Thursday, June 19, 2014

Culinary Classes Overview, pt. 2 (First Semester Academic Classes)

To continue on the same train of thought as my post the other day, I will give an overview of the academic classes that the average student will have completed up-to-point that I am in the Culinary Arts program (I just started Seafood ID and Fabrication class which puts me in the second block of my second semester). As I continue through the program I will continue with this series of posts.

Timeline (to put the timing in perspective)

Semester 1
Culinary Math & Food Safety (each twice a week for 6 week)
Nutrition & Introduction to Gastronomy (each twice a week for 6 week)
Product Knowledge (once a week for 12 weeks)
Professionalism and Life Skills (once a week for 12 weeks)

Semester 2
College Writing & Introduction to Management (each twice a week for 6 week)

Culinary Math 

Coming into the CIA I had heard that Culinary Math was the hardest academic class (apart from Wines). That was possibly the most inaccurate statement I have ever heard. Granted, I have always had an easy time with math (Calculus is still my favorite discipline, if that tells you anything). Regardless, if you passed elementary school math then you really shouldn’t have any trouble (dividing fractions was the “hardest” thing we had to do in that class). With all that said, I would still recommend taking the course if you haven’t used math in relation to the foodservice industry. I had never costed recipes or done yield tests before and although the equations were boringly easy, the application was completely new for me. Some of the topics we covered included:

·      Unit conversions
·      Kitchen ratios
·      Purchasing, portioning and finding yield percents
·      Recipe costing and comparative costin

Although most of this is probably self-teachable, I would definitely recommend to take class (even if just as a GPA booster!).

Food Safety

During the same period of time as taking Culinary Math (first six weeks of the first semester) I also took three other courses, one them being Food Safety. This class was about exactly what it sounds like; how to receive, store, cook, hold, and serve food safely. This topic encompasses much more than what the average person would imagine. Did you know that food that gets delivered to your restaurant or establishment should (generally) be no more than 40˚F or you should reject it? Or that infusing olive oil with garlic and herbs could actually cause botulism to grow in that environment? The smallest foodborne illness outbreak that started at your restaurant or establishment due to one dishwasher being sick could easily close your business forever and ruin your credibility. The purpose is not to scare you, but ignorance is not actually bliss when your livelihood is on the line. At the end of the course you take the official ServSafe exam (you are actually required to pass in order to pass the course), which some establishments require but it is always a mark in your favor when on the job hunt.

Product Knowledge

Product Knowledge is possibly my favorite non-“kitchen” class that I have taken so far. During this class we learn about many different vegetables, fruits, herbs, and dairy products including what different variations of them taste like, what they should look like and even get to taste a lot of them. We also learn about the ideas and practicality of buying produce locally and in season, which in my opinion is an absolute necessity for any restaurant regardless of the type of food being produced. This class was only once a week (Wednesdays) but for twelve weeks instead of just six. Regardless, if the course were twice as long we still would have only scratched the surface. Instead, I think we should take this course for our entire time here at the CIA, or at least for the first two semesters before externship. Here is broad rundown of each of the 12 days of class:

Day 1:           “Orientation to Product Knowledge, Storeroom Visit”
Day 2:           “Grade, Quality Condition, Organic, Local, GMO’s”
Day 3:           “Growth; Development; Maturation and Ripeness”
Day 4:           “Lettuces, Salad Greens, Cooking Greens”
Day 5:           “Cabbage”
Day 6:           “Mushrooms, Stalks”
Day 7:           “Onions, Tubers”
Day 8:           “Roots, Pods”
Day 9:           “Tomatoes, Peppers, Squash”
Day 10:       “Herbs, Apples, Pears, Grapes”
Day 11:       “Dairy, Cheese, Nuts and Seeds”
Day 12:       Final ID Test

*Day to day may vary from chef to chef and the topic of each day may vary as well. These
  titles come from the course guide.

Professionalism and Life Skills

This class could best be related to a Freshman 100 course at another university or college. Although there were several topics that I found quite informative, generally speaking I found the content of this class to be a little bit boring. The main saving grace for this course was our awesome Professor who helped make this class more interesting by relating the topics to real life examples as well as doing more than just lecturing, but rather teaching us through more interactive activities. Some of the concepts we learned that I found particularly useful are:

·      The idea of a “compassionate kitchen.”
·      Time management skills including using a thorough calendar and to-do lists.
·      Money management skills.
·      Writing cover letters, resumes, and job interviewing.
·      Making a personal website that acts as a portfolio for your own work.

This was a pretty easy course, but there are definitely some valuable parts that can be taken from it. I had this class once a week for the duration of both Culinary Math/Food Safety as well as Nutrition/Gastronomy

Introduction to Gastronomy

This class took the place of Culinary Math after that course was finished. This was easily the hardest of the academic classes during the first semester but one of the most enjoyable ones at the same time. Through lecture, essay readings, and discussion we covered concepts such as “The History of French and American Haute Cuisine”, “The Physiology of Taste and the Senses”, and “Contemporary Issues in Agriculture”. This class also included a group project that was on a specific, notable chef. My group got Alice Waters which ended up being wildly interesting. One of my group members even managed to talk to her on the phone and get some quotes from her for our project! A difficult class that required a decent amount of reading but if you put the energy in, it’ll not only be much easier but you will much more out of it.


In Nutrition we learned about macronutrients vs. micronutrients, about the different energy sources (lipids, carbohydrates, proteins), as well as about vitamins and minerals. We also learned about current issues in nutrition and how to manage dietary needs in a restaurant or foodservice establishment. This class was challenging in the sense that it was a lot of material and I had never covered any of it before. However, it is something that is particularly useful for all CIA students.

I am currently taking Introduction to Management and when I complete that I will let you guys know how that went. I had transfer credits for College Writing so although I won’t personally be able to give an overview of the class I am hoping to get one my classmates to write it for me.


  1. Are you required to take Food Safety if you have already passed the official ServSafe exam and it's still valid?

    1. I am not 100% sure. I feel like I have classmates who had their certification prior to coming to school and they still had to take it. I'll try to find out and get back to you.

    2. Yes, the CIA does accept transfer credit for the Food Safety course. Info from our Transfer Credit page:

      If you are requesting transfer credit for the CIA's Food Safety course, you must attach a copy of your National Restaurant Association (NRA) ServSafe® certificate and include either one of the following with or on your Application for the Transfer of Credit:
      a) The course description for the food safety college course of at least 1.0 credit or
      b) A copy of your ProStart National Certificate of Achievement.

      See more at: