Tuesday, December 31, 2013

More Than a Station

by Gareth Alonso, AOS Culinary, from La Papillote

Extern. Such a little word that can cause any lowly culinary student to shiver at the thought. Both the position, and the manual that goes along with it, loom above us all and becomes a giant chasm that seems to always be sitting right there between us and a degree at the end. Having just completed it and being back at school I feel like I have some new found respect for everything that it entails.

When I was at school last spring, I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was a little kid always running to Chef. I was so unsure of myself and second guessed pretty much everything that I was doing in class. Arriving at my extern site I knew that I would be the lowest man on the totem pole. I was ready for this, but as time went by I was getting more and more agitated and jaded with this position I was in. I worked like an employee and was on par with most of them skill wise, but was still just an extern.

I kept my mouth shut and in time, whether because of staffing shortages or because they may have seen that I was capable of more, in their infinite wisdom they decided to make me Chef de Partie of the garde manger station (at least a few times a week anyway).

I was very nervous at first and the more I thought about it the more I thought I would fall back into that uneasy nervous kid again. I was afraid that I wasn’t ready for such a responsibility. To not only get my work done but to make sure the other workers would be able to get their prep done as well, and on top of that to come up with a different VIP amuse to be served each night seemed like the biggest challenge in the world at the time. I knew their strengths and weaknesses, along with mine, and had to try and successfully get us through the end of the night. I had never been in a position such as this before and all things that I tried to soak up in my Intro to Management class I completed before extern, began coursing through my mind and cluttering up my head.

On my walk to work that fateful day I came to the realization that if things went horribly wrong, in the end, my chefs would not let me fail. They COULD not let me fail. They would not allow dishes from my station to be off the menu for the night; that would just make them look bad. Walking through the doors that day I tried to keep this thought in my head. I approached my colleagues and told them that they knew what had to be done by service and to just make sure they got it done, and if they could try not to make me look bad during the process that would be the cherry on top. The shift went very smoothly and the little “extern chef de partie” experiment seemed a success. And then I began to be regularly placed in this position.

I started feeling like a part of something bigger. Before this point I had always felt like just a station. The chef would always yell “Garde manger!” but it was never anything more personal. I wanted to be MORE than a station; I didn’t just want to be a cog in the machine, I wanted to be a gear. By this time I became responsible for other people at my station. If there was a problem the chef would come to ME and address ME! I knew that the problem they may be talking about wasn’t even necessarily my fault, but it was the fault of someone I was responsible for and therefore it became my problem. I had matured from the nervous, uneasy student I was at culinary school and became a man. Work became much more fulfilling and the rest of my extern felt less like a chore.

I want to end by encouraging future students looking for extern to get outside your comfort zones and challenge yourselves. Don’t take the easy route. I know the chefs have told you this, and I know that most things they tell us goes into our consideration, hopefully. But if you don’t listen to them, maybe you’ll listen to one of your peers. I can only hope that those leaving soon and those who are still looking make the most of it. It is the best chance to go out there and do something crazy; it’s not your career yet.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Culinary Science Field Trip!

by CIA student blogger Kristin

Wednesday December 18th marked another one of those moments where I am extremely grateful to be involved with the first class of CIA’s Culinary Science major. This event was a field trip to a local production company in Poughkeepsie titled EFCO. Although this major company exists only 15 minutes away from campus, I had never seen it before. Here is some background information on the company for those of you who (like me) didn’t know otherwise:

-          EFCO was founded in 1903 as a producer of Animal Feed and Flour
Photo courtesy of www.EFCOproducts.com
-          The company has always been family owned and is still a privately held company
-          EFCO is currently the only privately held company in the United States that produces both fillings (such as jams and jellies) and dry mixes
-          They produce for clientele all over the world, their main international business being in Korea
-          Some of their products include bakery fillings, mixes, concentrates, beverage syrups, toppings and other specialty products
-          Although they do not sell any direct retail, EFCO supplies chain restaurants, food processors, supermarket bakeries, and wholesale bakeries amongst others
-          They are a relatively small company producing 60 -65 million pounds of product per year with only about 75 employees  
-          EFCO works with major companies such as Dunkin' Donuts and Chick-fil-A

