November 11, 2011

Culinary Institute Sports on It’s Only a Game

Volleyball Championships
Volleyball Championships

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If a championship game is a pressure cooker then the athletes at The Culinary Institute of America are perfectly prepared.

Saturday in Hyde Park, NY, the CIA will host Albany College of Pharmacy in the Hudson Valley Men’s Athletic Conference championship soccer match. And the soccer team isn’t the only CIA squad enjoying success in the school’s growing athletic department.

Catherine Kabana runs on the cross country team at The Culinary Institute of America. Every good long-distance runner knows what you eat before a race is important, but on a late October Friday – at 10 in the morning – I was the  one front-loading carbs…in the form of oatmeal raisin cookies.

“I have no sugar added, vegan, gluten-free, and my control,” the junior from Tuscarora, PA said, explaining the varieties.

We were standing in a large industrial classroom kitchen at The Institute’s campus along the Hudson River. Kabana is one of 18 students in a course called “Advanced Baking Principles.” She challenged me to taste the four types and guess which is which.

What I thought was a delicious regular oatmeal raisin cookie, turned out to be a delicious gluten-free oatmeal cookie. After a helpful hint from Kabana, I got the rest of my picks right.

Figuring out how to make four cookies for special dietary needs – all of them delicious, by the way – takes a lot of skill and thought. Kabana uses running as a way of getting her mind off baking.

“I’ve been doing cross country since 7th grade, so that’s like eight years for me. I’d run either way whether they had the program or not,” Kabana said. “But I’m so glad they have it because it just keeps me more mentally sound.”

The class is taught by Chef Richard Coppedge, Jr., a Certified Master Baker who has been at the CIA for 19 years.

Coppedge knows about balancing cooking with athletics. In his spare time, he’s an ice hockey goalie. Tall and lean, Coppedge looks like he’d be agile in the net – and to prove it, he drops easily into a split right on the kitchen floor. He says he’s glad when his students take up a sport.

“I think it’s great because when a student comes here, they don’t come here for the sports. They come here because they want to learn how to bake or they want to learn how to serve people correctly or cook food correctly,” Coppedge said. “It gives them an activity that’s totally different than what they do day in and day out.”

The Culinary Institute of America was founded in 1946 in New Haven, CT. The school moved to New York State in 1972 and has since added campuses in California, Texas, and Singapore. Here in Hyde Park, there are 2,800 students and the campus features five student-staffed restaurants that are open to the public and double as classrooms.

Over an upscale lunch at American Bounty Restaurant in the CIA’s main building, Associate Dean of Student Activities, Recreation, and Athletics David Whalen says The Institute began expanding its intercollegiate sports menu in 2004 as a way of creating a more traditional campus life for students. Today the CIA has six teams in five sports in the Hudson Valley Athletic Conference.

The league is not part of the NCAA and The Institute isn’t the only member with a unique curriculum: Webb Institute – a nautical engineering school, Vaughn College of Aeronautics and Technology, and Albany College of Pharmacy are among the members.

All contests are held on weekends and if a school only has a men’s team, women are allowed to try out. Whalen says the Steels have one woman on their soccer team and will have another woman on the men’s basketball team this season.