In general, as a species, human beings value education. The amount it costs to attend most colleges these days demonstrates just how important obtaining knowledge is perceived to be. Of course, there are plenty of folks who succeed in life without obtaining a college degree or attending some other formal institution.
One industry, in particular, where people seem to have a great deal of success without a conventional education, is the culinary industry. Learning one’s trade through practical experience has led to successful careers for many who have attempted to master the culinary arts.
While some of the world’s top chefs don’t have college degrees, they've all graduated from culinary school, right? Wrong. Believe it or not, some of the most famous chefs in business never set foot inside a culinary school prior to becoming household names in their field. In other words, one doesn’t need to officially graduate culinary school to be considered a master chef–at least not in the eyes of the general public.
In fact, as we're about to learn, there several celebrity chefs (or cooks) that don’t have any formal training–at least not from a culinary institution. Moreover, those who lack official credentials have been just as (if not more) successful than their classically trained counterparts.
With that in mind, we're about to take a look at 10 celebrity chefs who attended culinary school for their trade and 10 who didn't. The names of the stars who didn’t attend school will, no doubt, surprise more than a few readers.
20 Didn’t: Rachael Ray
Rachael Ray made a name for herself by appearing on several popular Food Network programs like 30 Minute Meals and Rachael Ray’s Tasty Travels. These days, Ray hosts her own talk show known as The Rachael Ray Show (or simply Rachel Ray). She's published several books over the years and even started her very own line of dog food, Nutrish. Despite the fact that Ray has been sharing cooking tips with the masses for years, she isn’t a classically trained chef.
Rachael Ray learned to cook from her mom, who was a restaurant manager. She was taught how to whip up her famous 30-minute meals while working at a gourmet food shop in New York.
19 Didn’t: Tiffani Thiessen
Tiffani Thiessen is an actress who hosts the popular Cooking Channel series Dinner at Tiffani’s. Of course, she's also the actress who played Kelly Kapowski on NBC’s Saved by the Bell, a role that’s made her something of a '90s icon. She also appeared in shows such as Beverly Hills, 90210 and White Collar. Thiessen never studied the culinary arts and spent her formative years focusing on her acting career.
While she never attended culinary school, she was the valedictorian at Valley Professional High School in LA. Moreover, her character Kelly Kapowski was one of the most popular girls at Bayside High.
18 Didn’t: Ina Garten
A fun little fact about Ina Garten is that prior to becoming a famous cook, she worked for the White House Office of Management and Budget. Of course, these days, we all know her as the host of the Food Network’s hit show, Barefoot Contessa. She also published best-selling books and had her own her own gourmet food store (also called "Barefoot Contessa") for a time. While she clearly knows how to cook, technically, Garten isn’t a chef.
The Food Network star taught herself how to prepare food by using a variety of different cookbooks and was also mentored by a New York restaurant owner named "Eli Zabar."
17 Didn’t: Guy Fieri
Guy Fieri is an Emmy Award-winning television personality, who, like many of the folks on our list, made a name for himself on the Food Network. He rose to prominence in 2006 after winning the second season of The Next Food Network Star. From there, he went on to appear in shows like Guy's Big Bite, Minute to Win It, and Guy's Grocery Game. While he’s had an amazing career, Fieri never actually attended culinary school.
The Food Network host has a hospitality degree from the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. He learned to cook by working in chain restaurants.
16 Didn’t: Martha Stewart
Marth Stewart is a businesswoman and television personality who's appeared on a number of cooking shows and published several food-related books. Perhaps the most fiscally successful member of our list, as the founder of Marth Stewart Living Omnimedia, she's worth around $638 million, give or take. While the former model has accomplished a great deal, one thing she hasn’t done is attend culinary school.
After spending her teenage years as a fashion model, Martha Stewart went to Barnard College and earned a degree in European and architectural history. She actually taught herself how to cook by studying Mastering the Art of French Cooking, a book by Julia Child.
