Thursday, July 30, 2015

Work Hard, Play Hard- Welcome to Federal Hill

Hello everyone and happy Thursday! I have been thinking of the direction I would like to move this blog in for the last few days and think I have made an interesting decision. As promised, I of course want to give some insight into what the working world is like and what to expect. However, I would like to focus some attention in this blog to one of the most important lessons I learned throughout my first year in the real world: IT IS NOT ALL ABOUT WORK! While it is important to give 110% at work, I also believe it is essential to experience all that life has to give you. Especially being a culinary professional, there is so much to learn from going out and experiencing food around the country and, if you’re lucky enough, around the world! In order to properly show you, every other blog I post will be about an interesting life experience I’ve had outside of work. I am very excited to share these stories with you and I hope they inspire you to use your free time to get out there and see the world!

Because this is the first installment of “Work Hard Play Hard,” I thought it would be appropriate to start with what I feel is the right first step for taking on the world. Whenever I am introduced to a new area, my first instinct is to go out and explore my surroundings. How else are you going to know what is around you and worth seeing? So, when I first moved down to Baltimore, Maryland to complete my internship at McCormick and Company, exploring is exactly what I did. The first weekend that I was free, I grabbed some things, packed my bag and set out to see what Baltimore had in store for me.

My first apartment in Baltimore was in an area called Federal Hill, a young, vibrant area that has a rich history and many interesting sites to see. The area spreads from its namesake monument park facing the popular inner harbor to just beyond the famous Cross Street Market on South Charles Street. Within these two markers, Federal Hill hosts plenty of attractions including the Maryland Science Center, the American Visionary Art Museum, countless shops and boutiques among many other things.

Though everything about this area sounded great, what I really hoped to gain from my adventures was of course an understanding of the food culture of my new living area. I walked down the street from my apartment and towards the center of town where all the action was. When I turned the corner my view immediately opened up to a bustling street lined on both sides with restaurants, bars, coffee shops, ice cream parlors and stores. As I continued to travel down the street, I realized that each place I passed was completely unique from the last. Not only was the number of businesses astounding but the wide array of cuisines was impressive. I couldn’t wait to dive in and get started!

Because it was late morning and turning out to be a beautiful summer day, I decided finding iced coffee should be my first mission of the day. I was still taking in the splendor of it all when I stumbled upon an A-frame sign on the sidewalk reading “Iced Coffee- Any Size, Any Flavor $1”. Being a recent college graduate, I could not resist coffee at such a low price.  I thought to myself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” as I opened the door to The Light Street Café.

 I walked into The Light Street Café and was pleasantly surprised at what I found. The small store front opened up to a diner-like operation where visitors had the choice between sitting down and ordering take-out. The dining area contained simple tables and chairs that matched the overall quaint atmosphere while the walls sported vintage views of Baltimore. Beyond the dining room, the back half of the restaurant resembled what felt like a deli with an ordering counter, free standing drink coolers, and an open kitchen. The very friendly staff took my order and in no time, I had a homemade muffin and my iced coffee and I was on my way!

As I stepped into the summer sun and made my way down the street, I came upon a building that seemed to be pretty popular among “the locals” walking around me. As I approached the building, the large red writing on the building became apparent spelling out the words Cross Street Market. I had heard about this market before but had never had the opportunity to visit. I was finally there and therefore, I had to make this stop number two for the day!

When I opened the doors, I was immediately hit with the entrancing smells of everything from seafood to sweets (which was a surprisingly welcome combination) and in an instant I was hungry. As my eyes adjusted from the sun, I could see where all of these tantalizing smells were coming from. I was looking down a long row of food vendors, including (but nowhere close to limited to!) fruit/vegetable stands, chocolate counters, and fish markets. What makes this market even more unique than its diversity, however, is suggested by its name: the Cross Street Market spans the width of a full block in Federal Hill. This gives the building plenty of room to house a ton of cool food vendors. I walked admiringly through the remainder of the market’s booths, bought a banana for my travels and continued on my way.

