The Culinary Institute of America is well regarded as the best culinary school in the United States. I was always curious on how the school cultivated many of the world’s most successful chefs.
During a visit to The Culinary Institute of America’s California campus, I was able to find some clues.
The Culinary Institute of America has four campuses in New York, California, Texas, and Singapore. The California campus nestles at the heart of the Napa Valley wine country, overlooking fields of grape yards and dozens of bustling wineries.
When I visited yesterday, the school was closed for the summer break, but luckily, there is a one-hour weekly cooking demonstration to food enthusiasts from around the world. The demonstration simulates an actual cooking class at the school by a regular instructor in a real classroom.
The instructor we had was Chef Ken, a soft-spoken man with a gentle smile. The demonstration was how to make the Italian version of Rissole. At the end of the demonstration, the food savvy audience gave an appreciative round of applause for his lively explanation of the ingredients and procedure. What impressed me most, though, was how he introduced food culture and history as well as cooking tips and tricks—all during the course of demonstrating a single recipe.
When making the dough for the Rissole, Chef Ken talked about the concept of Mediterranean “wheat” as well as Chinese “mian” (“flour”), how people in various parts of the world prepare dough, and how the particular Italian style dough he was making was different. In a casual and natural way, I quickly learned about an important piece of food culture and history.
The audience is free to ask questions anytime during the cooking demonstration, just like students in regular classes. When the lady sitting behind me asked about pancakes while Chef Ken was making dough, he gave a detailed suggestion on how to make batter for different purposes.
When another audience asked what kind of salt he was using, he gave a thorough explanation on different kinds of salt and their features (though he noted that all basic salts were the same in taste).
Sitting in the classroom, I learned tricks for battering and tips for choosing salt.
Imagine how much one can learn from enriching and inspiring classes like this every day! Suddenly, it occurred to me that perhaps this is why The Culinary Institute of American is the cradle of so many top culinary professionals in America.
As the school’s website says, The Culinary Institute of America not only trains students in cooking, but also instills in students values of “excellence, leadership, professionalism, ethics, and respect for diversity” through the cooking curriculum.
I had a wonderful trip today!
Photos of the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California: