Friday, September 28, 2012

Topics of Discussion in the BPS Science Class...

Some Odd Topics You will Learn About in Bachelors….

“Science Fundamentals”

While rummaging through my old blog posts, I thought that this one would be most useful to those perspective Bachelor’s students who always are curious as to what we learn in our classes. This post is from 2011 when I was in Science Fundamentals class. I remember leaving the room feeling as if I just gained a new insight on the environment and the Hudson River from our thorough discussion on the subject. Enjoy!

February 2012

I found out a few interesting facts
in class today that I'd like to share with you, some even involving food and
consequences if we aren't careful with our environment:

1) Did you know that broccoli is
usually packaged on ice and shipped this way? That's because if you ever cut broccoli and leave it out for a while, it is prone to growing harmful bacteria... So keep this in mind foodies!

2) Sustainability is so controversial and judged lately in the food industry. 
Simply, the definition is:
"Sustainability is based on a simple principle:
Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment.  Sustainability creates and maintains the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony, that permit fulfilling the social, economic and other requirements of present and future generations. Sustainability is important to making sure that we have and will continue to have, the water, materials, and resources to protect human health and our environment"
(US EPA Sustainability Website)

 3) I'm not sure if you have experienced the change in weather folks, but I am currently living in The Hudson Valley area and it snowed last night after being 50-60F the other day... It's kind of bizarre; this whole winter up in New York has been all over the place. This may be telling us something... Don't worry I won't get into global warming, unless I want 100+ comments on this blog (not a bad idea).....Just asking you all to be aware of these changes. 

4) To relate to #3, let's just look at the ocean for a mere second. The acidity and pH is rising in these waters, dissolving the coral reefs. No wonder they aren't colorful anymore...

5) Were you also aware that the butterflies are becoming somewhat extinct because of this change in weather? Just saying. It's kind of crazy.

6) Okay, enough with weather talk. Now, you're probably thinking, "Giuli, none of this relates to food, what are you talking about this for?" Listen, our ecosystem has EVERYTHING to do with food! Water, air and sunlight produce what we eat (unless you're into the whole artificial, chemical colored foods out there... yuck). The most interesting fact that I learned at the end of class was this: The Hudson River is actually VERY clean! HAH! Really?! Yes, I'm serious. Don't be fooled by the off-grey color everyone, my Professor pointed out that the biomass is very high in the Hudson and that our school, the CIA, actually gets their water from there... A scary yet interesting thought if you ask me.

...Looking back at this post reminds me how interesting discussions were in Bachelor's classes. When you have a full classroom full of mature adults and strike a topic of conversation that is relatable to everybody, it's a great feeling to know the facts of the subject and discuss ways to promote the idea or make a difference. We are the future leaders of the industry, which is why these classes are so important to consider.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A Weekend with the Sugar Plum Fairy

Buttercream Roses.

Just a short drive from the CIA, tucked away in an unassuming neighborhood, lies an inveritable land of sweet treasures, perfectly crafted by expert hands.

    The master behind this amazing work is someone that all prospective and current CIA students, as well as Baking and Pastry industy leaders should know about, yet few seldom do.

Betty at her work station 

    Picture the person who taught many of the CIA Pastry Chefs the majority of what they know about cake decorating. Then picture the same person also fostering the careers of Sylvia Weinstock, Ron Ben Israel, and Buddy Valestro. She is a master sugar artist, has traveled to and competed in the World Culinary Olympics in Frankfurt, Germany, and has perfected the art and craft of cake decorating, paving the way for aspiring cake decorators and sugar artists across the country.

One of Betty's Famous Pieces

    I was fortunate enough to spend two days with the legendary Betty Van Norstrand, after I enrolled in one of her many cake decorating classes. This particular class was on Advanced Sugar Flowers, and was taught in the comfort of her home in Hyde Park. I have wanted to take classes with Betty since one of my chefs recommended them during my first year of my AOS degree. Although I might have put it off until four weeks before I graduated my BPS degree, Betty was more than willing to accommodate my schedule.

