Thursday, January 30, 2014

On Staging: Getting the most out of the experience

by student blogger Morgan

Greetings friends and culinarians, remember me? I'm crawling out of my externship hole and making a come back to the blogosphere. First upa little bit about what to expect from a stage experience, and a few things to do to hopefully make it a positive one. The winter career fair is right around the corner (seriously, next week!) and hopefully you'll emerge with interviews and stages scheduled. Staging is going to an externship or job site and working for a day or two to show them your skills and see if it's a good fit for both of you. Staging is a great way to get jobs or just to see how a restaurant you're really interested in works.

I recently completed my externship at the Inn at Little Washington in Virginia where we were lucky to have a few students come down from the CIA to stage for both externship positions and a full-time hire while I was there. They were all really awesome and it got me thinking of a few things I wished I had known when I was staging for my extern, and some more to keep in mind as I move on to the hunt for a big job.

photo cred:

1. Get directions: Even if your GPS will bring you to the restaurant, it can't always point you to the office or building where you need to go first. Make sure you ask ahead of time for directions from the HR director or whoever you've been in closest contact with. Maybe you did a phone interview and the head chef invited you to come down for a stage. At the end of your conversation, they will surely ask if you have any questions...I wished I had asked this one!

2. Reach out to CIA students: It's the network we pay pretty good money for, is it not?? If it's an approved externship site then that means a student from the CIA has been there before. Career Services can put you into contact with any current student or alumnus who has recently externed there very easily. I have also never met a CIA studentformer or currentwho doesn't enjoy helping out a fellow student. What can we say, hospitality is just in our nature. So go ahead, ask everything you've been wondering from the kitchen atmosphere to their deepest cronut secret. I asked our very own blogger Leah a bajillion questions because we externed at the same site, and it put me so at ease to move to Virginia.

3. Wear business casual: In the kitchen they will either provide you with a full uniform or allow you to wear your school uniform. If they are providing you with a uniform, you're going to arrive on the property wearing something elsemake it count. It might be the first impression that you make in person to your future employer, plus a lot of restaurants on our list have dining room dress codes. You'll feel out of place in jeans and a t-shirt. Definitely make a point to ask your on-site contact what you should wear to the stage and they will solve the mystery.

4. Bring a Pen: Along the same lines, if the property is providing you with a uniform you won't have everything you usually have ready to go in your CIA jacket. Make sure you bring it! It is so funny the things that employers notice that you may not pay attention to, but preparedness is definitely one. You are showing up to work so bring your pen/sharpie/thermometer/notebook/etc. Take lots of notes and learn everything you can. Psssst: if they let you write recipes down, why not? Also be sure to ask if you should bring your tools, or if they will provide them for you. Don't assume.

5. Ask questions: Lots! Don't be shy, they know you have 'em. Above all I know that what my site looked for in an extern or hire was interest. All employers want to hire employees who want to work for them, so make sure you do your research and show up with lots of questions. Everywhere you go is going to do something differently from the CIA so even if you just ask over and over, "Why this?" or "What's your reasoning for that?" you can learn a lot from any experience.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

The Post We've All Been Waiting For

by CIA Student Leah

Glad you didn't hold your breath for my China post, huh?

Well guess what folks like this beautiful bride who I encountered on the streets of the Bamboo Forest, she's finally arrived.

From the bottom of my heart, I am sorry that this has taken so long and I can explain in one minute, but I will also be honest: I like moments like this. I didn't intend to make my China blog post, my final post on the CIA blog but I like that I'm going out the same way that I came in---with China on the mind. It is after all one of my most significant CIA experiences.

So why has it taken so long? Because I have tried my best to capture China's magic but she is a wild thing that must be experienced firsthand to truly value her acquaintance, and attempting to tame my memory into a collection of meaningful statements has been quite a feat.

I have a penchant for lists, especially in situations where I need a strong hand on my thought organization. So here's what I've prepared for you, dear reader. Sweet travels and happy reading.

Seven Things I Learned on My Food, Wine & (Agri)Culture Trip to China

1. Try to speak the native language. Just try.
My most commonly used phrase in China was “how much is this?” The irony in my use of this one Mandarin phrase is that I never once understood the reply. And I didn’t mind the awkward situation that would ensue when I would immediately follow up my one measly Mandarin phrase with pleading English asking the question again, or I would instantly produce a piece of paper and pencil with Arabic numerals to negotiate a price. It was far from graceful, but almost always effective. If I was lucky enough to snag Chef Cheng as my personal tour guide while we walked around a market, my experience was heightened by her exquisite depth of knowledge and deft Chinese language skills. People in China love her.
As for me, I like to believe that people were willing to communicate with me because I extended an effort initially, a miniscule one as it were, to make this relationship work. It was further proof that we constantly appreciate and respond when someone else is willing to take the first step towards cooperation in a relationship.

