Monday, July 28, 2014

Why the CIA?

Hello Readers, from me to you, I hope you enjoy a look inside the Culinary World!
-Timothy Fisher 

Having been here at the CIA campus in Hyde Park, NY for almost 3 years, and spending going on 2 and a half of those years a Tour Guide, I find that I am constantly asked the same question.  ”Why did YOU choose to come here, to the Culinary”?  Now, I am always more than happy to answer this question and the more I answer it as time goes by, the more reasons I find as to explain why I chose the CIA over any other school.
When I was looking for schools my senior year of high school at the age of sixteen, it all seemed so unreal and unattainable.  Nevertheless I knew what I wanted and that was to go to a culinary school that could offer me a bachelor's degree.  Most programs around the country are certificate 6-9 month programs, so I ruled those out rather quickly, narrowing down my candidates to 3 options: The Art Institute in San Francisco, Johnson and Wales in CO, and The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park.  I sent out applications to AI and JWU and quickly received letters of acceptance.  The CIA application seemed more detailed so I let it sit on the back-burner, I was too excited about being accepted into college!  Being close by, I went to an open house for the AI and well, it just didn’t feel right for me.  It wasn’t the “traditional college feel” that I was looking for.  Soon after, I went to a Wildcat Weekend at JWU in Colorado, and I really, really enjoyed it. I made friends, I liked how the program sounded, I loved the campus (and the distance from home), I was totally sold on going here. I told my dad that I wanted to come here, I am done, this is where I want to be.  Then he looked at me and told me something that would change my life.
He said, “I want you to finish your application to the CIA on the flight home, I'm buying tickets to fly us out to take a tour of the campus in 3 weeks.  Everyone says it’s the best and if you’re going to go to a culinary school, I want you to go to the best”.
Being from California, it was a big deal to just get up and fly across the country to see a school, so I did what he said.
3 weeks later I find myself in Hyde Park, NY running late through the rain past piles of snow to the prospective student meeting and tour. We sat through the presentation about the school and I ate up all the information like a starving man at Thanksgiving.  
Then the tour. I loved everything, I loved the seeing the students in their chef whites or business casual, no one in sweatpants or t-shirts like at my brother’s college.  I loved seeing how hands on the classes were and how diverse the student population was. I vividly remember walking down a path to the Student Rec Center, and feeling my sock getting soaked from the rain and unfortunate hole in my shoe. But I couldn’t care less. I knew, I had this feeling that this was where I needed to be.  I looked at my dad and said “This is it. This is where Im coming to school”.
All he said was “I told you to give it a chance didnt I?”
Having gone through the AOS program, having been an MIT (Manager-in-Training) for 6 months, and while currently going through the BPS program I’ve come to realize why the CIA is truly deserving of the title of The World’s Premier Culinary College.
  • The level of professionalism.  Yes, we are still students, but we know what we have to get done, we know what is expected of us, and we show that through living up to the professionalism standards set here.
  • Our Chefs and Professors here are living testimonies to the reality of our industry. And they don’t sugar-coat it. They tell us what to expect, and then how to prepare for it.  
  • The pressure here is intense. We are under the chopping block every day in the kitchen and in the bakeshops; students are expected to learn, produce, and perfect.  Nothing less than your absolute best will be expected, and the Chefs here know when you aren’t performing at that level and they will let you know.  Your skill, intellect, and even passion will be personally questioned and challenged during your tenure here, and it will make them all the stronger if you answer with strength and vindication.
  • This is the only residential college in the world that is completely devoted to the Culinary and Baking Arts.  That brings together a very select group of students that then create an atmosphere you will never find anywhere else in the world. We may not all be looking to be the next great Chef spoken of around the world, but we are all in it for the same thing. Food. Some aspect of the culinary world has drawn us together and through that we all speak the language, we all share a passion that cannot be hidden, because to make it in this industry you’re gonna need a lot of it.  Its something you have to experience to understand.
Just like the Chefs, I’m not going to sugar coat it. The time you spend here will be difficult, stressful, intense, and it will be a challenge every day.  But if you are committed, and if you want to turn your passion into your profession, the CIA is, in my opinion, the only place to do that.
I know I am.