15 Didn’t: Ree Drummond
Ree Drummond is a blogger turned television personality. She's best known for hosting the Pioneer Woman–a cooking show that documents her life as a rancher’s wife. She also appeared on several popular TV shows like Good Morning America and The Today Show. “The Pioneer Woman” also has her own line of home goods that are available Wal Mart. Despite hosting one of the Food Network’s most popular shows, Drummond never went to culinary school.
In the early '90s, the ex-blogger attended the University of Southern California, where she focused on gerontology (the study of aging). After graduation, she planned on attending law school but ended up settling down with her husband.
14 Didn’t: Gordon Ramsay
Gordon Ramsay’s fiery temper has helped make him one of the most famous chefs in the world. His reality TV shows like Hell’s Kitchen and MasterChef have been very successful. The culinary megastar also owns several successful restaurants and has published multiple books. What makes these accomplishments even more impressive is the fact that Ramsey didn’t attend culinary school.
While he didn’t go to culinary school, the star of Hell’s Kitchen did study hotel management in college. Moreover, and perhaps more importantly, Ramsay trained under world-renowned chefs like Joel Robuchon, which is how he ended up becoming the culinary superstar we all know today.
13 Didn’t: Paula Deen
Paula Dean is a restaurant owner and television personality who began working with the Food Network back in 1999. The Georgia native, who was known for her hardy recipes, has appeared on a variety of cooking shows throughout her career. She's perhaps best known for her popular show Paula’s Home Cooking, which aired for a decade from 2002 to 2012. However, the famous southern cook never got around to attending culinary school.
The former Food Network host learned the art of down-home cooking from her grandmother, Irene Paul. Her culinary career began when she started her own catering service in the 1990s.
12 Didn’t: Tom Colicchio
Tom Colicchio is a world-renowned chef and co-founder of the Gramercy Tavern in New York. He's best known as the head judge of Bravo’s hit series Top Chef. He's also a judge and the co-producer of another reality competition show, Best New Restaurant. Colicchio didn’t attend culinary school, though he has extensive experience working in a variety of restaurants.
The Top Chef judge decided to achieve his success the old-fashioned way–by working hard and gaining experience. Colicchio studied cookbooks by Jacques Pepin and worked in restaurant and hotel kitchens throughout the northeastern region of the United States.
11 Didn’t: Lidia Bastianich
Lidia Bastianich is an Emmy Award-winning television host and author and is, of course, a celebrity chef. She's had several shows on public television including Lidia’s Kitchen. The popular host has also appeared as a guest judge on Gordon Ramsay’s MasterChef; she is also the mother of MasterChef judge Joe Bastianich. As an author, Bastianich has published over 15 books, many of which accompany her public TV programs. Although she's received numerous honors and awards, Bastianich isn't a culinary school grad.
She actually began her career as a hostess who trained to become an assistant chef and then continued to work her way up the culinary ladder of success.
10 Did: Bobby Flay
Celebrity chef Bobby Flay is no stranger to making television appearances. In fact, he's hosted a total of 14 cooking shows such as Boy Meets Grill, Worst Cooks in America, and Bobby Flay’s Barbecue Addiction. He's also an Iron Chef who competes on the US version of the series. While he may have dropped out of high school at age 17, the master chef would go on to attend a very prestigious culinary school.
Bobby Flay was part of the International Culinary Center’s first graduating class. Back when he attended the school, in the 1980s, it was known as France's Culinary Institute.
9 Did: Giada De Laurentiis
Giada De Laurentiis is an Emmy Award-winning host who's appeared on several high-profile television shows. She's probably best known as the star of the Food Network series Giada at Home. Fans of The Today Show may also recognize her as an occasional guest host. In 2012, De Laurentiis was inducted in the Culinary Hall of Fame. The native of Rome, Italy is also a classically trained chef.
Like Julia Child, Giada De Laurentiis attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She even received a “Le Grand Diplome,” which is one of the most prestigious degrees in the culinary world
8 Did: Alton Brown
Chef Alton Brown has hosted a number of shows on the Food Network. His hosting resume includes programs like Good Eats (a show he created), Iron Chef America, and Cutthroat Kitchen. He’s also appeared in promotional spots for companies like General Electric and Dannon Yogurt. Of course, like most famous chefs, he's released several books over the years. Brown even released his own music album, Bitter Like Me. Most folks won’t be surprised to learn that the multitalented culinary wizard received formal training.
