The Culinary Institute of America that is.
I was recently given the wonderfully great anniversary gift of classes at the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio. I have been a home cook for as long as I have been able to see over the top of the stove and try to come up with new dishes that everyone will love. That being said, I have never had any type of formal or professional training when it came to cooking and kitchen techniques so going to a class at the CIA was a little intimidating to say the least. I had no idea what to expect or how this was going to work so I I will admit to being a little nervous going in. Trying to decide which class to take was a pretty tough decision as they offer a wide range of classes ranging from basic knife skills to several different types of cuisines including Latin, Chinese, Italian and a course in Everyday Grilling. Since I love grilling and that was the next available class to take I decided to go with the Everyday Grilling class.
When I arrived at the CIA located next to the Pearl Brewery in San Antonio I was greeted by one of the assistant Chefs and given my welcome pack which included a CIA apron, a CIA cookbook filled with many Grilling recipes, a name tag, a print out of several recipes that we would be cooking that day and a bar of dark chocolate flavored with sea salt. I was then directed to a dining area off of the main kitchen where the rest of my fellow enthusiasts were waiting. This class ended up being a smaller group of ten instead of the usual 20 to 25 which ended up being a great thing but I will get into why a little bit later. The class started off with a tour of the building and grounds and some brief history of the CIA. We then did an introduction and meet and greet with our Chef instructor followed by a power point presentation about grilling essentials and techniques. Once that was over we split into three teams and headed down to the kitchen to start cooking.
My team ended up with 4 team members which were all great people to work with and just a really nice group of individuals. We assigned our menu items out to each other and got started picking our ingredients. It was pretty nice as they had everything laid out for us and we got free reign of the kitchen and all of the supplies and seasonings. At first I was a little hesitant being in a new kitchen and environment but quickly got accustomed to the work flow and even started helping some of the others identify there ingredients and find stuff.
My team was assigned Cedar plank salmon with an incredible sauce (that the name happens to escape me at this time), Grilled Fennel salad with orange slices and red onion, and grilled pineapple with a honey tequila glaze. My dish was the grilled fennel salad. One of the reasons I went with this is that I wanted a little bit of a challenge. I do not care for the taste of fennel or olives which is a big ingredient in this salad and I am also not that experienced when it comes to grilling veggies. Its just not something I do much of other than peppers. So this dish was something a little our of my comfort zone and something I wanted to do to stretch myself a little. Everyone was given a printed out version of the recipes that come straight from one of the CIA cookbooks. The recipes are laid out step by step with all you will need to know to make a great dish. While we were cooking the Chef instructor would come over and check on everyone and would also take opportunities to call everyone in for demonstrations of different techniques and tips. This part to me was invaluable. A little over half way through the class the chef called us together and said that since they already had several other ingredients prepped and did not want to waste anything he would like volunteers to take on a couple of extra items. One of my team mates took the Mahi Mahi and set out to marinade and grill it and I snapped up a nice piece of Salmon belly. The Chef gave me the choice of coming up with my own rub or asked if I wanted suggestions. I of course went with my own as I already had something in mind. I came up with a dry rub of chipotle chili powder, black pepper, salt, coriander and a touch of cayenne pepper. After everything was done cooking we set out all of the dishes buffet style so we could try each recipe. This was quite a feast. I will try and remember everything that we had but I am sure I will leave something off because there was just so much.
Grilled New York strip
Grilled Mahi Mahi
Cedar Plank Grilled Salmon
Grilled Salmon belly
Grilled Pineapple with honey tequila glaze
Bell Pepper salad
Grilled Fennel Salad
Grilled radicchio salad
Grilled Lamb patties
Grilled potatoes with curry mustard sauce
Hummus and flat bread
Like I said I am sure that I forgot something but everything turned out great, even the fennel salad which I was a little hesitant to try came out great and is something I would make again. We all got to sit down together with the Chef and his Student Chefs assistants and enjoy everything we made. One of the greatest parts of the day was when the Chef asked everyone what was one of their favorite stand outs of the day and my grilled salmon belly got a mention as a favorite. That was a pretty great experience.
The day started out a little iffy with me not knowing what to expect but quickly turned into a great experience and something that I plan to do again. The staff were all very professional and friendly and everyone seemed genuinely happy to help us students out. This is definitely something I would recommend to anyone that loves cooking and would like to learn a little more and have fun doing it. Now the hard part for me is going to be picking the subject matter for the next class. Wish me luck.
Thanks for reading