Are you?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Wine Studies

It is a class at the CIA that most students eagerly look forward to and simultaneously dread just a little bit. Wine Studies is hard and I'll be the first one to tell you. I studied more during that class then I think I have for any college class ever, and I have a previous bachelor's degree in Business Management. That said though, it was one of the most interesting subjects I've taken and it bridged a connection between food and drink that I had only ever scratched the surface of before. Wine studies sparked my interest and made studying  more fun than work... and the fact that "studying" sometimes involved drinking wine only had a little bit to do with it ;-)

The class started in the U.S. with New World wines and we made our way through the wine making process, U.S. wine laws and the wine growing regions of California, Washington, Oregon and New York. Each day we tasted 8-12 wines from the region we were currently lecturing on to tie in the actual flavor nuances and terroir specific to the region rather than simply talking about it. From the U.S we traveled to Canada, Argentina, Chile and Austrailia sampling Ice Wine, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon and Shiraz respectively. 

During the wine tastings we recorded notes on color, aroma, body, taste and food pairings for each wine. We were never actually tested on wine identification but the tastings verified the lectures and gave us a frame of reference to study the facts. Studying wine without tasting it would be like studying music without hearing it; wine is truly a discipline that involves all of your senses!

As soon as we started to get the hang of the New World of wine, we started studying France which is literally an entirely different world. The names are different, the rules are different and in some cases the grapes are even different. And just when you think you can't fit any more wine knowledge into your head, Italy, Spain and Portugal come along and prove you wrong again. It was crazy to me to not only learn the differences in the laws and processes of wine making in these countries, but recognize a profound difference in how the wines tasted as well. 

After many hours of tutoring, studying and labeling the 800 page text book, we were rewarded halfway through the class with a four-course meal in the CIA's American Bounty restaurant carefully paired with 8 French wines. 

Together with our professor, we enjoyed a meal of scallops, short ribs, asparagus salad and a brownie sundae. Each course was paired with two different wines  to compare and it was obviously a super enjoyable nice of good food, good wine and good company. Culinarians and bakers take this class together so it was nice to get to have class with other students in our start date and get to know them a little better. 

Tough? Very. But overall Wine Studies was definitely one of my favorite classes here, and I love being able to recognize so many wines now when going out to eat, and knowing how to decipher the labels in a store. A class to look forward to no doubt.

Culinary Classes Overview, pt. 3 (Seafood ID and Fabrication and Intro to Management)

After completing both Seafood ID and Fabrication and Introduction to Management, I am very much happy with what I learned and from both courses.

Timeline (to put the timing in perspective)

Semester 1
Fundamentals                                        15 weeks

Semester 2
Meat ID and Fabrication                       3 weeks
Seafood ID and Fabrication                  3 weeks
Introduction to Mgmt.                           6 weeks (during Meat and Seafood class)
Modern Banquets and Catering            3 weeks
Intro to a la Carte Cooking                   3 weeks
High Volume Production Cookery       3 weeks


Seafood ID and Fabrication

The format of this class is a little different from Meat ID and Fabrication in two major ways: you spend half of the block solely in the classroom learning about concepts such as the different types of fish, how to identify them, fishing and aquaculture (fish farming) methods, as well as a heavy emphasis on sustainability. The fabrication portion on the other hand, unlike in Meats where you follow a specific schedule, involves cutting all the fish for the school.

The lecture period was particularly interesting to me because there is such a huge variety of life in the sea/freshwaters that are edible, much more so than on land it seems like, and also because my familiarity with the topic was significantly more limited than that of terrestrial animals. We also took both a yield test and ID test towards the end of the lecture period, the former being much easier than the later but we had practice for both everyday so like most things go, the more work you put into it, not only will it be easier but you’ll get the most out of it.

Fabrication of fish differs from that of terrestrial animals in a few ways. Although there is not that many serious variations in land animals, there are large amounts of cuts from each that are cut using the same techniques but knowing where to cut is what is difficult. When butchering fish, there are really only three different ways to cut: “up and over” (used for cutting fish with hard bones, it involves cutting along and then next to the backbone and then over the rib cage), “straight cut” (used for cutting fish with soft bones, it involves cutting through the pin bones and through the rib cage which is removed afterwards), and “flat cut” (used for cutting flat fish, you cut down the backbone and then over the other bones in a flat motion). If you are comfortable with those cutting methods you can cut almost any fish, but what is difficult is how delicate the flesh is. Also, fish, similar to meat, is very expensive so it is important to have the best possible yield.