To begin our tour, we met with a representative from the research and development team at EFCO, Matt Plaza, who is himself a graduate of the CIA. He has been working for this company for some time now and was able to give us great insight on what it means to be an alumnus of The Culinary working at a small production company. He greeted us in a plain looking room adorned with chairs around the outside walls and one table containing colorful samples in the middle. After our history lesson on the company, we were invited to try the different spreads and fillings. These included classics such as Bavarian Kreme and Blueberry Jelly to more adventurous products such as a chunky Mango Filling and a bright green Kiwi Jelly.

After our tasting, it was time to begin the tour. Unfortunately, because this is a major production company, protocol states that picture taking is not allowed. Because of this, I will have to paint pictures with my words as best as possible!

We began our tour in the facility’s test kitchen and quality assurance lab. The test kitchen looked like the set of a cooking show. The square room was lined with counters and cabinets holding appliances which were all surrounding the middle island. The only thing that set this kitchen apart was some of the high tech equipment being used by EFCO to create small batch recipes. As we passed through quality assurance to continue our tour, we were allowed to ask some of the workers about what they do on a daily basis. Each employee had great insight on the scientific side of creating quality products.

From these relatively small rooms we traveled into the heart of the warehouses. We started in the production room where workers were emptying out boxes of raw ingredients into large vats used to both cook and stir the products. These vats were so huge that the workers had to stand on special platforms to reach their openings. The vats were run by large control boards with buttons labeled for specific ingredients such as sugar, cornstarch, or water. Many of these large vats were connected to pipes that led to adjacent rooms, giving EFCO the ability to easily move product.

Photo courtesy of EFCO Products Inc. Facebook page
at www.facebook.com
We continued from the production of the fillings to the room that held all of the dry ingredient and mixes. Although we were still in the same building, it felt like we had stepped into a different world. The first few rooms we had seen were full of industrial equipment that was constantly creating fillings and jellies that could not necessarily be seen. In the dry mix room however, all of the products were stored in plain sight on high rising shelving units along the walls of the warehouse. Within the storehouse, we were invited to climb up a long ladder leading to loft overlooking all of the dry ingredients. On this loft sat a large mixing tank, connected to dry ingredient silos outside, that automatically mixed together the right ratios of dry ingredients for the mixes.

After we had seen both sides of production, it was time to go downstairs and witness the packaging that EFCO performs. Out of the entire tour, this was the part that I was most impressed with and surprised by.  Entering onto the production floor was like entering a different world. It almost felt like we had stepped into Willy Wonka’s factory. Many different machines were moving products from one side of the room to the next with the greatest of ease. No corner of this basement packaging plant was left unused. As far as the eye could see boxes were spiraling, zig-zagging and scooting towards their final destinations. In a matter of seconds what was merely individual product was sorted, labeled, counted, packaged and stacked to be shipped out to clients all over the world. The amazement at this room alone made me wonder what the guts of an even larger packaging company must look like.

The last step on our tour was to view the warehouse where packaged product is stored before being shipped. We crossed the street to a simple looking warehouse reminiscent of an airplane hangar. Upon walking in, we were immediately hit with the splendor of the warehouse. It was huge and extremely organized with shelving units up to the ceiling filled with boxes and barrels of product. We even got to witness a palette of boxes get wrapped for shipment with a “plastic wrap robot”. This invention may seem obscure to some but for those of you who have wrapped a speed rack with plastic in your life, you’d be impressed by this machine!

At the end of the tour, we were invited to ask any lingering questions and of course encouraged to keep in touch in the future. I am looking forward to a potential second visit to the company’s headquarters and for developing the CIA’s relationship with EFCO in the future! 

Friday, December 27, 2013


by CIA student blogger Kristin

Like I mentioned in my previous entry, I have never been on campus throughout the holiday season. This year, my third year as a CIA student, I am finally around to enjoy all that the season has to offer. Because I am in love with anything Christmas, I have been trying to get involved with all the events being hosted on campus this month. Although I sadly had to miss the screening of “Elf” last week, I was able to make what I have always been told is the main event of the holiday season here at the CIA.

