Thursday, September 12, 2013

A Day in the Life of a Culinary Science Student

by student blogger Kristin

"The only difference between magic and science is understanding."
- Chef Jonathan Zearfoss

I love all the questions I have been getting about the new culinary science program! Please keep them coming! I figured as long as there is interest in the program I should go through what I considered to be a typical day. That way, I may be able to answer some lingering questions about the program. So, I thought, what better day to write about than a typical Friday.

8:30am - Up and At ’em!

Almost every morning, I wake up around 8:30 to start my day. I get ready and head up to Apple Pie Bakery Café, the café run by the baking and pastry students on campus. I sit, drink my coffee and eat breakfast while enjoying the casual beauty of Apple Pie. Every time I eat there I am reminded of the first time I visited the CIA campus. My mom and I stopped here to get some hot chocolate and apple turnovers. So delicious!

I also use this time to finish any work or studying I may have hanging over my head from the night before. I’ll be honest with you, when you are a Culinary Science student, there is always work to be done. The world is always changing; there is always new research and studies to catch up on. And I figure there is no better way to stay connected than over a fresh cup of coffee!

10:30am - Classe Italiano

Being in the Culinary Science degree does not mean that you only take science courses and are unable to explore other courses at the Culinary Institute. In fact, we are required to take a range of liberal arts courses throughout the Bachelor’s degree. Not only does that make us well rounded individuals, but it also gives us the opportunity to partake in some of the other interesting courses the CIA has to offer. For this semester, I chose to take Italian 2 as one of my other courses.

On Wednesday and Friday mornings, I have Italian 2 from 10:30am-12:05pm. Through both Italian 1 and 2, I have learned much about Italian vocabulary, verb conjugation, and culture. My class and I are currently studying a chapter based around food. Though most of these words are familiar to culinary school students, it is very interesting to see the differences between American and Italian definitions of food. For example, did you know that “biscotti” is the Italian word for “cookies” and does not define the twice-baked cookie that we have come to know in America? It’s very cool to see how a language such as Italian has transformed in America over the years.


12:30pm - Meal Time

After Italian, I am free until my Culinary Science courses. Because class starts at 2:00pm, I usually use this time to conduct meetings, print out any paperwork for the day, study, and most importantly, relax and eat lunch.
At this time of day, lunch is available from the high volume production kitchen, coined “K-16” by the students. The students in this kitchen learn how to produce great food on a large enough scale to feed large crowds of people in one meal period. Their customers, of course, are students. No pressure right? Although I have waited multiple times for my meal in a line at “K-16”, I still give those culinary students credit for doing what they do. I could not deal with the pressure of a high-production student-serving kitchen and produce the meals they do.

1:30pm – Science Time!

At around 1:30pm I head over to the truly exciting part of my day, my culinary science courses. The new culinary science lab is on the bottom floor of our Colavita building, which holds Caterina d’Medici Italian restaurant. Our domain consists of four main rooms: the lecture room, the sensory evaluation room, the kitchen, and the laboratory (I will go in to good detail about each, don’t worry).

Most days start in the lecture room, a pretty standard classroom where we go over our lecture topics and PowerPoint for the day. These lectures can be pertaining to anything from how to conduct scientific research to a recipe’s ingredient functionality. One of the greatest parts of these lectures (and the program in general) is the dual teaching style. At any given time during class, there is always a chef and a scientist present. This means that for lecture, Chef will speak about the history, practical uses, and expected taste of a product while a Doctor of Science goes in depth into the chemical make-up and physical properties of that same product. The knowledge we have access to is quite mind blowing.

3:30pm To the lab!

After we are done reviewing the lecture material, it is time for the fun stuff: the lab. Each day in class yields a new experiment that is conducted by the students in class. Every time we are told to get started, I cannot help but feel like a 6th grade student playing with science for the first time. Our labs pertain to what we have just discussed in lecture and are conducted both in the kitchen and in the laboratory.

Being the first class through the program, our kitchen is still brand new and beautifully shiny (and we work hard at the end of every day to keep it this way). It consists of 6 large stainless steel workstations equipped with state-of-the-art mini CVAP’s, a refrigerator and cabinet for tools. This cabinet contains only a small percentage of the fun science toys that are contained within this kitchen. Each station holds induction burners, immersion circulators and lexans, isi canisters, pH meters, thermocouples, scales, and other scientific tools. The rest of the kitchen only gets better, bearing a combination of old favorites and new technology. We have a large 2 compartment Rationale oven, blast freezer, CVAP oven, bread oven, plancha, stove tops, vacuum sealer and more. Needless to say, I am in love with this kitchen.

