Earning Poundage

February 25th, 2011 by Harrumpher Leave a reply »


Slogging through the slush today on a CIA tour (as in cooks, not spooks), son #3 got culinary truth from a second set of guides. We previously had toured Johnson & Wales in Providence. Oddly enough, we did so in driving rain there also; we sense a pattern and may do any future cooking-school tours online.

Down in that other Hyde Park (New York this time), I was surprised by the expansion and relative grandeur of the Culinary Institute of America campus. A few friends of mine have gone there — restarting careers. One foundered in liberal arts and decided to get real; she was the first woman to graduate at the head of her class, 1975. Then as she had established herself as a chef in Manhattan died much to0 young of cancer. Another had a successful spin in IT in NY State, raised a kid to college age, divorced and needed to become another person. She is a famous chef in Santa Fe.

I had spent days at a time on the campus back when the main dining facility clearly showed what it used to be, the nave of a Marist chapel. That building is still in use, but there are five high-end restaurants for the public and numerous endowed buildings. For example, we ate at the Catrina de’ Medici, in a few fancy building paid for by the Colavita oil-oil folk. (That meal requires its own post.)

Today’s tour highlight for me was a brief aside conversation by guide Chelsea. She’s about to graduate and go to Cornell for a viniculture concentration.

As the times I have visited over the years, I noticed what is all too obvious — there are a fair number of hefty students. Professors tend to be around for a long time. Some are stocky, and others very thin. I thought of the 1938 Block-Heads, in which Oliver and Hardy are set to cooking on their own.

Chelsea spoke of everyone trying to get to the campus gyms and pool. The students often have to taste what they make all day, and sometimes have homework including 45 different cookies they made. They have to look at, feel, smell, taste and thoroughly describe each, with their reports strictly graded to see they understand the distinctions. Even if you do the wine-tasting equivalent of spitting it out, that’s a lot of butter and sugar.

As we slipped over the pavement in the sleet, I asked her if the national fascination with obesity factored here and whether students hassled each other. She said it was a big issue and chefs as well as students were aware of it. The students didn’t deride each other, she said, but the school added additional nutritional information and courses.

Then when the group caught up, she said that a peril of getting a CIA degree came from the eating. She was a mesomorph and not fat, but not junkie thin as is the underwear model fashion. She announced that she arrived several years before as a size six but was far from that now.

She added that stereotype at typical colleges is that the meal plans and inactivity mean there is a freshman 15, that is students put on 15 pounds in the first year. “Here, we talk about a freshman 45,” she said.


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