Stop one of my annual summer road trip was to the heart of New York state to check out the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Its flagship campus it located in Hyde Park which also happens to be the birthplace of Franklin D. Roosevelt. Unlike the other CIA, FDR had very little do with the cooking school. Although both CIAs were formed a little more than a year apart following WWII, the school was originally founded in Connecticut and did not relocate to Hyde Park until 1970. The CIA (the school that is) has produced some of America’s most notable celebrity chefs including Marcus Samuelsson, Anne Burrell, Michael Symon, Duff Goldman and the late Anthony Bourdain.
We arrived in time for the daily 4 pm tour which is conducted by students within the school. Our guide, Ezra, showed us many of the ongoing stations and classes within the main building which ranged from fondant to rock candy to baguettes. We were told of the hours of home practice required to perfect the tournee cut, a skill often used as a screening tool at interviews all over. There was an interesting discussion about the differences between the baking vs cooking stream of students. The bakers are meticulous (aka boring) while the cooks tend to be quite eccentric. (aka annoying). It was quite surprising how the tour did nothing to mention the aforementioned celebs and seemed more a recruitment tool in the event I wanted to quit my job and enhance my cooking credentials beyond a “Dad’s grillin’ so everybody’s chillin'” apron. I’d clearly opt for the cooking side of the curriculum and more specifically the culinary science arm so I could use words like “oxidative enzymatic browning” with an enhanced confidence.
Of note on the campus tour was “Old Diamondsides”, a sculpture representing the Atlantic Sturgeon, a vital species inhabiting the adjoining Hudson River. The life size depiction is constructed from hundreds of pieces of recycled cutlery and is meant to represent the struggle of such a magnificent species to survive in spite of over fishing, pollution and other human interference.
Although Guy Fieri is not an alum of the CIA, I would feel remiss if I did not venture to the Eveready Diner, Hyde Park’s lone contribution to the DDD empire. Characterized by neon lights and chrome finish, this old school diner promises big portions and great desserts and didn’t disappoint on either front. The spinach dip was a bit watery but flavourful. The consensus at the table was that the chicken salad, burger and mac and cheese were all quite acceptable although the potato salad was a bit bland. Plus, a sunnyside up egg on a burger can brighten any plate up. My mom (caught off guard in the picture above) is till talking about the cheesecake (which i think she ate before i got snap a pic).
The day ended with a hotel stay in New Paltz, New York. All I can say is that it is one of the more interesting U.S. towns I have stayed in. I should have known when I checked into the Hampton which was recently built directly adjacent to the Put Corner historic graveyard which houses the remains of 120 residents of the town placed between 1801-1880. Two celebrity graves, that of heavyweight boxing champion Floyd Patterson and Oscar Tschirky, inventor of the Waldorf salad, are also buried in town but not in the plot hugging the Hampton. A visit to the really creepy dollar store down the road was surely a foreshadow for my visit to Bangor the next day and easily could have been the setting of supernatural anarchy in a Stephen King novel. Who needs Pennywise when you’ve experienced the horrors of a New Paltz dollar store.
I had an English teacher in grade 9 who I remember well. First, he was a huge Arlo Guthrie fan. While donning his leather jacket, he would play Alice’s restaurant in class as a reminder of what a generation influenced by Guns n’ Roses and Poison was missing. At the time I thought he was a bit of a dork but as I matured I gained a greater appreciation for the folk rock of the 1960-1970s.
The reason I mention this was the fact that I remember this same teacher introducing me to the magnificent works of e.e. cummings, the American poet who died a decade before I was born. From what I recall, cummings was known for his descriptive verses which elevated the feeling of an experience to new levels. In particular, I remember the phrase “puddle wonderful” which describes a feeling that really can only be compared to hopping in a post-storm pool of water with an indescribable bliss. He was also known for his preference for lower case letters which may subconsciously be the reason why I sign my emails with a small ‘s’.
Like many things in high school, I doubted I would ever have the need to pull it out my memory vault but it surfaced when I attended a wedding in Napa Valley (I’ll get back to this), specifically at the Culinary Institute of America Greystone. This beautiful property boasts one of the most unique and coveted culinary programs in the United States. It is also a perfect venue for a wedding and I was lucky enough to be invited to one in May.
The wedding was small and had some stereotypical but also a few surreal elements. There was an Irish priest named Peader who was either really funny, really drunk or both. He was pretty close to a Simpson’s character. The ceremony was outside so his voice was somewhat muted by a flock of birds who chirped as they watched from the crevices in the old building in the backdrop. It wasn’t creepy in an Alfred Hitchcock kind of way….more like Cinderella when the animals united to fix her dress in time for the ball. Instead of the traditional bible readings, one of the passages was “I carry your heart” from the gospel according to ee cummings which brought back high school memories that I found to be puddle-wonderful.
