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

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