Thoughts For Food

Insights into the Mind of a Culinary School Student

Life in the CIA: Living the Dorm Life

Taken from Google Image Search

So, let’s say you’re a new student at the Culinary Institute of America. THE premier culinary college in the United States. First of all, welcome to the CIA family! You’ve made a great choice coming here!

Now let’s say that you’ve chosen to live on-campus during your time at the CIA. Confused? Scared? Don’t know anyone? Welcome to how I felt when I first moved in. It can be a little daunting being away from home and/or being on your own for the first time. I’ve been there before coming to the CIA and trust me when I say, I know exactly how you feel. It is a really scary moment stepping out on your own for the first time, believe you me. That being said, here’s some sound advice from someone who’s done the dorm-room dance once before. Hopefully, it’ll help you, if you are coming to the CIA!

  • Find out who you’re going to be living with. The more you know about your soon-to-be roommates, the better. Now, I’m not saying stalk them like a creeper, but at least find out their names, where they are in the program, etc. Facebook is a wonderful tool for this job. Send a friend request, message, whatever. Bottom line, establish some communication with them before you meet them. It’s easier that way when you finally do meet face-to-face. Or, if you’re like my last two roommates, find out that you need a fridge, haha.
  • When you do meet, find out the “Room Rules.” In the majority of cases here at the CIA, there will be 1 – 2 people already living in the room that you will be moving into. Don’t let that scare you. Sure, they’ve been in the program longer than you, but they can still be friendly. Still, it doesn’t hurt to find out what’s off-limits, who’s stuff goes where, what’s fair game for the room and, most importantly, who gets stuck with the top bunk. Sad to say folks, 99% of the time, that’s going to be YOU, newbie. I’d say that has to be the only pecking order in most rooms: new guy gets top bunk.
  • Get to know the people in your class-block. As mentioned in a previous entry, the CIA has a block system of classes. As a result, many of the people you move in with, you will be seeing later on down the line. So, get to know them. Make friends. It’s going to help you out so much later on in the program when you’re split into groups of 2 or 4 while in class. This way, you know who you best work with, etc. Also, it’s great to have people to hang out with on weekends, during the week, etc. Fun times is the name of the game!
  • Get to know your chefs! I CANNOT stress this point enough. Yes, they’re intimidating. Get over it. Many chefs here are very friendly and will often go out of their way to help you in and out of class. Stay on their good side and really just talk with them. They have some diverse and impressive resumes and many are more than willing to chat about the industry, recipes, etc. It’s a great way to form connections and even get references when extern or a job opportunity rolls your way.
  • Find out more about the campus and the surrounding town. If you’ve never been to the Hyde Park/Poughkeepsie area of New York, it’s not a bad area. It’s wonderful during the Spring and Summer with all the local farmers markets. Great local malls, nice restaurants, really good local atmosphere. For you nerdy types out there, like myself, The Dragon’s Den in your one-stop shop for all things comics, D&D, Magic, Warhammer and videogames. Oh, and let’s not forget, you’re only a 45-minute train ride away from New York City. There’s always something to do in this area.
  • Find out about clubs on campus and join some. This is yet another way to make friends and make contacts. There are a TON of clubs on campus so no matter what your likes are, there’s bound to be a club here that will tickle your fancy.

There’s my list! Hope you find it helpful! And if you really are coming to the CIA, welcome to the family!


Food Bites: Tools of the Trade

Taken from Google Image Search

I’ve mentioned quite a few tools here on the blog ever since I’ve started posting. I’m sure there are a few people who don’t know what I’m talking about and just dismiss it as food industry jargon. Rest assured, there is a method to my madness and there are meanings to the tools I often name-drop here. Allow me to break it down for everyone playing at home.

A lot of TV Infomercials and novelty stores will be selling what is touted as being the end-all, be-all kitchen “kit.” Or some may be tempted to get the latest “flavor of the month” kitchen gimmick that’s really only good for one thing (Slap Chop, I’m looking at you). I’m telling you right now: DON’T fall for such flashy gimmicks or kits. My parents, I love them to death, but they always seem to fall prey to these infomercials and such. Thankfully, I weaned them off of it and I’ll pass on what I’ve learned to you, dear readers. The following is a list of common, everyday items that you can find in every knife kit of every student here at the CIA and, these same tools can easily transition into the home kitchen.

A 7 or 8-inch Chef’s Knife: This is the prime workhorse of any kitchen cutlery set. 7 or 8 inches is the norm but there are longer knives out there. Honestly, the longer the knife, the trickier it is to wield, at least from my point-of-view. This knife, well kept and well sharpened, will tear through just about anything you set it to. It will carve meat, dice veggies and even make short work of fruit. No kitchen set or knife kit should be without this knife.

A 3 or 4-inch Paring Knife: Remember, it’s not the size that matters, and this little guy is the living embodiment of that phrase. It can peel, slice, dice, basically anything its larger cousin can do, but for smaller or more delicate items. It’s perfect for stripping meat of bones and, kept sharp, a great aid for filleting hunks of meat off fish, chicken, etc. Again, kept sharp, this is the perfect compliment to the larger Chef’s Knife.

