The Culinary Institute of America – Farm to Table Bootcamp/Northern California

I had the pleasure of traveling to NAPA Valley and spent the week at The Culinary Institute of America at a bootcamp to learn everything I need to know about farm to table cooking in northern California.  I traveled to wineries, through unfamiliar cities, saw the sites, toured farms and learned their practices…went through their gardens and felt like a CHOPPED CHAMPION at the end of it all…on my very last day.  The first day was one of the most intense, stressful day of my life.  I was in an unfamiliar kitchen…did not have access to any of my kitchen gadgets…and worked among other chefs in the local area who were just “sharpening” their skills.  By the last day….I found myself making better use of my time, chopping safer and faster, cleaning up my station as I went through the steps (instead of leaving piles like I did at home) and finishing my recipes with time to spare and help others on different teams.  I was nervous during the first three days…but it got easier and easier.  I took back a wealth of knowledge that I will never lose…and for you, my lovely followers, I’ve given you a high level overview of my takeaways from this journey:

Day 1 – Complexities of Farm to Table Cooking & Grilling

  • farms where they source their ingredients follow the trends that are closely aligned with better health (no pesticides, grass fed animals)
  • consumers are willing to pay more for quality (local restaurants source local ingredients)
  • cooking with seasonal ingredients is the freshest (not shipped in from far reaching areas)
  • teach students and cook only with organic & naturally raised animals and vegetables

Day 2 – Organic Free Range Sustainable Animal Production Practices

  • we used to think life & food sources in the ocean had no limit
  • 70% of the fishing industry suffered overexploitation and even collapse
  • fish farms produce 50% of what the world eats
  • fish farms feed their fish antibiotics
  • how to reduce ocean strain?  Eat more vegetables
  • Have 5 oz  of fish, then pile on the vegetables on the rest of your plate

Day 3 – Preservation

  • canning started in 1809
  • canning happens in hot water to protect from botulism
  • preservation was necessary to protect the overflow of plants & animals after agriculture & domestication came into existence
  • types of preservation are salting, canning, freezing, pickling, drying, jams, jellies, marmalade, root cellar/winter storage

Day 4 – Farming (tours of farms and wineries)

  • If you have to use pesticides and pests are attacking your crops, there is something off about your soil.  If checked and worked, you will not need pesticides anymore
  • grain fed beef – usually added hormones, fed antibiotics to prevent disease, high saturated fat, flavor is bland and pasty and there is an E. coli risk
  • grass fed beef – no hormones, no antibiotics or grain, perfect balance of fat, bold flavor, E. Coli is not likely
  • Why do farmers feed their animals grain?  It fattens them up faster, so they can be processed sooner and turn a bigger profit.  Grass fed animals are leaner and they take longer to grow heavier before they are processed.

Day 5 – Flavor Balance

  • basic tastes are sweet, sour, salty and bitter
  • flavor is the quality of something that affects the sense of a taste blend of taste and smell evoked by substances in our mouths
  • colorful contrast – colors that heighten interest by the eye and express our point of view
  • developing flavor – 1) use fresh, seasonal ingredients 2) technique- learn the proper technique & it can be applied to any recipe 3) seasoning – taste & season your food with herbs and spices.  Don’t stress about the quantity, just taste the food and judge from there

This was one of the most memorable learning experiences of my life.  I am so grateful that I was able to take part in this rigorous and exciting challenge and get to work with ingredients that I never tried in the past.  Over the next several weeks, I will share with all of you the recipes and the new experiences I had, so that you can try them at home, or at least learn about the process.  Stay tuned…and color you takeout with <3!


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