Another major difference between Meat class and Fish class is that the fish you are cutting is dependent on what is “ordered” by the different chefs for the other classes; sometimes we had 80 fish to cut, others closer to 10. Although I found this class difficult, I also found it fascinating and exciting.

Introduction to Management

This class is designed to introduce the idea of management and how to manage employees, specifically at a lower management level. We go over topics that involve supervision, leadership, training, motivation, delegation, problem solving, decision-making, communication, discipline, and performance appraisal. The course is (obviously) designed to show these concepts and how they relate to the foodservice industry. The majority of class was in lecture format but the teacher did an excellent job of keeping the class involved. We also did a decent amount of group activities including a final group project in which we designed a business plan for a food-related establishment. My group made a business plan for a hypothetical fine dining, seafood restaurant in San Francisco. I found this class to be rather informative, but honestly a lot of the information was simple enough that some reading of the textbook would have been more than enough.

Check out Emilio's other posts on the classes he's taking:
Part 1: Fundamentals and Meats
Part 2: First Semester Academic Classes

Friday, July 11, 2014

Library Learning Commons

As you may possibly know, one of the many great perks at The Culinary Institute of America is the Library Learning Commons on the top floor of the Conrad N. Hilton Library. It opened approximately 6 months ago and replaced the previous Learning Commons that was located in Roth Hall (which apparently was cramped, hot, and just simply avoided by most students). The new one is literally the opposite of that with several rooms, new computers, lots of table space and chairs, a prep table and cutting boards to practice knife cuts, and more!

Another perk are the (FREE) student tutors that are available during the entirety of the operation hours (Mon.-Thur.: 8am-11pm; Fri.: 8am-7pm; Sat.: 10am-5pm; Sun.: 12pm-9pm). The tutors are there as another way to study, go over homework, or simply explain topics that you didn’t really understand in class. In order to be a tutor you must have at least a 3.0 GPA and have gotten an A- or higher as the final grade for any class you want to tutor, so they are all responsible students who are comfortable with the material. On top of that you go through the typical hiring procedure of an interview as well as getting recommendations from some of your professors/chefs in the classes you want to tutor. The tutors also hold workshops for some of the harder classes where multiple students can study or learn together with a tutor in an organized fashion.

You can also come in simply to use the space to study or do homework as well as use the available computers. There are also rooms with doors that can be used for group meetings or to practice presentations that have white boards and even TVs to connect your computer to. Finally, there is a rather large space that is considered a quiet space where people can work in silence if they prefer that style of studying. There are granola bars, coffee, tea, and fruit for students to munch-on/drink while they work. Feel free to stop by to visit any of the tutors (including yours truly) or just to hang out and do some homework!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Moto Serves Perfection

by Connor White, AOS Culinary, from La Papillote

Courses:Asparagus with Hollandaise: Poached asparagus wrapped in cured egg yolk and topped with lemon zest
Green Almond: Green almond with the shell on, heart of palm puree, cucumber
Grow Room: Buffalo tartare with house grown micro greens, lemon vinaigrette, crispy potato, olive oil
Buffalo Wings: Seared quail breast, celery confit, celery root puree, wing sauce.
Allium 3.0: Warm onion custard, pork belly, and various allium garnishes
Bitter Roots: Beet puree, beet marshmallow, coffee, Hudson Valley foie gras, brown sugar brioche crumble, roasted beets
Sus Scrofa: Braised wild boar shoulder, charred tomato sauce, mole powder, wild rice
Chili Cheese Dog: Raspberry sorbet “Hot Dog”, orange reduction “Cheese Sauce”, chocolate “Ground Beef”, on a sponge cake “Bun”
Chocolate Mousse- 42% chocolate mousse, lemon sorbet, dehydrated lemon, edible flowers 

I am currently doing my externship in Chicago. When I first arrived I was completely unaware of how much of a food hub Chicago is. I felt silly for not knowing. During my stay here, I’m making it a point to experience all of the food that Chicago has to offer. This past weekend I decided to get my start at MOTO in Chicago’s restaurant row, Fulton Market. Little did I know that I would be in for the meal of a lifetime.

