Inside the CIA

Foodservice and Hospitality, June 2007

After seeing what some of Canada's top hospitality schools are up to, F&H checks in on America's best.

"You dare call this cuisine! This… this is grotesque! An abomination!" That was a typical rant from the Culinary Institute of America's Chef Bernard after hapless students messed up their soufflés according to CIA graduate and bad-boy chef Anthony Bourdain in his book "Kitchen Confidential". But that was 1975 and Bourdain admits the CIA was very different then from the "professional institution it is today."

Aside from ill-tempered tutors 30 years ago, there's nothing secret about the success of this CIA, founded in 1947. It's America's preeminent culinary training school and over 37,000 people have graduated, including celebrity chefs Gary Danko, Charlie Palmer, Rocco DiSpirito and, of course, Bourdain.

The CIA's main campus is a former Jesuit seminary in Hyde Park, N.Y., about two hours north of the Big Apple. The school covers every aspect of the restaurant business and offers two-year Associate Degrees and four-year Bachelor Degrees. Tuition fees are frighteningly high - more than $10,000 per semester - but the CIA offers generous financial aid, even for non-Americans: "International students are eligible for the school's own 'merit aid', the High Impact Leader Scholarship," says Rachel Birchwood, Director of Admissions.

The average age of its 2,700 full-time students is 23, which is lower than in recent years: "We're seeing a lot more interest from high schools, I think because of the profile the industry has now with the Food Network and celebrity chefs. This has become a desirable field." says Birchwood. The Hyde Park campus also offers continuing education classes and the Prochef Certification - aimed at industry professionals looking for an official credential to acknowlege their skills.

Culinary Institute of America, Greystone Campus, St. Helena, California.

About 3,000 miles away at the edge of St. Helena in California's Napa Valley, what looks like another Victorian-era religious institution sits on a hiltop amid sub-tropical foliage. It's the CIA's Greystone campus and it opened 15 years ago after a $15 million renovation on the property, which was America's first co-op winery back in the 1860s. Greystone was founded as a continuing education centre, with most classes running from two to five days. Greystone now offers two certificate programs as well, including a 30-week baking program.

The real strength of Greystone is the range of short classes taught in truly state-of-the-art facilities. Many of the classes form part of the Prochef Certification program and cover subjects from the general "Exploration of Food and Wine for Chefs" to more specific ones like "Healthy Flavors of Asia, Latin America and the Mediterranean" and "Breakfast and Brunch Cookery".

The campus also offers seminars and conferences. The Worlds of Flavor Conference is "the number one educational event of its type in the U.S., if not the world," says Cate Connif, Communications Manager at Greystone. It's in its tenth year and attracts a wide range of industry players, from chefs to executives in the foodservice sector, including hotels, restaurants and large foodservice providers. This year, the 400 places sold out in 24 hours.

Greystone also teams up with research scientists from the Harvard School of Public Health for chains like TGI Friday's and Red Lobster. "Their customers are asking for healthier foods but they don't want deprivational foods… it's about how to ensure healthier ingredients can be made into food that's absolutely delicious and appealing," says Connif.

Milestone's, a Vancouver-based chain with branches in B.C., Alberta and Ontario regularly sends chefs to Greystone. Executive Chef Jim Romer oversees the menus chain-wide and has organized several trips for the chain's chefs using the Introduction to Flavor Dynamics course as a base. "We send down our menu so they can preface the whole thing with what we want to get out of it," says Romer. The course involves "a lot of cooking and introduction to new ingredients." Romer says it's well worth it - chefs learn a lot, and absorb the high-end food and wine culture of Napa. "We still have chefs talking about when they went ten years ago," says Romer. "It's great just to be down there, standing in the herb garden, finding new ingredients. Then the CIA chefs show us new techniques, including explaining why you follow certain procedures to get it to taste a certain way. We've then taken these and incorporated them into what we do in the back of the house."

Given Greystone's location in the Napa Valley, naturally there is a wine program. The school's $5 million Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies offers more state-of-the-art facilities, with two classrooms and optimal conditions for the sensory evaluation of wine, including separate ventilation systems, full-spectrum lighting and no mere spit-buckets for the tasters, but "personal expectorants" - small sinks complete with running water - at each station. It's not sommelier type training, but more focused, for people who need a quick, thorough summary of a range of wines.

The school also combines the short courses into a month-long Wine Immersion Program, which offers a new credential: Certified Wine Professional. It's not necessary to take all, or even any, of the classes in order to sit the exam - if you know a lot, you may be able to just go ahead. About 200 people have passed so far and "it's a credential that is gaining recognition in the market," says Cate Connif. "It won't happen tomorrow, but we are developing the Wine Immersion Program into a full certificate program." The wine faculty is made up of well-known professionals active in the field, and the Napa Valley acts as an extension to the college as there are dozens of nearby wineries to visit. Many people take individual classes, but not necessarily the whole program. Cate Connif noted that although tuition fees can seem high, students taste first-rate wine: "we pour the good stuff," she said.

A Web Star Is Born

Jared Braithwaite

The final installment was uploaded in May on, but the series remains archived. Look for "Inside the CIA".

Foodie website followed four Culinary Institute of America students and made a ten-episode webcast series called Inside the CIA. One of the students is Jared Braithwaite of Kingston, Ont., and he just finished his first year. "They gave us cameras and assignments every week - we had to do a couple of video spots plus written and video blogs as well. They would also come once a week to film us in class."

In 2006, Jared completed a cooking-focused program in Grade 12 at Loyalist Collegiate and Vocational Institute in Kingston and was working at the Cataraqui Golf Club's restaurant. He'd planned to go to the Canadian Culinary Institute in PEI, but his chef suggested the Culinary Institute of America. "I had no idea what culinary school would be like, and it's definitely been harder than I thought," he says. But Braithwaite's up for challenges and his favourite times are "when we're behind and we really have to push ourselves to catch up. I love it when we're busy."

So how's Jared on cooking after his first year at the CIA? "I love it more now than when I got here," he says. He's also excited about his externship - "I'm spending the summer at a four star restaurant in a resort on Cape Cod. It'll be packed every night and I'll be working with the best seafood. I can't wait!"



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Alan McGinty


phone 416.737.7215