    Taking classes with such a renowned cake decorator was a must on my list of to-dos, since I aspire to own my own wedding cake business in the future. The only people on the class roster were myself and my friend Dominique, so it was certainly the perfect atmosphere to learn and ask Betty anything that popped into our heads.

    The class took place in the basement of her home, and let me tell you, it is like Candyland; a pure sugar-filled heaven on earth. As we descended the stairs and entered the room, I wasn’t sure what to look at first. Betty has cakes, flowers and showpieces that are several decades old, and still in impressive condition. It was surreal to see gorgeous displays of perfectly piped buttercream flowers from 30 years ago, or a pastillage egg that has traveled to Germany and back, and then all over the World to various decorator shows and competitions.

Dominique at the work station

    We sat down at our workstations, and were surrounded with all of the tools one could possibly need to create anything their heart desired. Flower drying racks, glue pens, ball tools, flower and leaf cutters, veiners, imprinted rolling pins, and that wasn’t even the beginning. After perusing the racks upon racks of finished gum paste flowers, we chose which ones we wanted to produce during the two days we were in class, including a poppy, pansy, rose, fuscia, peony, and hibiscus. One day would be devoted to the fabrication of the flowers, and the second would be to the finishing, taping, assembling, and coloring the flowers. As we worked we spoke of the complexities of running a cake business, tips and tricks for fondant, royal icing, and pastillage, the best place to buy supplies and tools, and about Betty’s newest great grandchild, who was on the way at that moment.

My Finished Rose!

    I was truly amazed at Betty’s creativity and persistence, especially since she started decorating at a time where women weren’t extremely respected in the industry, and when the tools we are so accustomed to using today did not exist. In fact, she created a lot of those tools simply by trial and error with items that she found around her house. What’s the best way to get your fondant or gumpaste to look like leather? Use sandpaper! She showed us how she holds extra flower stamen inside of a tic tac container, and taught us to really look at how the real flower is shaped, and then think about how we can recreate that effect in our work. Even her simple tips on how to save your joints, how to produce more flowers in a faster manner were extremely helpful.

All Of My Finished Flowers!


 It was purely an honor to be in the presence of such a successful and industry-altering woman for as long as we were, and I am truly grateful for that experience. For those of you who are interested, you should certainly take the opportunity to learn from this incredible person. Betty is more than willing to accept students and teach classes on a number of cake decorating techniques; all you have to do is ask! I hope that we all can aspire to introduce such change to the industry we know and love.

Thank you for all you’ve done, Betty!

For information on Betty’s classes, please contact CIA Baking and Pastry Chef Dieter Schorner, or e-mail blogger Blayre Miller at

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Recall That Restaurant (Boston Review)


Walking on the sunkissed, cobblestone streets of The North End in Boston, my father was stressing my brother out, endlessly wondering in circles trying to find a place to eat for dinner. Now, my dad has a tendency to play the game of roaming street corners in order to find the very best restaurant. At this point, my brother, mother and I were tired, dehydrated and starving for some good, authentic Italian food. Most of the eateries displayed menus consisting of chicken francese, eggplant parmesan, etc. Let me tell you friends, this is NOT at all Italian cuisine. I was shocked to run past a Sardinian specialty restaurant as well, for The North End mostly consists of fried meatballs, salami, over-stuffed cannoli and fake gelato.

When a restaurant is empty, that usually implies that there are no customers. Hence, a bad vibe (at least that’s what I had always been taught). My father, very hopeful and convinced, spotted a restaurant tucked in the corner on the outskirts of the main drag. The lights were dim, it was about 7:00pm at night and the staff members were outside relaxing, waiting for people to walk in. I am use to avoiding these locations because when servers stand outside, they usually try to persuade people into their facilities, which is quite annoying. Yet, we gave the restaurant a try and I crossed my fingers that we’d be investing in a good meal.

The owner of the restaurant is a native, off-the-boat Italian. My father and I speak a bit of the language; therefore we were much more respected than the other Americans in the restaurant. However, the owner was a bit rude and asked if we were associated with a big-shot politician in Italy because we looked related to him. When we said no, the owner shook his hands and praised the Lord. I’m assuming if we had been related, our table would’ve gotten thrown out of the restaurant.

