Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Return to the CIA ~ Someday Comes


The first time I visited the Culinary Institute of America, I was a teenager, and I was dining at the Caterina de’ Medici with my family. We were seated and served an amuse bouche ~ a date stuffed with Roquefort cheese. Instead of butter beside the bread basket, there were shallow bowls of viridian olive oil speckled with coarse salt and cracked black pepper. I remember looking around at the waiters and waitresses, all chefs-in-training, and thinking, Someday, that will be me.


But, not so much. As it turns out, I took a different path. I majored in English, became an editor. Then added “wife,” “mother,” and “writer” to my curriculum vitae. It was a long time before my particular path brought me back to the CIA.

Last Saturday I pulled on a toque in a CIA bakeshop for the second time. I was there to write about the Saturdays at the CIA class, Baking at Home: Desserts. Our instructor, the affable Chef Hans Welker, outlined an impossibly ambitious schedule in his robust German accent. Pie crust, layer cake, pound cake, buffet lunch in the CIA dining room. . . . He pointed out the bread, cheese, and fresh fruits that were laid out ~ sustenance to get us through the busy morning.


Toque, apron, side towel. More than two decades later, I was standing at a baker’s bench in a CIA kitchen, in baker’s garb, waiting to learn about home baking from a Master Baker. And, although I have almost twenty years of baking experience under my belt; have written hundreds of recipes, articles, and blog posts on home baking topics; and have baked thousands of items requiring varying degrees of skill on my part, I did learn.

In fact, I learned something completely new from Chef Welker, a technique I’d never tried or even read about in any of my scores of baking books. From the very first exercise ~ a simple pie crust ~ I was already ahead. Improving, growing as a baker and a learner.

That’s what happens at the CIA. And that’s why, after 20-odd years of learning and in spite of all I already know, I looked around as I walked through campus ~ taking in the teaching kitchens, the bakeshops, the restaurants ~ and the tiny thought popped into my head: Someday.

If you have any inclination to deepen your experience in the kitchen, cooking or baking, do yourself a favor and look into the enthusiast classes at the CIA. From 5-day intensive boot camps to 1-day classes, the Culinary Institute of America provides an experience that you just can’t get anywhere else. The CIA is, after all, a bastion of the culinary universe, and to be part of it, even just for a day or a week, is simply awesome.

I went home from my Saturday class with three heavy cake boxes (bearing an apple-cranberry galette, a devil’s food fudge cake, and a sour cream streusel pound cake), a CIA apron, and a copy of the wonderful Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America~ so I could go forward on my own and continue to learn the techniques and principles of baking set down by the CIA instructors.*

If my path brings me back there ~ and I really, really hope it does ~ I’ll go with bells on. I know enough to know that I have a lot to learn.

If you want to see what I learned on my first visit ~ for the Hearth Breads Boot Camp ~ click here and here. To visit the CIA’s Web site and learn more about the enthusiast classes, click here.

*Note: I’ll be baking through this entire cookbook on my baking blog, At the Baker’s Bench. Please stop by and visit ~ this book has some wonderful insight to offer the serious home baker, and I’m very excited to journey through it recipe by recipe.

9 comments:

  1. What a dream! I too say someday....

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  2. I've been waiting to hear about your day there and can say I've wanted to attend quite a bit. You definitely came home with some very lovely things!

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  3. How fun! Both the trip to CIA and the baking project. It's still high on my wishlist to pay them a visit someday.

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  4. OMG - this post has just hit every one of my buttons. I *so* want to go. There is little chance at my age of making a career of it, but I do want to just learn about it - all of it. And I *love* classes! I'm off to the CIA site to see how long I have to save up....

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  5. We all have a "someday," don't we? Thanks for sharing your trip to the CIA. I love the picture of the galette. Lucky you!

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  6. I've been day-dreaming every time I get the course catalog! I really want to take so many of those boot camp courses! Thanks for sharing your experiences so far!

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  7. What an inspiring post! Nice to know that we can all learn new things at any age, isn't it?

    Dan
    Casual Kitchen

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  8. Oooh! Thanks for sharing - going to CIA is great fun - and one of the few bakeries in which I think EVERYTHING is absolutely delectable!

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  9. Sounds like an incredible day! I can't wait to follow you as you flip through the pages of Baking at Home.

    Regards,
    Emily

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