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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roth hall in 1972Bird’s-eye view: The riverside campus, with 150-room Roth Hall as its centerpiece, continues to expand. When the Culinary Institute took over the site in 1972, there were 80 acres; now there are 170 acres — and many more buildings

Kitchen basics: Food enthusiast programs

Of course, the CIA doesn’t just educate professionals and aspiring chefs. The school offers programs for food enthusiasts, with course length ranging from just a few hours — such as the upcoming “Holiday Pies at the CIA,” where you’ll learn to create perfect pies from scratch (Nov. 22, 23, or 24; $200) — to two-day “boot camps,” which focus on developing and enhancing new skills quickly. For instance, the Holiday Boot Camp which takes place this month (Nov. 15-16 or Nov. 17-18; $800) teaches attendees how to plan, prepare, and present traditional dishes including appetizers, sides, entrées, desserts — not to mention hors d’oeuvres and holiday beverages — with new twists. For those whose skills in the kitchen don’t extend much beyond boiling water, there’s also a Skill Development Boot Camp (Nov. 11-12; call for price) which covers knife skills, basic cooking methods, product identification, food and wine pairing, and other topics.

Germantown’s Charles Geiger is a proud basic training boot camp grad who says: “We were a very mixed group — not culinary professionals by any means. We began at 7 a.m., ended at 4 p.m., took a break, and then had dinner at one of the restaurants. It was intense, to say the least. But we learned everything from the importance of making stocks to how to work quickly and efficiently. I’m a much better cook because of this experience.”

roth hall at present

“We plan the classes based on what our customers ask for,” explains Laura Pickover, director of the food enthusiast programs. “What we’ve noticed recently is that there seems to be a real return to the kitchen and requests for meat and fish butchery classes, as well as knife skills. People have cut down on take-out and restaurant-going and are going back into their kitchens. But once they get there, they often say, ‘I don’t know what to do!’ ”

Visit the CIA’s Web site (www.ciachef.edu) for information on these classes, as well as other programs that are open to the public — such as the Dooley Lecture series, during which speakers address more than just food-related topics. Past speakers have included Pete Seeger and author Jonathan Franzen.

So, perhaps it’s time to plan a visit to the CIA; who knows, you may discover some secrets of your own.

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