Thoughts For Food

Insights into the Mind of a Culinary School Student

Life Update!

Hello everyone! Long time no see!

I am terribly sorry for the radio silence. I was so busy with my job that I barely had time to write! It was terribly frustrating to come home each night, want to write and update this blog, and find myself too tired to accomplish anything. It’s a sad feeling to be quite blunt. But, I’m back to updating on a regular basis! I’ll try and start a regular schedule of updates in order to make up for lost time. I will be sure to let you know what that schedule is once I’ve finalized it!

First bit of news is sad news. I left my job at BG Restaurant in November after only 8 months of working there. It was a tough decision for me to make, considering how long it took me to secure that job in the first place. It was an unfortunate situation that led me to quit but I won’t go into detail in order to remain professional about the whole ordeal. I left on a positive note with my coworkers and management, and I wish them all the best and thank them for the experience I gained while a part of the team.

Is this the end of my culinary career? Of course not! It is just the first step on a much larger journey! As of right now, I am still unemployed but searching in earnest for the next big opportunity. I am also considering other options, chief of which is making a return to school. I’ve given serious thought to going back to school to get my degree in Journalism. Coupled with my degree from the Culinary Institute of America, that should give me an edge in the wide world of Food Publications. It’s been my ultimate career goal since I entered the CIA and the way I see it is that I’m just taking another (albeit longer) route to get there. If I do take that course of action, wish me luck!

Finally, yesterday was my 5-year anniversary here on WordPress. If you’ve been following me for that whole time, then I thank you from the bottom of my heart! Thank you for following me and enjoying what content I bring, however sporadic it may be! If you’re new to my blog, welcome and I hope you enjoy whatever new journey I may go on!


Brooklyn Brewery At The Culinary Institute of America

The Culinary Institute of America just got a major upgrade. Brooklyn Brewery, one of America’s top craft beer makers, is coming to the CIA’s Hyde Park campus in the Summer of 2015. This has been the long-time dream of Prof. Douglass Miller who teaches Mixology, Spirits and Brewing on campus. It is a major victory for him and the campus as a whole, as they try to expand the education of the students and encourage visitors to come to the campus.

The operations of the brewery will fall to the students themselves, as it will be integrated into the curriculum for students pursuing a concentration in Advanced Wine, Beverage and Hospitality. Through the new program, they will learn the ins and outs of brewing and fermentation, in addition to business aspects of running a small brewery/cafe. As a part of the new partnership, the CIA will brew its own beer, including some seasonal flavors. Brooklyn Brewery’s brewmaster, Garrett Oliver, will visit the operation on occasion to help develop the curriculum and develop recipes. The location of the on-campus brewery will be in the new student center that is currently under construction. Expect not only great beer, but great food to go along with it. Beer and food pairings are a new trend in the food world, so it would only be natural for the CIA to teach not only students, but visitors, about which beer goes with each dish.

I am very happy for the school and Prof. Miller. This is a new and exciting program coming to the CIA and it looks quite promising. Students have been wondering for years why there wasn’t a concentration for beverage, outside the wines course and this answers their prayers. I’m just sad that I won’t be able to take part of this program as a student! At least I can go visit and so should you.

Artist rendition of the completed Brewery, in the new Student Center

Artist rendition of the completed Brewery, in the new Student Center

What’s New At The CIA

The Culinary Institute of America has recently started a brand new academic program at its Hyde Park campus; the Culinary Science Program.

The Culinary Science program is a brand new Bachelors program offered at the CIA alongside its traditional Food Service Management program. To be perfectly honest, I would have loved to been in the Culinary Science program but alas, the program began while I was halfway through my Food Service Management program. Oh well. Perhaps sometime down the line I’ll look into it.

While I’m not in the program, I have friends who are and so far, they love it! It’s a great way to both mess around with how science and food interact, as well as find out the exact chemistry behind the various cooking processes. My friends currently in the program really enjoy every moment of it, as they’re able to not only flex their culinary skills, but to also be as creative as they want, while still learning new things.

I think one of my favorite stories my friend Mike, who is in the program currently, has told me is when they were testing the difference between sorbet made in a traditional ice cream machine and sorbet made using liquid nitrogen. The end result was that they were similar in flavor, but the texture was completely different. The ice crystals in the liquid nitrogen were slightly larger. Science at work!