For the remainder of the afternoon, I traveled around the streets of Federal Hill admiring and, in some instances, visiting local restaurants and businesses, all the while making my way to the famous Federal Hill Park. As I sat on a bench overlooking the inner harbor, I reflected on my day. I could not believe that I had already learned so much just from one afternoon of exploring! I now knew that Baltimore had a very rich and diverse food culture for me to explore and I had only seen a small portion of it! I had a list of places I wanted to visit and in the months following, I made it a point to do just that. I look forward to telling you more about my adventures in later editions and sharing with you what I learned about the food world! 

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Greystone Versus Hyde Park

"One person's craziness is another person's reality." –Tim Burton

What is considered normal versus abnormal comes up almost everyday, especially in the food industry.  Foods such as chicken feet, haggis, spam, grubs, blood sausage, or ant may seem normal to some people or cultures, yet completely revolting and bizarre to other.  Who is to say what is normal and what is weird, then?

To us CIA students at the Greystone campus in California, our open teaching kitchen may seem “weird” to Hyde Park students.  Our 800-square-foot library is probably deemed “bizarre” by most of the bachelor's students.  Our humble campus of about three-hundred students may seem like a mere drop of water in a lake when compared to Hyde Park’s boasting enrollment of about two-thousand students.  Though, to us at the Greystone campus, all these “abnormalities” are normal, everyday factors. 

The three Hyde Park bachelor's degree student groups we currently have at the Greystone campus – Advanced Baking & Pastry, Farm-to-Table, and Wine Studies – were definitely pushed out of their comfort zone when they first arrived.  Their idea of normal was completely flipped when they came Greystone.

When asked what the biggest differences were, almost every bachelor's student laughed and answered first with the weather.  Staff involvement, a more laidback or homier atmosphere, and more personable people were other popular answers as well. 

Many of the students noted that at the Greystone campus, “the staff is more involved… hands on with learning… and it is a lot easier to get information here,” versus the Hyde Park campus, where the students said it can be hard to find the right faculty member that one is looking for.

California’s laidback atmosphere and great weather seem to be stereotypes that are actually true for once.  When asked to elaborate on the more relaxed feel of Greystone versus Hyde Park, bachelor's student Paul Valenti, simply replied, “California, dude.”  Another bachelor's student said, “When we first came here, we thought we’d be yelled at.”  

The CIA at Greystone, is a day and night difference compared to the weather in Hyde Park. “It’ll be twenty degrees [Fahrenheit] while you’re walking to class with three feet of snow,” said bachelor's student Arni Cabatingan.  The average for Greystone during the winter is in the mid-fifties and the coldest it will get is about 40 degrees Fahrenheit. 

However, with a great weather there is a price to pay, literally.  The downfall of Greystone every student agreed on was the cost of living.  Here in the Napa Valley, the cost of living is especially high.  Although, one perk of being a CIA student in the Napa Valley that saves money is name dropping.  "You can go into a restaurant, winery, or bar, say you're from the CIA, and they'll treat you well.  That doesn't happen in New York," mentioned one bachelor's student.

With their semester spent at Greystone almost over, the bachelor's students are sure to view the California campus much differently now than they did when they first arrived.  Like almost everything in life, what may have once shocked us becomes the everyday norm.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

skillet cookies and sabers

Forty minutes ago, defeat sat on my chest as I tried to close my eyes and will myself to sleep. I even felt too sorry for tears because I’ve already cried once today, and that felt like more than enough.

So, I decided to flick through facebook in that absent minded way that allows me glimpses into my friend’s fabulously triumphant or habitually disheveled lives, both equally distracting enough to see past my own current state. After spending a good portion of my day trying to accomplish tasks for my day off, I had decided to crawl into bed with no proof of action except a $22 receipt for margarita lunch with my girlfriends and a $5.67 receipt for mailing my dad’s birthday package. I craved distraction to quiet my disappointed mind.

My big plans for today taunted me from the dark corner of my bedroom as I tried to sleep, and I wanted to throw a flashy, flaming saber forcing them to just leave me alone.

Ira Glass has this brilliant video on youtube about the Creative Process. I find it soothing because it validates current failures and promises that success is only gained through hard work and lots of it. Some of that hard work will include bad stuff, the things that might be funny in ten years at a cocktail party but right now feel like a big, fat blemish on your record. After a particularly hard night at work recently, I watched the video no fewer than twelve times. He’s that good.

While I want to be inspired by his brilliance, I am somehow paralyzed by its sheer wisdom and truth. It inspires a panic in me, how will I ever do something so good? So poignant? So true?

And then the defeat rushes back in, right where the inspiration had tried to take root.

My floor didn’t get swept, my dishes didn’t get scrubbed, and my closet still looks like the scene of a rushed robbery with sloppy evidence of open drawers and tipped stacks of jeans. Couldn’t I just go to sleep and try again tomorrow?

No. I could not. I needed to get on facebook in hopes of finding inspiration that enabled me to feel excited about tomorrow or read sad news about someone who wishes that a dirty floor, a messy closet, and a sink packed with old dishes was their day’s problem. I needed a slap of perspective to put me to sleep.

Instead, I found a recipe for a chocolate chip skillet cookie with which sweet redemption for today winked at me.

Did I mention that my day started with a failed attempt at cream cheese biscuits? As a professional cook, I find something truly unsettling about cooking bad food at home for the people whom I love most in this world. As if in those rare occasions when I cook at home, the universe should conspire with me to produce something truly magnificent and representative of my desire to be a skilled cook. Gorgeous meals at home should be my peace offering to my loved ones for supporting me in an industry that requires long hours, cranky phone calls, and missed holidays. Anyway, that didn’t happen to me today.

So a skillet cookie with a cup of butter and two cups of sugar seemed like a good comeback move even if fifteen minutes prior, I had warded off my loved one with a passive attitude and a desire “to just be alone.” I’ll pick up ice cream and bring him some skillet cookie tomorrow.

As I stirred this undeniably accessible combination of ingredients, I imagined the guy who posted this recipe doing the same at his home in Chicago. He is a CIA graduate, my former supervisor on externship, and a talented cook. His blog offers a glimpse into a kitchen filled with knowledge and passion for good flavors and solid technique. I imagined mixing a pisco sour for him with pisco that I brought back from my winter in Chile while he sat at my kitchen table and helped me grate Chancaca, also from Chile, to mix with white sugar as a brown sugar substitute in his recipe.

While the cookie was baking, I washed my dishes and I wrote this blog entry. Not exactly a flaming saber to the demons in the corner telling me that I’m not good enough, but I’ve got a warm cookie so who cares?

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Career Services: Friends for LIFE

In order to truly set the mood for this blog, I feel it appropriate to step back quite a few years. Back to the years when I was still deciding where to go to school, what to do with my career, who to be…the beginning of the future.

Before attending any school, it is smart and almost essential to tour the campus and see if you get “That Feeling.” You know, the rumored feeling that occurs within you when you step on to the right campus’s soil. Like you had returned home to a place you had never before laid eyes on. A feeling that I was convinced was created by Universities to get people to visit their gift shops. That is, until I visited CIA. But I’ve already told you all that story...I digress.

Each of these tours were pretty basic: on your left is this, if you look to your right you’ll find that, etc. And during the awkward walking lulls between buildings, the tour guides would always bring up extra material about the school’s special services. Things such as meal plans, financial aid and, of course, career services. This was the portion of the tour where, as sorry as I am to admit this, I usually tuned out to think of more “important” things like whether or not the sun would hit that tree when I was studying on the quad.
Nothing changed during my tour of CIA. When the tour guide started telling us about the loyalty and persistence of the career services office, I was wondering how long it would be until I was in Chocolates class creating the beautiful candies that were currently staring back at me from behind glass. It was not until I was enrolled at CIA looking forward to my future externship that I thought twice about Career Services.

In the midst of all the craziness that is starting at a new school, all the students were reminded that our required externship was coming up fast and that we had to be fully prepared when our time arrived. There was a lot to do of course before we could go: refresh resumes, write cover letters, attend a career fair, secure a job site, conduct an interview, find housing…the list went on and on. All of that on top of school work was enough to make my head spin and I didn’t know where to start. It was then that I turned to career services.

Within an hour meeting with my supervisor I had a renewed resume, an outlined cover letter, and most importantly, a plan to move forward. I was amazed at how quickly the people in career services were able to set me on the right track. Not only did they help me during my appointment, but they also encouraged me to keep an open relationship with them throughout my search for my externship. It wasn’t long before I attended a career fair and nailed down the perfect externship.

