Monday, December 30, 2013

The CIA Chain

As the editor of the CIA’s alumni magazine, mise en place, I talk to a lot of grads. Almost every article I prepare for the magazine brings me into contact with our alumni. It’s probably one of the best parts of my job. Almost to a person, our alumni are enthusiastic, knowledgeable, and willing to help out, especially if I’m researching an article about their particular culinary passion!

But what makes them so remarkable to me is how much they help and enjoy each other. I don’t know exactly why there is so much camaraderie among the ranks of CIA alumni. Maybe it’s the common language of food that “civilians” just don’t get. Maybe it’s the shared experience of battling the heat in the kitchen. Or maybe it’s their mutual respect for the demands and joys of their CIA education. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve called to speak to the executive chef at a restaurant only to learn that the entire staff is made up of CIA grads. Lon Symensma opened his restaurant ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro in Denver, CO, with an entire staff of CIA alumni—basically, people he knew he could count on.

That is a story I hear over and over again—CIA grads hiring CIA grads. It’s a kind of chain made up of links that just do not break. Why? Because they know that they come out of the best culinary college, have the most evolved skills, and are eager to learn. They know that they can count on the grad they hire to function at a level of excellence that is hard to find. And, of course, it gives them the opportunity to hang out and share war stories about their chef-instructors, crazy-busy days in the CIA restaurants, and fun in the dorms and the Student Union.

I love talking to our alumni because by the end of our conversations I always end up feeling enthusiastic and pumped about what we are doing at the college and about the life so many of our alumni are making for themselves.

If you want to read more about the kinds of things our alumni are up to, you can find current and back issues of mise en place at Enjoy!

Nancy Cocola

P.S. To any alumni out there reading this, we’d love for you to share stories about your CIA networking experiences!

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Ancient Foods in a Modern World

By Andi Sciacca, Director of the CIA's Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning (CETL)

Imagine a kitchen without knives, a cooler, or a stove. Consider a time and place where the only tools available to you were what you could make with your own hands, fashioned from bits of stone, wood, animal bone, antler, pine pitch, and moss. Envision a day spent gathering seeds and greens, spear throwing for practice and sport, and creating pigments for paintings that depict the story of the hunt. Or, picture yourself scraping honey from the comb, chewing on the soft wax, and joining a group of your friends to share fermented cider while discussing ideas of importance to your community. Now, imagine this happening at the CIA’s Hyde Park campus overlooking the Hudson River, not thousands of years ago, but in 2013!

On Saturday, September 21, a group of CIA faculty, students, and staff were treated to a full day of planned activities and tastings focused on ancient food preparation methods. The theme, “Feasting & Foraging: Ancient Methods for Modern Times,” was the culmination of several months of careful planning under the direction of Dr.Maureen Costura, CIA associate professor of liberal arts.

The day began with a foraging tour led by Naturalist “Wildman” Steve Brill, a local foraging expert. He took a group of 15 students into the woods adjacent to campus on a quest to gather seeds, nuts, berries, and various greens. From her forage walk across the campus grounds, Professor of Culinary Arts Katherine Polenz ’73 brought back handfuls of fresh, fragrant, and sweet red and golden raspberries to share. Most students were surprised to learn that they were growing right under the windows of Rosenthal Hall.

While those participants foraged, others helped Assistant Professor of Culinary Arts DarrylMosher as he started and stoked a wood fire in a stone-lined pit at the base of the hill next to the Student Recreation Center. The pit was only a few feet deep, but it took a group of students two hours to prepare the area the previous afternoon—seems everyone wanted a turn using the pickax or shovel to see what the experience was like.

As the fire grew under Darryl’s careful watch, other students and staff, including Dean of Culinary Arts Brendan Walsh ’80, gathered around a table and donned safety goggles and leather work gloves (not historically accurate, but necessary) for a flint-knapping (shaping) class. Research archeologist and stone-tools expert Emmett O’Keeffe, an accomplished stone-worker and an Ad Astra Research Scholar with the University College, Dublin, demonstrated the skill. He brought several primitive knives to use as models—including razor-sharp blades of flint and obsidian attached to deer and elk antler handles with pine-pitch and sinew.

After the hands-on toolmaking, the students took their blades and gathered around a makeshift station to butcher salmon, lamb, and pork, and prepare various root vegetables for roasting. They were surprised by how quickly they could adjust their cutting styles to work efficiently with the meat and by the sharpness of the primitive tools.

The feast was cooked over the open fire. To relax while waiting, some tried their hand at using an atl-atl to throw a spear while others created paint by mixing vegetable pigments and saliva so they could paint stories of the day on strips of burlap. When it was time to eat, everyone gathered around the fire with flat stone plates and stone-tools to assist with serving. The lamb was the unanimous favorite, with the pork ribs and suckling pig a very close second. Dr. Costura brought ground mustard seed and varieties of salt that were probably used in early preparation and preservation of meats. Most agreed that the salmon and mustard were particularly piquant when combined.