Two Saturdays ago, December 14th, the Culinary hosted their annual Bada Bingo night. When first told about the event from friends of mine, I have to admit I had my doubts. How could bingo, the national pastime of senior citizen homes, be made relevant to college students? They assured me however, that I could not be more wrong.

In the weeks leading up to the event, posters went up specifying that tickets were to be sold at the Student Recreation Center on campus. Students were encouraged to arrive early to claim their place on line.Though I still could not believe the event would be this popular, on the opening day of ticket sales students lined the entire gym. It became apparent that this event was important to the student body. Even those who just started school were willing to wait for a chance to be a part of this holiday event. Suddenly 350 seats did not seem to be enough for anyone. Truth be told, I did not even wait in line this first day to get my ticket. I obviously still had my doubts about “bingo” and “fun” being in the same sentence. After hearing about the length of the line the first day however, I was happy to get a seat as a walk-in on the day of the event.

Farquharson was packed. The long tables usually set up for lunch and dinner were crawling with students dressed in their favorite winter sweaters. Those working the event were circling the room sporting holiday appropriate costumes. The true activity in the room, however, could be seen on the front stage. It was set up like a traditional bingo hall, containing a main table with a ball spinner to draw the winning numbers from. To the left of this table, stood the Christmas tree which was protecting a giant pile of gifts under its branches. These were the winning prizes.

Each student was given a packet of five game boards, instructions and a giant bingo marker. After a brief introduction from our hosts, the games were underway. The first round was played like original bingo with the contestant needing to line five spots to get bingo. The next four rounds, however, were themed with Christmas formations to spice the game up. The formations were a reindeer herd, a wreath, a Christmas tree, and a blizzard. As students completed these formations, they were required to yell “Bada Bingo!” and were invited to walk through the jealous student body to make their way to the front stage. If all the numbers matched up, they were met with applause from the audience and awarded their prize which included items such as a TV, an iPad, and a whole array of kitchen tools.

While these standard rounds of bingo were exciting and admittedly more fun than I imagined, the true holiday excitement came between the bingo. Each break consisted of mini games with opportunities to win prizes. As a game of bingo would come to a close, those working the event would come into the audience asking for volunteers. They were met with an uproar of students jumping up and down trying to be picked for whatever crazy stunt they had to do in order to win prizes. Some of these crazy stunts included:

  • Trivia from the popular holiday movie “Elf”
  • Unwrapping presents: A small slip of paper is wrapped in the middle of many individually wrapped boxes. The first contestant to find the slip wins the prize!
  • The price is right: A table of common kitchen items is presented to a contestant. If the contestant guesses the prices of each item correctly they are awarded a prize!
  • Eggnog Challenge: 6 contestants are each given their own quart of eggnog. Whoever finishes the quart of eggnog first wins a prize.
  • Elf Spaghetti: Inspired by the scene in “Elf” where he eats spaghetti and candy for breakfast, a contestant has to eat their way through a combination of candy, spaghetti and other foods in order to win a prize.

The night ended with t-shirts that sported the phrases “naughty” or “nice” being launched through the air at the audience. I, sadly, a was too far back to have caught any of these flying prizes. As my first and last Bada Bingo experience at the CIA came to a close, I couldn’t help but wish I had been able to make it to the event in years past. I am grateful, however, that I got to experience the event at least once before leaving The Culinary. Seeing so many students in one place sharing not only the spirit of the holidays but also the spirit of our school was moving. Those friends of mine who told me not to miss this event were a thousand percent correct. I will never forget my holiday experiences here at the CIA!

Friday, December 20, 2013

tis the season

by student blogger Leah

May your hot chocolate be warm, and not scalding
May your family be patient
May your travels be safe
May your ham be just the right amount of salty
May your cookies be sweet
May your heart be full
May your boots be warm
May your gifts be welcome
May your disagreements be gracious
May your body be rested
May your hands be helpful

Happy Holidays!