From that experience forward, I have always relied on career services. They were always extremely helpful with anything career related while I was attending The Culinary. BUT WHY AM I TELLING YOU ABOUT THIS NOW?? Why not while I was at CIA actually working with career services?? There is one thing I have not yet told you about Career Services. The counseling and resources offered at CIA’s career services are available FOR LIFE. This means that any member of the CIA Alumni family can contact career services whenever they are in need of assistance. Whether it be for advice on how to take the right first steps shortly after graduation or for information thirty years down the road on a job in a new area of the country, career services is always here to assist us. How many schools can boast that??

Even though I graduated just over a year ago, I have already found myself using the resources made available to me by career services. I have attended meetings to reboot my resume, used the online database for job openings, and plan to attend a career fair in the near future in order to stay relevant and further develop my career on the correct path. There are obviously many reasons that I loved being a student at The Culinary Institute of America. Now, even after graduation, the school that I called home for so long continues help shape my career and to give me further reason to love it.

For any CIA student or graduate looking to further their career, the first place I would suggest to look would of course be career services

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Becoming An RA At The Culinary Institute of America

Becoming an RA
I recently was offered the position to become a residential assistant here at The Culinary Institute of America. When I first pulled up to the CIA in February, I was welcomed by the residential staff here at school and the welcome team to help me as a new student. At that moment I knew that I wanted to be in an RA position sometime while I was a student here at the CIA. Becoming an RA has four steps a student must go through before completing the process and being introduced as an RA. I have learned more about myself and others while going through the process of becoming a residential assistant and I am truly grateful for the memories and experiences the school has offered me.

Step 1... RA Interest Meetings 

The first step in becoming an RA here at The Culinary Institute of America is to attend an RA interest meeting. At the meeting the potential candidates go around to different stations in the room and each current RA talks about something different about the job.
  • RA Duty 
  • Programming
  • Acting like a role model 
  • Time Management 
RA duty is when an RA sits in the residential hall office from 8pm - 12am in case a resident needs toilet paper, paper towels, or has an emergency. As an RA, you have duty nights three times every three weeks in your resident hall.

At The Culinary Institute of America there are many programs throughout the week that RAs put on for the students across campus. Some programs include "Cinnamon Rolls in Cinnamon Lodge," "Milk & Cookies at The Lodges," or "Pickling In Pick." These programs are great for students to meet new people and learn something new about food or life in general.

Being a resident assistant here at the CIA the residents look up to you as a role model. During the process the residential life staff refers to RAs as being in a "fish bowl"; as in all people are watching you all the time.

Time Management is a big part of the industry and an on campus job like being an RA. School work comes first, but the RA job comes second and it is your job to balance between the two.

Door Decs
Step 2... Formal Interview

The next step to becoming an RA here at The Culinary Institute of America is to sign up for a formal interview with the residential life staff. Remember that this interview is formal and you should dress in business causal. The interviewers are made up of one pro staff member (Residential Life staff) and three current RAs who ask a series of questions that would happen to you as an RA and how you would react to them. Do not be scared, just be yourself because that's the person the team wants to hire.

The interview is about thirty minutes long and just gives you the opportunity to become more familiar with the Pro staff and possibly your future peers. The interview process really separates the RAs who think they want the job from the RAs who really wanna learn something new and help people. Helping people is what our job is all about and becoming an RA is a great reward because you get to create so many friendships and memories.

Step 3... RA Social 

This was my favorite part of the whole RA process. The RA social is by invitation only, after the interview stage the pro staff meets and narrows the candidate pool down to who best fits the job description. This fun night is all about getting to know all the current RAs on campus. All the newbies sit down in Nutmeg Lodge to have a game night and just relax after the interview stage.

There are six different stations set up all around the common area and each station is a different game with current RAs teaching you how to play. We played Catchphrase, Pictionary, and even a game where you throw pigs. I loved hanging out with all the diverse people on campus who are now my new co-workers.