Once the food was eaten and only discarded rib bones and salmon skin remained, participants watch local artisan Anita Fina Kiewra demonstrate honey extraction, using the wooden frames from several of her hives. Student volunteers painstakingly shaved the raw honeycomb prior to pressing it. Anita passed around an array of honeys gathered from specific locations at various times of year to demonstrate the differences between them.

And finally, students sat under the shade of a tree for a lecture and discussion on the nature of academic symposia as drinking parties! The lecture, given by Marist College philosophy professor Dr. Gregory B. Sadler, was entitled “Symposia Then and Now, or, Why Did We Quit Drinking?” Dr. Sadler specializes in ancient and medieval philosophy. He led a spirited discussion following his lecture that continued on for an additional hour. To enhance the event, a maple-apple hard cider created on campus by Associate Professor of Hospitality and Service Management Doug Miller ’89 was shared by all of drinking age as the conversation ranged over the origins of epicurean delights. As the day came to a close, many lingered to share stories about their favorite parts of the day. All agreed that the weather was ideal, the food was excellent, the opportunity to learn and try new things was abundant, and the company was—as always at the CIA— convivial, diverse, and engaging.

Dr. Costura organized this event as “a way for participants to connect to the foodways of people in other cultures, and gain respect and understanding for the skill and effort it takes to prepare food in non-technological societies.” Her work was funded by the CIA’s Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning (CETL) and The Julia Child Foundation for Gastronomy and Culinary Arts.

She created this experiential event as a pilot-test for a new BPS elective entitled “Ancient Foods in a Modern World: Latin American Crops in a Global Arena.” Scheduled to begin on the Hyde Park campus in January 2014, this elective will also be a foundational course in the new Latin American Cuisine concentration at the CIA San Antonio beginning May 2014. Dr. Costura encourages any alumni interested in learning more about the course or about her research to contact her at

This article will appear in the February 2014 edition of the CIA’s alumni magazine, mise en place. Read mise en place online and see other CIA publications at our issuu site.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Library Learning Commons

by Jodi Amato, CIA Learning Support Center Manager

Hundreds of balloons, soared above the Hilton Library on opening day of the brand new Learning Commons.

What a celebration it was — and continues to be.

Throngs of students, faculty and the ever-expanding CIA family of financial aid consultants, special needs advisers, career guidance counselors and tutors filled the central space to joyful capacity.  Some fifty visitors at a time found seats around the small tables. They admired the dozens of new computer stations or gathered together to sample the coffee, cookies and mountains of handmade chocolates. Some adventurers explored the other quiet study rooms and two intimate conference centers that are situated beyond the main room. And small groups curled up on the comfortable couches and easy chairs with the expansive views of the library’s gardens. They gather here in this lovely place to chat with old friends and meet and greet new ones.

The heartbeat of the Learning Commons hums with its welcoming atmosphere.  Tutors are here to offer help and guidance with every class and every situation. Tutors are selected not only on the basis of the acquired knowledge and top grades they have earned themselves but perhaps even more importantly, for their “likeability.” These peer advisers are patient and understanding because they have themselves lived the “experience” of difficult classes and (mostly) mastered many of their own anxieties. They fully understand the challenges of schedules that change frequently and empathize with the unique challenges faced by the many international students.

Everyone is welcomed to The Library Learning Commons. All day and late into the evening. 

Students are reminded of that old maxim:  “If you don’t ask for what you want, the chances of getting it are pretty close to zero.”

We don’t have all the answers but we, the tutors, most certainly make our very best effort to explore the questions.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Lessons Learned in the CIA's IPP Class

Lessons Learned in the CIA's IPP Class

Individual & Production Pastry (IPP) is a very unique class for first year students. It is the first pastry class where they are expected to produce a high volume amount under time constraints. It is also the first time they work as a team rather than individually.
Working as a Team
As we all know, working in a team environment can pose many issues. Some teams work flawlessly together, while others may have so many issues that they are unable to focus on the task at hand. At times, the problem may be a weaker student paired with a stronger student, the stronger student ends up feeling burdened and resentful. Without fail, you have teams with strong-minded people fighting for dominance. No matter the situation, it is very important for the students to have these experiences. They may have similar concerns facing them in their careers, and need to learn to deal with them effectively, and in a positive, professional manner. The bottom line is, no matter what problems they are facing in their respective teams, they need to produce a quality product within the time frame given. The guest needs to be served on time!

Consistency, Consistency, Consistency!
Establishing hand-eye coordination and exceptional attention to detail is another challenge facing the IPP students. When you are first learning how to perform a task it is best to take your time and have a successful outcome, instead of rushing and producing a sloppy product. Here in IPP, the products must be done quickly with precision, and be beautiful when completed. They must all look exactly the same. Each team is responsible for supplying pastries for an in-class buffet that we set-up on the marble table with white linens and plexi-glass risers. When they look at their products lined up, it is easy to identify any issues they had with production and uniformity from one pastry to another. In IPP it is stressed that all products are the same in order to deliver the same quality to every guest. For instance, if you are selling a slice of Frasier in your bakery for $5.00, and one is half the size of the other, you cannot expect the guest to pay the same price for a smaller product, which means you have to take a loss on that product. The student must begin to think about profitability. Working fast and consistently will yield positive results every time.

