In the Field with The Culinary Institute of America

Craig McCord

Craig McCord › Craig possesses 23 guitars and cannot play any of them. He likes fresh grilled sardines with a ...

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The Culinary Institute of America has for its mission to teach students the fundamentals of cooking.

It is impossible to teach cooking without teaching ingredients.

That truism has lead the CIA to launch a new program that will allow students to study farm-to-table cuisine with legendary chef Larry Forgione at the school’s California campus, The CIA at Greystone.

Mr. Forgione has designed a program that combines cooking, teaching and farming. Students are responsible for planting, raising and harvesting the food they use at what students and CIA staffers call their ‘crop-up’ restaurant.

It is impossible to teach cooking without teaching ingredients.

Pierson Carson in an enlightening article on napavalleyregister.com explains:

Throughout the week, program enrollees plant, tend and harvest crops in gardens on and near the St. Helena campus, along with a herd of swine. Come Friday, all hands gather at what once was a gatehouse–now the Williams Center for Flavor Discovery–to prepare Friday and Saturday night meals and ready the intimate dining space for eager, hungry guests who pay $65 for a six- or seven-course dinner.

Often called the godfather of American cuisine, chef/restaurateur Larry Forgione was mulling over the future of cuisine with friend/chef Jonathan Waxman–who manned the stoves at Table 29 in the valley some years ago–when Waxman suggested his friend should get involved in teaching young people intent on careers in cuisine. Waxman maintained that Forgione should share what he’s learned over the past 40 years in the food business.

Both men felt a number of people in the hospitality industry are playing fast and loose with the term “farm-to-table.”

“They may be chefs with good intentions, but the term ‘free-range chicken,’ for example, has been bastardized so it’s now applied to a chicken in a larger cage,” Forgione scowled.

“Way too many people are adopting farm-to-table for something it’s not … just because they buy a few products from a farmers market or a roadside stand.

“In true farm-to-table programs, the chef has a great relationship with the farmer–he’s one of your partners. You get to know, trust and respect him … get involved in his routines … know the soils, how he’s planting and harvesting … and he keeps you informed about what’s in season so you can plan your menu.”

Forgione took his friend’s suggestion and ran with it. He approached the Culinary Institute of America with the idea for a farm-to-table program and for the past year has been developing the curriculum.

What he came up with is a 15-week endeavor that brings students from the CIA bachelor’s degree management program in Hyde Park, New York, to CIA Greystone.

This is from a press release put out by the CIA:

Over the course of the semester, students will receive a hands-on education on three CIA farms, where they will work with Forgione and Farm Manager Christian Dake, previously a farmer for the Baker Creek Seed Company and a founder of the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Festival. The CIA farm locations at Deer Park Road, the Charles Krug Winery, and on the CIA at Greystone campus will be hands-on learning labs where the students will plant, nurture, and harvest ingredients.

It’s great to see an organization as large (and potentially bureaucratic) as The Culinary Institute of America move forward with a program as spot on as this.

Hats off to Chef Larry Forgione for continuing to influence America’s place in food.

Does it make sense to you to teach students interested in cooking about ingredients?

Photo credit: Peter DaSilva for The New York Times