Step 4... RD Social 

The last mandatory step in the process is to have one on one time with each resident director. A residential director is in charge of their building, they are your boss for whatever building you work in. This is your last chance to sell yourself to the pro staff of why you should become an RA. Each RD meets with a candidate and asks them questions and asks if you have any questions for them about any subject about the RA job. This is a great time to ask any last minute questions and to show that you are going to be dedicated to this job and help better The Culinary Institute of America's residential life for our students.

Director of Residents: JJ Manley Helping New Students Move In

Optional Steps of The RA Process 

  • Welcome Team 
Becoming part of the Welcome Team here at The Culinary Institute of America is a great way to see what residential life is all about and how we run things here. The Welcome Team is in charge of making new students feel right at home as soon as they get out of their cars. Volunteers on the Welcome Team help carry new students belongings up to their new room for a smoother start to school. I personally loved working on Welcome Team, I made so many new friends and shared a lot of laughs with people. It is a great way to start if you are thinking about becoming an RA on campus.
Move In Day 
  • Individual Meeting With Pro Staff 
Meeting individually with the pro staff is a great way to talk privately and ask any questions you might not be comfortably asking in front of a group of people. I personally took the opportunity to meet with the pro staff because I knew they were the ones who where going to hire me and I wanted to get my name and face recognized as much as possible.

Becoming an RA is rewarding and pushes you to new heights as a person, a leader, and a role model. I am excited to have become an RA at The Lodges and to meet all my new residents. As an RA and a member of the Residential Life staff many doors will open just because you took the initiative to become a leader at The Culinary Institute of America

Monday, July 13, 2015

Less Meat, More Plants

The Culinary Institute of America has been shifting its dynamic when it comes to food. In 2013, their farm to table concentration was released for students to understand where their food was coming from. This past year, the Applied Food Studies faculty and students have planted an edible garden from the ground up. The ecology of food course has opened the eyes of students by discussing the global food concerns affecting our environment. And the other day, Dr. T Colin Campbell, author of The China Study (based on the Cornell-China-Oxford-Project), reached out and spoke to our students about how the future leaders of the food industry can help our world grow a healthier lifestyle. "It's about a whole food, plant-based diet," Campbell says. 

Photo Credit: Katie Fenton

Dr. Campbell has been working 59 years now to improve worldwide long-term health. His passion with food and science stemmed from working at one of his first jobs: a dairy farm. As a scientific researcher and graduate of Cornell University for Nutrition, Campbell took his degree and background on farm work to find an area of study he was passionate about. From here, he decided to begin researching the links between protein diets and disease. One of his original studies was focused on milk proteins and their affect on human health.

In addition to writing and contributing in five books, Campbell has spoken at conferences and has reached to get his message out to thousands of people. He also teaches at Cornell and participated in his son's new film, Plant Pure Nation.

At the presentation, students learned that there were significant links between eating a protein-based diet and the contraction of various diseases. Some of the diseases that meat eaters were more likely to develop were cancer, Alzheimer's, high cholesterol, heart disease, obesity, Type I & II diabetes and arthritis. "The disease is controlled by nutrition," says Campbell, "bringing it back to food." The Whole Food Plant Based diet also contributes to restoring nutrients that are displaced in protein-based diets. These studies have placed the fate of a healthier planet into the hands of us: the food industry.

Photo Credit: Katie Fenton

Campbell says that "[n]utrition is infinitely confusing for the public." In order to make change, we have to start by getting people to listen to the evidence. From here, we can use our food knowledge to create a movement towards the goal of following the Whole Food Plant Based diet. It's our job as future leaders to not only to make people think deeper into what they are eating, but also to enable whole and plant-based foods to be a part of a lifestyle that people will stay hungry for. 

If you'd like to get more involved:

Teach yourself about creating a sustainable WFPB diet:
-Do some research: read books and publications, anything that you can find to educate yourself 
-Take classes involving the WFPB diet
-Keep up with what's going on in the food industry
-Create WFPB recipes 
-Visit local food businesses and see what they've been doing about it
- Follow a WFPB diet (or work towards it)

Educate others on creating a sustainable WFPB diet: 
-Help with growing fresh fruits, vegetables and legumes 
-Spread the word through local events or publications
-Contact local Hudson Valley businesses to get them on board to support the movement
-Get groups to create WFPB meals at local soup kitchens by offering recipe suggestions

Photo Credit: Katie Fenton