A Week at the Culinary
Institute of America (continued) - Lectures, Hyde Park, NY,
tasted on December 19-22, 2005 It's time to focus on the
actual class we took at the C.I.A. A little background is in order.
As I mentioned before, we owe a debt to Michael Ruhlman who wrote
The Making of a Chef.
At this time the only way to take a class at the C.I.A. was to be a
well-established writer and bargain with the administration to audit
some of the classes. The book was great. Never too proud to steal a
good idea we decided to do the same thing. In the meantime however
the C.I.A. has added to their degree classes and professional one
week classes with an offering called "Boot Camp" targeted at food
enthusiasts (i.e. us). Needless to say, boot camp seemed to be the
right option for us.
The class basically spans four days. The days are filled with
lecture, cooking, eating the food we cooked, and dining at the
on-campus restaurants in the evening. There are several different
boot camps offered. (Not as much variety as offered at the pro level
but still decent.) The nice thing about the boot camp is that for
people who've never been to a professional cooking school it's
really a nice introduction. They provide you with the chef outfits.
You can purchase your knife and tool kit from them. And they make
the class into really more of an experience with tours of the campus
and even a guest lecture or two. For most people the boot camp seems
like a really great option. For us, even though we had a great time,
it turns out it actually may not have been the optimal choice, but...
A Week at the Culinary
Institute of America (continued) - Student Life, Hyde Park, NY,
tasted on December 19-22, 2005 Being at the C.I.A. for a
week obviously couldn't give us a complete sense for life on campus.
But we got glimpses. Glimpses that frankly made us jealous. Don't
get me wrong, it was clear everyone was working hard in a very
disciplined environment (for some reason students aren't allowed to
wear hats... we saw two occasions on which faculty members came up
to students reminding them sternly to remove non-toques). What
follows hopefully gives you a slight taste of what it's like to be a
student at the C.I.A which is essentially why we were there in the
Most of the students on campus are there for 2 and 4 year programs.
But because of the way the school operates they appear to take 18
and 36 months respectively. Apparently there's a rolling three week
window giving folks an opportunity to start their education every
three weeks. As we toured the facilities we got a chance to see the
students in action. We would pass various
with students engaged in every manner of the study and practice
of cooking, baking, and professional food preparation and
management. The students usually looked pretty happy too. We got
plenty of smiles and waves as our obviously non-regular student
bunch peered in through windows with wide eyes watching a couple of
A Week at the Culinary
Institute of America (continued) - The Facilities, Hyde Park, NY,
tasted on December 19-22, 2005 I'm going to attempt to give
you a sense of our week at the C.I.A. Rather than describe things in
strict chronological order I'm going to focus on a few themes from
the experience. There's a lot to cover so hang on. The first thing
that has to be called out is the first impression that the school
makes on you.
Let's acknowledge that if you're reading this blog (and certainly if
you're writing it, which I am) you (and I) have spent time
romanticizing particular food experiences as well as the process
that results in the creation of the chefs that cook the food you
love. I'll apologize in advance for anyone for whom this analogy
doesn't work, but the C.I.A. is essentially
food. It's just like a regular school except everything is focused
on food. It's enough to make an adult giggle. I'm not even sure why.
I guess if you're into food, going to a school where they take it so
A Week at the
Culinary Institute of America,
February 19-22, 2005 Some of the first words written on
this site were me saying the following: "I have no credentials,
formal training, education, or any other official form of
credibility when it comes to the world of food, cooking, and eating.
The only quality I bring to the discussion is a view that every mealtime is an opportunity - and
opportunities are not to be squandered. That as well as my voracious
appetite for yummy food will hopefully serve us well." And while I know what
I like, I can't help but imagine that understanding more about how
the food I love (and the food I don't love) is made will give me
better perspective in terms of finding great culinary experiences
and describing them appropriately.
Here on tastingmenu we've created a series of posts
called "Tastingmenu gets schooled". We're planning on it being a
three part series, with each part consisting of multiple entries here on
the site. In each major part of this series we're going to try and
personally broaden our experience so that ultimately the entries on this
site get better. The first part described our trip to Asia to broaden our culinary
palate. This next part is a little bit different.
To gain more perspective a few of us decided to take a
week long "Boot Camp" class at the Culinary Institute of America. The
C.I.A. as it's referred to is widely considered to be among the best, if
not the best cooking school in the United States. I really had no
idea what to expect and frankly was a little embarrassed at going. It
was like going to baseball fantasy camp and playing next to the young
college players who are trying to have a real career in the sport. We
were playing dress up while they were working to try and earn a living.
That said, being embarrassed never stopped me before, and now was no
different. Off we went to Hyde Park, New York, home of the C.I.A.
Tastingmenu Gets Schooled #1 Asia,
February 17, 2006 After our December break we embarked on a
new series here at tastingmenu where we "get schooled". The first
part has been the recounting of our almost three week trip to Asia.
