Deciding to go to culinary school, for me, produced a big question mark. How would I be taught? What were classes like? What kind of homework do you do in culinary school?
I found out when I got here that the Culinary Institute of America is unlike any other school I’ve ever gone to. I’m qualified to say that, as I graduated from Penn State in 1993 with a degree in communications (no need to do the math – I’m 41!). I also attended the University of Pittsburgh for two-and-a-half years, and did a semester abroad at the University of Manchester in Manchester, England. So, even with being well-traveled and well-educated, I was still so pleasantly surprised at how much the CIA offers its students.
First of all, we had 2 days of orientation at the beginning of our program here at the CIA. That was utterly amazing. They show you every aspect of the school and how it works. You have little mini-seminars on everything from safety to proper uniform. For me, it felt a little like spoon-feeding. After all, I had been out in the work world for over 20 years and supporting myself. I’m pretty sure I can wear a uniform correctly.
But the hand-holding was more than that. I quickly realized that it wasn’t about spoon-feeding to the students, but that it came from a deeper place from the core of the school. This school has heart, and depth, and the faculty and administration literally cares about every student who walks through the hallways here. We are given every tool we need to succeed. I have not yet encountered one chef or professor here who doesn’t care about the students personally. I can’t tell you how many chefs tell me that this is their ideal job, here at the CIA. Chefs are happy to work here. Students are happy to be learning here. And the students are happy here.
It’s culinary utopia!
I haven’t attended any other school that brings its alumni back constantly to speak at graduations, give presentations, or to honor their accomplishments. Since I have been here, I have stood in the same room with Thomas Keller (twice!), Grant Achatz, Daniel Boulud, Paul Bocuse, Jerome Bocuse, and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. There have been many others who have been brought back to speak at graduations, too, who you might run into as you walk down a hallway or out to your vehicle. What other school do you know of that brings back some of their most successful alumni in an attempt to motivate students and lead by example?
The other thing that I’ve found amazing about this school is the career fairs. You don’t even have to step foot off campus to get in front of some of the best restaurants in the world. Eleven Madison Park has been at both career fairs that have been on campus since I started. Number five on the the World’s Fifty Best Restaurants list, they were the first restaurant in the United States on the list. This is a big deal. Prospective employees will flock to them. But they come here to recruit. THEY take the time to come HERE.
The CIA is a major player in the food industry. Getting an education here opens doors. It is run a little like the military, and like the military, it’s effective. Everything that you think you know about cooking will be challenged. I have even had experiences here that have made me question who I am and strive to be better. The CIA is not only giving me an education, but it’s also helping me with character – even at age 41.