The menu itself was simple and highlighted typical Italian dishes, utilizing fresh, foreign ingredients. For example, when we ordered the “bruschetta” appetizer, chunks of heirloom tomatoes and freshly torn basil appeared on rustic bread. My mother and brother ordered the fusilli pasta in a light, brandy cream sauce which was delectable. I regretted ordering the spaghetti carbonara because my father’s trout was perfectly cooked, lightly seared and drizzled with lemon juice, thyme, brown butter and white wine. I had never tasted a piece of fish so perfectly tender
and juicy for its small, slender size! Dessert was wonderful as well, tiramisu with anise liquor.

For the V.I.P.s at dinner, the owner presented them with shots of limoncello to celebrate the night. When customers entered the restaurant without a reservation, the owner, his server and runner (their whole staff) would ask the guests to wait. If they were impatient, the owner would say, “Mi dispiace. I am sorry, we are fully booked.” And if the customers solicited some more, begging for the open table to sit at, the owner would throw them out of the restaurant, back on the main street. Regardless of where you came from, if you had no respect for the owner, his staff or food, you were not welcomed to be a part of the experience. This act can be argued, but as with every Italian, it all comes down to respect.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Mexican Meal to Die For!

 Diversity, what does that mean to us CIA kids? Well, it sure opens a lot of doors to international cuisine. I’m sure that I’m not the only student here who gets hyped up when I am told that I will be learning about a foreign specialty or recipe. After all, the U.S.A. is a melting pot and without knowledge of different cultures, what would be the definition of American food? 

This past weekend, I had the great opportunity to work alongside another Residence Assistant in my hall (Pick Herndon), Caleb. Now, I knew that Caleb was Mexican but I never saw him cook authentic, Mexican food. Our family meal was the perfect chance for him to show us what dishes he grew up with and man, was dinner tasty!

When I entered the kitchen, the air was full of smoky scents, reminiscent of hot
peppers.  Caleb was browning ground beef with onions and carrots and potatoes, making for a wonderful aroma that would persuade anybody to walk into the kitchen. I asked him what I could do to help out for dinner and he told me to start making tortillas out of the masa harina. I looked at him like he was crazy, an Italian working with masa? I had no idea what I was about to get myself into!

The masa that Caleb bought was very fine, sand-like and when mixed with water, created a play-dough consistency. The next step was to mold a small ball into a disk and flatten in with my palms. Caleb’s tortillas came out wonderful and mine looked like crumpled up pieces of dough stitched back together. Finally, after laughing at my lack of ability to form tortillas, Caleb invented a way to make the tortilla process much easier. He used a cutting board to flatten the dough from a ball into a circular, flat shape. The thinner they were, the more layers of dough would fluff up. We eventually griddled all the corn tortillas until light brown blisters appeared on each side. To keep them warm, we lined the tortillas with paper towels and kept it above the counter on a sheet tray.

The main entrée, chiles rellenos, was delicious, spicy and full of Latin flavor. Caleb had already made the beef filling which was savory and rich. We stuffed the peppers with this mixture and sprinkled cheese on the inside. The batter on the outside of the peppers was my favorite part.  I whipped some egg whites and folded in egg yolks. Then, we drenched each pepper in the foam mixture and fried them in oil on medium heat. As soon as each pepper was fried and crispy, more cheese was sprinkled on top and the whole tray of peppers was baked in the oven until cheesy and warm.

To top the meal off, Caleb made a cold oatmeal drink that was made with oats, ice, water and sugar. How refreshing! Paired with rice, salsa roja and spicy peppers, the drink in itself was delectable and cooled down our taste buds.  I am a lover of Mexican cuisine now, thank you


Monday, September 10, 2012

CIA Senior Class Charity Events: La Mesa, Latin American Table

The CIA Bachelor's Program not only offers students a well-rounded finish to their stay at The Culinary, but also gives them an opportunity to run an event from start to finish, all on their own... and it benefits charity, too!

This upcoming weekend, on Saturday September 15th at 6:00 PM, the CIA's Senior Bachelor's Class will hold its second annual charity event.

This event will be the second out of five unique dinners, all featuring different themes, fantastic dining, and great entertainment. 

Last weekend, the first event, "Boat on the Bayou, Dinner in the Quarter", was held, and 100 happy patrons left with their bellies full of delicious New Orleans-inspired food, after a boat tour on the Hudson River.

As a CIA Senior, I felt the need to "plug" the next event, since it is my own!

As I mentioned before, each senior must participate in a class called Food Service Management. Besides discussing the ins and outs of running, owning, and purchasing a restaurant, we must get a small taste of all of this by dreaming up, and executing, our own charity event.

My class decided to pay homage to the vast flavors and cuisines of Latin America, by taking traditional food and giving it a unique twist. La Mesa, Latin American Table will feature the food and ingredients of today's Latin American culture, and present it in a way that you will only find in the most fabulous restaurants across the country. We will also be donating the proceeds to Freedom 4/24, and the Bob Briggs Memorial Scholarship. 

So how do we execute an event like this?

Each class is faced with quite a daunting task, since each event is slated to feed up to 100 guests, and must include a silent auction, three-to-four-course meal, decorations, impeccable service, and a sound base for raising money for their chosen charities. 

Students must choose whether they want to be a part of the front or back of house team, and then leadership positions are chosen from there. The back of the house team must design a multi-course menu, which must then be recipe tested, properly ordered for, and executed the night of the event. The front of the house team is responsible for organizing all of the decorations, service, plates, linens, napkins, glassware, etc. We also elected beverage, marketing, finance, silent auction, and reservations teams as well.

PHEW! So much work!

I decided to be a part of the Back of House team, and was elected Pastry Chef. Heading up the design of an intermezzo, plated dessert, showpiece, and some sweet giveaways were only a few of the tasks I was faced with as a leader. I also was required to submit all of the orders for products, make sure my team had all of the ingredients and equipment needed, and organize each component of each dish, making sure it will be properly executed the day of the event.  

We are only a few days away from the actual event, and I am so excited to see everything come to fruition! All of the stress will be worth it once we see the smiles of contented guests, happy charities, and relieved students. 

Please consider supporting these amazing charities, and the October 18th, 2012 Senior Class of the Culinary Institute of America!

To purchase tickets for La Mesa, Latin American Table, please click here .
To read about the other CIA Senior Class Charity Events, please click here

Stay Hungry and Curious,

Blayre :)

Friday, September 7, 2012

How to Critique a Restaurant... (in the eyes of a CIA student)

What does it take to critique a restaurant? 
I have always been interested in reviewing eateries since I was a teenager. It may sound a bit hypocritical, taken that I was an uneducated, inspired cook at age fifteen, but I thought I knew the basics of what a good restaurant should entail. Perhaps it was because my parents raised me to treat others with warm hospitality whenever people entered our house. Or it could’ve been for the fact that full menus alone seemed overwhelming and confusing to me at times. No matter the reason, I was excited to attend The Culinary Institute of America to learn about food writing as a profession and not just a hobby.

I always told people that I wanted to become a journalist before a culinarian. Then, when I was about to graduate high school, I was determined to morph these two concepts into one job- a restaurant critic. What an ideal occupation. Yet, I was convinced that in order to review a restaurant, I had to know the kitchen like the back of my hand and the efforts put into fine dining service. Otherwise, who would I be to judge a restaurant when I myself had not been through the industry for a period of
time? If an amateur ever critiqued my restaurant, I wouldn’t take it seriously and neither should owners who are evaluated by uneducated writers.

Here are some tips for those of you interested in assessing restaurants. First, keep in mind that a finished product tells a lot about the kitchen. The way it is plated, was it just thrown together last minute? This could indicate how organized the kitchen is. The colors of the ingredients, does this dish look fresh or merely heated up? The aroma of the food- is the smell comforting or off? Is your meat hot or cold and should it be that way? Can you tell if it was sitting under a heat lamp or plated right from the pan? These minor details are the foundation for any good review. First impressions are key, which leads into the service aspect.

