Thursday, May 8, 2014

When Food Meets Travel

by CIA Externship Advisor Maura McMahon O'Meara

Part of the allure of voyaging to foreign shores is discovering the flavors of the cuisine there. Food is a cornerstone of culture and studying the terroir, the ingredient, and the cooking methods employed in a region helps us better understand its economics, its art, and its people. Exploring different places and flavors is a pursuit very common to those of us in the food industry; the general consensus being that the broader you build your palate, the better you’ll understand flavor interactions and the better you’ll cook. For young culinarians just starting to open their eyes to the world of food, an acute case of Wanderlust often results.

It is precisely at that influential time in a cook’s life, that point of awakening, that I come along and begin talking to our first year students about options for externship. Barely a week goes by at The Culinary Institute of America without me encountering an inquiry about choosing the option to work abroad during the term of externship. The ambition is tangible, the dream is big, and I begin my explanation about how to approach this option that is filled with complicated processes and paperwork as much as it is filled with adventure.

The CIA currently has almost 50 approved partner locations outside of the United States who are willing to work with our students during externship. The foundations are set for the students already, but each applicant has to take a full assessment of their abilities and resources before pursuing this option. Below are some important questions to consider up front so that a potential traveller can figure out if this is a path they might explore.

Mandatory Research:

v What is the language? Are you fluent enough to LIVE there?

v What is the currency exchange rate?  Can you afford to LIVE there?

v What season will it be when I am proposing to go?  Do they hire then?

v How will I travel there? What will the flight cost?

v Am I eligible for a visa? Which kind of visa will the consulate require?

In July I met with a chef in Rome, Italy who sponsors CIA student externs. Chef Boswell speaks highly of his externs of the past and appreciates the skill level and seriousness they bring to their craft.  However, our conversation also included the sober reality that the rate of unemployment for Italian citizens aged 20-32 is over 30% right now.  In a socialist government, this current climate is a difficult one for chefs who advocate for hiring a foreigner for an entry level job.  It may be that for now, we will witness the quota allowed for students visas granted in Italy to dramatically decline. Familiarize yourself with the political climates of a location to fully determine the feasibility of your plan.

Desire to learn a traditional style of cuisine with boots on the ground in that country is admirable.  If that experience can happen for you during externship, great.  If it cannot happen then, your externship can still be a strategic step in getting you abroad within the first few years of your career in food.  If you want to go to France but cannot extern there, working for a French Chef in America like Daniel Boulud or Jerome Bocuse, will offer you great exposure to French cuisine and can open doors in France for you after graduation.  We also offer amazing Food, Wine and AgriCulture trips to foreign countries in our Bachelor programs that will stretch your culinary palate for miles. Bon Voyage!

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