If you want to learn more about the specifics of the program, you can check it out here.

Personally, I think it’s great to see science and food come together in such a unique and wonderful way. It’s a great chance for people who want to get into the R&D field to gain first-hand experience at exactly what that field has to offer. I just wish I had the chance to enter the program now!

CIA Current Events

Lately at the CIA there have been rumblings of discontent from the students (myself included). Those voicing their concerns were not satisfied with merely going through”approved channels” in the school, so they took matters into their own hands. They staged a walk-out. As this NY Times article explains, it was peaceful, professional and well-organized:

The reasoning behind this is to raise awareness of what students and faculty see as a drop in academic standards, the lack of communication between administration and students, and the increasing debt of the student body. It’s a terrible problem that affects the majority of the student body and many of the professors and chefs all agree with the complaints leveled at the administration, specifically the school president, Tim Ryan. Us students never see him outside of the welcome address he gives us when we first arrive and the farewell address when we graduate. That’s it. Even when we do get a rare glimpse of the school president, he’s usually too busy wining and dining some wealthy benefactor or big name chef to say hello to the students that he’s in charge of. There’s a clear disconnect between the administration and the students on campus and it’s getting to the point where even members of the faculty; chefs and professors alike, are siding with the students. Pres. Ryan has had multiple votes of No Confidence leveled against him but he has done nothing to fix that or the mounting concerns of the students.

I just find it ironic and a little more than sad that at the world’s greatest culinary college, that the students cannot efficiently find a meal in between classes. My friends and I have had that particular problem since the Associates program and it’s our biggest complaint right now. Don’t get me wrong, I still love this school. I’m thankful for my education, but I hate to see it in this state. I know this school can be run better and more efficiently, but right now, it’s not. The administration needs to be more proactive in caring for and looking after their students. I really don’t think that’s too much to ask, now is it?

Life in the CIA: A Look Back

Well, here we are. I’ve started my last class as an Associate’s Student here at the CIA. Come March 23rd, I can call myself an alumnus of the school…until I come back in June for Bachelors. But that’s another story.

This journey I began a little over 2 years ago is almost done. Over those two years, I have progressed so far and learned so much. I’m certainly not the same person I was when I began. I was scared first starting out, but at the same time, I was certain that this was the correct move to make at this part in my life. I wanted to ensure that I did all I could to combine my love of food and love of writing a reality. It’s been a rough road filled with many hardships and a setback or two, but here I am, so close to the end.

I’ve met some incredible people and some wonderful chefs along the way and I am so thankful that I have. I’m, thankful for all the lessons I’ve learned and all the skills and recipes that I’ve acquired. I look forward to continuing my education when I return in June, thought the break will be nice and may I add, well-deserved.

I’ll keep this short for now. I hope to end on a positive note!


Food Bites: Gluten, Gluten. Who’s Got The Gluten (Allergy)

My previous class here at the CIA really opened my eyes to the dangers those who suffer from gluten allergies or Celiac Disease. It’s an epidemic that afflicts thousands of people in this country and sad to say, not may restaurants cater to this relatively common autoimmune disease. Luckily, it’s a fairly easy task to do. many reliable gluten-free flour blends exist on the market today, as well as the means to create your own. As the old saying goes; “Knowledge is Power.” Here’s some tips on what ingredients you need and, how to keep your kitchen/bakeshop gluten-free.

What is Celiac Disease?

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disease, which means it originates within your own body. Furthermore, the disease never leaves. Once you are diagnosed with Celiac Disease, you have it for LIFE. What happens exactly is what’s known in the medical world as Villi Atrophy. The microvilli that line your small intestine and are responsible for absorbing nutrients from the food you ingest, have weakened and atrophied to a point where they can no longer function properly. As a result, the person afflicted can no longer consume ANY gluten-based products, and in some cases, not even products that have been in close proximity to gluten. Ongoing exposure to gluten proves highly dangerous to those with Celiac Disease. Worst of all, those afflicted with Celiac Disease (about 1% of the total population) can go misdiagnosed for YEARS. Great care and consideration must be taken to cater to those affected by Celiac Disease. These are human lives. The extra work is more than worth it.