When you first walk into a restaurant, we had been taught at the CIA that a server or host should greet you at the door and the table within a matter of seconds. If you find yourself waiting for more than three to five minutes to communicate with a staff member upon your entry, the restaurant is failing at hospitality. There is a difference between “miss, we will be with you in just a moment” than nobody showing up at all. Are the chairs comfortable at the table and is it in an appropriate area of the dining room? Check the silverware for smudges and see how fast the waiter or waitress greets the table for drink orders. This should be as soon as possible, yet leaving some time to review the list. Customers are guaranteed to be happier waiting with drinks in their hand rather than empty glasses. Are refills consistent and is the table properly organized course after course? It’s all about mise-en-place. Also consider lighting, clarity of the menu, length of the menu, temperature of the room and décor.

I hope that these tips aid anyone who is interested in writing. The number one helpful hint I tell people is to bring a camera (flash off) and notepad, but don’t make it too disturbing. If you can remember how the meal went in your head, write it as soon as you get out of the restaurant so that the ideas are fresh. Record quotes or adjectives as soon as they pop into your mind to describe the atmosphere and food. Dining at a restaurant is as if one is hitting the “pause” button during the evening. Relax, enjoy and remember that no one meal is ever the same as another.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

"Garden To Table" - Literally.

*The Produce I Come Home To...*

Whenever I go home on the weekend, I end up cooking for my friends and family. It is always assumed that when Giuli is in New Jersey, she doesn’t get a break, but takes over the kitchen. Just a heads up for you prospective students out there, your family will want you to show of your culinary skills whenever you visit your house as well!

As many of you know, I grew up in a rather, unique setting if you will. My father is a mason and his hobby is gardening. All over our backyard are planters full of vegetables, fruit, banana trees, flowers, figs, etc.

During my childhood, my brother and I would always get excited around August and September. Yes, the weather definitely had something to do with this, but most importantly, it would be FIG season! Each summer we would collect and sort as many figs as possible per day. This past weekend, I picked around three pounds of figs alone. My mother usually makes fig jam and the rest of the bunch either gets frozen for the week or gobbled up as snacks throughout the day. We even have neighbors and random strangers who walk by our house and pick figs off the tree as a mid-afternoon bite.

I guess I was privileged to grow up around this kind of environment; I never really appreciated it until I came to school and gave some figs to my friends. A bunch of them had never eaten fresh figs before in their life. Many dissected them as if they were eating a piece of meat. This shocked me because I was forced to eat figs right off of the tree when I was young since we grew so many!

Whenever I walk into my garden now, I look at what my dad has grown and the wheels start turning in my head. “What can I make with these products?” I also consider food waste and try my best to use every bit and piece of the plant in cooking. For example, the beets grown in our soil have tough stems but when cooked, blanched or boiled, these stems become tender like celery stalks and can be applied in many ways. This past weekend, not only did I pick some figs but I made fig vinegar (simmered some balsamic, cider vinegar and simple syrup with figs to taste), sun-dried tomatoes (salted, drained fresh tomatoes cooked on low heat for two hours) and eggplant caponata (a hearty mixture of eggplant, tomato paste and assorted vegetables). Talk about a summer harvest!  

Beautiful Sun Dried Tomatoes...


When I came back to school this past Monday, I delivered some of our figs grown in the garden to the Chef at Caterina de Medici. To my surprise, he actually applied them for the assaggio (amuse bouche) at lunch service. I was so happy that a product, grown in my own garden in New Jersey had been served to the public. This is only the beginning for sustainability folks and I encourage each and every one of you to grow as much as you can and make use out of it! Pride is what it’s all about.

