Several months ago, Jill and I were invited to return to our alma mater, The Culinary Institute of America (CIA), to put on a cake decorating demonstration for our fellow alumni as part of a reunion weekend. We were honored to have been asked, and we agreed with much enthusiasm. After all, it had been several years since we had last been to our beloved college and October in upstate New York is a beautiful time of year.
We prepared the bakery accordingly, and left it the capable hands of Brittany and Ariana. The drive up was uneventful and a mere four hours after leaving Vineland, we arrived in Hyde Park. The campus was beautiful and it was great seeing the old sights; the bakeshop where Jill and I first became friends, the kitchens we worked in, the classrooms where we learned so much…
After settling in and finding a home for the cake (and various equipment) that we had brought, it was time to eat! We went first to the Apple Pie Bakery/Café, where we drank espresso and ate a lovely brioche tart filled with spiced mascarpone and topped with candied butternut squash. This was far more avant garde than the pastry that Jill and I made when we attended that class, which was a curious surprise!
Since it was my birthday, my mother-in-law treated us to dinner at one of the restaurants on campus, the Caterina di Medici, which specialized in Italian cuisine and is the shining jewel of the five eateries on campus. We started with cocktails, which I rarely get, but hey, it was my birthday!
We ended up eating very well that evening, the standouts being Garganelli al Ragù (a pasta similar in shape to penne, served with a classic Bolognese meat sauce), Costolette d’agnello con Peperonata e Zucchine (Lamb Rack with pepper/tomato stew and sautéed zucchini), several ridiculously good Italian cheeses as well as a platter of bite sized cookies and candies. The service and food was excellent, especially considering the staff is composed primarily of students who rotate in and out of the kitchens every few weeks. It was good to be back on campus, and we left quite satisfied.
The next day was the day of the cake demonstration. Our nerves were a little on edge leading up the demo, as the gravity (at least in our minds) of what we were doing caught up with us. For the most part though, we were relaxed and excited to be there. The demo went off without a hitch, and in addition to Jill showing off her cake-decorating prowess, we got the opportunity to talk up Vineland and south Jersey to the roughly 60 people who were in attendance from all over the country. It was a good time, and we hope to do it again in the future.
That evening was the alumni dinner, and if there’s one thing you do at the CIA, it’s eat well. After the demo, we had time to change at our hotel before heading back to campus. We walked into the main hall and were greeted by students of the soon to be graduating class, who had organized and executed the entire alumni dinner. Platters of wine, both still and sparkling, were being passed. The sparkling was good, dry and crisp, but the still wine was gorgeous in its fruity aroma and full body.
In addition to the wines, there were little hors d’oeuvre being passed. My favorites were tiny piles of cold, rich lobster salad on crisp round toasts, and triangles of toasted bread on which sat a thumb-sized piece of seared fois gras that hid a dab of lingonberry jam. Fois gras is, in my opinion, the height of decadent dining, and I relished the opportunity to eat several of these bite-sized delicacies (doubly so since they were complimentary!).
What Jill and I hadn’t noticed when we first arrived was a table of cheeses that was set up outside the dining hall. We meandered over to discover that there was a wide selection of cheeses all from New York available for us to sample. There were quite a few creamy goat cheeses, a few pungent sheep milk cheeses, and several classic cows milk cheeses. I am an avowed cheese-a-holic, so I was in hog heaven at this particular table.
Dinner soon followed; rich lobster bisque, butternut ravioli, and pumpkin crème brulée among other delicious foods. Again, everything was wonderful and like the previous evening, everything was done by the students. I must say, I was proud of them. To put on a banquet of such high caliber is no easy task, and not only that, they ended up raising over $6,000 for scholarship funds through a Chinese auction to boot!
It was great visiting the CIA. It’s a beautiful campus, stunning actually, but what I liked most (and what I liked most when I attended) was the passion for food that is evident everywhere you look. The dorms are named after culinary spices; kitchens display student chefs learning their trade, and everyone (students and visitors alike) eat well… very well. It’s definitely my kind of place.