2. Do your daily exercise
When faced with a toilet that requires squatting, one will find the entire experience more manageable with strong glutes and a stable lower back. In addition when your skin and bones are faced with the Great Wall, your body will welcome the challenge of the oscillating mountain step path (that’s really what it is after all) if your calves are defined and your lungs have had a good test drive.

3. Eat it
Crunchy duck intestines cooked in spicy oil or crispy fried scorpions purchased from a street vendor. Steaming Jasmine tea sipped during a traditional Chinese tea ceremony or oily dan dan noodles at the hotel eaten as an introduction to this faraway land after traveling for close to 24 hours. Creamy pig brains eaten with chopsticks or late night salty cheese lobster flavor potato chips. Stinky rice liquor that burns every part of your throat or juicy lychees that leave your hands stickier than they were in your childhood. Thin pockets of fried dough with mystery filling that were ordered simply by pointing, or the allure of a rich compound soy sauce that covered pork dumplings.
I could follow every single food item with a story. This sheer fact served as further proof that food is not merely substance but rather a collection of emotions, experiences, ideas, and circumstances. It is intimate in a way that I didn’t understand until I trusted a stranger enough to feed me. There is an undeniable exchange of trust when you open your stomach to another’s cooking.
Sometimes it will be a disaster. And sometimes your memory is permanently altered by a flavor.


4. People are people
The familiar smell of roasted coffee fluttered around on the sidewalk one rainy afternoon in southern China, and my heart settled into the warmth of the shop as soon as the doors opened. About halfway through the trip, I was exhausted from feeling like an outsider. By traveling with 20 other American college students, I was constantly surrounded by the glances from Chinese people who recognized that we were tourists. When my friend and I set foot in this coffee shop, the shopkeepers welcomed us with charming hospitality. For two espressos, a cappuccino, and a citrus water, my friend and I forgot that we were drenched in a painful stigma of being a tourist. During a late night walk around the city of Chengdu, we found 200+ people dancing in a park square to classical music. As a gentle woman held my hands and twirled me across the stone square, I knew that I was exactly where I needed to be in the world.
The coffee shop and the dancing square were two places where I satisfied a craving that I believe is innate for many humans: the desire to belong. My physical appearance betrays the mystery of my national identity and denies the idea that I am a Chinese citizen. During my time in China, I was often treated like an outsider and people responded to me like they knew who I was because of my physical appearance. I was a prisoner of bad American stereotypes and I was constantly at the mercy of a stranger’s judgment. Make no mistake, many people were inexplicably kind and welcoming to our group. The experience of being objectified as a symbol and not valued for my individuality was unforgettably painful. I aim to be a traveler and not a tourist, one who respects the differences and accepts the education with a humble attitude and an open heart.

5. Walk alone
Escaping the influence of other’s comments or interpretations allowed my mind the opportunity to foster my own perception and support my individual experience. I always told people where I was going and when I expected to be back. Those details are the difference between being reckless wanderer and an explorer.

6. Be comfortable
Being comfortable took a few different forms. My clothing was practical and reliable. I chose the articles that made me feel confident and sensible, consequently both emotions ensued for at least the first hour after I got dressed each day but usually dissipated as I wandered the streets of a foreign land. I also packed a reasonable bag that contained only the essentials and included extra space for items that I collected along the way. Finally, I was comfortable in my room by taking naps or closing my eyes to relax in the sun. Those moments of stolen comfort are regenerative in a way that cannot be measured.

photo credit: Matt Lorman

7. Bring toilet paper
Every place in the world is unique. Sometimes the variations are stark and other times they go unnoticed. I didn’t comprehend the unique characteristics of a place including my own hometown until I started to travel. We often call them differences, but really that word is only appropriate based on our individual experience. It’s a selfish word in some regard because it can subconsciously lend an attitude that makes one place or tradition, “normal” and the second place or tradition, “weird”. This is evident in the fact that to me, something as simple as toilet paper seems “normal” to expect next to a toilet, however in China that is not the case for public toilets. Of course in homes, hotels, or fancy restaurants, you will find toilet paper. But no toilet paper in the bathroom at a museum is not “weird” to a Chinese person. When I was in China, I learned to play by their rules and accept the normal that was present there.

