Recently, The Culinary Institute of America has developed a very modern semester away program for students at the Hyde Park campus in New York. This program allows Bachelor students to connect with their food and learn from well-known chefs, like Larry Forgione, on how food systems work. After an interview with Chef Forgione this past winter I had California on my mind. I decided to make the trip out to the Greystone campus in Napa to see just what this program entailed.
After a rigorous interview process, these students were accepted into the semester away program in either Farm-to-Table studies or Advanced Wine, Beverage, & Hospitality Management. Upon arrival in May, the students immediately began a demanding schedule. Every week, the students volunteer up to nine hours of their time on the CIA farm and are required to attend BPS classes, like Business Planning and Wine Studies of Napa Valley. Wednesdays, they have Advance Cooking class, where they spend six hours preparing dishes that go with a specific theme arranged by Chef Forgione. Fridays and Saturdays are a different story, however. The students have to prep and manage a restaurant, named The Conservatory, that they helped open this past May. They collaborate with Mr. Bath, Crystal, and Chef Forgione to create a nine course menu with wine pairings, a wine list, and three specialty cocktails.
This venture is not for the faint of heart, but for determined and motivated individuals, such as Brooke Maynard (pictured above). Brooke is a leader in the CIA community, was the captain of the ACF team this year, is a competitor in culinary contests worldwide, and a philanthropist in many organizations. Students who take on leadership roles and who immerse themselves in the CIA culture, like Brooke, are the kind of students that have become a part of the program. After staging, observing, and finally eating in their restaurant on separate occasions, this has been my conclusive realization. Student leaders like Zach Hoffman, and avid writers for CIA, like Yosef Sahler, take on this program like a job; a part of their career. Each and every student brings one hundred percent to the table and put their best foot forward at all times. Whether they are pulling weeds out of gardens in the Napa heat or reading 600 pages about vinifera, these students take their tasks on with passion.
Though the students in the wine program have many separate classes from the students in the farm program, their week is equally as demanding, if not more. Where the wine program lacks in laborious farm work and long days in the kitchen, it makes up for it with a constant stream of intense reading and writing about all things wine related. After talking to the Director of Wines Studies, Crystal, I am amazed at how intense the wine classes really are. The students value every minute of their work, however, which is a refreshing outlook to see in college students. As I hear Sophia Martinez and Lindsay Borenstein chat about their upcoming week of papers, projects, and heft of readings, my heart patters in remembrance of what it was once like to be in the BPS program. It amazes me that these students are able to pull it off and I am proud to know them as such hard-working individuals. Once their studying and classes are finished for the week, they also have to devise a plan for their wine menu on Friday and Saturday, as well as take on a specific job in The Conservatory.
The front of the house divides the students into a brigade: Manager, Captain, Back Waiter, Barista, Sommelier, Expo and Food Runner. They each hold several responsibilities of which the FOH Professors monitor, but they allow the students to take on each position as if they were a paid, rather than a part of a learning environment. This gives the students opportunity to learn the importance of self-management, a factor that is imperative in hospitality. The BOH is similar in this regard. Chef Forgione gives the students the guidelines and tools to manage their stations, but they take ownership of them. The cooks divide into groups of two and discuss ideas before presenting them to Chef. They collaborate with Chef Forgione mid-week, as well as Christian, the school farmer, to discuss what would work for the menu. They always keep in mind the vegetables and fruits that are growing in the gardens, first, then what they can get at the farmers market, and finally outsource from local purveyors. They create a menu and come in Friday afternoon ready to work. The teams divide by courseline: Amuse, cooked egg, pasta, fish, meat protein, and all of the dessert courses. Chef Forgione acts as a teacher, mentor, and executive chef, but the students manage their menu items and take on all the prep that is involved.
Throughout my time spent with these students, cooking, farming and exploring California, I have developed a great respect for what they are doing. They are preparing themselves for what lies ahead in our industry. They take on this semester away with gusto and, because of it, have already achieved excellence and acknowledgements of their forward thinking. I see great things for their futures and for the future of food. It is like Elizabeth Meltz of the Batali & Bastianich Restaurant Group had once said to me, “[…] the future of food is going to be in the hands of people like you […] you, who are going to take it to the next level.”