I first heard about the CIA reading Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential,” prior to that I had no idea that there was such a thing as a Harvard of cooking schools. I assumed that cooks were still trained by the ancient route of apprenticing under a master chef, though I was aware that there were culinary programs at some Vo-Techs. Actually, the first reference or two to the school in Bourdain’s book, by it’s initials only, confused me somewhat. CIA? Why the hell would anyone go there to learn to cook. Reading on I learned that he was referring to the Culinary Institute of America. I learned more about the school reading Michael Ruhlman’s “The Making of a Chef” in which the author follows a group of culinary students through their training and participates in classes. Upon reading “Making…” I knew that I wanted to go to CIA, this school that was started by two women in Connecticut as the New Haven Restaurant Institute to train returning WWII vets as the next generation of American chefs was now a bona fide university dedicated to the preparation and service and study of food, but I never expected to be able to attend. My kids were too young, I’d be too old to attend school full time by the time they were stable on their own, money was too tight, and my wife probably wouldn’t be too keen about moving to New York and supporting me while I pursued this dream. Years later, my kids, if not on their own, at least trustworthy and well-watched by enough friends to be left home for a brief period of time, my wife now my ex-wife, and me now the owner of a restaurant that provides me with a decent income, I enrolled in two continuing education classes at the Hyde Park, NY campus of the Culinary Institute of America. I initially wanted to take a “culinary boot camp” course, thinking it would provide a foundation in some classical techniques that I am lacking, but a phone call from an admissions director at the school, after I had already enrolled and paid for the class online, changed my mind. “You’re going to bored,” he said. I told him that in spite of owning a restaurant and cooking every day I still felt like I should probably start at the bottom. “We really need to describe that class a little better,” he went on. “You’d be in class with people right off the street, some of whom have no idea about how to cook. Most of the students in those classes are rich people who want to play chef for a week. Looking at your menu, you’re already cooking beyond that level, you’re going to be bored.” He suggested taking some continuing ed classes, so I relented, but told him that I had already bought my flight for that week. Looking at the continuing ed classes I found a few that week that looked interesting. One was a business class, “Controlling Your Bottom Line,” it promised to, “teach you how to successfully operate and maintain a profitable business and develop a menu that identifies recipe costs, stations, and labor and equipment needs, determine customer profiles, target markets, competitive analysis, and marketing strategies, learn how to analyze your P&L to make your operation more profitable, discuss the control of labor cost, sales, and the flow of goods, and understand how a Total Quality Management program can help ensure better results for the bottom line.” ‘Wow, that looks useful,’ I thought, the business end has always been my weak point. But what else? The classes are scheduled so that a student can take one in the morning, starting at 7 am and another in the afternoon, starting at 2 pm. Since I wanted to get as much out the trip as possible I wanted to take another class. One, “The Art and Science of Cooking” looked interesting but required a “solid, fundamental knowledge of cooking principles and methods.” Again, my insecurity over my experience and skill was messing with me, so I looked on. Another class, “Small Dishes, Big Flavors: Appetizers and First Courses” looked like it might work without throwing me too far out of my comfort zone, but the schedule was showing that no seats were available for the class on the dates I wanted, so I called my admissions guy. “Let me see what I can do, there are some Marines taking the class and they never all show up because of deployments and so on. I’ll call you back.” Thirty minutes later he did call back to tell me that I was in, I was going to the Culinary Institute of America. At least for a week.
"'When you wake up in the morning, Pooh,' said Piglet at last, 'what's the first thing you say to yourself?' "'What's for breakfast?' said Pooh. 'What do you say, Piglet?' "'I say, I wonder what's going to happen exciting today?' said Piglet. "Pooh nodded thoughtfully. 'It's the same thing,' he said."