The Culinary Institute of America, Then and Now

Stuffed Breaded Chicken on a plate with vegetables

Most people in the world have heard of the CIA, the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. “The” premiere cooking school in the world. Not many people have visited the school and of course, a much smaller percentage of people in the world have attended. CIA holds its head high above any other cooking school in the world with it’s expansive offerings, multiple locations, and extensive facilities.

A little history about the school, it was founded in 1946 in New Haven, CT by Frances Roth and Katharine Angell. The campus moved to the former Jesuit seminary, St. Andrew-on-Hudson in Hyde Park, NY in 1972. For a bit more of a backstory on the history, the school has more information and a timeline about its history at CIA History: A Legacy of Excellence, Professional Advancement and Innovation.

The campus in Hyde Park is an incredible campus which just keeps expanding year after year. I graduated in the early 90s and the campus was a fraction of the size it is now. The Recreation center didn’t exist, if we wanted to go swimming in a pool, we had to go to nearby Marist College to use their facilities. There were no sports teams, now they offer five sports: soccer, basketball, cross country, tennis, and volleyball. There were only a couple of college clubs on campus, now there are more than 25 of them. The Commons also offers student dining and a brewery as well, more on student dining in a bit.

The library, which used to be on one of the upper floors of Roth Hall (the main culinary building on campus) has moved out into a separate building, The Conrad N. Hilton Library. I have fond (and sometimes not so fond, especially when a book one was looking for was checked out) of roaming through dusty stacks of books about every food and cuisine under the sun. And we looked up books in the card catalog. Now there is an amazing huge library with a big presentation theater in it. With computers to catalog everything, the world has changed so much in such a short time.

Ice carving

The Colavita Center for Italian Food and Wine didn’t exist and the Baking and Pastry Building was not yet dedicated to being the Shunsuke Takaki School of Baking and Pastry. I graduated the year before the Bachelor’s program was offered. At that time only an Associates in Culinary Arts was offered. Now the CIA offers additional programs including opening other locations in California and Texas. And more offerings still in the works including a Sake Distillery!

The restaurants have all resorted themselves location wise and renamed or re-branded. Going to visit is amazing because it bears so little resemblance to the school I went to almost three decades ago now. Getting to park in the parking garage under the front walkway as a guest is also a pleasure, a far cry from hoofing it from student parking (also greatly expanded) more than a mile away.

When I end up speaking with current students or young adults thinking of going to the culinary, we invariably end up talking about some of the things that have significantly changed, and also some of the things now offered that I almost wish I had the time or the spare money to go back and get to use some of those offerings now.The Culinary Institute of America Main Building

One of the first points is the ratio of men to women has changed so much since I went, in my block of students there were only two women, a great place to be for a girl looking for a date, but not so much for a guy looking for some female company. Luckily for our fellow male students, several local colleges had more women then men enrolled, so it kind of evened out in the wash. Now the current ratio of men to women is about 50/50 with the latest statistics that there are even more women as students than men, which from my perspective of having worked over 20 years in the restaurant business with almost predominately men, is an absolute pleasure to see.

One of the other things that come up is that students now have a place to go get meals, the Commons which contains the Rec center, the Egg and the CIA Brewery which provides beer to the campus restaurants. When I was a student there, you generally got provided two meals a day when you were at classes, Off days and the other meal per day was catch as catch could. Wise students made friends with Chef Instructors and their Seconds, so you could snag an extra meal from them when service time rolled around. Other choices were to stock up on ramen noodles (yes at a culinary school) or use the small shared kitchen that was in one of the dorms. Even the dorms have official names now, back then they were A Dorm, B Dorm, etc. and of course, New Dorm (for the newest dorm built at the time). First-year students were generally put into New Dorm, where we had shared bathrooms with our hallmates. Not as bad as it sounds actually since almost everyone was on different schedules for things.

The student shared kitchen had some very basic ingredients stocked, flour, sugar and if I recall, that was about it, anything else you had to bring in. And if you wanted to cook anything and make it edible, it was highly recommended that you bring your own cookware, because the pots and pans there were pretty beat up. My two woks were a constant companion the two years I was there. One other thing to note was that if you looked up at the ceiling of the student kitchen you would see several hundred strands of dried spaghetti sticking to the ceiling. Not the most reliable test to see whether pasta was done or not, but it goes along with weekend nights in the dorms when you might go down a hallway at midnight and find pepperoni slices on the ceiling. Unrelated to the doneness of product, this was a result of a drinking game going around campus at the time.

I also fondly recall sheet pan sledding which has since been banned (understandably not the safest of activities to participate in) and the hill we used to sled on is now gone anyway, moved when they put in the parking garage and extended the terrace in the front. The campus police would always come and chase us off the hill half-heartedly and then we would all troop back to the dorm to make some hot cider brewed up in the mini crockpots the school allowed us to have in our rooms.

To those who yearn to cook for a living or just want to dabble, the Culinary offers many programs for the full-time student and many additional offerings for guest visiting the Hudson Valley and staying at our member inns, from Boot Camps to Cooking Classes, to Food and Beverage, Wine or even Business classes, more information can be found at CIA Foodies.

Culinary Institute of America Graduation students in courtyard

Culinary Institute of America Graduation 1992

~Heather T. CIA Class of 92′

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