Friday, June 2, 2006

CIA boot camp (part 3)

This is Part 3 of CIA (Culinary Institute of America) boot camp program series.

In case you haven’t read part 1 and part 2 of the culinary boot camp series, here is a summary:
  • Complain about too much focus on presentation and not enough on the taste
  • Complain about lack of seasonal ingredients
  • Complain about the program being too basic
  • Complain about having to cook fried chicken and turkey breast
Oh, and did I mention that I got a really bad cold on the second day? As you can see I had a great time.

But there were lots of wonderful parts to this program too. I was just saving all the good stuff for the end.

Wine tasting class:
The wine tasting class was similar to others that I’ve taken. We got to taste 6 wines and talk about their smell, taste, acid, sweetness, body, and tannin (the last one only for reds). Here are some tips that I’ve learned:
  • A good analogy to “body” for a wine is “skim milk vs. cream.” Skim milk being low body and cream being high body.
  • Vineyards in cool places produce light bodied wines and in hot places produce high bodied wines.
  • You can tell how acidic a wine is based on how wet you feel under your tongue. For white wines acidity is really easy to tell, but for reds, it’s sometimes masked by tannin, so this tip comes in handy.
  • Covering a glass with your hand when you swirl the wine can intensify aroma.
  • Wine should always be at least as sweet as the food and at least as acidy as the food.
  • Good soil does not produce good vines. In fact, the worse the conditions, the better the wine. Many great vineyards have very rocky soil, which makes vine roots grow deeper to find water. This makes them pass through more types of soil and absorb all kind of minerals that give the wine its complexity. In the vineyards that don’t have the benefit of terrible soil, vines have to be stressed in other ways, like planted extremely close to each other. I tell you, being a vine is a hard job.
Food and wine pairing class:
The food and wine pairing class was even more interesting. The wine classes I’ve taken before only talked about food and wine pairing, but haven’t actually demonstrated it. Most of this talk seemed like black magic and it was always hard to figure out how to translate it to practice. After some experimentation, Jason and I learned that Rieslings go with pretty much everything and everything else is a gamble. So we drink a lot of Rieslings. The food and wine pairing class did not produce any surprises and the big take away was “Drink Rieslings with your food.” But now I actually understand why. We were given different foods that represent the basic tastes:
  • Wedge of Lemon for sour
  • Chocolate for bittersweet
  • Grape for fruity
  • Prosciutto for meaty and salty
  • Goat cheese for creamy
  • Blue cheese for bold and fatty
We were instructed to taste these foods with different wines. The goat cheese went particularly well with Sancerre. It made the wine taste more round and buttery even though it was very light bodies and dry on its own. Prosciutto was perfect with Chianti. Both were on the loud side and could really stand up to each other. Blue cheese made the gi-nourmous cabernet actually drinkable. Absolutely nothing paired well with oaky chardonnay. But everything, even chocolate, went well with Riesling. Only Riesling had enough fruit to match the grape and enough acidity to match the lemon. With blue cheese or prosciutto it was playing the balancing role. You know how those two foods are perfect with figs, peaches, and other fruit. Well, Riesling was playing that role admirably. Did I mention how much I love Riesling yet?

Here are some other food/wine pairing tips that I’ve learned:
  • The wine should be at least as sweet as the food
  • The wine should be at least as acidic as the food
  • Cheese and wine pairing is overrated. It’s tricky to match wine with cheeses and contrary to common belief, sweet white wines, not reds, go best with cheeses.
  • Hard cheeses (gouda, manchego, parmesan, etc.) are easy going and pair well with most wines
  • Goat cheese need young acidic wines
  • Soft cheeses like brie and camembert are best eaten alone
After spending afternoons eating and drinking in our wine tasting classes, we had a few hours to shower, change, and get ready to eat and drink s.

The campus restaurants, ran by students, were outstanding. From food to service to décor, they were some of the best meals I've had in US at that price range. During the last 12 weeks of the 2 year culinary arts degree, the students get to work in each of the 4 restaurants for 3 weeks in each. As they rotate through the restaurants, they take turns at different cooking stations (garde mange, grilling, sautéing, etc) and even learn how to perform the front of the house duties of greeting guests, waiting on tables, and bartending.

The first night we ate in Caterina de’ Medici (Italian), second night in St. Andrew’s café (Casual American and Fusion), third night in Escoffier (French), and last night in American Bounty (American).

St. Andrew’s café was the least formal restaurant, and in my opinion offered the best food, though I might have just gotten lucky with my dishes. I started with a mushroom and asparagus risotto with truffle oil – perfectly al dente and with beautiful mushroom flavor. The main dish left me absolutely speechless. It was melt in the mouth “Korean style” braised short-ribs. I don’t know how “Korean” this dish was, though there was soy sauce and ginger present in the sauce, but it was the most luscious texture of short-ribs I’ve ever tasted, and I’ve had my share. The tasting of desserts included a white chocolate cheesecake, a dark chocolate pudding cake, a rhubarb-strawberry crisp, and two sorbets (coconut and strawberry). They were all pretty good, but the coconut sorbet was a stand out.

Caterina and Escoffier were my next favorite. Seafood salad with parsley water and lemon oil, and zucchini-ricotta ravioli in parmesan broth were outstanding at Caterina, and Foie Gras Roulade Brulée with Pineapple Marmalade at Escoffier was to die for. The other dishes were good too, but I wouldn’t crave to have them again. The only restaurant that I didn't like was American Bounty. Both the service and the food were lackluster. This could be due to the fact that it was the first day after rotation and the students were still getting used to the new restaurant, or maybe we were just tired of eating out.

I only remembered by the third day to takes pictures of the dishes – silly me. So here are some from Escoffier.

