Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Dining at the Other C.I.A.

Want to have lunch with the next generation of award winning chefs? Next time you're passing through the Hudson Valley stop by the other C.I.A., the Culinary Institute of America.

Overlooking the beautiful Hudson River in Hyde Park, NY, the C.I.A. is the world's top culinary college. Students come from a variety of backgrounds to study at this elite school, with famous alums like Anthony Bourdain (can you imagine him as a student?), Grant Achatz (of Chicago's Alinea fame), and everybodys favorite cake maker Duff Goldman.

We learned that the average student is 27 years old, and you must have at least six months of non fast food restaurant experience before you can apply. After completing the 21 month program (for the associates degrees), graduates are ready to enter the culinary profession at the top of their game. While at the C.I.A. they must work at every aspect of running a successful restaurant. Your waiter this week could be doing dishes or baking up fruit tarts for the fancy Bocuse French restaurant next week.

We happened to be driving through around lunchtime and without reservations our two options were the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe or the casual Al Forno Dining Room in a replica Italian villa. As you know Little C&G, I'm sure you can guess where we ended up.

The Al Forno Dining Room is tucked into a side room of the beautiful Caterina de Medici restaurant, in the Colavita Center for Italian Food and Wine. Long farmhouse tables take up most of the space, along with seats at the bar overlooking the open kitchen. Students and their teachers are hard at work behind the scenes, mixing salads, tossing up pizza dough, and maintaining the flow in and out of the kitchen. There's plenty of action to keep the kiddos busy while they wait for their super thin crust brick oven pizzas. With an impressive cocktail and wine list, we could have happily stayed there all day, but the little C&Gs were anxious to check out the rest of the campus.

Our waiter told us we had to head over to the main building for the decadent desserts at the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe. He said the smells that fill the hallway are intoxicating, and when they're baking chocolate chip cookies the line wraps down the hallway. Besides cookies and pastries, they also serve up soups, salads, and sandwiches for a light casual lunch.

After our sweet treats we wandered the halls of the main building, checking out the classrooms full of students in action. Classrooms being full working kitchens of course. Each themed class meets all day, with a short break where you eat your project for lunch. The boys thought they were the best classes ever, and Little C&G went off searching for Pasta 101.

Reservations must be made in advance for the three main restaurants, and the American Bounty restaurant and the Ristorante Caterina de' Medici would be best with well behaved (and collared shirted) kids. American Bounty showcases regional cuisine, with many ingredients coming from the Hudson River valley. Classics at the Caterina de' Medici transport you to the Italian countryside for the afternoon, and I'm sure they'd be happy to shrink an order of orecchiette down to kid size.  The Bocuse Restaurant is a chic classic French restaurant with traditional dishes and seems too elegant for family dining, but be sure to poke your heads in to check out the glass wall separating diners from the kitchen. Also be sure to save some room for those delicious cookies. The boys were very impressed by our visit to the C.I.A. and said the students all deserved straight A's.

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