Tuesday, January 20, 2015

School to Table

Special Projects Day – School to Table, An Ancillary Experience
by Deja Burrows, Associate in Culinary Arts,  from La Papillote

The Culinary Institute of America held a Special Projects Day recently on Monday, December 8th. It was entitled “School to Table: An Ancillary Culinary Experience.” The event featured an agenda full of captivating, eye-opening, and inspiring events.

The day began with a panel discussion, which was led by Mrs. Leitu Hsu of Heritage Radio, and included four former CIA students: Zach Goebel & Michael Muzyk of Baldor Specialty Foods, Bob Ambrose of Bella Bella Gourmet Foods, and David Wells of Saugatuck Kitchens. Each of the gentlemen shared what a typical day at work was like for them. From completing orders and working personally with some of the most demanding chefs in the industry, to traveling at least 80 days of the year, their education obviously has taken them much higher than sous chefs and line cooks.


David Wells and his wife are the co-owners of Saugatuck Kitchens and they have molded the establishment to be successful while allowing employees, including themselves, to stay family oriented.

Bob Ambrose told the story of how he came to form a tight knit relationship with one of only three foie gras farms in the country and how this blossomed into Bella Bella Gourmet, which now has been serving foie gras twenty-five years.

Zach Goebel, who is a sales representative for Baldor Specialty Foods, shared how his time as a dishwasher was an opportunity into the culinary world. Mr. Michael Myuzik, president of Baldor Specialty Foods, left CIA and went on to work with world renowned chefs such as Todd English. He continues his loyalty to The Culinary Institute of America by making Baldor one of the main providers of food for the school.

As if these gentlemen’s success stories weren’t enough to get inspired, they went on to share advice, not just for later on in life, but for students now. They encouraged students to take the mantra of “mise en place for life” as a personal one because organization and planning is essential to success. Goebel said, “CIA is the place to build that drive, that purpose, that push that will set you apart in the industry and make you almost indispensable.” After the lively discussion, students asked questions about the companies’ ability to adapt to the ever-changing world.

After the panel discussion, the students were all led down into the lower conference room where an expo of specialty food purveyors was displayed. Upon entering the room, students were met with a large display of produce set up by Baldor Specialty Foods and they were invited to take fruits and vegetables with them. This exposition was seen as more than a way to try out new specialty foods, but also as a source of inspiration. It got students thinking about careers in food productions  and about dishes they could create using these quality foods. The company representatives were personable and shared knowledge about their establishments while encouraging the students to try new foods, such as seared foie gras and milk that was not homogenized. Most students left with a bag full of literature and treats and full of new ideas and knowledge.

The day was completed with the screening of the documentary Farmland, which was just released in March. It is a film all to do with farming and ranching in America, and it looks into the lives of a group of young farmers, each in their twenties, who have either taken over the risky business from their parents, or have ventured out on their own as first generation farmers. The disconnect between those that farm and those that do not, as well as the fact that a high percentage of Americans have never set foot on a farm or ranch before, was emphasized in the film.

As culinary students, knowing where our food comes from, understanding seasonality—the ebb and flow of the market—as well as fully understanding terms such as “natural” and “organic,” should be important to us. One of the young people highlighted in the film commented on the fact that many young people are not interested in ranching or farming, and that they are not being encouraged to view it as a viable career choice. Our school’s farm to table concentration and the population of students that are also interested in agriculture made this a good atmosphere for the film to be screened. If students weren’t thinking about farming before, they are thinking about it now.


“School to Table: An Ancillary Culinary Experience” was a school-wide event we won’t soon forget. It was a day of sharing good information and pure inspiration.