A 10-inch Serrated Bread Knife: This serrated beauty is perfect for not only bread, but for carving large roasts as well. The serrated blade makes quick work of tough, crusty loaves of bread, as well as large hunks of meat. It’s a sturdy knife that shouldn’t be left out of any setup.

A 10-inch Serrated Cake Knife: This guy isn’t just for cakes, trust me. You can use it to shave off chocolate, make homemade bread crumbs and it can also double as a carving knife for delicate items that the Bread Knife may damage. This is one knife you shouldn’t overlook.

Spring-Loaded Tongs: These should be a no-brainer at this point. Tongs are an essential part of any setup. Their uses are just about limitless. Pulls foods out of the oven, flip meat on the grill, hold them while you check the temperature, etc. Don’t skip these. And speaking of checking temperature…

Electronic Probe Thermometer/Timer: This is an extremely handy piece of equipment. The probe can easily enter anything you’re cooking and the internal temperature will be easily displayed on the readout screen. The prob and cord are also over-safe, so you can leave it inside the item being cooked and the timer portion can be set outside the oven and even set to alert you when it reaches the appropriate temperature. The best models can double as a timer, as well.

Silicone Spatula: Why Silicone? It’s heat-resistant. It won’t burn or melt when exposed to high temperatures, and, it’s incredibly easy to clean.

Large Balloon Whisk: A whisk is an essential tool in the kitchen. It mixes and aerates at the same time. Don’t skimp out on this one.

A Large and a Small Offset Metal Spatula: These are fantastic multi-taskers (to borrow Alton Brown’s catchphrase for a moment). Flip foods on the grill, check the color of the underside of baking items, apply frosting on baked goods, etc. The uses of these guys are limitless, and the different sizes helps out a lot as well.

Electronic Scale: No unit of measurement is more exact than weight. If you want all your recipes want to turn out the same time, every time, get yourself one of these. The best models can easily switch between US and Metric units, as well as having a Tare function, so you can zero out the weight of the container of any given item.

Flexible Bowl Scraper: This will be the best $1 you will ever spend. This can reach and conform to bowls so you can easily get at any batter or dough.

Heavy Duty Vegetable Peeler: When I say “heavy duty” I mean this thing is made of metal, not plastic. Blades that are sharp and will remain sharp for a long time and not easily rust. One of these is quintessential. Trust me.

Measuring Spoons: What else can I say? If you want to stay exact, then press these guys into service.

Kitchen Shears: And I’m not talking about the ones that have all those gimmicks on them. Just get some nice, stainless steel shears that preferably come apart in the middle. Easily cleaned and a great tool in any kitchen.

There you have it. My personal list that encompasses the tools I think are the ones that you shouldn’t skimp out on. Trust me, they’ll help you out in the long run.

Food Bites: Bring the Heat

The Ghost Chili. The hottest in the world.

(Inspired by a conversation with my roommates)

Jalapenos. Habaneros. “Ghost Chilies.” Pick your poison or, if you’re into that kind of thing, pick your favorite. Take a look around any megamart these days and you’ll find a plethora of hot sauces, spicy sauces, spices, etc. Heat is on the menu and it’s getting more popular these days, from diners to big restaurants. But why? Why the sudden influx of so many spicy items? I think there’s two reasons and they’re both connected.

Reason Number 1: Globalization.

Many believe that globalization is the main driving factor behind the sudden spike of spice. As the popularity of many Latin-style dishes increases, the demand for more and subsequently stronger spices grows. And there are a TON of strong spices/chilies out there. Here at the CIA, we’ve learned of the “Ghost Chili.” Sure it sounds fake, but it’s not. I’ve handled a specimen myself (gloves on of course). The Ghost Chili tops the Scoville Scale at a whopping 1,001,304 Scoville Units, earning it the title of Hottest Chili in the World. And before you ask, yes, there are hot sauces out there that feature this little devil. Chilies like the Ghost and it’s better known cousins, Jalapenos and Habaneros, all seem to find their way into just about any recipe these days. And there are people, myself included, who couldn’t be happier. My one guilty pleasure is a Jalapeno Cheeseburger made by a local diner in my home town. There’s just something about the extra kick that the peppers give that keeps me coming back for more. Which, leads me to my second point…

Reason Number 2: Over-Exposure.

The more hot stuff people eat, the more their palate gets used to the heat. So, culinary thrill-seekers need a bigger kick to get that rush back. The result? Hotter hot-sauces, hotter salsas, etc. Palates change and often will adapt to something they saw as foreign as completely normal. Many consider this a “dulling” of one’s palate, but it’s just the human body doing what it does best: adapt.

Finally, a word about Capsaicin. Capsaicin is the active ingredient in chili peppers and is what provides the heat that many love so much. Here’s a safety tip for those of you who either want to try the hot stuff or have literally bitten off more than you can handle. AVOID WATER. As much as you may want to reach for an ice-cold glass of water, don’t do it. Water only accelerates the effect of Capsaicin and you’ll only make it worse. Reach for dairy instead. Milk, ice cream, etc. The fat content will conquer the Capsaicin fire.