Friday, October 24, 2014

Cooking Up Cookbook Success with Sara Moulton

By Nancy Cocola

Everyone knows who Sara Moulton ’77 is. Starting in 1996, she was the face of the Food Network on her daily show, Cooking Live. Her goal was always to be the “kitchen shrink, the fixit person” for home cooks, helping them get dinner on the table for their families. Her name became synonymous with excellence, warmth, and accessible recipes. Her show was so successful that she was approached to write her first cookbook. “They told me, ‘this is your time, make the most of it.’ Sara explains, “And I was plunged into the world of cookbook writing.”

She certainly had the culinary chops to write a book. Sara had spent seven years working in high-end kitchens in Boston, France, and New York City. For 25 years she worked at Gourmet magazine, first in the test kitchens and then as executive chef of the magazine’s dining room. And she was a familiar face on television working on such shows as the PBS show Julia Child & More Company,  ABC’s Good Morning America., and a total of 1,500 episodes on Food Network’s Cooking Live and Sara’s Secrets. She is now in the fourth season of her PBS show, Sara’s Weeknight Meals.

Sara believes when writing cookbooks you have to consider your audience, your topic focus has to be crystal clear, and your organization has to be akin to mise en place on steroids!

Here’s Sara’s recipe for cookbook writing success:
  • Insist on a full year to write the book so you are not rushed.
  •  Make sure your focus is clear in your mind and you don’t stray.
  • Keep track of the ingredients you use and how often you use them to make sure you don’t over do it with one ingredient in the overall book. If your book has recipes from all over the world, make sure there is a balance of cuisines. Make a chart to keep track of the ingredients and the cuisine types.
  • Sara prefers not to work on a chapter from start to finish because I find it stifles creativity. She chips away at the book as a whole, adding a recipe to one chapter and then another recipe to a different chapter.
  • Write the recipe on the computer the way you think it should work, then print it and test it. Note changes you’ve made to the recipe for each round of testing you do. Note changes, print out new versions, and keep together as you progress.
  • Keep a list of user-friendly sidebars you want to add as you finish the recipe. It might be a technique, discussion of equipment, or introduction of an ingredient.
  • Writing is key. Cookbooks that don’t give guidance aren’t useful. You want to help people learn to cook.

This approach has served Sara well. She has written three cookbooks—Sara Moulton Cooks at Home, Sara’s Secrets for Weeknight Meals, and Sara Moulton’s Everyday Family Dinners. All have been hugely successful with her loyal audience.

Sara believes that the traditional reason for buying a cookbook is long gone. “People can choose from thousands of recipes on the Internet,” she says. “The cookbook of today is more of a book you read, peruse, and enjoy in much the way you do a novel. That is why telling a story and writing well is so important.”

Thursday, September 25, 2014

All the World's a Stage

By Maura McMahon O’Meara, CIA Career Services Counselor

Freshman at the CIA will learn lots of French terms, the first is mise en place and they will repeat it until it becomes a part of daily vernacular.  As a student approaches third term they will learn another phrase that will become a part of many conversations, stage (pronounced “staah-g”).  This is a short version of the French word “stagiaire” which refers to an apprentice cook who is in a trial period in a kitchen.

In response to sending a resume and cover letter stating their interest, many students will be asked by a chef to “stage” at a particular restaurant for further consideration to be hired as an extern.  The stage is much more than an interview.  Typically, the student will be asked to come to the restaurant for a full shift and participate in production with the staff. The stage offers the chance for the student to show their skills and enthusiasm, both equally important. They might also have family meal there, offering the chance to observe how the cooks interact with one another. In best cases, they will meet privately with the Executive Chef or Sous chef after service and have a chance to ask questions about what they have seen.

Most students are nervous about what they might be asked to do during the stage but after they have mastered the CIA’s fundamentals classes they should be able to handle themselves with finesse.  Staging too early, before the basics are learned, is not advised.  Being the first one there is not as good as being the best one there.

Remember that what the chef is trying to ascertain during a stage is the skill level and readiness of the applicant. If a location is far and it is not feasible for you to travel there due to schedule or finances, there may be other ways one can help the chef get the same information.  Letters of recommendation from former employers or a reference from a CIA professor could be offered.  Skype interviews can often give the feeling of “meeting someone” in person.  Some students have even sent short YouTube videos of themselves cooking to a chef in place of a stage.

A successful stage could lead to a job offer on the spot, or at least a firm handshake and a promise that the applicant with be carefully considered for the externship position.  It is common to have an applicant back for a second stage before the offer is made, so do not despair if you are asked to wait for an answer.  Staging is an integral part of starting a career in the food industry.  It is your chance to show them what you’ve got. Being a CIA student will open this door for you, but once through that door, it is up to you to prove your worth. Bon Chance!

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Culinary Research and Development Final Project

The food product development environment is dynamic and challenging and has become increasingly cross-disciplinary, technical, and global in scope. Research and Development teams need to follow a logical, structured, and evidence-based process while remaining adaptable and creative. Understanding how to work with and effectively articulate solutions to chefs, scientists, marketing experts, pilot plant managers/technicians, operators, and upper level management is part of being an effective and successful product developer. This Culinary R&D class project provides students with an opportunity to work in a team, on a real world challenge, through the product development process from ideation to prototype development.

Student teams were given “real world project briefs” that provide an R&D scenario as the context to explore principles of product development. Teams were given specific calorie, sodium, cost, consumer segments and other parameters and asked to address the following challenges and opportunities as part of the product development process:

·         People undergoing cancer treatments have significant dietary challenges and often find it difficult to maintain their necessary caloric intake during treatment. They often feel an aversion to certain aromas from ingredients such as garlic, onions, etc. Develop a product that meets their nutritional and sensory needs.
·         A food pantry would like to offer patrons more gluten-free options. Develop a gluten-free muffin that contains a half serving of fruit, and includes nuts/whole grains. The product will be par-baked in an off-site facility, frozen, distributed, and then finished baking in the regional food pantries.
·         Develop a vegetable and/or fruit based snack food that is savory, low in sodium, and low in calories from fat for school vending machines. The school district wants your team to develop two savory prototypes that have distinctly different flavor profiles and utilizes crops grown in New York State.
·         Create a healthy entrĂ©e school lunch item. It should be a “one pot dish” that can be frozen or thawed without negatively impacting quality. You should be able to serve it hot or cold.
·         Health-conscious consumers are looking to decrease their animal protein and sodium intake without sacrificing those savory flavors. You must develop a mushroom-based condiment that is stable at refrigeration temperatures for two weeks. The spread will be primarily used on sandwiches and with crackers.
·         An ice cream company wishes to revitalize its sales by offering a lower calorie option. Develop an ice cream that contains 15% less fat than the standard base composition for this company.

At the conclusion of this project, two prominent CIA alumni and CIA’s Director of Consulting kindly volunteered their time to serve as judges for the projects. Thank you to Jorge Collazo ’82, Head Chef for the NYC Department of Education, Kyle Shadix ’97, Corporate Executive Research Chef for PepsiCo Global R&D Beverage, and Ted Russin, MSc, Director of CIA Consulting.

Students who completed this project are pursuing their Bachelor’s Degree in Culinary Science. Learn more about this program.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Cook It In Your Mind First

by CIA Chef-Instructor John Reilly '88

When you first learn to cook it's all about following a recipe. As you grow and develop into a cook, you will start to rely on techniques, methods and ratios; you will put the recipes away and prepare dishes as an informed and educated cook.

Before you start to cook, you must be able to visualize the process.  You must map it out, strategize and plan.  It is at this point that you can go forward with great courage and passion.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Stars and Stripes 2014

By Ronnie Genee, Director for Residence Life
Every year The Culinary Institute of America holds its annual Stars and Stripes Weekend. This year we kicked off on Friday, June 27 with a movie in the new Marriot Pavilion. We showed Captain America: Winter Soldier and then sipped root beer floats outside on Heinz Plaza. (Appropriate, now that sassafras and other beverage-themed plants are growing on the plaza.)

It was a great start, but there was a lot more in store for Saturday and Sunday!

On Saturday, we treated the Hudson Valley to an amazing fireworks display that lasted over 20 minutes. Not to end the excitement early, we continued the evening with a DJ and dance on Anton Plaza from 10 PM – 1 AM. But what’s a CIA event without food? We served brownie sundaes on the plaza at midnight.

Just in case students didn’t have enough celebration, we also held our annual Stars and Stripes Block Party on Sunday from 12 -4 PM on our soccer field. With several clubs, organizations, and residence halls participating creating their own booths. We had field games, tie dye shirts by SPICE, eating contests, Stars and Stripes sunglasses, food tastings, and refreshments. Wait…there was more…we even brought to campus a stunt jump, water obstacle, sign making shop, and funnel cakes. We are also very grateful to have had the support of Smokehouse 220 for their generous support. They helped bring an amazing BBQ to the block party grilled by the RA staff of Hudson Hall.