Thursday, December 19, 2013

our dishwashers

by student blogger Leah

Smoothies occupied a great deal of my attention in elementary school. The seemingly mysterious result that would occur from ingredients hardly ceased to amaze me.

The dirty blenders, paring knives, cutting boards, and juicers quickly ceased to impress my mom. I would mix peanut butter, strawberries, frozen guava paste, milk, and chocolate chips together....it wouldn't have the texture that I dreamed of, so I would leave it in the sink as a casualty of my experimentation while I slunk off defeated and guilty enough to do homework.

My mom would always wash those dishes.

Two months ago when I was home, we fell into our assumed roles again where I descended upon our kitchen in a fury and she cleaned up the pieces. This time, the culprit was mini pecan pies.

I snuck out the door, and swiped a tear from my face as I recognized the history that was being repeated. She is tireless in her efforts to support me. Just as I suspected when I came home later that weekend, my dishes were cleaned.

Life is constantly about balance and I would be base to argue that my mom and I have reached any sort of balance. Balance implies a mutual benefit to both sides.

I will argue that dishwashers are the legs to support any cook. Restaurant kitchens, bakeries, homes, and church suppers all have dishwashers. Cooks would be defenseless against hunger without their dishwashers. They're the unsung heroes of food.

Do what you can to restore a bit of the balance today, hug your dishwasher and make sure their belly is full.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

a true teacher

by student blogger Leah

We had been caught.

And it dawned on me why she had that emotion in her eyes and that strain in her voice. Her words were full of admonishment, but her eyes betrayed her. She was scared.

My class had been assigned a reading about power, and we hadn't read it. So the discussion was about as one sided as they come. She was asking the questions to a room full of blank faces. We avoided her eyes and dodged her questions because we didn't know what she was talking about.

I would be annoyed if I were the teacher and my class had simply disregarded their responsibility and now I was busy having a conversation with myself. She already knew this stuff.

That wasn't what made her angry. She was angry because she feared that we would be taken advantage of, but more importantly it appeared that she was the only who cared.

My perception of this woman as my teacher changed forever that day. She is invested in our futures to the point where her body is wrought with physical pain when it appears that we do not care for ourselves. That we aren't guarding ourselves against the corruption of power or the abuse of ignorance, keeps her awake at night and I saw it on her face that day in our classroom. It is embarrassing to admit that there are days when she cares about us more than we do.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Look Around Right Now

Two plastic storage bins are full by the front door in my apartment and I've started packing. My roommate approached me about the possibility of a graduation party. I have been trying to get on the phone this morning with my new landlord in the new city where I will move after graduation. I want to sell my car.

And yet, I'm teary-eyed and blubbery over the beauty of the flames flickering in the library's fireplace. My nose froze outside today with our first real snow of the year, but I'm even nostalgic about experiencing the harsh New England winters that were foreign to me before I lived in the Hudson Valley.

This dichotomy of pressure to complete tasks next to poignant moments when I'm filled with emotion, has left me very tired recently.

I'm scared and excited. The anticipation that I had in high school as I left home and started my new college life was cool in retrospect and I desperately wish that three years from now--these last few days in college are cool too.

Right now though, my anticipation is bordering on anxiety. My excitement is reassuring in a fleeting way but it rarely sticks around long enough to rid the stress tied up in the horrid knot that is permanently occupying space in my right shoulder.

I have a job and I am ready to sign a lease that doesn't involve my parent's basement (there is nothing wrong with that, by the way). I'm in a really good place. The stress of contacting restaurants and lugging my heavy backpack around while I slept on couches and tried to find a job is now a thing of the past. But I'm still so nervous about graduation.

I'm nervous about leaving my friends. I'm nervous about leaving the wisdom and guidance and love and support that I have found in these halls. I'm nervous about remembering everything that I've learned. I'm nervous about paying back these loans. I'm nervous about being successful and happy.

