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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 first place.

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 classrooms 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 dozen kids scaling fish or baking bread.

Some classrooms were just classrooms where students were hitting the books. Some were kitchens working on food without a clear destination. But many of the kitchens were there to feed the other students breakfast, lunch, and dinner. By the way, even though our class didn't start until 7am, we were at the school by 6am as breakfast was essentially over by 6:15 am. Now consider when the breakfast kitchen students arrived. And now consider when the folks baking the fresh bread for the breakfast kitchen arrived to achieve that feat. Youch!

I will say this though. The C.I.A. serves the best cafeteria food I have ever eaten in my life. Seriously, the kitchen next to ours that fed us each day was generating really decent food every day. It can really impact the students as I'll show below. Lunch was something to really look forward to every day, and you were rooting for it to be decent as you were hoping you could feel good about the work the students were doing in the kitchen next to  yours.

There's something you should know about the C.I.A. And after I say it, it's  going to seem obvious. And many of you will say you already know this. But there's a difference in knowing something intellectually versus really understanding it and internalizing it. The Culinary Institute of America is focused on preparing its students to be professional food service workers. From entry level prep cook to executive chef and all the other roles in between and on other tracks. This is very different than preparing students to be the best chefs in the world. The reason is because 99.9% of the jobs in the industry aren't opening your own tiny perfect restaurant where you call all the shots and make wonderful and original food for a loyal fanatical audience. Most of the jobs are in places like catering companies, corporate cafeterias, hotel restaurants, etc. The C.I.A.'s responsibility is to help its graduates get paying jobs and they take their responsibility seriously. It only makes sense. Every week (or is it every three weeks... I wasn't sure) when the students put on a "grand buffet" in the main hall you'll understand why it might remind you of a cruise ship.

Before you get upset, it's good cruise ship food. But cruise ship nonetheless. World class food is almost always prepared a la minute, not en masse. These folks are learning a lot of things, but one of them is definitely how to cook at scale. And frankly you have to learn this before you can learn how to cook with excellence for just a few. This is because cooking at scale will challenge you like nothing ever has. Add budget constraints and health regulations and you'll really have a challenge. As big buffets go, this was definitely a good one. The students were, well, adorable serving up their dishes to the other students milling about and getting their fill of all the small dishes on display. Even the chocolates we had only been able to gaze at through a window before were now finally available for consumption. The only thing that deserves rightful complaint was the huge pile of "non-edible bread". I suppose making decorative adornments out of bread is a useful skill, but I think putting anything out you can't eat is not ok. To put huge warning signs on said bread ruined even any visual value they might have conveyed. I think the legal department made up the signs for this table.

Our best understanding of the students came from those that accomplished some of their work/study hours by assisting our instructor in our hands-on classes. They were really nice, helpful, and obviously happy to be at  the school. And no matter how young they seemed, they all seemed super mature. It was nice to see people so focused, so disciplined, and so serious about learning and doing something great with their education. I don't know how many will turn into world class chefs. But I do know that these were people I'd be happy to depend on and trust in almost any team situation. And that was pretty impressive.

I think the single best line I heard that describes life at the C.I.A. as a student went as follows: "Most colleges have the freshman 15. We have the freshman 30."











Tastingmenu is focused on superlative restaurant experiences from two perspectives: behind the plate and behind the stove. Tastingmenu is written by Hillel (professional eater) and Dana (up-and-coming professional chef) in Seattle, Washington.

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  Garlic has long been credited with providing and prolonging physical strength and was fed to Egyptian slaves building the giant pyramids. Throughout the centuries, its medicinal claims have included cures for toothaches, consumption, open wounds and evil demons. A member of the lily family, garlic is a cousin to leeks, chives, onions and shallots. The edible bulb or "head" grows beneath the ground. This bulb is made up of sections called cloves, each encased in its own parchmentlike membrane. Today's major garlic suppliers include the United States (mainly California, Texas and Louisiana), France, Spain, Italy and Mexico. There are three major types of garlic available in the United States: the white-skinned, strongly flavored American garlic; the Mexican and Italian garlic, both of which have mauve-colored skins and a somewhat milder flavor; and the Paul Bunyanesque, white-skinned elephant garlic (which is not a true garlic, but a relative of the leek), the most mildly flavored of the three. Depending on the variety, cloves of American, Mexican and Italian garlic can range from 1/2 to 1 1/2 inches in length. Elephant garlic (grown mainly in California) has bulbs the size of a small grapefruit, with huge cloves averaging 1 ounce each. It can be purchased through mail order and in some gourmet markets. Green garlic, available occasionally in specialty produce markets, is young garlic before it begins to form cloves. It resembles a baby leek, with a long green top and white bulb, sometimes tinged with pink. The flavor of a baby plant is much softer than that of mature garlic. Fresh garlic is available year-round. Purchase firm, plump bulbs with dry skins. Avoid heads with soft or shriveled cloves, and those stored in the refrigerated section of the produce department. Store fresh garlic in an open container (away from other foods) in a cool, dark place. Properly stored, unbroken bulbs can be kept up to 8 weeks, though they will begin to dry out toward the end of that time. Once broken from the bulb, individual cloves will keep from 3 to 10 days. Garlic is usually peeled before use in recipes. Among the exceptions are roasted garlic bulbs and the famous dish, "chicken with 40 cloves of garlic," in which unpeeled garlic cloves are baked with chicken in a broth until they become sweet and butter-soft. Crushing, chopping, pressing or pureeing garlic releases more of its essential oils and provides a sharper, more assertive flavor than slicing or leaving it whole. Garlic is readily available in forms other than fresh. Dehydrated garlic flakes (sometimes referred to as instant garlic) are slices or bits of garlic that must be reconstituted before using (unless added to a liquid-based dish, such as soup or stew). When dehydrated garlic flakes are ground, the result is garlic powder. Garlic salt is garlic powder blended with salt and a moisture-absorbing agent. Garlic extract and garlic juice are derived from pressed garlic cloves. Though all of these products are convenient, they're a poor flavor substitute for the less expensive, readily available and easy-to-store fresh garlic. One unfortunate side effect of garlic is that, because its essential oils permeate the lung tissue, it remains with the body long after it's been consumed, affecting breath and even skin odor. Chewing chlorophyll tablets or fresh parsley is helpful but, unfortunately, modern-day science has yet to find the perfect antidote for residual garlic odor.  

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