I drove through the gates of the prestigious Culinary Institute of American in Hyde Park, NY…and a huge smile came across my face. It was one of those many moments in my life where I felt that I was exactly where I was supposed to be.
In a few short weeks, I will be traveling to Los Angeles, in part, to study street food. I was inspired to do this after reading Roy Choi’s memoir, LA SON. Roy Choi was educated at the Culinary Institute of America and was one of the pioneers of street food in LA . I wanted to learn all of the local LA perspectives of street food, so I began planning my trip. It’s true that when you are passionate about something and you focus on it, opportunities present themselves.
A local Italian gourmet grocery store owner, in my hometown, told me he attended one of the boot camps at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. I always thought of them as a school for chefs…so I was curious and went on their website. There it was…a cooking class called GLOBAL STREET FOOD! Street food used to be at fairs…funnel cakes, fried foods…etc. Now, street food elevates some of our favorite foods to another level of culinary pleasure. We get all of our favorite meals fresh and fast on our way to the next destination! I knew it was one of those opportunities that I had to take…so I did. I love international cuisine, love local people making a name for themselves and sharing their flavorful food…so this was a perfect opportunity.
Once we all crowded into the kitchen at the school, I saw these huge saucepans…stoves that heated water in a few seconds flat…and my very own cutting board, super sharp chef’s knife and almost all of the utensils I would need to get started. We were grouped into 4 teams and being the control freak in the kitchen that I am…I found it surprisingly easy to divide our responsibilities among our group. I learned what it felt like to be in a kitchen of this size…how to organize my thoughts, prep, manage my cooking time, keep the hot items hot and the cold items cold. When it was ready to plate, then I’d remove the hot items I made from the shelf above the stove (keeps it warm) and the cold items from the refrigerator that we just prepared…and we plated everything. Everything was freshly made, seasoned, flavorful and we did it ourselves. I watched the precision of slicing beef shoulder and swordfish…making bread for sandwiches from scratch…making delicate crepes…pork belly buns, ceviche, chicken tika…to fried cinnamon bananas on a stick…and we worked together every step of the way.
At the end, our chef sat down and ate with us. George Shannon was his name and he was so patient with us and taught us so much. The class was five hours, but it felt like one hour. Everything goes by so quickly, so you need to soak in every moment. He told me that they have career fairs for the students there and when people come from all over the country to recruit a new chef…he either knows them personally or they are a celebrity.
It was such an amazing experience and I plan to go back several times. I feel as if it could be a second home for me…as I sit here and write this blog while watching the restful fountain outside of one of the buildings. I am so grateful that my passion for food and love brought me to this place. If you can make the trip, I highly recommend you share this experience with someone you love.