Holiday Memories from the CIA Faculty
Paul DelleRose – Associate Professor—Culinary Arts
Christmas in the ’80s was a very fun and exciting time of the year for us. My siblings and I were in our teens and able to spend time together without having to worry about work, or anything else for that matter. We grew up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood in the Bronx, the Morris Park section. We always ate Christmas Eve dinner at my grandparents’ house and it was all about the food, particularly the fish and of course the pasta.
I remember the meals like they were yesterday; especially since I have eaten it for some 44 years in a row with little modifications; why fix it, right?
Pasta course was always first, some sort of long pasta like a linguine, thin and delicate yet sturdy enough to support the weight of the fish swimming in the large pot of tomato sauce. The sauce was a thin and light tomato sauce that my parents had canned just a few months prior in August when the tomatoes were at their peaks packs with clams, mussels, shrimp, and calamari. We had to have plain tomato sauce for my sister of course, who was the only one who did not eat fish. My grandmother told use not to eat so much pasta because we had a lot of food left to eat, but we didn’t listen; we actually cleaned our plates with the crusty semolina bread that we picked up down the block at the bakery. Then we took a little break and anxiously awaited the next wave of food.
Soon the fish arrived, and a chicken cutlet or two for my sister. Baked stuffed clams and mussels, fried shrimp, scallops and flounder and fried squid…shrimp and scallops sautéed in white wine and butter…baked salmon and eel. We even had bacalao (salt cod) three ways before it was even popular to do trios; poached in tomato sauce, salad, and fried.
We had to have vegetables too, baked whole artichokes, stuffed mushrooms and broccoli rabe, roasted potatoes and a mixed green salad.
Let’s not forget the cheap jug wine and diet 7-up—the good old days! Dinner would last for hours—it was fun and no one looked to leave, even as we got older and had girlfriends. After we finished dinner, we all remained seated at the table and ate some fruit, nuts, chocolate (usually Bocci), and raw fennel while we played a card game.
Then came coffee and dessert, usually consisting of some type of fried dough. Then we went home to get some rest and be ready to go at it again the very next day. And don’t even get me started on Thanksgiving!
These great family memories have created such wonderful traditions that my family and I still uphold today. My love for food, beverage, and all things good began to develop from these holiday—and ordinary Sunday—dinners, and have significantly contributed to where I am today as a chef. And to this day, if I walk into a kitchen and I smell fish and tomatoes, I automatically shout “it smells like Christmas Eve in here!”
Richard Coppedge, Jr. – Professor—Baking and Pastry Arts
I guess one of my enduring holiday memories is when I attempt to replicate my mom’s sweet potato pie, which never turns out quite the same. So in a pinch, I’ll buy a Mrs. Smith’s sweet potato pie…really! Almost as good, and quality-oriented each time, no mistakes.
Jorg Behrand – Lecturing Instructor—Culinary Arts (CIA Singapore)
My wife and I agreed to adopt our cultural traditions from both sides—me being Western/German and she being Asian/Singaporean Chinese—to be introduced to our children. Thereafter, our family has celebrated advent and Christmas from my German side and Lunar New Year from her side. It is way too easy for advent, as it is mostly simple reminders of love and togetherness amongst family members.
The Lunar New Year, however, was a marathon of visiting and feasting with extended family and friends. Every household serves up the same food items whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner, day after day. As a culinary professional, I find that just bizarre. After two years of this tradition, I managed to convince my wife that it’s not about the food, it is about the reunion and relatives coming together—so let us beat the traditions! Since then, while every household continues their Lunar New Year cuisine, family and friends visiting our home will be treated to specially planned Western meals, according to the time of the day, usually lunch-tea-dinner. It was a refreshing change for all our guests. Five years later, visiting our home during the Lunar New Year is still a highlight for the relatives and friends!
Hinnerk von Bargen – Professor—Culinary Arts (CIA San Antonio)
Growing up in Germany, we always enjoyed when the crowds of people would go out in the street partying well after midnight to celebrate New Year’s. My first experience after moving to the U.S. in 1999 was very different. I had been married for more than a year and my daughter was not quite a year old—I had a new family, new country, and new job at the CIA. New Year’s Eve arrived at our little street near Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, we watched the ball drop on TV, and when midnight came, I went out to our front porch and yelled “Happy New Year!”… and I was the only one. Nothing; nobody else was there. If it weren’t for the cold, I would have heard crickets!
I also remember my first Black Friday in the States. I had no idea what it was! That Friday morning we needed batteries so we went to Best Buy at about eight in the morning. We got there and wondered what was going on. There I was, standing in a long line with my pack of batteries when a CIA colleague, Hubert Martini, saw me and said, “What are you doing here?” To which I replied, somewhat sheepishly, “Buying batteries.”
Douglass Miller – Professor—Hospitality and Service Management
About five years ago, I wanted to send something for the holidays to a friend in the Air Force stationed in Djibouti, Africa. You can’t ship alcohol, so I came up with the idea of making him fruitcake infused with bourbon. I used real dried fruit such as figs and apricots (nothing fake in my recipe!), wrapped it in cheesecloth, and soaked it in bourbon. I ended up making five fruitcakes altogether.