Before going to MOTO, I decided that I should probably do my research. After a few clicks on Google, I had a much better understanding of the restaurant. MOTO is a one Michelin Star- rated molecular gastronomy restaurant. In fact, it is on the same block as two of Grant Achatz’s establishments, Aviary and Next. MOTO’s executive chef is Chef Richie Farina, a Johnson and Wales graduate who competed on season nine of the Bravo Television series, Top Chef. With a big reputation to live up to, I couldn’t wait to experience MOTO for myself.

I made my reservation for one on a Tuesday night. MOTO offers a Chef’s “Lab” Table experience, an eight course menu which featured both MOTO’s current dishes as well as some of their past favorites. When I made my reservation, I asked about their non-alcoholic pairings. Being only 19, wine wasn’t an option for me. I think it is still important to include beverage pairings to have a complete meal. These “Mocktails” would give me an idea of what MOTO was capable of creating. I ordered the pairing and my server informed me that he would be crafting these custom cocktails himself to accompany my meal. I could tell that a non-alcoholic pairing wasn’t a usual request but they went out of their way to make it happen for me.

As I waited for my meal to begin, I became captivated by the ambience of the dining room. Playing into the lab theme, the restaurant was equipped with the periodic table of elements that illuminated the wall. Chemistry sets and beakers lined the room. Surely I would be in for more than a meal. I was there for a show.

I have to admit, I was surprised to see Chef Farina serving the plates to the guests himself. Never before had I seen the Chef so much throughout my meal. He walked out my first course, greeted me, and I informed him that I was a CIA student. I was there to study as much as I was there for a meal. He encouraged me to take pictures and truly made me feel welcome. With each course he explained the concept of the dish, where certain ingredients were sourced from, and even how certain components were prepared. He was talking about food with me as if to hold my hand throughout the experience. Quickly, I was taken under MOTO’s wing.

Each course brought its own whimsy and personality. Every time I tasted a new course, I immediately deemed it my favorite. Partway through my meal I started comparing MOTO to the best meals I’ve eaten. Surely this was comparable. When the “Buffalo Wing” course was served to the table next to me, the server stated, “We’re trying to make celery taste more like celery than celery itself.” When I received the “Bitter Roots” course, that same waiter said to me, “we figured you would appreciate the Hudson Valley foie gras.” Finally the “Chili Cheese Dog” was served and I stopped comparing my meal. They had managed to turn a common hot dog into a masterfully conceptualized dessert. The dish was hysterical. It was a dessert that looked identical to a hot dog. I was instructed to pick it up and eat it just as you would any other hot dog. It had me laughing through the last bite. When the server came to clear my plate, she asked how it was. I was completely speechless. Dumbfounded, really. I realized in that moment that MOTO was the best meal that I had ever eaten. That realization gave me chills. She laughed and informed me that Chef Farina wanted me to join him in the kitchen for my final course.

Before heading into the kitchen, my check arrived. I knew that the menu was $125 plus the cost of the drinks. To me, I think it is incredibly important for us culinary students to dine out like this. It’s an investment toward your education, toward your career for that matter. I noticed that the drinks weren’t written on the check, so I told my server. He informed me that they were, in fact, on the house. I was flattered. The service at MOTO was spectacular. Everyone was so welcoming and genuine. It was fine dining without being pretentious. I was awestruck.

As I walked in to the kitchen I couldn’t help but notice how incredibly calm it seemed. The staff warmly welcomed me as one of them. Just then Chef Farina told me that he wanted to demo the dessert for me. I was thrilled! Chocolate mousse was placed into the bowl. It was then topped with dehydrated lemon crisps and edible flowers. Chef then prepared lemon sorbet for me using liquid nitrogen. He explained how the instant freezing technique was one that they used for all of their sorbets because of the incredible consistency that it creates. While enjoying her dish, I met MOTO’s Executive Pastry Chef Claire Crenshaw, a 2007 CIA graduate. She explained to me their unique system of calling orders. Instead of a traditional ticket system, MOTO uses a large television screen that shows each table, any specifications, and their current status. The tables were color coded based on the timing of their meals progression. This visual system made for a much more organized kitchen flow. The kitchen staff seemed thrilled to be fueling my education. Everyone really made me feel that they were happy to have me join them.