After the ceremony, the festivities moved inside where one could roam around and look at a variety of cooking utensils and hundreds of corkscrews on display. It was a foodie zoo (would that be called a foo?). There was also a stellar market place that was in plain view but guarded by glass walls and a less than enthusiastic security guard who looked more inclined to drink bourbon with us than make sure we didn’t steal spatulas. While I began down the path of mild intoxication we were treated to a few starters including a delicate scallop which swam in a delicious and spicy puree and a mini bulgogi soft taco which didn’t disappoint. There was also a duck empanada (not pictured) which rounded out the delicious and diverse hors d’oeuvres.
Growing up, in addition to learning about the literary merits of American poets, I was exposed to many Northern Ontario weddings which involved rubber chicken dinners and cash bars. The closest thing to culinary innovation was half a dozen Parisian potatoes to complement the prime rib and green beans. Move the venue from Sudbury to the Napa Valley and make the wedding couple a pair of urban foodies instead of a blue collar uncle on his third marriage and watch the sparks fly. In this case, the food was presented in four food stations which were chosen based on the ethnicity and preferences of the bride and groom. There were French, North African, Filipino and Korean posts. My objective was to try a little of everything. The first station featured a salmon en croute but with a twist; the addition of black cod (since it is the bride’s favorite fish) served with an herbaceous salsa verde. There was also an arugula and endive salad. I love black cod and will be first to admit it would be tough for it to hold up in both taste and texture in a en croute preparation but it was saved by the salmon. The salsa verde was brilliantly fresh and a perfect condiment for the delicate cod. The addition of the bitter greens was a smart contrast against the sweet whitefish.
The North African station featured spiced game hen with a tajine of quinoa and spring vegetables along with a dollop of preserved lemon and olive tapenade. Personally, the hen was my favorite dish of the night. It was moist and bursting with flavour. The quinoa let the hen shine but didn’t disappoint on it’s own. I love preserved lemon and I loathe olives, so I was curious to try the tapenade. The olives won but that’s not to say that it wasn’t a smart combination for those that enjoy the nasty little fruit.
The focus of the Filipino section was suckling pig which was complemented with truffled mac and cheese and a chilled spinach salad and pickled vegetables. There was also a pineapple mayo and some fish sauce to add some sweet and salt respectively. The joke at our part of the table was whether the truffled pasta was authentically Filipino or a creative interpretation orchestrated by the groom. The pork by itself was a little underseasoned but the diverse flavours which surrounded it were more than enough to compensate. I thought the spinach salad and pickled veggies were brilliant.
The final stop was Korean which featured short ribs as the headliner. I was intrigued by the loosely defined “risotto” which was a porridge of multiple types of rice along with barley. The station was rounded out with a sugar snap and sprout salad and kimchee as a traditional condiment. The ribs were a bit flimsy but well seasoned. I am typically not a risotto fan but I enjoyed its complexity and mouthfeel. The salad was fresh but I would have loved a little more crunch from a few more snap peas.
Each station was paired with a California wine which included a Charles Krug Sauv Blanc at the French station, the Morgan 12 Clones Pinot Noir for the North African offerings, the Caymus Conundrum for the Filipino food and the Ravenswood Vinters Blend Zinfandel partnered the Korean fare. I thought the choices were quite complimentary. I’m still a little naive when it comes to all the elements of the marriage between wine and food but I could appreciate these pairings. I had tried the Caymus in the past paired with pasta and was excited to see it on the list. As for the Ravenswood, I liked it so much I sought out and purchased a bottle when I got back to Ontario.
Dessert (or mignardise) followed the choose your own adventure theme and offered a variety of trendy confections including macarons, eclairs, truffles, creme brulee and chocolate covered strawberries which hit the spot in between the IPAs and the 90’s pop blaring across the dance floor. The wedding cake was a stunning croquembouche.
I was quite keen to attend this wedding in Napa Valley even if it meant a cross continent flight and I wasn’t left disappointed. Beautiful scenery, great food and a good group of people made for a fun weekend. I think this is a good blueprint for weddings whether the couple of honour are a pair of foodies or not. A short ceremony infusing a stereotypical Irish priest, the infusion of the works of an modern American poet in addition to the typical biblical stuff and visually stunning surroundings was a great trifecta. As for the reception, the wide variety of sentimental and meaningful food choices was brilliant. The idea of wine pairings replacing the typical chardonnay and cab sav house wines at the table elevated the experience even more. I tip my hat to the CIA Greystone for great execution of a rather complicated meal. Most importantly, I would like to congratulate the bride and groom and wish them all the success in their future endeavors and I selfishly encourage them to consider revisiting this concept again in the future.
In sum, I’ll use the same Virginia Woolf quote that was scripted on the back of the wedding program; “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well”. I couldn’t agree more.