Tuesday, November 26, 2013

CIA/West Point Collaboration, Part 2: @ CIA

Within seconds of arriving at my parents’ home, my mom will offer you a drink and something to eat. She will also probably hug you. People seem to like when she does that. So on the morning of October 23rd, I followed my mom’s example. After a quick hug, I immediately took my cadet along with a few other CIA student/cadet pairs to a table at the Apple Pie Bakery where they could eat and drink.

Their fatigues looked slightly out of place. Even if they were obviously out of their element, their poise made them appear confident in an impossibly comforting way. This world of food and chefs and cook lingo had striking similarities to their own world, even if they didn’t know it in those first moments.

We sat there sipping coffee, eating doughnuts and talking about cookies. The cadets had so many questions and it was humbling to remember when I had all those same exact questions about food. It is too easy to get caught up the world of food here at CIA and lose sight of life beyond mise en place, consomme, laminated dough, and “yes chef”. The cadets were a welcome reminder of life beyond the kitchen.

After coffee, we made our way to the meat room. The meat room is the kitchen where my virgin knives started their journey three years ago. Without fail when I set foot in the meat room kitchen, my memory instantly remembers being a brand new student at CIA. I can taste the fear, excitement, concentration, and determination that filled my bones in those early, uncertain days. I hadn’t picked an extern, I didn’t have very many friends, I didn’t know what I would do after graduation, and I was frequently wrought with the self-doubt that is customary when you are in a new situation.

After the meat room, we passed through the storeroom where every single food product is stored at CIA before it is distributed to the kitchens. It is an absolute wonder to behold and the cadets were in awe at the diverse, interesting, exotic, exciting, delicious, familiar, fresh, colorful foods that they saw. It was so fun to see the wonder in their eyes. Food is universally understood as valuable. My eyes well up with pride when I see people outside of the food industry appreciate food for its inherent value the way a cook does when they have a second to appreciate the perfect roast duck that emerges from a blazing hot oven.

The cadets were inquisitive and respectful and seemingly humbled by this new world. We whisked them around and propped them up in the corner of a Culinary Fundamentals class where the students are learning the basics of cooking. We introduced them to Chef Pardus who is frequently mentioned in Michael Ruhlman’s book that they read to prepare for their day at CIA. I watched in amazement as a chef required that his students leave their stations in a kitchen class to personally serve the lunches to the cadets. I’ve never, ever seen that before.

After an address from President Ryan and a lecture with Chef Velie, we got to work in the kitchen preparing a meal based on local ingredients from the Hudson Valley that we would later enjoy for dinner. The cadets were quick to ask questions and eager to work.

The most striking thing about the cooking experience to me was my cadet, Chuck. He had a skill that cannot be taught at CIA or at West Point or probably anywhere. It is a deep understanding of the importance and respect for, the task at hand. He had what we call at CIA, a sense of urgency. I am still so excited to think back to that kitchen and how quickly and efficiently he cooked. He got it.

Read more about the exchange experience:
CIA/West Point Collaboration, Part 1: @West Point
CIA/West Point Collaboration, Part 3: Significance

Monday, November 25, 2013

Flavorrr Caveee!!!!

by student blogger Kristin

It hasn’t been a secret over the past few months that I have been extremely impressed with the culinary science program. This semester’s classes have been no different. I am currently taking research and development, precision temperature cooking, and my personal favorite, microbial ecology. In this course, we study the life cycles of microorganisms that impact food and equipment in the kitchen. It is a wide spread misunderstanding in today’s world that all microorganisms in food are harmful, lead to food borne illnesses and can be extremely harmful to humans. While a percentage of them are potential killers, microorganisms are also responsible for some of life’s most enjoyable delicacies. I am personally thankful to microorganisms for its invention of cheese, aged sausage, soy sauce, beer, and wine. Could you imagine life without these things?

Naturally, as a part of this course, we have been creating long term fermented products to be tested at the end of the semester. Because we are holding these products for a long time, we of course need a place to store everything. Preferably a safe, warm, humid environment that promotes microbial growth. Cue the Flavor Cave.

About a two minutes walk away from the lab is another classroom building called McCann. In this building, the culinary science program has laid claim to a walk in refrigerator. This walk in, endearingly nicknamed the “Flavor Cave”, is a large refrigerator with a few shelving units held within. At first, this Flavor Cave did not look like much. It seemed to us to be only a skeleton of what was once an alive and thriving headquarters for food production. To be honest, I was afraid that the class I had been looking forward to for two semesters would turn out to be a disappointment. What we did not realize at the time, however, was that this was only the first of many field trips to the cave.

Within a few short weeks, what was an empty cavern became a home full of “class pets” that needed nurturing and care each day. Our pets, or our long term ferments, include dry aged sausages, cheese, sauerkraut and mead. With these products in the walk in, the Flavor Cave is now decorated with delicious food and is living up to its potential. Each day, my partner and I travel to the Flavor Cave to take care of our projects and gauge their progress. Here are some of the things we are working on:


As a part of one of our labs, each team started their own cheese. In order to prepare them, we all separated the curds from the whey of milk. We then scooped the curds into different cheese molds and placed them into the flavor cave for aging. For the past few weeks, we have been taking time to visit and take care of each of our cheeses. My partner and I prepared brie cheese as our variation. As most people know, brie cheese has a tough skin and soft creamy inside. This is caused by the ability of the cheese to grow a mold on the outside which penetrates and softens the meat of the cheese. So far, each wheel of our cheese is completely covered in mold and has started to soften. Our Brie should be ready to consume in about another week! That is pictured here:

These are some pictures of the other groups' cheese variations. On the left is an example of a hanging aging cheese whereas on the right is an example of a gorgonzola.

Aged Meats:

As another weeks experiment, we each created sausage to be dry cured in the flavor cave. My partner and I created a variation of sausage called Saucisson Sec. We prepared the sausage, wrapped it in its casing, and hung it in the flavor cave. Over the course of four weeks, the meat began to dry out and grow a mold all over the outside. After the meat was completely dried out, the sausage was ready for consumption. We each got to consume the dry aged meat that we had been taking care of for weeks. It was delicious!


Over the last few weeks of class, we have been creating other long term ferments to stock in the flavor cave. Two examples of these experiments are mead and sauerkraut, pictured here.

Every week, we start a new project that is added to the flavor cave for aging. At the end of this course, we plan to have a feast of all the fermentation projects we have been taking care of. I can not wait for this feast! 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

CIA/West Point Collaboration Part 3: Significance

The most striking memory of the experience to me, is the similarities between these two vastly different worlds. At CIA, our existence is inspired by food. At West Point, their world is based on a military mission to defend and honor our country. Yet, students at West Point and CIA are united by their similarities.

We both speak in #hashtags as if that is an appropriate way to verbally communicate our thoughts, ideas, or emotions. We both enjoy our nights at the local bar and embrace our unique (if very different and fleeting) phase of freedom and minimal adult responsibility. We both date people that we find attractive and think maybe we might fall in love with one day. We both simultaneously dream of our future while we fear for our ability to make the right decision. We both have tragic moments of self defeat and sweet moments of wild success.

It may be tempting if you are not one of us to think that because we have committed to a specific industry that somehow we have it figured out. We don’t. Maybe we are one step ahead of the average twenty-something in our careers but that does not mean our lives are predetermined. Commitment to the military or a restaurant is not an excuse to rob us of our final moments of occasionally reckless, and certainly uncertain youth.

So maybe it’s just me.

But maybe it’s not just me, maybe I’m not alone in witnessing this strange dichotomy that occurs between figuring IT out and shrugging IT off. Maybe we are all in this together and we have a lot more in common than we think we do. The beauty of the human experience is its intrinsic ability to be completely unique, yet subconsciously common.

This collaboration between West Point and CIA students blurred the boundaries of our differences. It left me with a poignant awareness of our similarities that I believe could apply in many other situations where the differences seem more apparent than the similarities.

To me, it made our subconscious similarities that bind us together as members of the human family, conscious similarities that instill an understanding that maybe we’re all a little more similar than we think.

Read more about the exchange experience:
CIA/West Point Collaboration, Part 1: @West Point
CIA/West Point Collaboration, Part 2: @CIA

Friday, November 15, 2013

the message

I had the immense privilege and pleasure of interviewing Roy Choi '98 of Kogi BBQ last week.

He is a force to be reckoned with because his message has real bones to it. He advocates for eradication of food deserts, minimizing the poisonous "elitist" attitude that can permeate fine dining, second chances, and good food. Just straight up food that doesn't permanently damage our environment, does nourish our body, and does taste good.

So why does his message have bones? Because he is actually doing something about the areas of our world that he believes need to change. His words would not be enough, but his actions just might be.

He just released a book last week, and I get the feeling there is a piece of his soul between those pages. From the beginning, his BBQ truck has been met with national and international acclaim but he still fought the recognition.

