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.


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

  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!

  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.

  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....

  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!

  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!

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

    Casual Kitchen

  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!

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



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