Culinary School Social Life: What Culinary Students Do For Fun in Austin

When Austin culinary school students aren’t in class, they have access to great food, outdoor adventure, and plenty of live music in this hip city.

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July 11, 2022 7 min read

Austin has been growing at a rapid clip over the past 20 years, and it’s no wonder! With 300 days of sunshine, winter temperatures in the 40s and 50s, and plenty to do indoors and out, this is the place to be for an active social life during culinary school.

And we’re not the only ones who say so. U.S. News & World Report rated Austin the #1 place to live in America three years in a row—2017, 2018, and 2019. It’s also ranked #11 of the best large cities to start a business. That’s great news for culinary students with entrepreneurial aspirations!

So if you’re looking for great food and drinks, lots to do outdoors, and live music every night, head to culinary school in Austin.

Explore Austin’s Dining Scene and Food Festivals

Austin is a foodie paradise, with world-class dining from humble food trucks, to fine dining restaurants, and everything in between. Austin culinary students can feast on tacos, gorge on Texas barbecue, and enjoy upscale fare from James Beard-awarded chefs, all in the same laid-back city.

Top Austin Restaurants

One of the top on the list is farm-to-table restaurant Emmer & Rye, under the leadership of Chef Kevin Fink. Their entirely seasonal menu changes every week or so, based on what they can find locally. The ingredient hunt starts in Austin, and then expands to the state of Texas. This local focus seems to be working! Kevin Fink is a two-time James Beard award finalist, and he was named a 2016 Best New Chef by Food & Wine. The restaurant also got a Best New Restaurants nod by Bon Appétit in 2016.

Three jackfruit vegan tacos topped with lettuce and sauce on a green plate

There are plenty of plant-based options in Austin.

For very special occasions, Austinites love to visit Uchi for amazing sushi and modern Japanese cuisine. Chef/Owner Tyson Cole is a three-time James Beard semifinalist and one-time winner as Best Chef: Southwest. If the menu seems a bit out of your budget, drop by for their Sake Social happy hour for discounted small plates and hand rolls.

It’s not all fancy eating in Austin. In fact, Austin is a pretty casual place with a major food truck scene. Head south of the city to Valentina’s Tex-Mex BBQ, a food truck that serves brisket, sausage, smoked chicken, and carnitas with homemade flour tortillas. It was named one of Texas Monthly’s Top 50 BBQ spots, which is a major honor in a state that takes its BBQ very seriously.

Austin is a health-conscious city, so there are lots of vegan and vegetarian options, too. Local favorites include Bouldin Creek Cafe for tofu scrambles and Mr. Natural for vegan tacos and enchiladas.

Watch commencement speakers share about the traits of a culinary graduate at the Escoffier Austin Campus Graduation Ceremony.

Escoffier Graduates in Austin

Austin is a foodie town. This is wonderful news for students who want to try a wide range of cuisines, but it’s also great for those who hope to call Austin home after graduation day.

Escoffier Culinary Arts graduate Nahika Hillery started her own successful Austin food truck, Kreyòl Korner Caribbean Cuisine. It serves creative Haitian dishes like plantain cups stuffed with beef or pork and malanga (or taro) fritters.

Another Escoffier graduate also found success after culinary school in Austin. Stacey Jones completed her culinary externship at Sway, an award-winning modern Thai restaurant. After her externship, she was offered a job as a pastry chef and worked her way up the ranks to chef de cuisine. Sway makes flavorful curries and inventive fried rice dishes in an upscale modern atmosphere.

“I think the biggest thing for Escoffier students is they build up the confidence in us, so we can walk into a restaurant and feel comfortable in the kitchen and in our knife skills. All of the [Chef Instructors] were really supportive and helpful and encouraging.”*
Stacey Jones, Austin Culinary Arts Graduate & Former Chef De Cuisine, Sway Thai

Food Festivals

Several major food festivals call Austin home, like Aaron Franklin’s Hot Luck Festival and Austin Food + Wine Festival. These events provide a great opportunity to sample small bites from some of the city’s best chefs. Plus, culinary students can volunteer to help out, providing a chance to network and get advice from industry professionals!

Chef slicing beef on a white cutting board at an outdoor food event

Wineries, Breweries, and More

The craft beer movement has impacted the city in a big way, with dozens of breweries in Austin and the surrounding area. Visit local favorites like Austin Beerworks, Thirsty Planet Brewing, and St. Elmo Brewing Co. to sample their extensive offerings. And wine lovers can head a short drive west into the Hill Country to the Hwy 290 Wine Trail, with over 40 wineries and distilleries dotted across the countryside.

Wide photo of a green vineyard with trees in the distance

Outdoor Fun

When students need to get away from food altogether, Austin has options galore!

Inside the city, head to Barton Springs Pool in downtown’s Zilker Park. Take a bracing dip in the 68-degree, spring-fed pool on a hot summer’s day. This natural pool has been a major city attraction for over 100 years. Robert Redford learned to swim here when he was just five years old!

Separating downtown from South Austin lies Lady Bird Lake, a man-made reservoir that stretches the length of the city. Rent a kayak or stand-up paddle board and spend a day on the water. Or if you prefer to stay on dry land, explore the lake’s hike-and-bike trail. This well-manicured path has 10 miles of trails and a large boardwalk that projects over the water.

Downtown Austin skyline next to a lake

Lady Bird Lake in downtown Austin

If you prefer to get out of town, visit McKinney Roughs Nature Park to the east with beautiful, uncrowded hiking trails on the Colorado River. Or head west to Enchanted Rock near Fredericksburg, where you can climb the pink granite dome to get a 360-degree view of the surrounding hills.

South of Austin, stop by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. The former first lady was wild about native Texas plant life, and she co-founded this botanical garden dedicated to Texas’ natural beauty.

Culture & Shopping

Austin has changed dramatically over the past 20 years, with a tech boom leading to major growth. But the Live Music Capital of the World still loves live performances. You can find bands, singer-songwriters, and artists of every genre on stage at various venues every night of the week. Plus, Austin is home to major annual music festivals like South by Southwest and Austin City Limits.

Fans cheering and waiving their arms at a live concert

Austin also has a thriving independent film scene, with well-known directors like Richard Linklater and Robert Rodriguez living and working there. During the Austin Film Festival, filmmakers flood into the city to watch screenings and make connections outside of Hollywood.

At the Circuit of The Americas, Austin hosts Formula 1 and MotoGP races, concerts, community events, and more. And if you like to shop, visit The Domain in North Austin. This sprawling fresh-air retail and restaurant development is considered Austin’s second downtown, with independent boutiques, restaurants, spas, and high-end retailers.

Work Hard in Culinary School, Play Hard in Buzzy Austin, Texas

Austin is a city with plenty to do for culinary students. Try world cuisines and local brews, soak up the sun while hiking or kayaking, and take in all the live music you could possibly want!

If you’re ready to start your culinary education in Austin, contact our Admissions Department today!

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This article was originally published on October 21, 2020, and has since been updated.

*Information may not reflect every student’s experience. Results and outcomes may be based on several factors, such as geographical region or previous experience.

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