The Fig Assaggio in Caterina :)

Recall That Restaurant (NYC Review)

                                                                    *Picture Clue*

One Monday night, my friend (Editor in Chief of La Papillote), Joceylnn Neri and I were discussing the importance of reviewing restaurants. She was looking for a new restaurant critic for the school newspaper. I had done many reviews before in my own free time (I was that culinary nerd in high school). Yet, I wanted to try and expand on this idea of criticizing a restaurant. Whenever I had conducted reviews, I felt a bit guilty since the owners would never know a critique was coming. Instead of getting their permission, giving them a head’s up or contacting them after the occurrence, I thought, why do we need to mention the name of the restaurant? In order to see how many people actually read the school newspaper, I thought it’d be a grand idea to leave the restaurants nameless and leave it as a guessing game for students as a spark of interest to read the newspaper. For instance, much of the restaurant industry is based off of “word of mouth” marketing, right? Well, if somebody were actually intrigued in a writer’s review, they would surely contact them to see where it was they went to eat that was so good or bad. This way, not only students are participating in the reviews, but the restaurant’s name is kept private unless asked about. It’s a win-win situation.

NYC Restaurant #1
 Nestled in the Upper West Side is a superb eatery that is well noted for their charcuterie and quality service. As the taxi dropped off my good friend Jocelynn Neri and me to the entrance of the restaurant, we were a bit baffled as to where the entrance was. Amongst the intermingled outdoor tables, there was a slim pathway to our destination. A narrow, clean opening marked the direction to our cozy booth against the wall of a bunch of paintings showcasing blush prints of wine. A modern touch, the ceiling was curved, almost resembling a wine cellar. A large community table was towards the back of the restaurant while the bar was full of ritzy New Yorkers ordering cocktails after work in-between the large bottles of wine decorating the counter. Jocelynn and I were greeted within five minutes by a young, jazzed up server who seemed very enthusiastic about his work. Ironically, Jocelynn knew a friend that worked at the restaurant and we didn’t know what the kitchen had planned for us. Our server assured both of us that we would be served an intermezzo or extra plates here and there throughout the meal.

The bread served was fresh and warm, with soft butter. The server was also very considerate about the allergies and dietary restrictions at our table, but didn’t really substitute the bread choice for a gluten-free option. Anyway, we glanced over the wine list and I selected a soft, blush rosé wine to start off with. Jocelynn wanted champagne but unfortunately, there was none in stock to order by the glass. Instead, our server suggested a fine cava, which made for a pleasing substitution.

The special menu for the evening consisted of specific meat cuts and charcuterie from a whole hog (from nose to tail). Not too overwhelmed by the choices, Jocelynn and I decided to order a small charcuterie plate, steak tartar and pork belly from the menu. Our taste buds were watering, craving delicious pork after a long day of traveling to the city (I had to stop myself from eating a dirty water hotdog on the way over, we were THAT hungry).

The charcuterie plate was delightful in each and every way. I am not a fan of liver whatsoever and the chicken liver was mild and creamy, soft in texture with hints of fat. The pickled carrots and mushrooms were tender to the bite and were spiked with pungent vinegar. The beef cheek pâté and country rabbit terrine were luscious. The rabbit resembled the flavor of chicken noodle soup since it was mixed with carrots and celery, a warm bite of sheer comfort. As for the steak tartar, the presentation reminded us of a 1985 wedding banquet, a bit tacky with romaine hearts sticking off the plate dotted with capers. However, the creamy emulsion along with the bits of raw steak made for a scrumptious bite. The pork belly was a bit soft in texture and fringy, probably due to the quality of hog butchered, but the warm potato salad meshed well with the meat.

As for dessert, we were a bit hesitant to ask our server what we should order, thinking the Chef would be bringing out some goodies. In the meantime, our after dinner drinks were served, the one cocktail a bit too sweet for a daiquiri, but the wine on the house, not too sweet and reminiscent of a mild Tokaji.

Dessert was fabulous. The colors on the plates were vibrant and we weren’t quite sure what each dish was because the elements were so intricate. The macaroons were very similar to the ones at Apple Pie Bakery. The restaurant indeed took care of us, buying our dessert drinks and bringing luscious, sweet treats to our table at the end of the meal. Last but not least, the service was helpful in pointing out a great bar for after dinner drinks.The bathroom was properly decorated as a wine cellar you would find in France. We did not feel ashamed at all dropping money on this restaurant, for the experience in itself was enjoyable and memorable. After all, isn’t that what fine dining is about?

Feeling lucky in knowing which restaurant Giulianna reviewed? Email to find out!