When I asked him why he doesn't embrace the fame and popularity, he was quiet and reflective. I suggested altruism. He laughed. "I think its because the message is more important to me than myself." He went on to explain how some people will seek recognition or attention because they want themselves, their person, to be noticed. He's never wanted that. What does he want people to know and remember and care about?

The message.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Heirloom Apple Field Trip

by student blogger Leah

Time has done funny things to agriculture. In some regards, time has been kind to agriculture by gifting it with technology and innovation that broadens the scope of possibilities within the field. In other regards, time has played an evil trick on agriculture that has stolen heirloom varieties of diverse plants and unique species.

Montgomery Place Apple Orchard has managed to escape time and preserve these old apple varieties on a stunning piece of land in the Hudson Valley. My ecology of food professor took my class to the orchard so that we could experience the wonder of timeless apples for ourselves. Some of the incredible varieties include Cox’s Orange Pipin, Ashmead’s Kernel, Blue Pearmain, Esopus Spitzenburg, and Nittany, just to name a few.

We did a tasting in class of the different apples and talked about how we would cook them. Ingredients like these stunning apples are the most fun to cook with because very little work can be or need be done to improve them.

These beauties make cooks look good.

The farm is currently harvesting:
Api Etoile
Belle de Boskoop (one of the best and most unique apples I’ve eaten)
Black Twig
Hidden Rose
Northern Spy
Stayman Winesap
Swiss Gourmet
Asian and Bosc Pears

Monday, November 4, 2013

The End of an Era: Senior Night for Lady Steels Women's Volleyball

by student blogger Kristin
For the past three years at the CIA, I have been a member of the women’s volleyball team. It feels like just yesterday that I had heard rumors of the CIA starting an intercollegiate volleyball team. I will never forget how lucky I felt knowing I would be here to even try out. Now, three successful seasons later, I cannot believe my volleyball career is officially over. In order to both celebrate and commemorate our time here, we hosted a senior night on Monday, October 21st.

It started out like any other game day. We came into the gym three hours early to set up the chairs, put up the net, and get ready for the game. Only this time, I knew it was the last time I would be going through this routine. I would be lying if I said that this day wasn’t emotional for me, but through the beginning of the day, I tried to stay focused on the match that was still ahead of us.

We continued normally through warm ups, conducting drills that would help get us ready for the match. As it got closer to game time, fans began to filter into the gym. At first it was a few parents and friends, the same that we usually get to come support our team. However, as it got closer to game time, the stands were full and there were even fans that were willing to stand or sit on the floor to cheer us on. Yellow shirts with the simple phrase “Go Steels” were handed out to those in attendance, painting the crowd a spirited green and yellow. Some people, including good friends of mine, made signs to support their Lady Steels! I am so grateful to all those who came out to support us at our last ever home game!

The time finally came to start the game, the beginning of the end. We lined up on the end line of the court, waiting for our name to be called. I expected one of our student helpers to read off the teammates names like usual. However, when I looked over to see who was reading the announcements, it was our athletic director, who has been one of our biggest supporters throughout the years. After welcoming everyone to senior night, he instructed the players that the opening of this game would be different than usual. Although we did not know why, we would have to stop at by the score table as our name was called.

Having the lowest uniform number, my name is always called first. I ran down the line high-fiving the rest of my team and went over to shake the other coach’s hand. On my way back to my team, my coach and team manager met me with a rose in order to congratulate the seniors on a successful season. I was so moved by the fact that they went out of their way to make our day special. This rose, although a small gesture, was a perfect gift to end our senior season. The three of us took a picture together and I was on my way back to my team. We went through the rest of the team, following the same procedure for each senior. We were all upset that this was our last game but were touched by this gift.

We ended up winning our game that day and finished our last home game in high spirits. Our family and friends came to say congratulations after the game and show their support. Some people came bearing gifts, including my mother, who gave each senior a turtle charm to remember our time together.

I could barely believe when I started school here that they even had a volleyball team. Now, after having gone through my own senior night, I cannot believe it is over. I will never forget all of the friendships and lessons I have gained from playing volleyball here at The Culinary Institute. Although I am terribly sad to say goodbye to this chapter in my life, I can always look back on these days with a sense of pride and happiness. Thank you to all that made these past three years not only possible but extremely successful.

Friday, November 1, 2013

CIA/West Point Collaboration, Part 1: @West Point

by student blogger Leah

September 11th, 2013---I was at West Point with nine other CIA students where we were participating in an exchange between The Culinary Institute of America and West Point as part of an ongoing effort to broaden the scope of their students’ “worldview”. This exchange was built entirely on the principle of diplomacy and understanding. In a world where there is increasing pressure on our generation to understand and reconcile the disparity between so many diverse people, this kind of pure diplomacy is comforting to me.