I've also been heavily analyzing my steps these past few weeks and this is what I've got. It may be rubbish, or there may be a tiny nugget that you can relate to. I hope for the latter.

Keep e-mailing that chef who holds the key to your dream job. Don't be rude, and don't you dare be whiny. Simple, professional, straightforward, and concise e-mails about what you want and inquiry about what needs to be done to get it. Maybe 15 times. If there is no response, then start getting creative. But don't give up. She just might call you back.

Tell people what you're thinking about and where you want to go because you never know who might have the network to catapult you into an incredibly advantageous position. It may not behoove you to gush about the restaurant and your destiny to work there because you never know who might also decide that they too must go. So be careful and be slightly ambiguous if you can't trust someone not to steal your brilliant career. But talk. Talk, talk, talk, talk. And ask people for advice.

Embrace the new but also remain confident in the old. I was caught off guard when a prospective employer offered their cell phone number and started texting me to figure out the details of my interview. If it seems totally normal to other people, then this isn't the first time that I've been accused of being a grandma in my old-fashioned views. However, if it is a surprise to others then let me take you through my thought process. Texting is a form of communication that only seems strange because of its recent invention and often casual nature. If we examine communication through history, couldn't it be said that there was a time when letters were strange when face to face was preferred? Or faxes were weird? Or e-mails? So the day has arrived when e-mail is occupying almost the same space as a texting format on phones. This could be an entire anthropological study. When it came time for an official job offer, I did ask for an e-mail because I feel confident with e-mails. But I also have to wonder, why not text?

Keep going, even when you have no idea where you're headed. I am constantly trying to chart my path and keep track of my direction. I want everything to be meaningful and purposeful. Each bit of energy that I expel should be focused and part of a trajectory towards something. I have spent many nights searching for apartments or cars on craigslist, only to change my mind. I have written many blog posts that seem really silly in retrospect. It is hard sometimes to understand the path that I'm creating, but I have to just keep creating a path. I make colossal mistakes and serious miscalculations, but I'm moving and I'm not sitting still---and I'm proud of that.

So look around right now and remember what you see.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Giving Tuesday- Children's Holiday Party

by student blogger Kristin

Every year around the holiday season, a campaign titled “Giving Tuesday” is launched to promote charity in every sense of the word. Although I have been a student at the CIA for three years now, I have always somehow missed the holiday season here on campus. I left on extern in November my freshman year and graduated with my associates’ degree a year after that. Needless to say, I was excited to experience all that the CIA had to offer for the holidays, including volunteer opportunities.

I started to search for ways to help out and become a part of the CIA’s “Giving Tuesday” initiative. There of course were many chances to use the kitchen skills learned here at school to help those in need. However, it was not until I checked my student portal one day that I found the unique event I wanted to volunteer for and document as a part of giving Tuesday.

For over 25 years, the CIA has hosted a Children’s Holiday Party especially for faculty, staff, and family members of the school. Being a part of this event was the perfect fit for me. Firstly, I knew it would be the perfect way to say thank you to the chefs who have worked so hard for my education as well as all the staff members behind the scenes that keep operations at the school running smoothly. Secondly, I love being able to bring holiday joy to children during the holiday season. There is no greater reward to hard work than making a child happy.

The event was this past Sunday December 8th from 9am to 12 pm. Upon arrival, guests were directed into the student dining hall for breakfast. A long buffet table with delicious pastries, fruits, and beverages met those entering into the hall. Moving further into the hall, the families were met with various holiday decorations. The stage in the front of the room boasted a long table piled high with brightly wrapped presents, a tall glowing Christmas tree, and an elegant throne for the guest of honor who was to arrive later. The decorations were not only stationary however. Moving amongst all the tables and guests were some recognizable characters including Frosty, Rudolph, Mrs. Claus and one of Santa’s elves. Seeing the hall decorated in this way was especially moving for me. Farquharson is the student dining where I have spent many hours eating, studying and relaxing with friends over the years. Having the opportunity to see it decked out for the holidays was priceless.

