Thursday, April 17, 2014

Farm to Table

by CIA Instructor Irena Chalmers

Alice Waters, the revered founder of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, California, was Eve Felder’s mentor. Eve Felder is managing director of The Culinary Institute of America's Singapore campus. She also taught classes at The Culinary Institute of California, Hyde Park, New York campus.

She told the students they must support the farmers in their community.  Michael Ruhlman was in her class. He tells her story: “Eve had gone to an organic strawberry farm and picked strawberries. She then went to a farm that grew peas. She picked peas.  From there she visited a farm that raised chickens. She returned home, and picked some lettuce and herbs from her garden, and, surprised by all this Hudson Valley bounty, invited six people for dinner. That is what food is all about,” she said.

“Food is about community. It’s about the earth and really taking care of the earth.”

Professor Felder asked the question, “What does the food want? What does it taste like in its natural form?

“Young cooks often want to add more and more ingredients to a recipe but in fact, newly dug potatoes are going to be delicious with just a little bit of sherry-shallot vinaigrette and roasted garlic.  To understand food you must taste it, taste it and taste it again.  Trust your taste buds to be your guide—and your conscience.”

These words are from Michael Ruhlman’s book, The Making of a Chef, in which Michael writes a diary of his journey as a student at the CIA.  It is fascinating — indeed essential reading — for every chef, every cook and everyone who is thinking about embarking on a culinary career.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Livin’ High on the Hog!

By Guest Blogger Peety the Pig
Follow Peety on Twitter & Instagram @peetythepig

Just had a birthday of sorts! These really nice students helped me celebrate my 28-day milestone. For a hog like me, that means I've built up my immunity and can now supply my own antibodies—though I still can't quite figure out how I'm supposed to do that. Guess I'll just have to take their word for it.

Bottom line is, I’m less likely to get sick… so it’s party time!

Love that I’ve been getting more and more servings of that yummy dry food mixed with milk. I mean, I appreciate Mom and all, but it’s pretty cool being pampered by all these students and farmers at mealtime. 

Speaking of the students, they’re so good to me. They built my pen, and clean it out whenever I get, um, untidy. They created a great water system for all of us, and give us TLC when we need it. Oh, and did I mention the food?

At around 5 or 6 pounds—less than half the weight of my brothers and sisters—I need all the chow I can get.

And guess what? More good news! I’ve been dubbed the farm mascot! I’m so honored. Can’t wait to see what new adventures await me in my new role.

That's my dad! His name is Tony Soprano.

Monday, April 14, 2014

CIA Earth Day Challenge

by Louise Tompkins, ManagerFacilities

Twenty kitchen classes are starting today off on a green foot, jumping into this year's CIA Earth Day Challenge. Faculty signed on to reduce their paper towel use over the next three weeks, which includes Earth Day on Tuesday, April 22. Participating kitchens and bakeshops were provided some tools, including a special re-usable cloth and squeegees, and the rest is up to them!  The class having the biggest percent reduction will celebrate with a party. 

Last year the college challenged faculty to eliminate using trash bags for three weeks in kitchen garbage cans for Earth Day, and the result, was the permanent elimination of this practice. The hope is that this year's challenge will be a major step in reducing future paper towel use on campus.

Learn more about the CIA's Green Campus Initiative.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Teaching Fundamentals

I have a lot of thoughts on teaching a fundamental skill. First, you have to teach someone how to physically do something. Try telling someone how to tie their shoelaces. Most people think that this is the most important part of the class. I disagree. I used to believe that my job was teaching students how to make a muffin or a cake batter. But, it’s not that simple. 

My job is primarily to teach new baking & pastry students how to be successful in a professional bakeshop. There’s a lot encompassed in that statement. I find myself teaching students how to study, how to speak to a person in a higher position than them, how to respect each other and equipment, how to work clean and organized, how to stand, how to speak loud enough to be heard over equipment, how to work faster and still be accurate. The list just keeps going on. Nowhere did I mention teaching someone how to make a muffin. I believe that if you teach a person how to work, speak and organize themselves in a professional manner, they can always learn how to make something.

Don’t get me wrong; we spend a lot of time making baked goods and learning how to make your hands do what you ask them to do. That is a big part of this. But, it’s not the only part. Before the end of class, all of the students will learn how to make their list of fundamental products. Some of them have better hands than others and the hand work will come easier for them. In the end, they all manage to make that darn muffin. But, did I teach them how to be successful?

I think back to when I hired externs or recent graduates from culinary schools. What I was looking for in them was often quite different from what they thought they were going to be doing on the job. I wanted someone who would take direction, work clean and accurately, and be quick about it. I didn’t want a baker that was creative or inventive. I wanted someone who could pipe exactly like I piped and didn’t make a mess doing it or take all day. Young culinarians are notorious for wanting to “reinvent” what they are working on. They want to put their own individual stamp on all the products. That’s natural for them to want to express their creative side. But, as an employer, I can’t have that kind of anarchy going on in the shop. Everybody has to make the same formula, the exact same way, each and every day

I have to get students ready for that reality. They are going to have to just do what they’re told for a while, until they move up the chain of command.