PM_20130827CulSciZear__0078.jpgHowever, stepping into the lab for the first time changed my life. I know that sounds dramatic but this was the moment that made it all real for me. Not only was I still at the school that I had fallen in love with but now I am earning a degree in Culinary Science. How lucky could I get? Walking in, the first thing you are welcomed by is the glistening sparkle of hundreds of new pieces of glassware including beakers, graduated cylinders, Erlenmeyer flasks, etc. Then the large pieces of equipment come in to view, each with a name I am still admittedly trying to learn how to pronounce. There are counter tops for conducting research with cabinets below (each clearly marked and labeled with their contents) and shelving units above, holding the rest of the tools. This laboratory makes you feel like you have just stepped into a mad scientist’s basement from a science fiction movie. You don’t even have to be a science fan to recognize how awesome this room is.

There are 9 students in my class including myself, consisting of 4 former culinary students and 5 former baking and pastry students. I am commonly asked how I feel about being a baker in this “culinary” science program. My response to that question is always along the lines of this. The word “culinary” in our title does not denote that we only study culinary applications. “Culinary” in this sense is used the same way that the CIA is called a “culinary” school. It encompasses both culinary and baking techniques, recipes, and knowledge. Basically if it has to do with cooking, baking, food and science, we are studying it.

That is not to say that if you did not study one or the other in your associate’s program you will be left in the dark, however. Each group contains one former culinary and one former baking and pastry student. This means that while you are conducting your experiment, you can also be learning a bit about the other food discipline from the associate’s program. There are always new chances to learn!

Each team conducts the lab assigned with their lab partner. These experiments can consist of anything from heat transfer techniques, consumer behavior, ingredient functionality, recipe testing, and more. In order to keep track of all the science that happens throughout the day, we have all received an official lab journal. In this journal we keep notes on every detail of our experiments, even our mistakes. We have all been told from a young age that we should learn from our mistakes. However, when you’re in the kitchen, some chefs allot you less time to learn your lesson. In our science kitchen, however, mistakes are studied and in some situations even encouraged. Scientific learning would be nowhere today without those original curious minds who tried to figure out how to fix their mistakes.

7:00pm That’s a Wrap!

At the end of every lab, we spend a bit of time cleaning the kitchen completely and efficiently. We all work as a team to scrub down every inch of the kitchen that was used that day in order to keep it as shiny and beautiful as our first day. We then gather around and discuss the results of the experiment that we conducted. This is my personal favorite part of the day because it combines the theory that we learned in lecture with the physical happenings of the lab we have performed. It is an amazing feeling to learn something on paper and be able to bring it into reality in the kitchen with a full understanding of the scientific workings of the system.




Each day has ended with a team cheer of “Science!” and we depart until the next class. I leave the kitchen every day with my head hurting (I admit) but full of new knowledge and asking myself how I became so lucky. Like I mentioned in my first blog, I was told all my life that I would not be able to bring my love of Art and Science together. That there was no career that could possibly encompass the two and that the route of business would my only choice. I sit here now in the computer lab of the premier Culinary Institute in the country, doing what I love and enjoying every second of it.

For all of you interested out there, I hope this was helpful. If you have any questions, please comment!

2 comments:

  1. WOW this was totally amazing. i wish you the best! but i have a burning question, this is the college of my choice and i'm from the caribbean i want to be a executive chef perfecting culinary arts. i am also interested in this science program but i want to know if its for me. thanks in advance

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  2. Hello James,
    It is awesome that you are interested in the science program! Whether or not you pursue the Culinary Science program in the future is of course a personal choice but I can give you some insight as to why I chose this program. I also fell in love with this school and could not imagine being anywhere else for my education. Throughout the Associate's program at the CIA, I had some exposure to the science behind food in my classes. I was learning the science behind tempering chocolate and ingredient functionality. Even this brief introduction to the world of Culinary Science sparked my interest and I was hooked. My advice to you would be to attend the CIA for your Associate's and experience as much as you can while you're here. A lot of students change their mind about their future career goals when they arrive here and learn more about all their options. All of our Chefs and Professors are more than happy to work with students both in and outside of class. By experiencing everything the CIA has to offer, your decision may be easier to make about Culinary Science. I know all of us in the program would be more than happy to talk to you about how awesome this program is! I hope this was helpful and good luck!
    -Kristin

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