Saturday, April 19, 2008

Adventures in Hyde Park, Part 1

Back on April 16, a Wednesday, She Who Sets the Deadlines, the other Associate Editor and I took a field trip to the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. Boss Man couldn't come because he had Important Meetings at the Office he couldn't get out of, and an interview. Poor Boss Man.
The trip took about an hour and a half, I drove because I like to be in control like that and my car has a navigation system.
When we got there we wandered a bit, then met our guide who took us to the American Pie Bakery for a snack. Obviously he knows how to handle editors. I wasn't hungry so I just had a cup of chamomile tea with this freaky tea bag thing. It wasn't a normal bag with a little tag on a string, instead it was like a long ribbon of tea bag material. It actually was a little hard to manage.
While snacking, we met with the college's farm liaison who told us about the benefits and importance of using locally grown produce. He was, and still is, a farmer before he joined the school, which helped in setting up the program. It was interesting to hear because when I've talked to other institutions about this topic they've said one big hurdle is convincing the farmers that they are serious and will take the produce (providing it is up to snuff quality wise). The Liaison told us the college uses 3 1/2 tons of field greens a year. As though that number isn't impressive enough, remember this stuff is light and fluffy. We also got a tour of the cold storage facility where they store all the produce before it goes up to the kitchens. They try to turn everything over quickly so everything stays fresh and there is no waste. The Liaison pointed out that buying local isn't really more expensive when you factor in the amount that might spoil on a long trip from out of state.
Then we took a little tour of the campus and randomly stopped in a classroom where the students were learning about fish. The front room was small and had little tables and a projector for lectures. The back room, which was separated by a door and big glass window, was where they did the lab practicum, if you will, and actually cut the fish. The chef/professor was one of the original students who attended on a GI Bill when the college was still in New Haven, CT. It surprised me a little because I'm sure he said he was a WW II vet, but he didn't seem as old as my father-in-law (who ran off and joined the army when he was 17 so you don't get much younger than that). But then the chef might not have had quadrupal bypass surgery in the last year, which can wear a person out.
Do I need to point out the overwhelming fishy smell in these rooms? It hit us in the first room, but I grew accustomed to it while we were talking. Of course when we crossed into the second room it was fishy all over again and the Deadline Setter and I looked at each other in panic but couldn't figure a way out. It wasn't really the smell of bad fish, it was just sooo much fish that it was overpowering. And if they are constantly cutting fish in there I'm sure it's not sparkling clean in between so there must be some residue to stink the place up.
I asked the chef, Corky :-), if they discuss the difference and ethics of wild versus farm raised fish, etc. And he said they give them the information but don't say either is right or wrong, so they students are armed to make their own decisions. So there is a critical thinking element, which you might not expect at a cooking school. Although it made me feel good about these interviews you read, or the fancy menu entries you see, discussing these matters. I also asked Corky about mercury in fish and he said the only four species to really worry about are shark, sword fish, tile fish and...I can't remember the other one. He also pointed out that if someone is eating a can of tuna every day they have more diet issues to worry about than mercury. Which seemed a reasonable observation to me.
The school is set up on a progressive entry basis meaning that every three weeks a new class starts (although they are working on switching to a semester format). The way it works is the newer classes do all the prep work for the upper classes--who do the cooking. So nothing gets wasted. The professors in the kitchens let the professors in the prep rooms know what they need and then for their practicum the students will fillet 10 salmon and butterfly 20 trout or whatever. When we were there they were working with cod, which are HUGE and ugly.
To be continued...
(this post was holding me back, it was long and out of control and we weren't even at lunch yet. So I realized I had to post it and move on, or you will never hear about the progress on my Ravelry bag!)

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