Staying Home to Go to College
Community colleges make the grade for Valley students looking to save a little cash and prepare for their careers — without sacrificing the A-plus education
(page 11 of 15)
Culinary Institute of America
By: Evan Sparling
Let’s face it — food is hot. From the 24-hour Food Network to Rachael Ray’s own monthly magazine, it seems that Americans just can’t get enough of everything edible. And at the center of it all is Hyde Park’s Culinary Institute of America, arguably the world’s premier culinary college. Founded in 1946, the CIA has been turning out industry leaders long before the era of the celebrity chef. But now, top employers regularly recruit at the CIA, the median income of CIA graduates is significantly higher than the industry average, and two alumni — Cat Cora ’95 and Michael Symon ’90 — have even achieved the status of Iron Chef.
Enrollment at the selective institution remains steady at 2,700 full-time students, although spokesman Jeff Levine says the number of applications to the college has increased in recent years. Those talented enough to merit acceptance into the school follow an innovative course of study called a “progressive learning year,” during which they move up to a new class every three weeks. After two years, all students receive an associate’s degree.
In 1994, the college added four-year bachelor of professional studies (B.P.S.) programs in Culinary Arts Management, and in Baking and Pastry Arts Management. These students take classes in management, finance, foreign languages, and history, in addition to an 18-week externship at a restaurant or bakery, so that “when they come out with a bachelor’s degree from the CIA, they will be well-rounded,” Levine explains. The majority of students still graduate with a two-year degree, but the number enrolled in the bachelor’s programs has increased with each successive class. Today, 21 percent of students are in their third or fourth year at the institution. “Both degrees will get you all the hands-on experience you need to be a chef,” Levine says. The main difference between the two programs, he explains, is the maximum speed they allow graduates on the road to success. The four-year degree teaches students the management skills needed to reach the top levels (and salaries) of the culinary ladder more quickly.
About two-thirds of students live on campus and spend their free time participating in athletics and clubs. The biggest perk of all, though, is the chance to enjoy what must amount to the world’s most tantalizing college meal plan, which features entrées such as guava-glazed pork ribs and shrimp tempura on a daily basis. (Students do give back, though: Recently they’ve put their skills to good use by hosting a series of monthly theme dinners and donating the proceeds to charity.) Serious foodies, CIA students are expected to be equally serious about their future careers: all applicants for associate’s and bachelor’s degree programs must have at least six months work experience in a kitchen.
You don’t have to be the next Rocco DiSpirito, however, to take advantage of all the CIA has to offer. Amateur chefs among us can sign up for a number of continuing education classes at the Hyde Park campus. The CIA Boot Camps are two- to five-day intensive classes with CIA instructors that teach the ins and outs of one particular food subject, ranging from barbecuing to gourmet meals. “Saturday at the CIA” is a daylong series of chef demonstrations and lectures that cover cooking and baking basics (some are geared exclusively towards parents and teens). About 5,000 enthusiasts and 3,000 professionals participated in the school’s continuing education classes last year. But anyone studying at the CIA can become a master of the kitchen, provided he or she brings one vital ingredient. “The key to any student’s success,” explains Levine, “is a passion for food.”
1946 Campus Dr., Hyde Park. 845-471-6608; www.ciachef.edu
Up next: Mount St. Mary College