Secrets of the CIA
No, no — it’s not that CIA we’re talking about. Still, we’re pretty sure you’ll find the inside scoop on the Culinary Institute of America to be just as intriguing
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Students on the original campus of the Culinary Institute, which was located in New Haven, Conn. The college moved to Hyde Park in 1972
Visiting the campus: Other delights besides dining
The CIA actually began in New Haven in 1946 when attorney Frances Roth, the first woman admitted to the Connecticut Bar Association, cofounded the New Haven Restaurant Institute with Katharine Angell, the wife of the then-president of Yale. The first class was comprised of 50 GIs returning from World War II. By 1950, the school had graduated more than 600 veterans; the next year, it changed its name to the Culinary Institute of America. In 1972 the school moved to its present location. Although it is among Dutchess County’s top three tourist destinations, with more than a quarter million visitors annually, few of them venture beyond the restaurants. They should. Whether you take an organized tour of the grounds and classrooms (available Monday-Friday at 4 p.m. and Monday at 10 a.m. for $6) or just a casual stroll around the picturesque 170-acre campus, there is much to be seen.
History and architecture buffs will delight in the main building, an imposing 1901 brick structure that — until the late 1960s — was the centerpiece of St. Andrew-on-Hudson, a Jesuit seminary. Part of the fun of walking around the stunning old buildings, as well as the entire campus, is stumbling upon remnants of this religious heritage. Ambling through the corridors of Roth Hall, the main building, not only provides glimpses into many of the teaching kitchens but a look at Farquharson Hall, which was formerly the seminary’s chapel and is now the student dining room. In 2001, the school hired John Canning Studios, the same firm that restored Manhattan’s Grand Central Terminal, to renovate the space. “The room used to have no air conditioning — it had giant fans bolted to the walls — and it was very poorly lit,” says Hengst. “Now it is quite glorious.” Currently, contemporary murals of culinary scenes grace the upper corners of the room; few people realize that these murals cover original paintings which portray the Holy Communion. They were hidden by order of the New York State Dormitory Authority after it was determined that the display conflicted with legislation separating church and state. It should be noted, however, that the original paintings remain in good shape. The original 1902 stained glass windows have been refurbished. Made by Alexander Locke (who studied under Louis Tiffany), each pane has up to seven separate layers.
Back then, almost all of the students were male; today, 44 percent of the student body is female
Outside, if you head towards the back of Roth Hall, you will see the facility’s composting program in action (more on that on the next page), as well as an old diner which was, until 1989, a coffee shop. You’ll also stumble upon various religious statues that appear in unexpected places. Most have plaques which are so worn that they are virtually unidentifiable, but are thought to represent Jesus and various Jesuits. And if you ask the security guard for a key, you can visit the little-known cemetery. There, among row upon row of simple white crosses, you can see the grave of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, one of the first Catholic scholars to espouse the theory of evolution and initiate a dialogue about the connection between science and religion. Rarely visited (except in May, when a group of Jesuits often returns to the campus to mark the anniversary of Teilhard’s death in 1955), the cemetery is a moving, albeit silent record of the campus’s past life. In fact, the Jesuits still officially own the cemetery (although the CIA maintains it) as well as the Lady of the Way Chapel, located at the south entrance to the property, where weekly Catholic services are held.
Most people also don’t realize that the Conrad N. Hilton Library is open to the public. Its collections include comedian Danny Kaye’s cookbook library and an assortment of more than 30,000 menus from around the world, dating from 1883 to the present. (The library’s oldest book is in Latin and was published in 1503.) Community members are welcome to use the library for research (although Wi-Fi is only available to students) and can relax in front of the fireplace in the attractive sitting room. Books may be borrowed through interlibrary loans.
And no campus tour would be complete without a stop at the bookstore, which is located on the first floor of Roth Hall. In addition to the de rigueur textbooks, it stocks an extensive cookbook selection, chef ware, kitchen equipment, sweatshirts with CIA insignia, and loads of fun epicurean gifts and souvenirs.