Thursday, May 8, 2008

Trouble at the Top

New York Times had an interesting story in the food section last week about how students and faculty at the Culinary Institute of America are revolting against the current president, Tim Ryan. Apparently they are upset over outdated equipment, substandard food, unprepared students and the "autocratic" leadership style of Ryan.

I am certainly no inside authority since I graduated from there almost ten years ago (yikes!). However, since I now teach at a small culinary school I can certainly say that the complaints lodged in the NYT piece are unfounded.

First. There are two kinds of kitchens at the CIA (known as "the Culinary" to locals up there). The display kitchens that the public sees are filled with beautiful enamel-plated stoves, copper pots, and the like. Nothing wrong there. The other kind of kitchen, ie, that the public does not see, are your typical wall-to-wall stainless steel industrial kitchens like you would find in any institution or restaurant that lacks an "open" kitchen. The bakeshops and the ovens they use are world class. I can say this with authority since at my school we have ovens so deficient in baking bread I am embarrassed to say that we even teach the art and the craft of bread baking. Bottom line: equipment seems fine.

Second. Substandard food. The article talks about students preparing "frozen waffle fries". This is horrendous, if true. I never cooked anything like that while I was there. We actually were told that back in the seventies the CIA had a class in frozen cookery since it was so big at the time. As for the overall quality of the food at the CIA, I would say it is of an overall high quality. They get fantastic seafood. Much of the produce comes from local farms-- I should know. While a student there I worked on weekends for two local farms, and I think I can claim to be one of the few students there-- the only?-- who had delivered food (organic baby lettuces, Taliaferro Farms) to the school as part of my job.

Third. Autocratic leadership? Has anyone ever heard of Ferdinand Metz? Talk about the most autocratic leader in the history of them. Metz was the previous president. There has been much ink spilled about him (see Ruhlman, Michael).

Fourth (there could be more complaints in article; these are the more salient points). They are letting in students who are not prepared for the intense curriculum. Hello! I for one felt while I was there that many of the kids were schmucks and didn't belong there. I guess who am I to bitch, but when you go to what's touted as the best school in the world for cooking you expect people to have some interest or talent in cooking. There's a lot of shoemakers there who have no intention of ever cooking anywhere of any note.

In closing, I should feel no need to defend my former school. If things are slipping, then they're slipping. I can say that everything said in the article has always been said about the Culinary. People complained left and right while I was there. I wish there was a second, inside opinion on what's going on up there to get a better idea of how on track the NYT piece is.

1 comment:

frantic foodie said...

thank you for sharing this
it is nice to see things from another perspective

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