Three and a half hours from our home, situated on the banks of the Hudson River, sits the beautiful campus of the Culinary Institute of America. We have had Friday, April 23rd circled on the calendar for months as the day for our campus visit. Blessed with a gorgeous day, we drove into New York with Bekah to go see her school.
I felt like I was on a pilgrimage.
Once we arrived on campus, (formerly a Jesuit seminary) we made our way to the Admissions building, where a light lunch prepared by students was waiting to refresh the weary travelers. There were many families present, yet, in contrast to big University tours, this group numbered around 60, as opposed to hundreds. We were ushered into the theater, (allowed to take our food and beverages of course) to hear presentations on the food service and hospitality industry, the school, and then financial aid. Following these we were divided into four groups for our tour of the campus.
Roth Hall, home to three campus run restaurants, the bookstore, much hands-on training in many classroom kitchens as well as wine studies.
Walking past the Italian restaurant we learned that there are 5 restaurants at the CIA which are open to the public and staffed by the students. We then went to the campus library which is home to the World's second largest collection of culinary books, surpassed in number only by the Library of Congress. Their collection of cooking demonstrations on video is available to the students not only inside the library building, but also through the campus wide wi fi system. So, explained our guide, if one wakes in a cold sweat in the middle of the night before an exam and has forgotten how to filet a salmon, one need only go online and watch the demo. How cool is that?! (And how can I get in on that action from home?!)
As we were shown the French Restaurant in the main building our guide explained that it was named for a French chef, Georges A. Escoffier, who, after serving his country in the Franco-Prussian War in the 19th century, organized the preparation of food for a restaurant kitchen. Before this gentleman changed things, two people could order the exact same chicken dish, and have them delivered to the table looking like entirely different meals. Escoffier instituted the brigade de cuisine system, and with military efficiency and predictable uniformity, meals were prepared and served in French restaurants, and then all over the world.
Student staff enjoying an early dinner together before opening the American Bounty restaurant for the evening.
Walking past classrooms and looking through the windows we saw so many tools and machines, yet always students working busily with their hands. Students in white chef coats with tall white hats were chopping, slicing, rolling, cutting, measuring, sifting, pouring, stirring and more. This is a hands-on education. In the earlier presentation the one statistics that returned to mind was the 1300 hours of hands-on training provided by an education at the CIA. Simply amazing.
In the Baking building our guide pointed out one particular instructor, Chef Schorner, and explained that he was the man credited with introducing Crème Brulee to the United States. God bless that man. The students he was instructing as we watched numbered eight. How's that for student teacher ratio? In another classroom we watched as magic was happening- chocolate. Our guide explained that that particular chef not only taught, but had written the book on chocolate. No, really, the textbook used in the instruction of pastry chefs was written by that man. Awesome! As we gazed through the windows at the chocolate kitchen, a student bearing a tray of chocolate covered delights offered us samples.
Here is where my discipline had to kick in.
I am now taking an antibiotic which requires an empty stomach; 2-3 hours after eating or 1 hour before. The clock had started with the light lunch which I finished at 1 o'clock. I was taking my next dose at 3, thus freeing me to eat again at 4 o'clock. This would normally be no issue for me at all, but I'm touring Food Mecca and can't taste samples at will! The agony!
Right at 3 o'clock we ended our tour, and returned to the theater in the Admissions building. I grabbed a glass of water and took my next dose of Doxycycline and sat down as we watched a chef prepare a dish that she was going to demonstrate for us,… after giving us samples to taste! She was stirring together diced pancetta with slivered almonds and garlic in a pan with a little olive oil. Tossing in some chili flakes, butter and then chicken stock, she simmered this wonderful concoction before adding roasted dates, a bit of chopped parsley, and topped the finished dish with goat cheese. The smell was heavenly as assistants brought our samples to us in small cups.
I neglected to mention that when we returned to this room there were desserts waiting for us. Beautiful desserts. Wonderful desserts. Heavenly desserts. And yet, for me, off limits desserts. Until 4:00.
So my sample of this roasted date and pancetta dish sat on my tray next to the slice of cake as the minutes crawled by. Time slowed to nearly standing still.
Chef Amanda Hammonds, however, gave us quite an entertaining demonstration as she slowly prepared a single portion, complete with overhead cameras projected to screens so we could watch her every move. A graduate of the CIA, she clearly loves this school, and regaled us with tales of other graduates in their post-CIA careers as well as stories from the classrooms. Her excitement for the school was infectious, and if anyone there hadn't already finalized a decision to apply to the CIA, they sure must have once she was finished. Her motto is, "fat is good, pork fat is king"! (This from an obviously fit and attractive lady; very good PR for the school.)
I kept a close eye on the time and at precisely 3:59 I gave up the fight and tasted my delectable sample before enjoying my dessert. Oh. Yum.
How many campus bookstores look like this?
When the program ended we were free to wander about the campus, check out the gift shop, and simply enjoy the last of the afternoon. We did just that, snapping a few photos as well, before going to the Apple Pie bakery cafe run by Baking and Pastry students for a simple dinner. Oh, what a day, what an absolutely splendid day. We are more convinced than ever that Rebekah will receive an unmatched education at the CIA, and are thrilled for her future.