The majority of students that complete IPP are more confident, and as a class they work more coherently. I am able to watch them grow in their professionalism and skill set in just three weeks time. It is a very rewarding class to instruct.

You can view more photos from IPP at Chef Fritz’s tumbler page:
Want a student's perspective? Check out this post from CIA Student Blogger Morgan.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Now What?

by Ron Hayes '02,
     Associate Director of Career Services & Author of Creating Your Culinary Career

“Now what?” is a question many of us have asked ourselves early on in our careers.  I know I did.  Not only did I not have an idea of my next step or the step after that, I was working 10, 12, 14, 16 hours a day, six days a week.  With nearly all of my time and energy devoted to the job, there was no time left to give to planning the next steps of my career.

Or so I convinced myself.

Eventually, after trial and error, I came to work for a company in an entry-level position, a major step down in title and salary. But then a funny thing happened:

I made a plan. 

Not just for the next step, but a long-term plan for growth.  Even more important than making the plan, I acted upon that plan, always looking 2, 3, 5 steps ahead.  Then a funny thing happened:

That initial step down turned into a major step up.

I grew in my career.  Not just in my job—the position I was in right then—but my career, the long-term path.  Part of this growth included writing a book: Creating Your Culinary Career (Wiley, 2013). 

My main goal in writing this book was to provide a resource which I didn’t have (or take advantage of): a guide on how to think and plan ahead for your career. We know in the kitchen that planning=success.  We have the tools, skills, knowledge, and abilities to succeed in a kitchen.  Yet many do not know how to apply that same thinking to our careers.

Creating Your Culinary Career is not a book that will tell you everything you can possibly do in the world of food or with your culinary degree.  What it does provide are things you can do RIGHT NOW to help yourself to grow in your career.  I have personally discovered that managing your career is something that happens RIGHT NOW, continually, not just when you need a job.  It does not take a tremendous amount of time on a daily basis. But it does require continual attention. 

I wish someone had told me that years ago. Which is another reason why I wrote this book, so that aspiring culinarians can have the tools to manage their careers right up front when they need it.  It is all mise en place: better planning earlier = better results later.

This book is a great tool for any culinarian, and an even better tool, available ONLY to students and graduates of the CIA, is our CareerServices team.  As a grad, you have life-long access to a team of people who are there to help you succeed.  I am a part of this team with my boots on the ground working directly with students and graduates to create and implement the career management plans that I wrote about in Creating Your Culinary Career.  

A book is a valuable resource; direct assistance from the person who wrote the book is an even better value.

I, along with the rest of the Career Services team, look forward to helping our students and grads grow in their careers.  We are there for you from the minute you walk in the door and at any point in your career when you find yourself saying “Now what?”

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Welcome to the New CIA Blog

by CIA Instructor Irena Chalmers
On the first day at the CIA every new student is excited but scared, lost then found, overwhelmed, apprehensive and bewildered. Nervous yet excited. Psyched. Hyped up and full of hope and optimism.

Everyone is measuring everyone else. Classmates gravitate towards a mirror image of their own gender, age and ethnicity. Kids, fresh from high school, meet and greet graduates from other colleges, older career changers, young vets and new arrivals from around the country and around the world; from India and Korea, Europe and Israel, France and the Philippines, North Carolina and New Jersey.

The community of the CIA is a microcosm of the universe.

On the college campus, the majestic Roth Hall opens its doors onto the playful dancing waters of the fountains on the Plaza and beyond to the sweeping vistas of the majestic Hudson. It is here, at this very point, the salt waters of the ocean collide with the fresh waters of the river. Here too, our cultural heritages collide and merge into fruitful collaborations.

Here new students make thrilling discoveries — and a few disasters. Here are  flourishing ideas and inspirations. Here are kitchens and classrooms. To succeed everyone must work hard, study seriously and seize unlimited, unique opportunities. There are clubs to join, games to play, lifetime friendships to form, travels to take and campus visits from galaxies of culinary stars.

Unlike other colleges, we exist as the living conjugation of the verb TO Eat. I EAT. YOU EAT. WE ALL EAT — TOGETHER.  Food is Life. Wine is Living.

We respect the past and the present and value science and the innovative technologies.  We embrace new suggestions, new voices and invite new members to our ever-expanding family of friends, faculty, students, graduates and alumni.

For the culinary world, the CIA is the Port of Entry. The Crossroads. The Destination.

We are all the same. We are all different.  Each of us has the singular opportunity to choose our own path to the future... everyone must find their own ornament to hang on the tree.

Our new site will share words from every part of our vibrant campus.  Check back regularly. All your comments and opinions are gladly accepted.

In addition to teaching at the CIA, Irena Chalmers is the author of two books about culinary careers. Check out her personal blog at