If you love food — eating it, cooking it and tasting it, right where it’s grown — a trip to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in Hyde Park, New York, may be your perfect getaway.
“The CIA is the Harvard of cooking schools,” explained Kenneth Jones, a student chef from East Aurora.
It’s also a gastronomical mecca for people who love to dine and an outlet for home cooks to brush up on everything from knife skills to artisanal bread making. And it’s just a 5 1/2-hour drive from Buffalo.
With more than 49,000 alumni, the CIA is a training ground for some of the world’s most famous chefs, including CNN host Anthony Bourdain, Iron Chef Michael Symon of ABC’s “The Chew,” Iron Chef and restaurateur Cat Cora, Chipotle Mexican Grill founder Steve Ells and Duff Goldman of Food Network’s “Ace of Cakes.”
Go there to dine
You can experience today’s CIA chefs-in-the-making at four themed restaurants and a new pop-up café that changes concepts each spring.
Bocuse Restaurant is a stylish contemporary spot with a modern twist on classic French cuisine. Tableside dramatics include using smoky liquid nitrogen to create hand-churned ice cream.
Named after iconic nouvelle cuisine master Paul Bocuse, the sleek restaurant has a striking interior with a glass wall of wine bottles, light fixtures shaped like chefs’ toques and avante garde chandeliers.
Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici has an edible landscape with a vegetable, herb and rose garden growing adjacent to the yellow Tuscan-style villa. Inside is a formal dining room with Venetian glass chandeliers, a metallic olive tree, tapestry-upholstered chairs and a view of the Hudson. The more casual Al Forno Trattoria offers wood-fired pizza from a sunburst-painted oven and simple regional dishes served on rustic farm tables.
American Bounty focuses on traditional and contemporary dishes made with seasonal produce sourced from the Hudson Valley region. The wine list emphasizes New York selections. The adjacent tavern serves casual fare like artisanal cheese platters, burgers with garlic fries and a honey chicken breast sandwich.
The Apple Pie Bakery Café showcases the sumptuous eat-in or take-out creations of pastry arts students. Sweet treats include Parisian macarons, lemon meringue tarts, blueberry Danish or fruit pies all served with French-press coffee.
All eateries are located in or near Roth Hall in the center of campus. For reservations, go to Ciarestaurantgroup.com.
Foodie boot camp
Love to cook as much as you love to eat? Home cooks can expand their kitchen skills at CIA cooking and baking classes, multi-day boot camps, culinary vacations or wine, beer and beverage classes.
One-day seminars cover artisan breads, everything chocolate, meat selections, one-dish meals, knife skills, classic sauces, pies and tarts, Indian feasts, wine pairings and vegetable dishes. Boot camp topics range from grilling and barbecue, hors d’oeuvres, holiday favorites and healthy cooking to cuisines from Italy, Asia, the Hudson Valley and the Mediterranean. For a complete list of topics and class dates, check Enthusiasts.ciachef.edu.
Visit local farms
The CIA emphasizes ingredients from area farms, dairies and vineyards. All these places offer visitors a taste of their produce before it gets to the CIA’s tables. A list of farm-fresh specialty shops, farmers markets and a free farm guide map are available at Dutchesstourism.com.
Here’s a sampling of tasty tour stops:
Madava Farms, home of Crown Maple Syrup, produces premium syrup, sugar, cotton candy and popcorn. The 800-acre estate in Dover Plains offers hiking trails, marshmallows toasted over a patio fire pit and a café with a CIA-trained chef. A 60-minute state-of-the-art sugarhouse tour traces the sap’s journey from tree to bottle. Tickets cost $10 for adults and $5 for children 12 and under.
The talk ends with a guided, five-stage tasting flight. Don’t miss the dark amber syrup aged in bourbon barrels. There’s also a pancake breakfast at 9:30 and 11:30 a.m. June 25 and a festival of food and drink vendors on the first Saturday of every month this summer. For directions and 100 free maple recipes, visit Crownmaple.com.
Fishkill Farms, one of the Hudson Valley’s oldest apple orchards, was started in 1914 by Henry Morgenthau Jr. He was Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury and his grandson, Josh Morgenthau, operates the 270-acre farm today.
Henry is honored with “Treasury” hard cider, made from 60 varieties of heritage apples. The farm in Hopewell Junction provides pick-your-own fruit and veggies ($5 fee and free on Tuesdays), harvest festivals, hayrides and live music. For dates and times, see Fishkillfarms.com.
Sprout Creek Farm is a 200-acre working farm, meat and cheese store and educational center in Poughkeepsie. Its double creamery produces award-winning cow and goat cheeses. “Batch 35” cow cheese is particularly tasty and aptly named. It took the cheese maker 35 tries to perfect its savory flavor.
The experimental learning center offers hands-on school tours. The summer camp program has three cabins for overnight visits. Campers milk cows, tend the garden and gather eggs. CIA-trained chefs teach them to cook their own meals. For session details, see Sproutcreekfarm.org.
Millbrook Winery has a tasting room housed in a former Dutch-style dairy barn on 130 acres atop a hill overlooking the Catskill Mountains. The award-winning winery sponsors outdoor summer jazz concerts, art exhibits and wine-blending workshops.
The Vineyard Grille holds special cheese pairings, release parties and a Summer Solstice Lobster Bake in a lakeside tent at 7:30 p.m. June 24. For concert dates and wine events, check Millbrookwine.com.
Millbrook is owned by John Dyson, who created the “I Love NY” ad campaign. He and his wife, Kathe, also have successful wineries in California and Tuscany.
Tour the school
Back at the Institute, you can also explore: Student-led public tours are available at 10 a.m. Mondays and 4 p.m. weekdays. The tour costs $6 and reservations can be made at (845) 451-1588. The school has 42 kitchens and bakeshops, a 150-seat Danny Kaye Theater for guest lectures and the Conrad N. Hilton Library with one of the world’s largest cookbook collections.
Students from WNY
Along with Kenneth Jones, there are about a dozen more CIA students from Western New York. The school awards bachelor’s degrees in culinary science, food business management and applied food studies, along with associate degrees in culinary arts or baking and pastry arts.
Jones is currently pursuing advanced wine studies for 12 weeks at the CIA’s Napa Valley campus. He would like to open a Thai restaurant in his hometown of East Aurora. When asked which celebrity alum inspired him to go to the CIA, Jones said: “Actually, it was my first boss, Rick Pohlman, the owner of Rick’s on Main Street in East Aurora. He graduated from the CIA and talked to me about the college and encouraged me to apply.”
“I’m so glad he did,” Jones added, “because it is such an awesome place to go to school. The campus is so welcoming and I am learning so much about becoming a chef.”