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
seriously is kind of neat (and a little surreal).
Let's be specific. Walking down the halls and seeing classes like
Confectionary Art & Special Occasion Cakes and Individual and
Contemporary Cakes & Desserts Basic & Classical Cakes, and
Chocolates & Confections, Cookies, Tarts, & Mignardises. That's
right, mignardises! Don't even get me started on "Confectionary
Art". I'm sorry to gush so much, but it's really the only way to
convey the excitement of the moment.
And believe me, it took a lot to be excited given that we arrived on
our first day early in the morning
our classroom. Hyde Park, NY in late December is a pretty cold
place. At 6 am it just sucks. But this was part of the fun. If
you're going to go to baseball fantasy camp, you expect that there's
going to be all the "texture" of the experience including a spit
bucket filled with used chaw. We were lucky not to have any spit
buckets (except in wine tasting class) but getting up at 5am to get
to school by 6am in the freezing cold and
dark was part of the charm.
Back on the Hogwarts theme, at the center of the campus is an almost
castle-like former Jesuit Seminary that the school bought in the
70's and converted into the school. The
main hall is even
the Hogwarts great hall having been converted from the
seminary's grand chapel into what else? the main dining hall of the
school. If you're going to worship at the C.I.A. it should be food
on the receiving end of your adulation. And this is where quite a
bit of that prayer and communion happens. There was just
a charm to the whole place.
Part of our week included a tour of the campus. Ever been to a
university bookstore? This one is indistinguishable from some of the
best cookbook stores you've ever shopped at. Multiple restaurants
and cafes dot the campus where students do rotations not just in the
bakeries but as waiters as well learning what working in the
front of the house entails.
The kitchens are numerous. I lost count, but I think our kitchen was
#17. And while it was one of the biggest, enough to accommodate
probably 25-30 people cooking simultaneously, many of the others
were pretty large as well. Some were mostly classrooms, but many
were dedicated to feeding the student body. Everything in this place
revolves around the creation of and consumption of food. It's cool.
The heart of the entire operation is the
store room. They order, store, and distribute ingredients for
the numerous kitchens across campus. Making friends with the staff
there seems essential to anyone's survival. That said, even for
people with the best connections, paperwork is the red blood cell of
this arterial system. No food leaves the store rooms without the
right paperwork so the accounting can be done of what money got
spent to make what food in what classroom to feed which students.
Got that? They do.
Our tour of the store room seemed to go on forever as we passed
the basic ingredients as well as the expensive ones.
bulghur, Israeli couscous,
galangal, as well as
racks of all manner of cheeses. We couldn't help but ask where
all the high end ingredients were, not that they're required to make
a great dish, but we were curious if they stocked them. Sure enough
we came upon the
quail eggs and caviar in short order. The store room (which was
really many many rooms as well as bunches of walk-in refrigerators)
went on and on and on.
Walking around the main building, just about every kitchen is
visible through glass windows that line the walls of hallways. Often
the food being prepared by the students is placed just in front of
those windows for all to see. Needless to say, walking by
beautifully made chocolates and
candy orange slices just added to the magic of the place.
we participated in a lightweight version of the classes that are
offered at the C.I.A. it's clear that the entire environment adds to
the enjoyment of being there. And frankly, if you have to freeze
your ass off early in the morning and late at night in upstate New
York, the place your spending all your time better be inspiring.
As if to make sure the experience was brought home for us,
our duffel bags not only had chef's whites for us to wear, but
also included text books and
our own set of kitchen knives and tools. Hopefully we'd be able
to put it all to good use. Next post we touch a little bit on the
life of students at the C.I.A.