After breakfast came my favorite part of the event, craft time. Long tables were set up in the main hallway of Roth, each containing a different craft for the children to create. These crafts included making ornaments, assembling clothes pin snowmen, decorating gift bags, and icing gingerbread cookies that were graciously provided by the Baking and Pastry Society on campus. I watched as all the children excitedly dragged their family members to the different tables. After they had plenty of time to do crafts, the kids proudly showed their relatives the labors of their hard work. It was so nice to watch families come together to create holiday decorations and memories.

As the time for Santa’s arrival got closer, some live musical entertainment was being performed in the main hall. To open up the show, the school’s own Culinary Notes performed accapella versions of some favorite holiday tunes. After this beautiful performance, musician Mark Rust took the stage. For the past 6 years, Mark Rust has been coming to the Culinary to perform a variety of holiday favorites. Not only did he sing these songs brilliantly, Mark also invited those in the audience to join him in singing. He had a great presence on the stage that helped all the families remember what the holidays are all about.

At the end of his session, Mark played the iconic song “Santa Claus is coming to Town” introducing the main event of the morning. While the song started to play, a door opened in the back of the hall and Santa Claus greeted all the cheering children. Watching the children’s’ eyes light up as Santa Claus crossed to the front of the room made all the hard work of the day worthwhile. Santa took his throne on the front stage of the hall and the true festivities began. Children and their families were invited to come up individually, meet with Santa, and receive and personal gift. I got to watch many of the gifts get handed out and even helped a few families catch this perfect photo op. Nothing beats meeting Santa during the holidays.

After the gifts were given, the families began to filter out, each child happily playing with the toy they had just received from Santa. We were all thanked by the passing families for the wonderful work we had put into making the day possible. Although I was cleaning up and could not say it at the time, a thank you from them was not necessary. If it were not for the hard work of the employees and chefs, the CIA would never be the same. They sacrifice so much of their time and attention to make sure that we as students get the best education and experience possible. For this I am truly thankful and would volunteer to help out anytime to show them my appreciation.

Many people should be thanked for making this day possible. On the list of those contributing are CIA Human Resources, The Culinary Teacher's Association, and The Culinary Craft Association. This beautiful event would not have been possible without the hard work put into the day by the two co-chairs Tim Callahan and Sue Huag. These two individuals are extremely hard working and take pride in putting on this event. They were the first to arrive on site and the last to leave all while keeping a warm smile and a happy holiday spirit. Last but certainly not least, a huge thank you to those students who volunteered their time for a sunday morning including,Carly Rapp, Alyssa Debernardo, James Grill, Jonathan Crostley, Nicole Cancerni, Michael Brown,Paul Assanah, Aaron Gonnelly, and Marissa Zapatka.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

My 5 Favorite Foods Homework Assignment

by CIA student blogger Leah

She didn't realize what a profound impact her gift would have on me. My mom gave me the book titled, Food Jobs by Irena Chalmers, when I was in high school. It became clear to me that a culinary profession was dignified, possible, important, and exciting. So I went to culinary school. Five years later, I am one of Ms. Chalmer's students in her Food Writing class.

Her assignment to us was as follows: make a list of your five favorite foods and in 15 words or less, describe why you like it.

An intriguing exercise in analyzing my intimate preferences, this homework achieved exactly what I believe homework should achieve. The assignment was thought provoking, manageable, reflective, critical, and interesting.

These Are a Few of My Favorite Things
1. Butter (for versatility)
Brake pads and tape are the only places that it doesn’t belong.

2. Prosciutto (for stunning simplicity)
The simple flavors have layered themselves to create something complex.

3. Peaches (for natural perfection)
Nature got it right, don't even try to make them better. Just please, don't.

4. Cookies and Cream Milkshakes (for balance)
Simultaneously crunchy and creamy, this milkshake achieves inspiring balance.

5. Fried Chicken (for possibilities)
Spicy, sweet, crispy, crunchy, juicy, dry, salty, or cold, it's always delicious.

I have been here for over three years now, and I still struggle to reconcile the reality that this is my real homework sometimes. I just keep asking myself, how did I get so lucky?