I started the day by following my cadet to a civil engineering class of 18 students where we discussed the importance of dams and levees. Cadets were asked thought provoking questions about the theory behind the science, and my brain was racing to come up with answers too. A cadet to my left looked weary, her head bobbed and her eyelids struggled to stay open. A cadet in front of me was eager to answer every question, even if his answer wasn’t related there was an unwavering desire to participate. I observed the class and struggled to scribble notes that would make my Army Civil Engineer of a grandfather proud.

We left class and headed to get breakfast in a scene that could easily be transported to any college campus in America, the only distinguishing factor was that the people here were dressed in camouflage and their posture was above average. There was chocolate milk and cheese egg sandwiches in this convenience style store where students shuffled in the line waiting anxiously to swipe their cards and fill their hungry bellies. We sat at a table with my friend from CIA and her cadet. We talked about daily routines and the application process to West Point. We exchanged stories about classes, weekend plans, weird rituals, and dating on our respective campuses.

After breakfast, the four of us stuck together and we toured the library and talked about what daily life is like at West Point. Then my cadet and I changed into exercise clothes and ran around campus with a flag as part of a memorial service to keep a flag running on campus from sunrise to sunset in memorial of September 11th.

September 11th was a particularly interesting day to be at West Point, in my opinion, because my eyes were opened to an attitude about these tragic events that I couldn’t understand as a civilian. For a bit of background, my best friend’s father was working at the Pentagon the day that a plane flew into a portion of the building and rocked his world. With every bit of gratefulness in my heart, I am able to say that my best friend’s father was completely unscathed. I remember that day with great clarity though. My house is a short 20 minutes from the Pentagon and that tragedy is very real in my mind. When September 11th arrives each year, I want to honor the day with solemnity and a grave sense of respect.

At West Point, every action appears to be soaked with reverence for something bigger than ourselves. It was eye-opening to me that on September 11th at West Point, the people of West Point continued to observe a natural pattern of respect but also an underlying desire to look forward and not dwell on the pain of our past. It appears that there is desire for strength and ambition to convey their firm resolve to demonstrate resilience and an unwavering committment to our country even in the face of immeasurable loss and devastating heartbreak. The last thing they want is pity. The tragedy of September 11th is real and painful to the cadets and faculty and the family at West Point in a way that cannot be compared to those outside of the direct effects of that autumn day in 2001. I am not minimizing or invalidating pain for those outside of West Point, but rather propsing that West Point as part of the military is a unique community where every single person feels the effect of September 11th. What I mean to say above all though, is that when pain strikes at the core of the human heart, there is a desire to seek refuge from the hurt but also a bigger desire to look forward and seek healing from the loss. I never could have understood this principle without witnessing the desire to look forward set by the example of the people at West Point on September 11th, 2013.

We ate lunch with the cadets in an incredible exercise of efficiency while their mess hall filled with approximately 4,000 cadets that were served and each consumed lunch in less than 20 minutes. As cooks, this feat left the jaws gaping of the CIA students. How could 4,000 people be served and finish eating in 20 minutes? It was amazing and unthinkable to us.

After lunch, it appeared that the CIA students had lost all control of their jaws because they continued to hang open as we toured the kitchen where technology, proficiency, and expertise came together to form a beautiful symphony of food production. We pranced around a kitchen that oozed professionalism and immaculate standards. Not only was there technology beyond our imagination but everything was so spotless---it seemed untouched. How had the everyday use of hot ovens and sticky residue escaped these pots and pans? They couldn’t possibly be brand new, but everything appeared new. Our minds struggled to grasp this newfound, sparkling reality that the West Point kitchens encompassed.

After lunch, the cadets and the CIA students gathered in a conference room to discuss the day and also a book we’d read, Soldier’s Heart, written by West Point’s English Professor Elizabeth Samet, that examined some of the intimate realities of a West Point cadet. A thought provoking discussion ensued about finding the balance between individuality and conformity. Both CIA and West Point share a common mission in developing leaders who adopt a certain set of ideals while also learning how to create a personal credo reflective of their own personality. It can be a fitful dichotomy to exist in, but one that is certainly worth attaining.

Read more about the exchange experience:
CIA/West Point Collaboration, Part 2: @CIA
CIA/West Point Collaboration, Part 3: Significance