August 12th, 2011

Witchcraft or Culinary Craft?

By Sarah Hassler

Sarah Hassler, BPS in Culinary Arts Management
Sarah Hassler, BPS in Culinary Arts Management

My first weeks at The Culinary Institute of America swept by in such a whirlwind they are difficult to describe. However, I distinctly remember walking through the halls and thinking to myself, “This feels like Hogwarts.” I soon discovered that my classmates and even some of my professors felt the CIA was akin to a school of magic. Not unlike the ghosts of great wizards that haunt the halls of Hogwarts, the greats of our industry are omnipresent as you enter Roth Hall. Escoffier, Point, Bocuse, and Keller are spoken of so frequently, you half expect to see them standing there when you turn a corner.

And like the texts at Hogwarts, with names like The Black Arts and Spell Casting 101, the names of CIA texts are similarly unusual for a college. Here you will find The Professional Chef and Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft. I find myself feeling a bit too much like the character Hermione Granger in my excitement to learn and discover all I can from those books. Huddled in the Apple Pie Bakery Café, with my books, papers, and coffee cups surrounding me, I attack my homework with fierce determination. I find myself wanting to put in the extra time, and somehow cracking the books on gastronomy and product knowledge does not feel like work. Though I won’t pretend to enjoy the biological terms and heavy discussion of taste buds, for the most part, the topics fascinate me. I find myself reading more than I’m assigned. Who knew botulism studies could be so invigorating?

Equipped with knives instead of wands, CIA students are eager to make culinary magic. Everyone talks of getting into the kitchens, and of which chefs yell the most, which are the kindest, and, especially, which kitchens cook the best dishes. Every night during first term, we gather for banquet at day’s end. Banquet offers an opportunity to meet new people, and, for the last few weeks, I have sat down with different students for each meal—quickly coming to the conclusion that the CIA student body is made up of real characters. I’ve dined with a man whose hair was so brutally gelled it didn’t move, a guy who wouldn’t eat a morsel of bread for fear that it would ruin his gym workout, a young girl who described what it means to be a “serious cheerleader,” and one fellow who put Tabasco sauce on everything he ate—everything! There is also the requisite venting about roommates and the horrors of sharing bathrooms, all of which make me glad I chose to live in an apartment right up the road in Rhinebeck.

But most of my classmates are friendly, fun, and incredibly eager to learn. All are zealously open to new experiences. Given that attitude, it is no small wonder that this school feels so magical. Walking past the gently lit courtyards in the evening or along the winding stone paths only enhances that impression. Perhaps what we are feeling at those moments is the promise of bright futures, great opportunities, and dreams becoming realities. Whatever it is, this is my dream come true. I’m getting to study a craft I love in a place that feels as if there is magic in the air. The only question left I suppose is, “When is potions class?”

Sarah Hassler is pursuing her BPS in culinary arts management and expects to graduate in 2013.