So what does all of this mean?

photo credit: Kristina Preka

I have officially caught the travel bug and find my mind captivated at the thought of uncharted frontiers in the far corners of this world. The possibilities are overwhelming and inspiring. After all of this, one thing is for certain: my heart now includes the people, food, sights, sounds, smells, traditions, ideas, and rituals of China.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Externship Hunt

by Connor White, AOS Culinary, from La Papillote

            Earlier this month, The Culinary Institute of America was flooded by over 100 perspective employers seeking out one thing: CIA students. The November Career Fair was an incredible affair for all that were involved. As a fairly new culinary student myself, I needed this opportunity to find an externship.

            I suppose I should give you a little bit of my back story. You see, before attending the CIA I was the person who had high goals and standards and I always reached them. I was more committed than any competitor, more knowledgeable, and in short worked to ensure that I was the overall best candidate for any endeavor that I set my mind to. Finding my dream externship then should have been a piece of cake right? Wrong.

            Throughout my first semester at The Culinary Institute of America, I have noticed myself becoming more career minded, adopting the overall feeling of the school itself. With our externships being such a large part of the school’s curriculum, it is essential for students to find their opportunity as soon as possible. I was not the student who procrastinated doing little to no prior research before the career fair. In fact I was the opposite. My second day at CIA, I found myself sitting in one of the offices at Career Services trying to educate myself on everything I would need to know to find a fitting externship opportunity. Before my first Career Fair, I had sent my resume and cover letter to nearly half a dozen approved externship opportunities.

            I began my search at Bon Appétit Magazine, an externship that would take place in test kitchens. This, I knew was my dream externship and I was sure that it would be mine. I found their contact information, refined my resume with Career Services, and wrote a cover letter. One of my brother’s friends works as a writer at Bon Appétit Magazine. I decided that I should meet up with her to discuss the company and the industry itself. Meeting with her was immensely helpful and she even sent a letter of recommendation on my behalf. At this point I felt like I had a leg up on my competition. About a week after sending my information, I had my response. This time it was bad news. Bon Appétit had changed the format of their internship, making it no longer an approved externship site. I was completely and utterly shocked. Never in my life had I received a denial like this. Needless to say I was crushed. First rejection check.

            After a moment of self-pity, and a night with old friends Ben and Jerry I decided that it was time to continue my search. This time I found an opportunity working for San Francisco Chronicle Food and Wine Section Test Kitchen. After revising my cover letter and resume, I sent it out. Shortly after I received their call and had an excellent phone interview. At the end of the interview, I was asked to submit a few letters of recommendation. Quickly, I asked for my letter and awaited their completion.

            At this point, the Career Fair was here. I was already in the process of setting up a seemingly perfect externship so I didn’t think that the Career Fair would be a great use for me. However, in the interest of finding a back up plan, I attended the fair with the thought that I wasn’t actually going to go to one of these sites. After wandering around I found an interesting product development externship in Chicago. After speaking with them, I couldn’t help but sign up for an interview with them the following day. After hitting it off with an incredible interview, I was unsure of what to do. The same Career Fair I had nearly pushed aside had presented me with an incredible opportunity. My only thought was to pursue both possibilities until I heard back with both answers.

            Finally after receiving my letters of recommendation for the San Francisco Chronicle, I emailed them to get their mailing address. The following day I checked my email and noticed their response. Expecting nothing more than an address, I was surprised when I found that they too had responded with bad news. Apparently their recipe column is being discontinued starting in the beginning of 2014. This means their test kitchens are being removed, thus removing them from the list of approved externship sites. Second rejection check.        

            After getting over the fact that I wouldn’t be spending my days off traveling the streets and beaches of California, I decided that it was time to do some soul searching. After a few months in my search since the beginning, a roller coaster of ups and downs, and countless calls home, these are some of the lessons that I have picked up along the way:
  1. Never underestimate the value of Career Services can provide you. They not only helped me create an exceptional cover letter and resume, but they also set up the Career Fair itself. Without their help, CIA students would nearly be hopeless in finding our externships, careers, and refining our professional skills.
  2. Understand that everything happens for a reason. Rejection is a reality. Yes, it sucks, but without it we would have never found the next opportunity. Those who are able to proceed with determination will not only find their intended opportunity, but will also realize their power over adversity.
  3.  Realize the power of a phone call home and don’t ever be too proud to make that call. Nothing is better at getting me back in gear that a pep talk from those who care about me… accompanied by the comfort of ice cream, of course!
I myself have yet to find my externship. While I know it is essential to find one, I refuse to let the hardships of the search break me. When life gives you lemons, you better find something better to make than lemonade. After all you’ll need to do far better than that to impress your potential employer. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Throwback Thursday

by student blogger Kristin

Like any college student, I have become very accustomed to regularly checking any and all means of social media to keep up with recent news, happenings and social events. It is quickly becoming tradition, however, to take a quick look into the past once a week. This phenomenon has become known as “Throwback Thursday” and this blog is in honor of this quickly growing tradition.

