Cooking with the CIA

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.

There was:

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


Sam’s Burger Joint


Pretty Good ***


No Thanks


I know that you have all shared my craving to set out on your own and find that perfect burger that has the right amount of ground beef, toppings, and bun, and like me I am sure that you have found some really good and some that fall short, so when you get that burger craving it is sometimes a hard itch to scratch. Well this past weekend I was in the mood for a really good burger and not just a run down to the local fast food drive through kind of burger either. I mean I wanted to go somewhere that specialized in burgers. I have a few places around town that I like to go to for a good burger but I wanted to try something new so I started researching online and came across a place that I have driven by on many occasions but never actually stopped and tried. After reading a few reviews I decided that now was as good a time as any to see if they lived up to “my cravings” high standards.
So I hopped in my truck and headed down to Grayson St right next to the Pearl Brewery to a little place called Sam’s Burger Joint. When you walk in the building you can smell the burgers cooking and it will start your mouth watering. There is nothing fancy about Sam’s at all but a real burger joint shouldn’t be fancy. You want it to feel like home and to feel like the kind of place that if you drip something on you shirt no one would care because they have done it too. The inside has a small dining room with a few tables packed together pretty tightly and a few booths along the wall. There is also a slightly larger outdoor area for sitting and eating with small tables and chairs and picnic style benches and tables. Placing your order is a straight forward, walk up to the counter, order, pay, and get a number to take to your table process.

For this trip I decided to go with the Bacon Cheddar Burger. At Sam’s the burgers come standard with lettuce, tomato, pickles, onions and mustard. You can choose to take any of that off or add other things like grilled onions, jalapenos, mayo and ketchup as well. They have the typical sides that you would expect to find in a burger joint like fries and onion rings as well as a few other things to get as appetizers like fried mushrooms, fried pickles, fried zucchini or chips and salsa. For my side I went with the onions rings since my need to find the perfect onion ring is almost as strong as finding the perfect burger.
When my order came it looked great. The burger was not falling apart and the onions rings looked homemade. The top bun even had the name of the restaurant “Sam’s” branded into it, which I thought was a nice touch. Before I took a bite of the burger I had to try one of those onion rings that were sitting there calling my name. Words cannot describe what a great flavor these rings have. I found it, the perfect onion ring. They are simply amazing. They have the right amount of batter, onion and seasoning. A couple of them were cooked a little too long but that did not matter, they were still great. They have a nice crunch when you bite into them and the onion does not pull out of the breading like so many other rings I have had in the past. Now it was time to try the burger that I had been craving all day and see if it was what I was looking for. With the first bite I knew that Sam’s would be a place that I would be coming back to. The burger was juicy on the inside and crisp on the outside just the way I like them. The bun was nicely toasted and all of the toppings fit nicely together. This is one of those burgers that you dread getting to the last bite from the first bite you take. Now I can’t say that it was the perfect burger since I know that there has to be a better one out there but this one is in the top five best burgers that I have ever had.
There is actually a little more to Sam’s than just being a burger joint. It is also a pretty popular concert venue for local artists. They seem to cater to the Blues and swing crowd mostly which is fine with me and they have events almost every night of the week. The concert hall is located right next door to the main dining hall. You pretty much walk out of one door and in to the others.
So if you are looking for a great burger and the best onions rings in town and even want to catch a show one evening then head on down to Sam’s Burger Joint. They know what they are doing when it comes to food. I will definitely be heading back.

Thanks for reading