Recently we traveled upstate to visit the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. It was worth the trip!
The institute is one of the top-ranked culinary arts colleges where students can earn associates and bachelor’s degrees in a variety of baking, cooking and business fields. The school has been located at the Hyde Park campus since the 1970s, but before that the buildings were used as a monastery which was built in 1901. There are other culinary institute locations in California, Texas and Singapore, and students can travel to these sites to learn to cook traditional foods from around the world.
When we arrived, we first walked into Roth Hall. It is the main building on campus that has the student dining hall. It looked like Hogwarts for chefs. Roth Hall also includes the Apple Pie Bakery and two of the institute’s finest restaurants, The Bocuse Restaurant and the American Bounty.
We met the public communications manager, Jeff Levine, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the restaurants, classes and what it’s like for the students to attend the college.
We had the opportunity to experience each of the restaurants by following our specially made Kidsday menus. Our progressive dining experience began at the American Bounty where we had our first course. We had our second course at another school eatery, Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici, and the main dish at the school’s Post Road Brew House. Dessert was served at The Bocuse Restaurant.
The theme of the American Bounty restaurant is to offer traditional dishes using locally grown and sourced food in a casual, elegant setting. The chefs bring in seasonal foods from nearby farms in the Hudson Valley to for their dishes. We tasted a variety of dishes at the American Bounty such as the chilled market oysters, parsley root soup and microgreens salad, but our favorite first-course dishes were the chicken-fried quail and the crisp pork belly. These were delicious and light appetizers that still allowed us to have room for the next courses on our menu.
Next we visited Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici, which offers authentic Italian cuisine in a Tuscan villa-style dining room that overlooks a stunning herb and rose garden. You can enjoy brick oven pizza and other rustic dishes while having the feeling of dining in Italy without ever having left New York!
A student named Rebecca was in charge of our service there, and she was enrolled in an etiquette class on campus so she was able to teach us some tips on how to serve a party and set a table properly. Some of the dishes we tried in this second course were gnocchi, risotto, meat ravioli tortelli and crepes, but the overall favorite was the pappardelle with lamb ragu. Before we went to our next restaurant, Rebecca let us have a peek into the kitchen and take a photo with the chefs.
At this point in the food tour, we were feeling sort of full, but we progressed on to the Post Road Brew House, which is probably the most kid-friendly of all the restaurants. It is a tavern that serves pub food; you can order anything from salads to burgers. What’s interesting about this restaurant is that it’s a pop-up experience. That means that it is an ever-evolving place to dine, and soon the institute will try a new restaurant concept in the space. We tried the ale-battered fish and chips, a pastrami Reuben, the mac and cheese, the Post Road burger and mom’s meatballs and polenta. Not surprisingly, everyone’s favorite dish was the one they ordered.
No matter how much you eat, don’t you find that you always have room for dessert? The Bocuse Restaurant is an award-winning sophisticated French restaurant that was recently redesigned to bring modern style to this classic cuisine. Before we even ordered dessert, the student servers demonstrated how to make homemade ice cream right before our own eyes using liquid nitrogen. The desserts we ordered were exquisite works of art. They were tiny, flavor-filled, unique creations that were complex and very difficult to describe, but the most popular dessert among us was the chocolate variation. After all this eating, it was nice to walk it off on a tour of the Culinary Institute.
The first part of our tour was to see one of the classes in progress, which was for bakers to learn basic skills. While we were in the classroom, students were deboning chicken and preparing vegetables to make chicken stock for soup. After talking a little about the classes at the Culinary Institute, the instructor, Chef Mark Ainsworth, gave us a signed copy of his newest cookbook for kids, “The Young Chef: Recipes and Techniques for Kids Who Love to Cook.” It was exciting to see his students hard at work and inspiring to meet a world-class chef and cookbook author.
After leaving Chef Ainsworth’s class, our tour guide gave us toques (chef hats) before walking us through the hallways of the baking classes. We saw cake decorating, bread-making and baking classes at work, with products like rock candy geodes and fancy fondant wedding cakes in the windows. The advice for young chefs is to get into the kitchen as much as you can, always taste your own cooking to continue improving the flavors, and — most importantly — have fun.
The Culinary Institute has a gift shop in Roth Hall with Culinary Institute apparel, souvenirs and a lot of cookbooks. For information about the college and the schedule of continuing education classes, visit ciachef.edu; to learn more about the restaurants on campus, go to ciarestaurantgroup.com. You should definitely plan to visit the Culinary Institute campus. Not only will it be a fine dining experience, you’ll also be helping students on their paths to becoming master chefs.
And if you really want to try cooking, they have boot camps for kids, teens and adults.