Brown is a New England Culinary Institute alumnus, having graduated from the institution back in 1994.
7 Did: Cat Cora
Cat Cora is a culinary star who rose to prominence as an Iron Chef on the Food Network’s Iron Chef America. Folks will also recognize her as the co-host of Around the World in 80 Plates, a reality competition show that airs on Bravo. Those who've ever flown to or from places like San Francisco and Houston may have visited her airport-based restaurant, Cat Cora’s Kitchen. The first female Iron Chef attended both college and culinary school.
The popular host has a degree in Exercise Physiology and Biology from the University of Southern Mississippi. However, it was the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park where she learned to become a chef.
6 Did: Anthony Bourdain
Anthony Bourdain was a travel documentarian and celebrity chef who rose to prominence in 2000, following the release of his bestselling book, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. He hosted popular travel shows including Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. As those who read Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly know, Bourdain attended culinary school in the 1970s.
The famous world traveler graduated from The Culinary Institute of America back in 1978. After he completed his training, Bourdain spent the early part of his career working in popular New York-based establishments like One Fifth Avenue.
5 Did: Mario Batali
Though he’s become quite the controversial figure as of late, Mario Batali has an impressive culinary resume. He co-owns restaurants in several locations throughout the world and has appeared on several television shows. He's arguably best known for starring in the Food Network’s Molto Mario, though he also gained considerable notoriety as host of ABC’s The Chew. In addition, the chef has his own brand of sauces and cookbooks. The former Food Network star did go to culinary school but never graduated.
Batali attended Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School in London. However, he eventually dropped out and went on to study under several top chefs in the London area.
4 Did: Michael Symon
Michael Symon is a celebrity chef and restaurant owner. He opened several popular restaurants in the Cleveland area and has been given credit for revitalizing the culinary scene in downtown Cleveland. As celebrity credentials go, Symon has been featured on several Food Network shows such as Iron Chef America and The Best Thing I Ever Ate. The Ohio native is also a co-host for ABC’s The Chew. Michael Symon can be counted among the celebrity chefs who did attend culinary school.
The Iron Chef attended the Culinary Institute in Hyde Park, New York. He ended up graduating from the school in 1990.
3 Did: Emeril Lagasse
Emeril Lagasse is a celebrity chef and one of the Food Network’s first breakout stars. He's the man who coined the catchphrases “Bam!” and “Kick it up a notch!” His hit show Essence of Emeril aired for roughly 13 years (1994 -2007). Lagasse also has his own product line and owns multiple restaurants. The man who's always willing to “kick it up a notch" does have formal culinary training.
In 1978, Lagasse attended Johnson and Wales University, where he earned a degree in the culinary arts. Years later, due to his success, the school decided to award him an honorary doctorate.
2 Did: Julia Child
Though she rose to prominence in the 1960s, thanks to the 2009 film Julie & Julia, people of all ages are familiar with Julia Child. Having honed her craft in France, Child would go on to become one of the most famous chefs in the United States. She was the star of a hit show and is credited with making food from France popular in the States.
While she didn’t spend the majority of her life working in restaurants, Julia Child did receive formal culinary training. In fact, while in Paris, she attended one of the most recognized culinary schools in the world, Le Cordon Bleu Cooking School.
1 Did: Sara Moulton
Sara Moulton is another early Food Network star. She hosted shows like Cooking Live from 1997 to 2002 and Sara’s Secrets from 2002 to 2005. The celebrity chef was also Good Morning America’s on-air food editor. At present, she's the host of Sara’s Weeknight Meals, which airs on public television. Not only did Moulton attend culinary school; she also performed exceptionally well.
In 1975, after earning a scholarship from Les Dames D’Escoffier (a society of professional women in the hospitality industry), she went on to attend the Culinary Institute of America in New York. Moulton ended up graduating at the top of her class.