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.
*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.