It's long been a dream of mine to really travel around Asia and
experience so much of the food firsthand. It's been a challenge for
example loving Thai food my whole life and never tasting it in
Thailand and knowing what the true baseline is. I'd been to Tokyo
before, but Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Cambodia were all new for
me. I don't know that I have any deep or insightful lessons learned
from my trip other than I can't wait to go back.
After roughly 26 proper meals (not including food on planes and
grabbing random stuff for breakfast) I feel like even though I
barely scratched the surface of what's available in the region, it
was well worth it and my horizons were definitely broadened. The
number of truly stellar meals I had in such a short time was pretty
fantastic. And Asian food is still my clear favorite spectrum of
ethnic cuisine. Below I've included links to the entire catalog of
imagery from the trip. Hong Kong, Bangkok, Phnom Penh, Angkor Wat,
back to Hong Kong, and Tokyo. 426 photos. Click on the
thumbnails below to check out each of the albums. Enjoy.
Starting next week we go on to part #2. You'll have to
wait until then to see what it is. I promise it's very different than a
trip across Asia.
Sant Pau, Tokyo, Japan,
tasted on December 15, 2005 Given my love for foreign
cuisines interpreted in Tokyo it shouldn't surprise you that I was
up for Spanish food. Sant Pau is a famous restaurant in Barcelona,
Spain and part of the Relais Chateaux high end restaurant and hotel
association. I didn't realize that they were part of Relais Chateaux
before I went. On the one hand that pretty much guarantees a
particular type of high end dining experience. On the other hand,
sometimes you wonder if the definition might be too narrow. Either
way I was open minded and excited about the meal. European
transplant it might be, I think the influence of Japan is hard to
ignore no matter what tradition you bring with you.
I was escorted from the front door up to the dining
room. Passing by the
Spanish ham waiting to be carved was a positive omen. It was like
seeing some sort of symbol of good fortune hanging over the
door of an
environment you're about to enter. In other words, Serrano ham in
the house means...
Canoviano, Tokyo, Japan,
tasted on December 14, 2005 I've recounted countless
times my love affair with the standards in Japan when it comes to
food. The emphasis on freshness, flavor, simplicity and the general
high bar makes for a different food world than almost any city on
earth (including Paris and New York). And even though before you get
to Japan this might not occur to you, the fact remains that those
standards remain in place when the Japanese apply themselves to
non-Japanese food. One of the cuisines that highlights these same
values around freshness, flavor, and simplicity the most is Italian
food. And frankly, the best Italian food I've had outside Italy has
been in Japan. In fact, in some cases the Italian meals I've had in
Tokyo have been better than many of the meals I had in Italy. No
restaurant that I know of represents this better than Canoviano in
Located next to the Daikonyama subway stop, Canoviano is
buried in a smaller residential neighborhood than you might
expect. But in Tokyo where space is at a premium it appears they long
ago stopped worrying about where the appropriate location for something
was. The appropriate location appears to be wherever it will fit. Even
though I had been there before, I was worried about finding it. The
neighborhood maps at
subway stops are always extremely helpful.
This restaurant had made quite an impression on me in
the past and I felt good coming back. Things felt comfortable and happy.
had a soft and dense inside and was placed right on
the tablecloth. I couldn't help but make a sizable mess of it and blew the crumbs off the
table when nobody was looking. The
olive oil for dipping was among the softest, warmest, and roundest flavors
I've ever encountered. Silky excellence.
Would it be wrong to want to bathe in it? OK. Pretend I didn't say that.
That's kind of weird.
First up was
Cold Cappelini with Raw White Fish and
Bottarga. I don't know that this is the right word, but...
Bar (Part II), Tokyo, Japan,
tasted on December 13, 2005 When you're documenting a
25 course meal a break is sometimes necessary. This is continued
from Part I of our description of our meal at Tapas Molecular Bar in
the Tokyo Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
We left off half way through the Degustation portion of
the menu. Next up was
Foie Gras Soup - Chaud Froid.
It was essentially a foie gras cappuccino. It didn't taste hugely of
foie gras, but had plenty of eggy custardy foamy goodness. It was quite
fantastic actually, like a savory hot whipped egg nog. Starbucks, please
consider offering this. :) The foie soup was followed by
Fish and Chips.
Chef Ramsey used bread instead of panko or crumbs to coat the fish. The
tzatziki sauce that accompanied included lemon bits and dill. The super
thin slice of bread came out extra buttery and crispy. The fresh dill
and juicy spurting lemon bits were a perfect accompaniment. (Yes.
The fish and chips dish was followed by a
Roasted quail was on the left side of the plate with a...
Tapas Molecular Bar (Part II)...
