28 January 2011

Weekend Getaway: CIA Part I

Last month, the Sailor and I went to Hyde Park for a visit to the renowned Culinary Institute of America (CIA). The Sailor enrolled in Bistros and Brasseries, one of the many daylong classes offered at the CIA, where he honed his cooking skills. I'll never understand why French Women Don't Get Fat, given their diet of delicacies made of fresh cream, lard, eggs, butter, last but not least, my favorites--cheese, wine and pain au chocolat. Joie de vivre!

We started our weekend at the Journey Inn Bed and Breakfast, across from the Vanderbilt Mansion and a few miles from the CIA. The Journey Inn has a variety of whimsical rooms including the Roosevelt and Vanderbilt suites, a nod to the local culture, and the exotic Mombasa, romantic Tuscany, or tranquil Kyoto rooms. After much deliberation, we chose the Mombasa room, filled with safari photographs, African handcrafts, batik silkscreens, complete with a Swahili dictionary on the nightstand.

On Saturday morning, we awoke to a gourmet breakfast of pumpkin polenta followed by succulent roasted plums with marscapone cheese, warm poppyseed bread, fresh squeezed OJ, and strong coffee, prepared by the lovely innkeepers. The food served at the B&B was just the beginning of an amazing gastronome experience!

Fortified for our adventure, the Sailor set off for his class at CIA, while I toured the Roosevelt Mansion. He did his homework by reading The Making of a Chef, where journalist Michael Ruhlman went "undercover" as a CIA student to explore the demanding curriculum and preparation for the culinary profession.

Once in class, the instructor split the students into four different groups, and each was responsible for cooking a three course meal. The Sailor's group was assigned frisee aux lardon (crispy bacon salad), Boeuf Burgoignon, and mousse au choclat. The Sailor found that the greatest difference between cooking at home versus cooking at the CIA is that there is an endless supply of clean pans and utensils, and the CIA kitchen has food warmers that keep some ingredients warm while the chef completes other steps in the recipe.

Quite an impressive campus
  After a few hours of chopping, stirring, simmering and seasoning, the students went through a buffet line and tasted all of the dishes cooked throughout the day. The Sailor's favorite: canard a la orange. He now has the knowledge about how to separate the duck breast and remove the fat and skin in preparation to cook the duck-- not a quick and easy meal in minutes!

The Sailor graduated from class with dreams of being inducted into the James Beard Society, called the "Oscars of the food world" by Time, and running a three-star Michelin rated restaurant. I had simple and  immediate goals -- finding some deals at the trendy boutiques in the town of Rhinebeck before our fancy-schmancy dinner back at the CIA that night.

Rhinebeck is a charming historic town and home to the Beekman Arms, the country's oldest inn. And also home to one of my all-time favorite stores, Hammertown Barn. It has an assortment of eclectic furniture, rugs, lighting, kitchenware, interior design books, and gifts. I could spend days browsing there!

We had a quick afternoon cocktail at Gigi's Trattoria, where they serve a perfectly mixed straight gin gimlet with fresh squeezed lime juice. Then we headed back to the B&B to get ready for dinner at American Bounty, one of the four restaurants at the CIA.

The American Bounty experience deserves its own post, so stay tuned for more!

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