“The Hudson Valley à la Francaise,” the invitation announced. It was for a lunch at The Bocuse Restaurant, ground zero for French cooking at the Culinary Institute of America. The invite promised to celebrate the Hudson Valley harvest with a French accent – definitely worth the trip to Hyde Park, NY.
Our Hudson Valley lunch got off to a stylish start with a Kir Royal made with sparkling wine and cassis liqueur from Clinton Vineyards in the nearby village of Clinton Corners. The deep berry color of this very French drink showed off brilliantly in a tall, elegant flute.
There are four student-staffed restaurants at the CIA that function as part of the curriculum: the popular Apple Pie Bakery Cafe for sandwiches, coffee, and irresistible pastries; The American Bounty, showcasing local, seasonal ingredients prepared as you might see them across the country; and authentic regional Italian cuisine at the Tuscan villa of the Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici. Our destination was the sleek, euro-style Bocuse Restaurant where students work with classic and nouveau French cooking styles.
The French love cheese. Each region and sometimes each town is known for its individual fromage. Although traditionally served at the end of the meal, our complex presentation of New York cheeses was the first course. Margie, a rich brie-like cow’s milk cheese and Toussaint a full-bodied, raw cow’s milk sharp cheddar-style were both from Sprout Creek Farm. Ewe’s Blue from Old Chatham Sheepherding Co. had the characteristic blue veins of a Roquefort-style.
Our cheese plate also included a silky and intense cinnamon-apple butter (we bought a jar to take home) and a fig, date, and walnut compote. Everything on the plate was delicious, but the real tour de force was the bread basket. Dining room instructor Rory Brown explained that the bread making class (they make bread for all the restaurants twice a day) baked the cranberry-walnut, olive, sourdough, and buckwheat breads. Mixing and matching the breads with the cheeses and condiments made a few cheeses into a complete food experience.
Jenna, our confident, polished, and professional server, took time to explain each plate as it came, even though she was graduating the next day and moving onto the real world. The bread was nervously passed by a student who was in the early days of her culinary training. “Eating here,” Marsha said, “gives a sense of helping these students to learn their craft, gain confidence, and prepare for careers.” Doing good and eating well – a winning combo!
The silky autumn-colored roasted squash and apple soup was sprinkled with crunchy spiced pumpkin seeds, dotted with pumpkin seed oil, and topped with a cloud of mulled cider foam. I tried to taste each component of the striking presentation before swirling them all together.
The CIA, America’s premier school for a culinary education offers either a two year hands-on Associate’s degree or a four year Bachelor’s degree at a former monastery overlooking the Hudson River. The 90-minute drive up the Taconic past farms and orchards is beautiful at this time of year. The school is close to The Franklin Roosevelt Library, Vanderbilt house, and the bustling town of Rhinebeck – plenty to do if you want to spend the day or longer.
Sliced New York strip steak, rosy pink and flavorful was accompanied by truffled spaghetti squash, kale, foraged mushrooms and smoked sauce choron (tomato-based hollandaise). I tasted each around the plate (all remarkable) and then combined the flavors with the steak for more mix and match.
Windows into the classrooms and kitchens along the corridors let you see instructors guiding the students as they prepare meals, and learn their craft. At lunch, I warned Marsha that we’d be stopping at the Apple Pie Bakery for a few goodies to take home. Sadly, it was closed for renovations, but at the modest grab-and-go around the corner I picked up a few treats. There’s a gift shop by the main entrance loaded with books, cooking gadgets, and CIA gear, as well.
The individual Hudson Valley apple tart for dessert came with vanilla bean ice cream (student made, of course) caramel sauce, and the most interesting puddle of green apple “sauce.” Not cooked, the sauce had a bright color and fresh apple flavor unlike anything I’d ever had.
After lunch, Rory took me on a cook’s tour of the kitchen. The hot food students had cleaned up and departed, but I did get to meet Chef Jason Potanovich, chef-instructor for the lunch class. He gave me some insight into how the menu was put together – a very ambitious project for a one-time-only service. The pastry students, under the guidance of their professor, Chef Stephane Weber, were still cleaning up from the apple tarts and experimenting with a few new dessert items. The chef explained how the apple “sauce” was made by pressing whole green apples and kept fresh and green with a touch of lime juice.
I hope you’ll pardon my long food descriptions, but the students worked too hard and the food was too good to leave anything out. All three CIA restaurants are open for lunch and dinner (reservations suggested) as long as school is in session. They’re more than worth the trip!