Bar (Part I), Tokyo, Japan,
tasted on December 13, 2005 There is a rap on the latest
wave of experimental cutting edge food. It's more about
technological wizardry than flavor. It's not based in any culinary
tradition. It's more chemistry than cooking. It's not timeless. It's
about being cute and clever instead of delicious. And if that's not
damning enough, the critic will finally add: "and it's not even
original. They're just copying Ferran Adria of El Bulli." I have
varied opinions on each of these criticisms. I've spent plenty of
time writing about the state of innovation in cooking before.
Really... take a minute to
check it out. At least the first four paragraphs. I'll wait.
OK, now that you know where I'm coming from, what I
ultimately care about is whether the food tastes great. Flavor,
temperature, and texture are king in my world. I didn't really know what
to expect in this regard of the Tapas Molecular Bar at the Mandarin
Oriental Hotel. But it was recommended by the same concierge at the
Landmark Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong who recommended Shui Hu Ju.
Given my deep and abiding love for Shui Hu Ju I had major trust and
confidence in his recommendations. I wasn't sure what tapas molecules
were but I meant to get me several helpings (said with
I could go on for hours describing my love for Tokyo.
It's not just the food. Though that's certainly a huge component.
How cool are amazingly beautifully designed hotels with their lobby on
the 38th floor of a 60 floor skyscraper? Very very cool. And yes, I am
in the habit of answering rhetorical questions. My destination wasn't
even a restaurant per se, it was the bar in the lounge. Eight seats, two
servings a night. A set menu. That's it. I was lucky to get a place. And
did I mention it's a 25 course meal?
Tapas Molecular Bar (Part I)...
Shui Hu Ju,
Hong Kong, China,
tasted on December 12, 2005 I've mentioned
how hard it is to
find out how to spend your few precious meals in a new city. Not
knowing who to trust for recommendations, etc. I also had this
fantasy about how I was going to try out a bunch of underground
restaurant's in Hong Kong. That
plan wasn't going
so well either (though I was eating plenty of
The concierge at the
Landmark Mandarin Oriental, a stunning hotel (not to be confused
with the just pain old Mandarin Oriental which is also lovely) was
really a gem. I told him I wanted to go to
Mum Chau's Sichuan Kitchen, what I thought was a Sichuan
speakeasy (though given how well known it was it seemed pretty
official to me). He said to me, "you seem like the kind of person
who appreciates a more intimate and low key experience." He wasn't
dissing on Mum Chau's as he thought it was also a great place to
try, but he recommended I try
Shui Hu Ju.
He also had very specific instructions about what I was to order.
After driving in circles for 20 minutes in the
Shui Hu Ju...
What You Can
Do For Your Blog,
February 1, 2006 Sometime in the last couple of years
I put a link up to an Amazon tip jar/donation box page. It's gone
now. A few of you have given generously.
And I thank you very much for your support. It's much appreciated.
And although it's not cheap to run this site (you should see the
bills for meals :) the fact is that I don't think you should have to
pay for the site or for our free electronic cookbooks. Yet, I still
do have aspirations of at the very least covering my cost with the
earnings from this blog. Rather than ask for money (though there's
nothing wrong with that) I want to put all the blogging cycles I
have into making this a genuinely special and unique site. I hope
that we're already off to a good start. The number of posts is up.
January saw not only the introduction of
part 1 of our "tastingmenu Gets
Schooled" series (the trip to Asia), but also saw the launch of
our shop with hopefully cool
(more to come). We've revamped the navigation up top. The
2nd annual Taste Everything
awards are coming at the end of the month. We have new books in
the works. And we also have some big announcements regarding our
food photography - one of the largest food photography collections
on the web, and the only one to feature the food of so many of the
world's top restaurants. And don't forget, as soon as we wrap up the
Asia trip (more Hong Kong and
Tokyo remain) we'll do part two of our
series. I'll keep it secret for now so as not to spoil the surprise.
Bottom line: we're going to work hard to make
tastingmenu even better this year. What can you do to help?
Let us know what you think. If you have
suggestions either comment on this post, or send us mail at
info [@] tastingmenu [dot] com.
Support our sponsors if you feel so inclined.
And finally, instead of doing telethons or other
stuff like that, we're going to ask you to do one simple thing:
tell 10 friends about tastingmenu. Yes... we are asking
you to spam your friends. (Try to tell friends who might
actually be interested so it's not quite as spammy.) Consider this a huge favor letting the
world know about our little site. The more readers we have, the
more cool things we can do, the more cool places we can visit,
and the more cool experiences we can share with each of you. And
to make it easier, feel free to wait until we have a post that
really warrants it. BTW, telling friends about blogs you read is
a great way to support any blog you appreciate, not just
That's it. Next we'll ask you to sign up your
friends to the tastingmenu long distance service, but we're some
months from announcing that. :) In the meantime thanks for being
here, next post we're back for one more meal in Hong Kong. It's a
good one. I promise.