I thanked the entire staff once again and made my way out. I could have stayed there forever. The entire walk home I was smiling from ear-to-ear with a million thoughts racing through my mind. I was in utter culinary bliss. MOTO served food that was both flavorful and conceptual. It was cutting edge, yet familiar. Chefs Farina and Crenshaw, along with the entire staff, were cranking out food with such personality. The service was exceptional, the food was sublime, and the meal was perfect. Quite simply, MOTO was the best dining experience of my life. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Latin Cuisines Concentration: Difficult, Yet Rewarding

by student blogger Peter

*First off, I would like to apologize to all that read this blog for the lack of updates. Life here in San Antonio is fast and busy, there is always something to do, and writing weekly fell to the wayside for a bit but I assure you I am back!

Life in San Antonio.

I had a completely different view of this program upon signing up for it. I imagined that classes would be structured similarly to the AOS program of the CIA. When I say that, I mean that upon entering class you have a set timeline and set recipes and you will never deviate from either because we are there to be taught the way it is and the way it will be. When it comes to cooking in Latin America, that mindset couldn't be further from the truth. Recipes are more alive, they deviate based on what's available, and the person cooking them also puts his/her own character into each recipe. 

What have we been doing?

Over the past two months that we have been in this class we have spent time focusing on the cuisines of Mexico intensively and now are working our way through Central America and into the South. Each week we have class with the phenomenal Chef Sergio Remolina. I first met Chef in the AOS program in Hyde Park in the Bocuse kitchen. He immediately changed my mindset into a fast-paced one that demanded perfection laced with speed. I was thrown into a world of long hours, yet after that course I can honestly say I was a better chef. Needless to say, when I heard he was instructing this course it was a no brainer. Now, back to class.

The cooking classes you take while participating in this concentration start with Advanced Latin Cooking, which takes you through the entirety of Latin America to give you a brief glimpse at cuisines but mainly focuses on techniques of this style of cookery. We made everything from tortillas to roasted meats in a pit filled with fiery hot stones. After this course we moved on to Latin Cuisines I, which took us all throughout Mexico. We learned about the spicy cuisines of the North, which rely heavily on wheat instead of corn, all the way to the South of Mexico in the Yucat√°n, focusing on jungle ingredients and lots of tubers. 

How much work is it?

This concentration, as expected, is heavily based on cooking. With lots of cooking comes lots of work. Each day I wake up at 5:30am, take a shower, shave, put on pressed chef whites, and trek to campus. Chef Remolina, being a man of timeliness and discipline expects us ready to work at our station no later than 6:45am, which most days ends up being 6:30 so we can handle the large amount of recipes expected to be completed. There are only five students in this group, including
myself, and with a small group a larger work load is bestowed upon us. The curriculum designed for this course is suited best for 10-15 students, but honestly, we are getting more experience this way. Instead of making one or two full recipes a day I will make five or six. This immense amount of work is tiring, of course, but is extremely rewarding. I feel that throughout this concentration so far I have learned so much and am definitely getting the most bang for my buck. 

Is there anything to do in San Antonio?

YES, San Antonio is loaded with things to do. This city is huge, and when you are doing the Latin Cuisines Concentration at the CIA you are living right in the heart of it. If you want to work while going to school here there is plenty of job availability! It seems that almost every storefront or restaurant you pass by has a 'now hiring' sign. There are all sorts of restaurants to work for. Across the street literally 100ft from the front door of the school provided housing there are two bars, a cafe, and a nightclub that are all hiring. In The Pearl complex where The CIA San Antonio is located there are a number of fancy restaurants all looking for experienced servers and cooks. When it comes to fun things to do in the area there are tons of local bars and clubs to enjoy late a night. This city is loaded with parks and walkways and there is always somewhere to explore. It is truly a wonderful city filled with amazing unique people. I will never forget it and to all those considering doing this concentration, I highly recommend it. If you have any more questions about this program or city, feel free to reach out to me via Facebook