What Does “Gluten-Free” Mean Exactly?

The term “gluten-free” means that the amount of gluten in a given product has been reduced down to 20 PPM (parts-per-million). At this level, the amount of gluten will not be enough to trigger a reaction in someone suffering from Celiac Disease. There is no standard, legal definition for “gluten-free” in the US right now, but, there will be hopefully soon.

What Do I Need To Make Gluten-Free Items?

There are some common items on the open market that are perfectly suited for making your own gluten-free flour blend:

  • White and Brown Rice Flour
  • Potato Starch (a.k.a. Potato Starch Flour)
  • Tapioca Starch
  • Tapioca Flour
  • Soy Flour
  • Cornmeal
  • Cornstarch
  • Guar or Xanthan Gum (aids in stability)
  • Baking Powder and Soda (aids in rise)

With these easy to find ingredients, you can make a gluten-free flour blend that you can use at any time to substitute a normal order. Just remember: the flours, unless specified, must be kept under refrigeration. The MUST be free of wheat flour and flour particles. Normally, this means not baking anything for one to two days and allowing the flour particles to settle and dissipate. The oven where these items will be baked MUST be treated the same way, AND the grates/baking surfaces must be washed thoroughly  to remove any trace of gluten. Finally, any refrigerator or freezer space where gluten-free items will be stored must also be scrubbed down and made absolutely gluten-free. There can be NO cross-contamination at all, or else all the hard work you put into making a glutne-free item will be for nothing.

The bottom line is this: Don’t slouch on gluten-free items or on customers who have Celiac Disease. Be proactive. Ask if anyone has Celiac Disease or a gluten allergy. Take the appropriate steps to make sure your kitchen or bakeshop is sufficiently gluten-free, even if it is just for a few hours before prep or service. Finally, be sure to store all the products correctly. These extra steps and items may seem daunting, but they are well worth it to protect human lives.

If you would like some suggested reading, I highly recommend Gluten-Free Baking with the Culinary Institute of America by Chef Richard Coppedge, Certified Master Baker. He was the one who taught my last class. He is incredibly knowledgeable about Celiac Disease and a whole host of other food allergies and dietary restrictions. The book is a wonderful resource for those who cater to such food-based allergies and for those wanting to learn more about the subject.


Life In The CIA: The New Program

Sorry for the prolonged hiatus everyone! The class schedule has been running me ragged, but I am back and I have PLENTY to write about.

One major thing making the rounds amongst CIA-hopefuls is word of a new program layout for incoming students. And yes, this is actually happening and as of my making this entry, is in effect at the school right now.

Essentially, the school is getting rid of the traditional “block” schedule in favor of a more traditional college-style course layout. This means both academic and kitchen classes will be alternating on a weekly basis and throughout both AM and PM timeslots. So, one week will be all academic classes, the next will be all kitchen classes. This is to lighten the workload on the students and possibly the teachers. This new schedule, by the way, only affects incoming students and not students already here at the CIA (myself and my classmates, for example). I have heard little complaints from the new students about this change. The majority of the discontent around campus stems from students who are already here and many chef-instructors as well; myself included.

The one major detriment of the new schedule is that the newer students will have nowhere near the amount of hands-on learning that those who benefited from the block schedule did. Yes, class length was much longer and very rough on the students, but that was for a good reason. It was to prepare them for the rigors of the industry and to get them used to what they would experience on externship. By changing the schedule to make it easier, you’ve just given every new student a huge disadvantage. They will nit be ready for the harsh life that the food industry demands of them. When faced with such facts, even new students have agreed with me in saying that they may not be as ready as they would like to be. In addition, the transition period of the old schedule to the new schedule means that there are some changes that affect the whole school. many production kitchens that would be serving lunch or dinner, no longer do so until the new students reach that level. This of course, means that it will become even harder to find a meal on campus. Luckily, what some kitchens are doing is hiring temporary workers from the students still on campus to work and make food, until the newer students reach the production areas. Still, this is a major detriment to the student body as a whole and one that, to many of us who disagree with the school, was not thought out very well by the faculty. Whether or not this new schedule will work out for the better, only time will tell.