Best Kept College Secrets

Colleges for Real People

The Culinary Institute of America – Hyde Park, New York


 “Food is Life” – motto of the Culinary Institute of America

“Almost every profession has an outstanding training ground. The military has West Point, music has Juilliard, and the culinary arts has The Institute.” —Craig Claiborne, Celebrated Author and Food Critic, The New York

Many of us have become “Foodies”; we scan the food channels to watch the greatest chefs in the world prepare meals most of us will never taste. As culinary skill has become more widely appreciated, one institution has emerged as the oldest and most celebrated of the culinary colleges. Familiarly known as the CIA, this remarkable institution continues to attract aspiring chefs from across the country and around the world. For those who want something like a collegiate experience in the midst of world-renowned preparation for careers in culinary arts, the Hyde Park campus – the original campus – will offer more than imagination can summon. The CIA has satellite facilities in St. Helena (Nappa Valley), California, San Antonio, Texas, and Singapore, and each of these locations offers a particular sort of culinary training, but the mother ship is in Hyde Park, in New York’s Hudson Valley, although it was in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1946, that education in the culinary arts took a new direction.

Established as the New Haven Restaurant Institute, the first mission of the Institute was “the elevation of the profession”, a goal born of the recognition that professional chefs in the United States lacked the opportunities for apprenticeship that existed in Europe. From humble beginnings in New Haven to the relocation of the growing institute to the campus in Hyde Park (a former Jesuit retreat), the emphasis at the start was to bring the profession to the highest level of quality, and the start, that meant learning the secrets of the best chefs in Europe, and that meant chefs from France.   It is no surprise that the CIA’s Leadership awards, given to chefs who have truly elevated the profession, are called the “Auggies”, named for celebrated French chef, Auguste Escoffier. The first courses set out to bring the tradition of fine European dining to an American palette. Today, of course, the Institute recognizes the quality of cuisine from around the world.

There are other strong programs in the culinary arts in the United States (Paul Smith’s College in New York and Rhode Island’s Johnson and Wales University are profiled in this book), but the CIA is unique in its emphasis on Culinary Arts rather than extending degrees in the wide range of courses associated with the management of restaurants, hotels, resorts, and food services in what is known as the “hospitality industry”. At the Hyde Park campus, a student can earn the BPS, Bachelor of Professional Studies, in Culinary Arts Management, Baking and Pastry Management, or Culinary Science. Although the emphasis is clearly on things culinary, starting in the junior year, after earning the Associate degree in Culinary Arts, the bachelor’s degree also requires course work in a central curriculum, including courses such as: Financial Accounting, Literature and Composition, Math or Science, Foreign Language, Economics, Marketing and Promoting Food, Human Resource Management, and Social Science.

Hyde Park’s facilities include several restaurants, each presenting a particular culinary tradition or emphasis. I confess myself most fond of the Apple Pie Bakery, where the savory dishes include soups and salads, the breakfast pastries include Pain au Chocolate (Yum!), Cinnamon Raison Danishes, and the Salted Caramel and Coconut Doughnut, a Brioche doughnut with caramel glaze and shredded coconut. The desert menu includes Chocolate Mousse, Strawberry Religieuse (Strawberry and pistachio pastry cream with dragee chips, and the Chocolate Rum Cannele Bordelaise. Named for famous French Chef, Paul Bocuse, Hyde Park’s Bocuse is an elegant French restaurant, famed for a number of dishes, starting with the Black Truffle Soup VGE (with vegetables). Locovores will seek out the American Bounty Restaurant, featuring locally grown and harvested food. The dinner menu includes Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Breast, English Pea, Fava Bean, Spring Onion Risotto, and Beer Braised Beef.

A central part of the CIA experience is the extended placement in a recognized restaurant or winery, with a semester’s work at one of the satellite campuses and the selection of a concentration (major) in American Food Studies: Farm-to-Table Cooking; Advanced Wine, Beverage, and Hospitality; or Latin Cuisines.

The Advanced Wine, Beverage, and Hospitality concentration calls the student from Hyde Park to “Greystone”, in St. Helena, in the heart of the Nappa Valley wine world. Formerly Greystone Cellars, operated by Christian Brothers, the main building, included in the National register of Historic Places, contains teaching kitchens, The Wine Spectator Restaurant, The Bakery Cafe by illy, The Conservatory Restaurant, the De Baun Theater, and the Spice Island Marketplace. Outbuildings include the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies, The Williams Center for Flavor Discovery, and the Ventura Center for Menu Research and Development. Visitors might enjoy stopping in at the Spice Island Marketplace; the shopping is extraordinary, and the Flavor Bar allows civilians to try the tasting exercises thrown at aspiring chefs.

Latin Cuisines will take the student to San Antonio, Texas. Located in the Pearl Brewery (an up-scale development adjacent to San Antonio’s River Walk), the Center for Foods of the Americas explores the cuisine of Mexico, Brazil, Peru, Central America, and the Caribbean. Visitors to the Center are particularly taken with the CIA Bakery Cafe, which features pastry dishes from Latin America, Central America, and Mexico.

OK, so the culinary part seems pretty nearly irresistible… and campus life?

The Hyde Park campus does a good job of replicating the college experience, complete with Student Government, intramural and recreational sports, fitness, clubs, and very healthy residential life. Students can choose from a number of housing options – one of four residential halls housing from 230 to 280 students, six Adirondack style lodges (generally given to about 400 upper class students) grouped around a village green, and townhouses, accommodating eight students in single rooms. Each of the residence halls has a full time residential director living in the hall and organizing activities for its students. No surprise – each residence has a fully operational kitchen. All utilities, wireless, laundry, are provided, and a number of meal plans make dining on campus relatively delicious.

The SGA sponsors and funds student activities and entertainment, while SPICE (Student Programming Igniting Campus Events) plans most activities. The student newspaper, La Papillote (the method of cooking in parchment), is published every three weeks, and keeps track of issues that affect the profession and the campus. Clubs include: The Bacchus Wine Society, Baking and Pastry Arts Society, Black Culinary Society, Culinary Christian Fellowship, Gay Straight Alliance, the Gourmet Society, Women Chefs and Restaurateurs. The Student Recreation center includes a gymnasium with two basketball courts, a six-lane swimming pool, a sauna, racquetball courts, a fitness center, and various exercise and weight rooms. Natural turf fields and the tennis courts are used for outdoor sports. CIA competes in the Hudson Valley Athletic Conference in soccer, cross-country, basketball, tennis, and volleyball. Fitness classes include Pilates, Zumba, and yoga; intramural sports run throughout the year. Special competitions include billiards and floor hockey.

The admissions process is notably different at CIA. A high school diploma or GED is required, as are letters of recommendation, and certain standardized tests may be used in placing students in classes. The major difference is that an applicant must complete at least six months working in a professional kitchen (not a fast-food restaurant!) unless the applicant has already completed culinary classes elsewhere.

CIA enrolls approximately 2,785 undergraduates (51% male, 49% female). In recent years, CIA has received approximately 1151 application and offered admission to approximately 940. The total cost of attending is approximately $37,000.00, including tuition, room, board, and fees.

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