With my bachelor’s graduation fast approaching, I cannot help but be a bit nostalgic about my life here at the CIA. While sitting in the Apple Pie Bakery Café this afternoon, I was instantly transported back to the fateful day I decided to make this school my home. Therefore, this “Throwback Thursday” blog post is dedicated to my first ever visit to the CIA.

January 2010:

Allow me to set the scene for those reading. At this point in my life, I was 20 years old and had recently decided that the school which I was currently attending was not a fit for me. I had only been home for a few weeks for my college’s winter break and had been strategizing with my parents on what to do with my future. During one of these discussions, I finally gained the courage to express to my parents my interest in attending culinary school. Although my parents have always been supportive, I knew that they would be suspicious of earning such a specific degree when I had never really expressed my interest in culinary school before. I explained the CIA, showed them their website, and within minutes, we were signed up for an open house the very next day (good omen #1).

I was excited, nervous, anxious and trying to remain calm as my mom and I drove the seemingly never ending two hours the next day. I had always heard great things about the CIA but did not know what to expect. To be perfectly honest, I knew nothing about culinary schools or food production in general at this point of my life. I only knew what I hoped it would be: a combination of all my love of art, chemistry, and food.

We pulled into the main entrance, passing an adorable chapel and guard house, and proceeded to park next to the admissions building. Because we had made good time, my mom and I decided to walk around a bit before our open house started. Our first view of Campus was of two beautiful buildings surrounding an open cobbled walkway. One building was tall, brick, and stoic while the other appeared to be dropped there from Italy. I instantly felt at home (good omen #2), but repressed my hopes until I saw more.

My mom and I continued to move towards what was clearly the heart of campus. Seeing Roth Hall for the first time is something I will not soon forget. While showing my parents the CIA website, I had of course seen pictures of this grandiose building. Pictures, however, did not do it justice. Standing in front of Roth, I could appreciate every weathered brick, every shining window, and all aspects of the classic architecture. Though it might sound strange, I remember thinking that the building seemed esteemed and knowledgeable so the caliber of the school must reflect that. I quickly fell in love with the building but, again, did not get my hopes up.

In pursuit of warmth and breakfast, my mom and I entered the looming building. Quickly enough we found the Apple Pie Bakery Café. We walked in the front doors and I had to take a second to let everything sink in. It was perfect. The feel was modern yet quaint with draperies on the ceiling, cute wooden tables, and black cast iron chairs and décor. On each of the tables, there was a caddy proudly sporting an apple on top in honor of the café’s name. Even the servers, which I found out later were students, added to the experience moving from table to table in their blue jackets and long black aprons.

We ordered at the front counter, surrounded by beautiful pastries and product, and received a number to leave on our table. My mother and I found a tall table in the middle of the café still taking in the splendor of everything and chatting feverishly about the day ahead. Within minutes, a smiling student arrived at our table side with a plate full of goodies. After talking to the student for a few minutes about the program, we were invited to enjoy our food and drinks.

I will never forget what I ate that first time I sat in Apple Pie. I had an apple turnover and a cup of hot chocolate. As I enjoyed both of these delicious items, I remember thinking that there was definitely something special about this place. Just the mere fact they could take two things as simple as a turnover and hot cocoa and make them so extraordinarily good had to be a showing of what this school was really about. Just as I looked up to express this thought with my mom, it started snowing (Good Omen #3).

From the time I was in high school, my mom and I have always considered snow to be a sign of good things to come. Whether it be something as simple as school being cancelled or complex like a major life decision, we always took the snow to mean we were doing something right. I looked at my mom as she was looking out the window and knew she had the same thought I did. From that moment on, we knew. I was meant to be at the CIA.

We enjoyed the rest of the day walking around the campus on tour and getting to know some of the people that worked at the school. The whole time I could not stop thinking of how proud I would be to call this school home. Now, 4 years later, I am still proud to be a student of this wonderful school. I am thankful everyday for this fateful visit.