Over the entire weekend, more than 600 students came to the various events. Everyone was excited to be with each other and celebrate an early Independence Day. And none of it would have been possible without the support of Student Activities, Recreation and Athletics, Residence Life, SPICE, and the leadership of the Stars and Stripes committee:  Elizabeth Zmarlicki – Student Activities Coordinator
Meka Harris – Resident Director of Rosenthal Hall
Ronnie Genee – Residence Director of Hudson Hall.

As always we look forward to next year’s Stars and Stripes and hope to see you there next time!

Check out our facebook photo album from Stars & Strips 2013.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Teaching Principles

by CIA Chef-Instructor Elizabeth Briggs

I find teaching Culinary Fundamentals is a huge responsibility.  I expect myself to prepare the student for their upcoming career in the food service industry.  I am responsible to teach them how to be teachable, to be humble, to listen, and to hear and understand the lessons of the day.  They need to think on their feet, to work with any type of person, to plan, and to organize. They need to work fast, clean, and neat. 

I need to teach them how to communicate and work as a cohesive group. I teach them to respect each other and each other’s ideas.  I help them to take direction from a group leader, but also to speak out in their group.  I help them come out of themselves and be an active part of the classroom, adding to their learning experience.

Sound like a lot? I’m not done… I am responsible for teaching them how to dress and to care for their whites. They need to know how to care for their personal hygiene throughout the class and their future endeavors in their profession.

And that’s all IN ADDITION to teaching them the culinary skills that they’ll build their education and careers on.


I have great expectations for my students!  I push them incredibly hard and I expect a great deal out of them. I feel overwhelmingly responsible to completely prepare them for the next phase of their education.

I love the fact that when my students leave my class at the end of the term and I look into their faces, there is no fear.  There is a sense of self-confidence and, I swear, they have grown three inches in the pride of accomplishment.  I am proud of how hard they have worked and how many layers of the onion they have peeled back to attain the foundation for their cooking journey.

“The only stupid question is the one you did not ask!”

As my students go into the kitchen of the Bocuse Restaurant on their pre-day one tour, we go from a very dark hallway into a crisp, white-tiled kitchen. We step from darkness into light and I tell them:

“Don’t stand in the doorway of Roth Hall on graduation day and say ‘I only wished I had studied harder!’ Make that commitment here with me today for an amazing educational journey through your learning experience at the CIA.”

Teaching has been THE most rewarding job I have ever had. The Culinary Institute of America has instilled in me that I am teaching the future of our industry.

Last week I read an article about influential women and men who had made a huge impact in our industry. And, in reflection, I spent 28 years helping most of them reach that goal. We teachers are the unsung heroes, but the reward for me is touching each person who has journeyed through my kitchens.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

5 Methods to Be Successful in a Kitchen or Pastry Class

by CIA Chef-Instructor Freddy Brash '76

  1. Every block students come to me to complain about their team in a production kitchen because their partner does not come in prepared. Come on, chefs! We know that we are supposed to review the recipes the night before. You can't wing it. Not here that The Culinary Institute of America. It's necessary to not just write down your recipes, but to write them down to memorize them and really understand them. Test yourself or with your teammate by reciting the recipe by memory. Impress your chef instructor!
  2. Attitude. Go to class that day with an attitude of gratitude. Attitude is the only thing that you can change, and of course, you can only change yours! Stay positive even if the going gets a little shaky. A positive attitude will bring results.
  3. Perspiration. You have to sweat a little and move in the kitchen. If the pot sink fills up, go and help out. If you are in a production kitchen feeding our fellow classmates, we have to speed it up. No plate goes in the window unless you taste it first and know that it's well-seasoned.
  4. Let go! If you have prepared really well and your brain and heart are in the right place, then you have to let go and wait for the results. Sometimes waiting in the hallway for another door to open is the toughest.
  5. Wait a minute, did I say five ways? One more—try to have fun and enjoy yourself. The CIA is fun, but requires real work. "Success" does not always mean an "A" or a pat on the back. Success can also mean that you did the best that you could on that day. However, if you let your teammates know that they did a good job that day, then you may also hear it back in return. Pay it forward and affirm your teammate's talents to be a real team.