My Trip to the Culinary Institute of America (and a Recipe)

A while back I received an email asking if I’d like to come visit the Culinary Institute of America’s campus in Hyde Park, NY. At first, I was hesitant to accept the invite – what did they want from me in return? – but it turns out they simply wanted to show me their program in case I wanted to share it with my readers. Eager to have an inside look at one of the biggest and most-respected culinary schools in the country (I mean, come on, Anthony Bourdain!), I accepted the offer and spent a couple days on campus. Along the way, I familiarized myself with their program and ate some delicious food. The folks at the school were also kind enough to share one of their recipes with me, which I’ve included below.

photo courtesy of The Culinary Institute of America

The CIA has three campuses – Hyde Park, NY; San Antonio, TX; and St. Helena, CA – and each campus offers two-year degree programs in Culinary Arts and Baking & Pastry Arts. The Hyde Park campus also offers four-year degrees in Culinary Arts Management, Baking & Pastry Arts Management, and Culinary Science (think fermentation and new cooking gadgets). Those in the four-year program go through the two-year program with everyone else before moving on. During the second year of the two-year program, students take an 18-week paid internship (they call it an “externship”) at the restaurant or establishment of their choice so they can get acquainted with the industry before finishing their degree. A fair share of their students are veterans (the school was actually founded to help vets returning from WWII find a vocation).

Before starting any program, applicants are required to have six months experience in a professional kitchen; this helps students to make sure this is something they genuinely want to try. This pre-requisite makes a big difference; all of the students I met were very motivated and excited about their prospective careers. And they should be, because the statistics related to hiring rates are impressive: 99% of students that pursue a restaurant career after graduating find work almost immediately.

If you live near one of the campuses, they offer a bunch of food enthusiast “boot camp” courses for people that want to tackle the culinary arts one bite at a time.

Some of the courses in their curricula were of particular interest to me, like their gluten-free baking course (taught by Chef Coppedge, author of Gluten-Free Baking with the Culinary Institute of America), butchery & fish courses, hospitality services course (improving hospital food!), and the culinary science courses (where they focus on fermentation – we tasted different types of mead). I was surprised at how in-depth their lessons were, including the fact that they have to manage the inventories of their own kitchens throughout the program. The beginner students focus on basic tasks like making stock, which is then sold to the other classes for their own recipes – everything is circulated and used efficiently.

The students spend time in several school kitchens before graduating, and my favorites were the international kitchens. I was pleased to see an expansive international selection; one of our lunches came from these kitchens, and I was happy to see several dishes featured on my blog make appearances, like Pão de Queijo.

photo courtesy of Bake or Break

While there, I made friends with the other folks that participated in the CIA’s inaugural blogger tour (left to right: Gina from Skinny Taste, Jennifer from Bake or Break, and Kita from Pass the Sushi). They were all really nice and it was fun to mingle with food bloggers from all walks of life.

photo courtesy of The Culinary Institute of America

Another cool thing about the school is that as students work in 3-week course rotations, the most senior class works the CIA’s restaurants – both the front and back ends. So during our first night there we were served by the graduating students, with meals that the students prepared. We ate at The Bocuse Restaurant, where they made table-side cocktails and 30-second ice cream using liquid nitrogen. Pretty impressive!

One of the most exciting parts of the trip was when we worked in the kitchen alongside students. I worked in restaurants as a line chef for a couple years before joining the Navy in 2000, and I was absolutely thrilled to be in the back of a restaurant again. It’s hard to believe that it has been almost 14 years since I worked in a professional kitchen. I was surprised to find that I still felt comfortable in the environment, and was pleased to discover that I was familiar with every dish we were working on; in fact, several of them are in my cookbook!

The recipe below is a dish that we sampled (and helped cook) during our trip; after a little arm-twisting the school was happy to provide me (and you!) with the recipe, which I made again at home so that I could take proper pictures of it.

This recipe is word-for-word from the school, although I made a couple adjustments for my own home cooking: I used metal skewers, flap steak instead of strip steak (it was on sale!), and served mine with mashed boniato (white sweet potato).

Skewered Beef Fillet with Chimichurri Sauce
Makes 8 servings

Chimichurri sauce is a ubiquitous oil-and-vinegar– based condiment from Argentina, where it is served with grilled meats as well as a variety of other dishes. This fresh-tasting sauce is a nice alternative to traditional barbecue sauces.

8 bamboo skewers, 8 inches long
2 tsp salt
8 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup finely diced red pepper
1/4 cup minced yellow onion
1/4 cup minced parsley leaves
1/4 cup minced oregano leaves
1/2 cup finely diced tomato
2 jalapeños, minced
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
4 strip steaks, 1/2″ thick
1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1. Soak the bamboo skewers in cool water for at least 30 minutes.

2. Sprinkle 1 tsp of the salt over the minced garlic and mash to a paste with the flat side of a chef’s knife.

3. Transfer the garlic to a nonreactive bowl and add the red pepper, onion, parsley, oregano, tomato, jalapenos, water, extra-virgin olive oil, and red wine vinegar. Mix well and refrigerate for 1 hour to let the flavors blend.

4. Preheat a gas grill to high. If you are using a charcoal grill, build a fire and let it burn down until the coals are glowing red with a light coating of white ash. Spread the coals in an even bed. Clean the cooking grate.

5. Trim the steaks of excess fat. Cut the steaks into strips about 11/2 inches wide and thread the strips onto the bamboo skewers. Season the meat with the remaining salt and pepper.

6. Grill the beef to desired doneness, about 2 minutes per side for medium-rare.

7. Serve the beef hot with the cold chimichurri sauce.

The Culinary Institute of America provided me with travel, lodging, and a tour of their campus; all opinions expressed in this post are my own.

17 thoughts on “My Trip to the Culinary Institute of America (and a Recipe)

  1. What a treat for you to get to visit this place. Thank you for taking time to post this for us. Did you season the beef with anything?


  2. oops, skimmed it too fast…number five…sorry…! I think i would have to add a bit of garlic to the meat instead of to the garnish.


    1. Many char-grilled meats in South America aren’t pre-seasoned, but rely on a flavorful accompanying sauce. My guess is that was what the chefs were going for…personally, I found the contrasting flavors of mild beef and sharp, tangy sauce to be very tasty!


      1. I believe the french rely on the sauces to flavor the meats, also….and I was disappointed with some of my meals when i visited Paris this past summer. Ah, might just be my personal need for depth of flavor all around.

        (This recipe reminds me of the fajitas and pico de gallo that is popular here in the southwest. i must try adding the oregano next time to the pico, but never could i sub the parsley for the cilantro).

        Thank you, Russ, for your kind response.


        1. If you get a chance, try to find Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens), which may not be too hard to find in your area. It’s usually sold dried and used in soups, but I bet a pinch of fresh chopped leaves would be a great addition to pico!


  3. I have really enjoyed your blog! I love the fact that you have taken so many of my favorite Brazilian dishes and made them paleo friendly :) So glad paleo has helped you so much and that you are able to do so much now because of it!


  4. I was thrilled when they opened the CIA down here in San Antonio. It is a real treat to have them at farmers market events, and with a focus on foods (and people) of latin america– it is good to see them grow with an international multi-cultural perspective.


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