Lobster salad

Foie Gras

Asparagus soup with scallops

Duck breast with sweet potatoes and pineapple

That's all my ramblings about the culinary boot camp. Next week back to normal blogging -- yay :)


Anonymous said...

Wow, stunning pictures. There isn't a CIA in Dallas but there is an Art Institute with a cooking school and they have a student run restaurant that is excellent and the prices are low.
Thanks for the reports.

Sandy, 샌디 said...

Many thanks for sharing your experiences and recipes. My dream is to quit my job and be a full time baker ; )

Anonymous said...

The foods look delicious!


Anonymous said...

Hi Lena,

Made your chicken in the bag. It was a hit!
Thank you & keep ‘em coming!

Dima. Chicago.

Boston Chef said...

Thanks for sharing your experience, sounds like you had mixed feelings about the camp but came away with some knowledge and had some fun.

Good to know about Riesling - we have never thought much about pairing wine and food (beyond drinking whatever we have in the house!)... We really enjoyed that part.

Helen said...

Hi guys,

It's great to hear from all of you. If anyone is interested, there is a fantastic book on wine in general and food/wine matching called "The Wine Avenger" by Willie Gluckstern. This little paper back is the absolutely best book about wine I've ever read.


Anonymous said...

I finally got a chance to sit down and read your blog. I have a somewhat different take on the class. I think part of the difference is that I came to the class with less expectations that they would cover particular areas and more of a plan for the class to be the first of many that I hope to take. While I am a somewhat accomplished cook, I took basic boot camp because I figured it was the introduction and was a reasonable place to start.

While I agree with many of your criticisms, I think many are the result of attempting to create a class that is accessible to all. For example, there were some in the class that needed the introduction to knife skills. Additionally, a course that started anywhere close to your current level of knowledge would have lost many of the people in the class.

The lunch menus were a definite disappointment. It appears that someone put together the menus in early Autumn and no one has changed them since. At least designing the course with four or even eight sets of menus that were more closely tied to different times of the year would have been a major improvement. The pairings were a little more difficult. I think that they were mostly done to make sure that there was a variety of cooking techniques for each team. I could be wrong. Nonetheless, it made for some pretty weird presentation plates.

I think the way the food we prepared tasted (aside from the seasonal issues) had a lot to do with cooking to a schedule. Too much of it was either rushed to get done at noon or finished early and placed under the warming lights. Neither situation is anywhere near ideal. Even when it was ready at noon we most often didn't sit down to eat until at least 15 minutes later.

When people come to our house I make a significant effort to have everything done at the same time but I have never tried very hard to have it done at a particular time. The food is ready when it is ready and it is served as close to optimally as possible.

I found the lectures somewhat informative but I think most of the credit goes to Chef Crispo. I dread the idea of what the lectures would have been like with someone less entertaining as the teacher. I think the program could have been improved substantially by replacing the morning lecture with a much longer lecture/demonstration.

In the long run, the question of whether the class was worthwhile will depend upon whether it inspires your cooking and whether, after some time, it makes you want to take another. I absolutely loved the experience of being at the college (and eating in the restaurants) and am already looking at more in depth classes to take. I particularly want to take a week long class dedicated to stocks, soups and sauces. They only offer a one day class through the Boot Camp series but I am told there is a week long class in the Continuing Education series. They said I could qualify for the entry level Continuing Education classes so I am sure you could as well. Perhaps that would be a better fit.

If the S, S & S class doesn't work out then perhaps I will do the Boot Camp on baking, or Italian food, or maybe French. There are so many choices.

In the mean time I have ordered several books on food and wine pairing and am just beginning to plow through the CIA text book.

Helen said...

Hi Mark,

It's so great to hear from you! I really appreciate you posting your review of the program. You are absolutely right -- it's hard to do a program that is a good fit for all people. I should have probably taken a more specific course like Stocks and Sauces or French cuisine, but it was hard to figure out which one would be most appropriate (CIA registration office was not particularly helpful in that regard). I am hoping that our reviews will help other cooks who are considering CIA boot camp programs with choosing the right one.

Happy cooking :)


Anonymous said...

I just did the French cuisine bootcamp and I thoroughly enjoyed it but like Mark said it was probably because of Chef Crispo who was a pretty entertaining instructor. And I agree, the environment helped a lot in the experience too.

Anonymous said...

I'm blogging about French cooking. If you are interested in French cuisine, you can find something useful for you:)

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences! I am about to go on a masochists journey of boot camps -- leaving in 2 weeks. I'll be doing a brush-up 2-day basics course, 5 day advanced, 5 day french...I've signed up for all of these and may add the 4 day italian. Yes, I will be there a month.

One thing that occurred to me which hadn't prior -- what kind of clothing should I bring for dining? Where did you stay? I'm trying to find a way to not need a rental car, because I'll only need it for the 2-mile each way trips from the hotel to the school. Sigh. What have I done! :)

I am going to look at your classes next...flying out from San Fransiciso, what the heck. I was wanting to go to Boston anyhow since I miss London's Wagamama and there are two in Boston...


Helen said...

Hi Chefkac,

Sorry for a late reply. I just got back from vacation. For dining bring something classic casual. The restaurants are pretty nice :) I don't know how to get around needing a car unless you carpool with one of the students. I don't remember the name of the place where I stayed, but it was about 2 miles from CIA.

Have a great time!


Maureen said...

Thank you for sharing your feelings on the bootcamp. I am a very tentative cook and just recently attended the bootcamp. Personally, I thought it stunk. Wish there was more hands on demonstrations and the recipes were terrible. Would not recommend this course to a friend. I think that the people at the CIA have an attitude that everything they do is so wonderful. I would love to post something negative on their website, but it would probably be scrubbed.

Don't waste your money...this course is not cheap!