Saturday, May 10, 2014

A Corn Culture: The First Week at CIA San Antonio

by student blogger Peter

One week has passed since arriving at The Culinary Institute of America's campus in San Antonio, TX. I apologize for not updating you sooner about how this semester is shaping out. I can truly say so far it has been a whirl. While the campus culture is vastly different than that of Hyde Park, it is absolutely just as busy. In the past week my days would consist of waking up at 5am to get ready for class at 6:30, then once class ended at 1:30pm I would immediately start working at the Healthy Meals for Schools conference that was being hosted by the CIA this past week.

While there was much work to accomplish this past week I can honestly say that choosing this semester away was the absolute 100% right decision. I love it here in Texas. The campus only has about 70 students on it, with the other 80 in attendance currently on their externship. Spending the last three years in New York living in the bustling culture of the Hyde Park CIA campus, this is a wonderful shock. Everyone knows everyone here, and everyone is family. I already know every single chef on campus and they all know me by name. I am familiar with most of the students already. Classes work together, they all learn together, and they all help each other. This campus is more of a singular entity than I ever thought it would be.
The first three days of class were great to say the least. Being only a group of five, I definitely got lucky. With such a small group, we each get so much more personal time with Chef Sergio Remolina, we each get so much more hands on experience, and we each get to gain knowledge of Latin American cuisines much more extensively than we would in a group of twenty. In this first week we focused on techniques, making recipes that took us through a broad realm of methods. I won't list them all but the hi-lights of the week included; fresh tortillas, tamales, majarete (fresh coconut milk custard), salsas, and tostadas. 
My main takeaway from this week in class was that corn is the lifeblood of Latin American cuisine. It is sacred, and used in almost everything. It is even believed that the first man was created from four kernels of corn. 
Corn in this cuisine is not what most Americans view corn to be. It is not a white or yellow sweet kernel that pops in your mouth and is mainly sugar and water. That corn is a product of genetic engineering that has resulted in the loss of nearly every nutrient and truly a disgrace to the amazing plant that is corn.
When I talk about corn, I am talking about maize. The kernel is larger, and packed with nutrients, yet the trick is to get at those nutrients. As many of you culinarians may know the way to unlock the nutritious side of maize is through a process called nixtamalization. This technique, in easy to understand terms, is boiling the kernels in a limestone enriched water to remove the outer layer and allow the corn to be digested and utilized by our bodies. By doing so we get a product known as hominy, which when fresh can be ground into masa (dough). This dough is truly a wonderful thing, and if you've ever tried a corn flour tortilla that is exactly what masa is. 
While that is a very short and sweet explanation about the "super food" that is maize. If you want to know more about what it is, just click here.
As for my experience so far on this campus. It has been amazing. 
I love the people I have traveled here with, and I have nothing but praise about the other aspiring chefs and instructors I have met here. This is a much needed refresher from Hyde Park, and the only downside I have found so far is there is far too much to experience and learn in just three months. If you are thinking about committing to this program, please do, you will not regret it.