Experts at the Bureau of Labor Statistics predict that, by the year 2005, the world will need 100 million chefs to supply the demands of restaurants, hotels, and other hospitality- and tourist-oriented institutions. That’s a hell of a lot of toques.
Stephan Gerard Hengst, admissions office representative for the Culinary Institute of America, revealed that startling statistic and a few others last weekend when he was in town to make a sales pitch for the CIA, generally acknowledged as the most prestigious cooking school in the country.
Quite frankly, I was a little taken aback when I learned that the 90-minute overview session for people interested in studying at the CIA was being presented at The Outback and not at Zola or Wild Boar. But I was soon informed that Joe Sumislawski, who is a joint-venture partner in the local Outbacks, is a graduate of CIA and offered to host the gathering. As Hengst was discussing classes on nutrition and the trend toward more healthful eating, the 20 or so men and women in his audience were passing plates of fried bloomin’ onion and towering piles of french fries covered in melted cheese and bacon. Go figure.
The Culinary Institute of America, located (or ”nestled,“ as the brochures tell us) on 80 acres overlooking the Hudson River in Hyde Park, N.Y., was established in 1946 as the New Haven Restaurant Institute, a storefront cooking school in downtown New Haven, Conn. Fifty students were enrolled in what was then a vocational training school for World War II veterans; on staff were a chef, a baker, and a dietitian.
As the food-service industry grew, so did the school, which was renamed the Culinary Institute of America in 1951, when the facility moved to larger quarters. Still, by 1969 the CIA’s kitchens weren’t large enough to accommodate the more than 1,000 students who were enrolled. In 1970 the institute purchased a former Jesuit seminary in Hyde Park; two years and $4 million in renovations later, the new school opened.
Today, the institute has a student body of more than 2,000. There are two degree programs: a 21-month associate in occupational studies degree in either culinary arts or baking and pastry arts, and a newer, 38-month bachelor of professional studies degree. The institute, now staffed by more than 125 chefs and instructors, offers 16 entry dates a year, a schedule that is particularly appealing to the growing number of midlife ”career changers“ now coming to the school.
No matter which course of study they choose or when they decide to enroll, all fledgling chefs start in the same place: Introduction to Gastronomy and Culinary Math. (Hengst warns those of us with math anxiety that the subject is a little more advanced in the baking curriculum, where measurement is more precise than in general cooking.) Nutrition and sanitation classes are next; then students move into skill courses. First up is Meat Fabrication. In that class, students spend time in a cooler, where half a cow is hanging from a hook; the instructor takes the cow apart, then puts it back together again. A pig and a lamb are subjected to the same procedure. (I assume fowl are pretty much self-explanatory.)
Finally, students move into the kitchen and begin at the beginning, with soups and sauces, stocks and roux, employing classic French techniques.
The 21-month programwhich is divided into four 15-week semestersis split between academics and hands-on learning. During an 18-week externship, each student works for a minimum of 600 hours at a position in an institute-approved commercial food service and hospitality establishment. In the final semester of study for the associate degree, students workin the kitchen and in the front of the housein each of the institute’s four on-campus restaurants. If they continue on to a bachelor’s degree, they move into a curriculum that includes foreign languages, history and cultures of Europe, accounting and budget management, psychology of human behavior, ethics, and the all-important personal stress management.
On campus, the CIA boasts 36 teaching kitchens and bakeshops; a learning resources center with television production and post-production studios; and the Conrad N. Hilton Library, the largest culinary library in the United States. It’s not surprising to learn that at a culinary school, student clubs are rather specialized. You can join the Bakers Club, the Cigar Club, Epicures of Wine, the Ice Club (specializing in ice carving), the Saucier’s Club, or the Culinary Christian Fellowship.
And what awaits the graduate of the CIA? Hengstwho has an A.D. but will be returning to the CIA to get his B.D.says he had seven job offers before he even walked across the stage at graduation. Career fairs are held regularly through the school year.
And not all job opportunities are in the kitchen. According to Hengst, ”today’s culinary professional can become a television personality, food stylist, business manager, caterer, distribution sales representative, restaurant owner, culinary educator,“ or even a lowly restaurant critic. There are big opportunities, he points out, in the kitchens of our nation’s growing prison system. At least you won’t have to worry much about dissatisfied customers walking out on you.
Applying to the school is pretty much like applying to any other institution of higher learningthe formal application must be accompanied by transcripts, letters of reference, and personal essays. (The key words to remember, Hengst reveals, are ”teamwork,“ ”passion,“ ”drive,“ and ”initiative.“) In addition, applicants must have six months to a year of professional food experience. (And, no, that does not include working the grill in a fast food restaurant.) The CIA receives about 2,000 applications; about 1,400 of them are accepted.
Total cost for the 21-month A.D. programincluding housing and mealsis approximately $37,000. Financial aid is available.
Hengst suggests that potential students visit the CIA campus and that they investigate other schools (among them, Johnson & Wales in Rhode Island, the next-largest culinary school in the country). CIA also offers a five-day Career Exploration course; it’s specifically designed for high-school juniors and seniors but it’s open to anyone. The course fee of $350 includes all instruction, three meals per day, and a textbook. Information about the Culinary Institute of America is available at 1-800-285-4627.
Bellevue is becoming quite the culinary center. Now the community not only boasts what many consider one of Nashville’s best Italian restaurantsAntonio’s of Nashvilleand the wonderful Alpha Bakery, owned by a Chinese couple trained as bakers in Japan, but it’s also home to Fuji, owned by Korean-born Kenneth Lee and serving sushi and other Japanese cuisine. The 145-seat restaurant serves lunch and dinner Monday through Saturday; dinner only on Sunday. Fuji is located in the Kroger shopping center at the corner of Old Hickory Boulevard and Highway 70 South.