CULINARY INSTITUTE OF AMERICA
October 31, 2012
Perched on a bluff, the Culinary Institute of America majestically overlooks the Hudson River. Once a Jesuit Monastery, the gracious campus in Hyde Park, NY houses hundreds of students, faculty members and associated professionals.
A nonprofit organization dedicated to the educational advancement of culinary skills, rooms are packed with animated students, swinging from classes on cooking for hundreds to the sensual act of baking and making chocolate (the only air-conditioned kitchen). My favorite image was a bank of brightly colored glass rolling pins suspended on a pastry kitchen wall. Donated by Julia Child, the hollow insides are filled with ice to keep the pastry dough cool. Really, how cool!
Physically demanding, students work against the clock. Their intense focus is evident when walking through the halls, and peering through the enormous windows into the various kitchens. Cooking is followed by cleaning and serving and on occasion, eating the spoils. At once an exhausting and exhilarating routine, the public tour delivers a behind-the-scenes look at the essentials of being a food professional.
Students can acquire a 21-month Associate Degree and then move on to a three-year Bachelor’s degree. The food industry offers many opportunities beyond the act of cooking, and those related fields are addressed at CIA—from nutrition to restaurant management.
If you go to CIA, I highly recommend you take the tour that costs $6 per person. Reservations are a must and the information is clearly stated on-line.
After the informative tour, many take the opportunity for a relaxing lunch, dinner or quick bite at the tasty Apple Pie Bakery run by former French Laundry chef Francisco Migoya. This doesn’t require reservations, but you will stand in line. However, odds are you will eagerly waiting your turn with the students, and it’s a treat overhearing their conversations about a dropped egg or stupendous soufflé. By the time we got to the bakery late in the afternoon, the only bread left was a whole grain loaf. The bread’s rich texture and full flavor lasted for a week--with a little freezer action.
Later in the afternoon, we had lunch in the Caterina de’ Medici room. Well-spaced tables ring a series of large, arched windows. Students overseen by supervisors are in charge. Our server was delightful. Her clear description of the food and personal assessments of the wine options guided our choices. Well-timed service was prompt, but not rushed. Although some dishes like the thinly sliced lamb and sautéed zucchini and grilled octopus with garbanzos fared better than others, all the ingredients were fresh and the menu was well executed.
If your visit excites dreams of culinary mastery, review some of the fascinating options available for public consumption.
Food enthusiasts program break down into two modes. You can opt for Culinary Boot Camp that runs anywhere from one day to five days in length. Professionals and amateurs join to sharpen their skills or tackle a favored aspect of food whether it’s baking, grilling and barbecuing, dry heat or moist heat cooking and so much more.
For the budding kitchen cook, these immersion classes make a terrific gift (866-242-7787). Consider a “no expiration date” gift certificate to a $250 weekend class. If you opt for the $325 Meat course, participants take home all the cooked and remaining uncooked meat. Twenty-five different classes are repeated throughout the year at all three campuses.
Although CIA does not provide sleeping accommodations, delightful Bed and Breakfast options as well as old inns and small hotels blanket the area.
With the brilliant fall foliage approaching and holidays just around the corner, a trip to Hyde Park will lift the spirits and inspire culinary visions.
EYE ON THE ARTS, NY -- Celia Ipiotis