HYDE PARK, NEW YORK - In 1946, when the American military returned from the World War II, a small vocational culinary institution was established for veterans in the northeastern United States. Today, it is called the Culinary Institute of America - with three campuses in the United States and one in Singapore. More than 12 percent of the student body is from outside the United States.
It may be the finest school of its kind in the world. Sitting on high ground with the picturesque Hudson River below is the Culinary Institute of America’s main campus. Approximately 2,500 students, including 300 from 48 countries, enthusiastically participate in an unusual academic and vocational process.
Brendan Walsh, the dean of the school, explains what it provides for students.
“The experience that the student receives in just the first two years is one of giving them that kind of, what we like to call grit… that grit of working a restaurant environment, being able to use your critical thinking skills in order for you to be able to accept and look at all different kinds of challenges,” he said.
There are various culinary disciplines, like the school’s science lab where students learn how ingredients change the functionality of food preparation.
Haya Emman, from Pakistan, is immersed in the experience.
“What’s the function of an ingredient? Why do we use it? What’s the purpose of this ingredient? What does it do for your food? Does it give flavor? Does it give texture? Does it give color? You know, and that’s what now food is about,” says Emman, who expects to open a restaurant in Karachi.
Emman’s fellow lab student, Regina Ardura, is from Mexico City. Her career goals go in a different direction.
“I would love to work at a test kitchen or also, another option I am considering, is working at a winery, developing wines,” she said.
In order to be a chef you have to understand ingredients or how to work a dining room, or making the food presentation something special or know how to make ice cream at tableside.
“So as I add more liquid nitrogen, it turns into ice cream, it freezes it more. This is the consistency of the ice cream right now,” explains one student.
And, as for Crystal Tan from China, baking and pastry art is what she enjoys most.
“Baking is fascinating. With simple ingredients we can make people happy. And, that’s what makes me very interested in learning how to bake,” she said.
She says wants to travel the world and try to work in all sorts of pastry shops, incorporating the various cultures and ingredients.
Chef instructor J.J. Lui, from the Isle of Man in the United Kingdom, makes a bold prediction about culinary art in the U.S.
“In five or six years time there will be no need for any American chef to go overseas for the benefit of culinary training… American chefs will be able to run and own three-Michelin-star restaurants by attending programs such as we hold here,” Lui said.
The institute’s other two U.S. campuses are in San Antonio, Texas, and in St. Helena, California, in the state’s wine country.