It takes a tremendous amount of effort the get an individual to bend to your will. Most people will fight this and try to maintain their individuality. It’s my job to explain why I’m doing this so that the students can accept the reasoning behind what I’m doing. That’s how I start day 1 of class. I make an analogy to sports, specifically, training Michael Phelps for the Olympics. I have this mental picture of Michael being woken up at a very early hour to go to the pool and practice. If you’ve gotten out of bed when it’s still dark to go exercise, you know how hard it is to get out of a warm bed. I’m sure there were days when Michael Phelps wanted to stay under the covers. Without a doubt, it was his mother pushing him to get up on the days he wanted to sleep. She pushed him to practice. Once at the pool, I assume there was a coach with a whistle and a bull horn on the side of the pool yelling at Michael to “go faster”. If Michael Phelps were left in a pool by himself, he probably wouldn’t push himself quite as hard as his coach pushed him. Michael’s coach knew that if he pushed Michael, he would get faster and stronger. Maybe, even win a gold medal someday.

I feel like a coach, a coach who yells and insists on greatness. Nothing less is an option. I tell my students that I will yell and insist that they do things exactly how I said to do them. I explain that I’m doing this, not because I’m a mean person, but because I know this is the path to greatness. I won’t give up, and they know it. They all shake their heads while I’m talking. They agree that they want to be great. Why else would you come to the CIA? I remind them that having someone yell at you and tell you that you’re doing it wrong isn’t a pleasant experience. I know that there will be days when they don’t particularly like me. I’m OK with that. I know what I’m doing is going to make them better students. We go on this journey together. 

At the end of the semester I get lots of smiles, hugs, tears, wonderful cards expressing gratuity, and promises to come back and see me. Most of my students do stop back into my bakeshop to say “hi” and let me know how they’re doing. It makes my day when I see them progressing through the program and coming back from externship. I get to watch them succeed. I’m really very lucky. I have a great job that I love very much.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Being a Runt Ain’t So Bad

By Guest Blogger Peety the Pig
Follow Peety on Twitter & Instagram @peetythepig

1. Less is more. At birth, I weighed in at 18 oz, while all my brothers and sisters were around 2½ pounds. I’m light and ready to go places!

2. You try getting a little privacy with 35 piglets running around! But CIA students built me my own small pen, complete with heating pad and straw that smells like mom.

3. Feeding frenzy! It’s a mad dash at meal time and we’re hungry ALL THE TIME!! But you won’t see me wrestling with the pack. I prefer to dine in style. I’m hand-fed every three hours.

4. And the best part? My best friend, Brody! We never would have met if I didn’t need all that extra TLC. We play tag a lot. I can’t catch him….yet.

The Culinary Institute of America is raising Red Wattle Hogs as part of the American Food Studies: Farm-to-Table Cooking Concentration. Red Wattle Hogs are on the endangered list according to the Conservation Priority List (CPL). One of the reasons we have chosen this breed is to help provide genetically pure breeders to other interested farmers.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Crystal Balls & Career Advice


By Maura O’Meara, Career Services Officer

Confession:  I read my horoscope each month.  I have also wished on every falling star I’ve ever seen.  My Irish grandmother taught me to throw salt over my shoulder when I spilled some in the kitchen.  Given this evidence, it is safe to say that I can be a bit superstitious. 

I work in Career Services and when students ask me to identify how many employment offers they might get, or how likely it is that a chef will make them a job offer by next week, I usually reply “I cannot answer that question without a crystal ball.” But the truth is, there is no place for a crystal ball in my office, and there never will be. Although I love mysterious phenomena, I would like students to know that my role in advising you for career success has absolutely nothing to do with checking the alignment of the stars on the day of your stage, or even crossing my fingers for you before your big interview.  My job is to be sure that you are as prepared as you can be using the very earthly talent of wisdom, and to prescribe a healthy dose of determination, not the eye of a newt. Part of your education at CIA is learning how to tell your own fortune. So I turn the question back to the student and ask, “How can you be sure you get the job you want?”

No divination is required! There are sure-fire ways to stack the odds in your favor that are absolutely within your own control:

ü  Do extensive research before approaching a perspective employer so that they know you have a sincere interest in getting this position and that you have already discovered why you want to join their team. 
ü  Get your list of questions ready so that they know you have a healthy curiosity about their unique philosophy of food and service.

ü  Show strong self-management skills by being on time and appropriately dressed. 

ü  Set a great first impression by having sharp knives when entering a kitchen.

ü  Balance enthusiasm with focus so that when you cook, your work will be fast, clean and exact which they know will add to the success of their business.

ü  Look them in the eye and smile so that they feel your natural sense of hospitality.

ü  Follow up each interview with a thank you letter to show them you are serious.