

The American Institute of Wine and Food
Welcoming food and wine professionals and enthusiasts, the American Institute of Wine and Food has four California chapters in Santa Barbara, San Diego, NorCal, and Monterey Bay. Members will benefit from networking opportunities, invitations to private evens, and reduced pricing on a variety of food and wine magazines.

Les Dames d’Escoffier International
Les Dames d’Escoffier International is a nonprofit comprised of woman leaders in the food, beverage, and hospitality industries. They educate individuals in the culture of the food world and have awarded more than $4,000,000 in scholarships. LDEI has California chapters in San Francisco, Monterey Bay , Los Angeles/Orange County, and Palm Springs.

California Restaurant Association
The California Restaurant Association provides support for restaurant professionals. They offer members several training programs, including ServSafe® Food Protection Manager Certification, ServSafe® Alcohol, and ServSafe® California Food Handler. CRA’s individual chapters are as follows:

  • Central Valley
  • Fresno
  • Los Angeles
  • Orange County
  • Sacramento
  • San Diego County

The California Hotel and Lodging Association
Open to hotel owners and general managers, the California Hotel and Lodging Association protects the rights of the California lodging industry. Through their Educational Institute the CH&LA provides a variety of educational resources in areas such as guest services, financial management, housekeeping, and more. They also support a Lodging Professional Certification program from the American Hotel and Lodging Association.

Exploring Schools

It is important to have the proper knowledge and skills to pursue a career in the culinary field, which is why degrees from postsecondary culinary programs have become a commodity. Start your search for CA culinary schools today by exploring the colleges and universities featured below.

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