Adventures in Culinary Land, Boot Camp Day 1!

This image is not mine, but it depicts what I can’t explain in words – the way I felt as I walked out of The Culinary Institute of America today after completing Day 1 of my week of French Cooking Boot Camp ………
……….. WOW, is all I can say. From the minute I arrived at the CIA campus, literally at the crack of dawn, (we had to report for orientation at 6 a.m.) to the moment I dragged my weary bones back to my hotel room, it was truly amazing. I felt like my little brain was bursting with new knowledge, skills and experiences!

We began the morning with a warm welcome and orientation to the program by Felice, the delightful director of the continuing education program. A delicious breakfast was spread out for us as the five other students and myself got to know each other. It’s a small class compared to the average boot camp
attendance of sixteen. None of us minded this a bit, since it means we get all sorts of extra attention. 🙂

After breakfast, we met our instructor for the week, Chef Bruno and were given a thick white notebook complete with the syllabus, lesson outlines and recipes we’d be preparing this week. We also received an enormous black tote bag embellished with the CIA logo. Peeking inside, we discovered  in each bag two authentic white chef coats along with a pair of black and white houndstooth chef pants. I know, I know, I promised in yesterdays post that I was not going to grin like a Cheshire cat today. I failed the test: When I pulled out the fun apparel for the week ……….. well, I just lost my cool…… You probably would have too!

If this isn’t a Cheshire cat grin ……………. I tried, I really did…..until they handed me my chef’s jackets and houndstooth pants. I’ll try to get pictures  tomorrow decked out in these fun duds.

We spent the next few hours in lecture with Chef Bruno learning about Mise en Place, an important concept in French cooking (it really applies to all cooking) that involves having a system, having everything in place and reviewing the recipe thoroughly before you even begin cooking. He showed us the proper (French) way set up our work stations and get ourselves organized.


Chef Bruno

The rest of the classroom time involved an overview and history of French cuisine and a review of one of most fundamental and quintessential elements of French cooking; the classic sauces. Before we knew it, we found ourselves in the skills kitchen watching a demonstration by our very proficient teacher and then it was our turn. Over the next several hours we learned to make fifteen different sauces. We chopped, minced, simmered, stirred, sweated, sautéed, strained, reduced, whisked and ladled. When we all finished, our prize sauces were lined up for display and we dirtied a thousand spoons sampling each one, oohing and aahing all the way!

Some of my new friends and classmates. One of them is here for his FIFTH boot camp!

A delicious lunch was served by the professional students of the school in the gorgeous East Wing Dining Room, formerly the chapel for the Jesuit seminary originally located on these grounds. It was so fun to see the “real” CIA students at work, honing their skills ……………… we enjoyed the results!

We wrapped up the day with a extensive tour of the facility, seeing areas of the Culinary Institute that aren’t open to the general public. We were shown the baking and pastry school, the meat and fish classrooms, the Asian teaching kitchen and the various restaurants that are located on campus from the casual Apple Pie Bakery Café to the fancy-dancy French-inspired Escoffier Restaurant. One of the most fascinating aspects of the tour was seeing the vast storage rooms for fruits, vegetables, meat, cheese and dairy. You can’t even imagine what a facility like this goes through in just one day. One of the statistics I learned was that well over 2,000 pounds of butter are delivered here every week!

Well, I’m ready for bed …………….. morning will come soon, though we get a bit of a break tomorrow …………. school doesn’t start till seven. If we want breakfast however, we need to be there between 5:45 and 6:30. The culinary students arrive to prepare this morning’s feast around 3 a.m.! I’ve heard it’s fabulous, so I’ll be toddling off to sleep now. Hope you’ve enjoyed this bird’s eye view of the CIA’s French Cooking Boot Camp, Day 1. Be sure to check back tomorrow for another report and a fantastic recipe you’ll want for sure in your autumn entertaining arsenal; Cider-Poached Puff Pastry Pears w/ Caramel Sauce. It’s a winner!

~ Chris, chef in training 🙂

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