Well, later on, my wife and I went out for the evening, and we left one of the fruitcakes on a counter. That was a mistake—I have two black lab Newfoundlands, Samson and Delilah. So of course when we got home, the fruitcake is completely gone, not one crumb to be found! They even ate the cheesecloth that the fruitcake was wrapped in. And even though Samson weighed 100 pounds and Delilah was pushing about 90, I could tell right away the dogs were intoxicated and called the ASPCA poison hotline. They told me I had to make the dogs sick—and the best way to do that was the combo of peanut butter and hydrogen peroxide! So I gave it to them, but they didn’t get sick…and didn’t get sick…and didn’t get sick.
Finally I went over to the neighbor’s house for a few minutes, and when I came back—well, of course then they’d gotten sick and my wife had to clean it up. My home smelled like a frat house! The dogs ended up being fine, but let me tell you, they slept well that night.
Katherine Polenz – Professor—Culinary Arts
My family was not real tradition-oriented when it comes to food. When I was a kid, my mom made the same meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas because we loved that traditional turkey and stuffing meal. She always took the time and expense to make a beautiful hand-cut fresh fruit salad with citrus, berries, grapes, pineapple, and bananas for our starter, which was a very special treat in the dead of winter and a real family favorite. We often ate the leftover fruits again with the dessert course or for breakfast the next day.
The only other tradition my mom kept, that I continued when my daughter was younger, was making delicate and delicious cheese blintzes with homemade crêpes. We follow a recipe from a circa 1942 cookbook by the name of Woman’s Home Companion Cook Book. We griddle the filled-and-folded blintz with butter until golden brown and crisp on the bottom, then serve them with heated maple syrup and maybe fresh berries. This was often our holiday morning breakfast. And with a family of eight, four of whom were growing boys, my mom would need to make 30 to 40 eight-inch crepes to satisfy our hunger!
Dianne Rossomando – Associate Professor—Baking and Pastry Arts
I will always treasure a photo of my stepfather and me taken during my first Christmas home after I had just graduated from the CIA. I was very excited about cooking and baking, and my stepfather was really the one who encouraged me to go to culinary school; he even helped me finance it. He was an artist and appreciated the artistic mind.
I cooked with him all the time growing up. He opened my eyes to the gourmet side of food, especially during the holidays. The two of us were usually the only ones doing the cooking, but then—as usually happens—people would gravitate to the kitchen with us.
He has since passed away, but I’ve continued the holiday tradition in my family kitchen, making homemade eggnog with a bourbon crème anglaise, coconut cake (my stepfather’s favorite), and various other treats. One thing he left me was a set of these amazing copper cookie cutters, over a hundred of them. Whenever I need a lift or feel nostalgic, I take them out and just look at all these cookie cutters…and remember my stepfather.
Kristin Egan – Lecturing Instructor—Baking and Pastry Arts
I build a gingerbread house every year for my nieces and nephew to decorate. It started six years ago; it was a lot of work to bake it at home, so I prepared some of the pieces first and then brought it all to Christmas dinner, where my nephew and nieces had fun putting it together and decorating it with us.
After that first time, my sister told me my nephew’s teacher later asked the class if they had any holiday traditions, and he replied, “Yes, my aunt who’s a famous pastry chef makes a gingerbread house for us to decorate every year!” Famous pastry chef, he said…every year, he said! I knew then I had no choice but to keep it going, so to this day I continue to bring the pieces to my brother’s or my parents’ house—wherever Christmas is going to be held—and join the kids (now the one nephew and four nieces) in the decorating fun.
Being with family reminds me of my own childhood, when my dad would make us wait at the top of the stairs while he checked to make sure Santa came and had left the house. But really he was turning on the tree lights, making coffee, and otherwise getting everything ready. We were so anxious, but we knew we couldn’t see Santa or our presents would disappear! Now when Christmas is at my parents’ house, my brothers do the same with their children, and it’s great to watch their excitement.
David McCue – Associate Professor—Culinary Arts
I love pie. I mean, who doesn’t, right?
Aside from the roasting chestnuts and ice-cold oranges, fried bows and honey-coated pastry bites, espresso and Anisette that adorn our Italian Christmas Eve dessert table, there is always pie. Pumpkin pie and pecan pie are the favorites, but at times cream pies and meringues make an appearance.
So it came as quite a blow when three people in my home were diagnosed with gluten intolerance. That’s right—flour was now verboten. Did I mention that I love pie? Don’t get me wrong; I love my family too, but no pie?
This was going to put a significant dent in our festivities. I needed to look into some solutions, and what I came up with was more than acceptable. You see gluten—that same gluten that intolerant people are told to avoid—is not necessary or even desirable in a pastry pie crust. A great pie crust is known for its flakiness, something that gluten-free flours are more than able to provide.
So after a couple of test batches and samplings, I came up with the mix that allowed us to still celebrate as an Italian family, with food that everyone could enjoy.
It was a Christmas miracle!
Sincerely, Dave McCue
(I know, I know, an Italian named McCue? Mamma Montesano married a Scotsman. Don’t worry, we do prime rib on Christmas day—and gluten-free Yorkshire pudding is awesome too, by the way.)