It’s been a whirlwind of a first week back on campus at the Culinary Institute of America, and although I’ve been gone for almost five months, it feels like I never left. The biggest difference, though, is that the population on campus has exploded. There are more students here this fall than ever before. Maybe it’s because the pandemic showed people new passions or because there is some cooking school trend right now, but it’s interesting to see so many young people eager to learn about food. The dining hall (we call it The Egg) is packed every evening with people of all ages from all over the world, and the energy is electric because everyone in there has this one common thread that relates us all. One of the best ways I can describe CIA is that this is the Hogwarts of cooking schools. Our wands are our knives; we care for them and keep them close just the same. We’ve got our head wizards, the head chefs, who guide us to hone our skills, and a kind of diligent, sport-like competition that reminds me of the school spirit we only see in Harry Potter.
My semester starts with a class I’ve been looking forward to, Garde Manger. Garde Manger encompasses all things cold-cooking. Cold cooking sounds like an oxymoron, but there is much in this category to learn. Garde Manger cooks are responsible for the salads, charcuteries, hors d’oeuvres, cold soups, all things pickled, and more. We hit the ground running on the first day, with each team in the class assigned several pickling/brining/curing projects. Our stations each have huge containers of salt, sugar, and spices to mix and rub or marinate beautiful pieces of meat, fish, and vegetables in.