19 June 2013

Culinary Institute of America

Unfortunately for me, at the first opportunity I got to eat fancy gourmet food, I was sick. I started with a mild headache and sleep deprivation on Monday afternoon, which morphed into a fever, sore throat and pulsing headache throughout Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. I had absolutely no appetite and everything tasted bland. This did not mesh well with the trip to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), Kraft, Pepsi, and 2 fancy dinners. I feel as though I just shuffled through the food, systematically spooning it into my mouth. I didn't get to enjoy the food as much as I should've :(.

We went on this trip as part of our internship program. Along with lunch at Bocuse, we also received signed menus and a tour and Q&A of the CIA. Bocuse is apparently the inspiration for a chef in the film Ratatoullie.

Although I didn't get to taste every little flavor in the food, it was still fun and enriching. I did consider going to culinary school 4 years ago, but it didn't seem so viable. In addition, I don't think I'd want to pay for cooking skills, which I believe can be learned from the internet and lots of trial and error. Sure, CS and Bio can be learned from the internet too but in those cases, I'm paying for the piece of paper that says that I'm qualified. And opportunities and networking, I guess.

So, Bocuse!
As we walked in, many wines and champagnes were displayed horizontally behind glass cases. We entered a well-lit, bright restaurant with sofa seating and plump cushions. The celing was shiny and the walls were adorned with chef hat shaped lighting fixtures (on to of which stood a miniature chef model).

There were red half-moon placemats and mustard yellow cloth napkins (with patterns on them). We drank water out of glass goblets. In the center of the table were a box of conversation cards and a small container of fancy salt.

The waiters and waitresses were extremely polite. I actually felt kind of awkward (especially when it got to eating the lamb with bone) because the place was so elegant. Bread was offered about once every 10 minutes, and although it was extremely crusty and delicious, I felt impolite accepting bread more than twice. Oh, social customs. I hope to one day be able to achieve such light, crusty, and chewy-crumbed bread. Although my baguettes are crusty, they're kind of dense.

Usually I don't order appetizers, but as everyone at my table did, I figured I would too. As we waited for them, we each received half a grape tomato with balsamic dressing, mint foam, and a leaf thing that I think tasted a bit like chard. It was an interesting mix of flavors.

The neatest thing was that everyone's appetizers or entrees would arrive at the exact same time, with each student chef holding exactly 1 dish. Then the dish would be presented in front of the customer, and the lid would be lifted off, IN UNISON! Then, the chef would explain what the dish was.
It was like a performance.

This is a smoked salmon thing. I'm not sure how one would eat the cracker without using one's hands.

Truffle soup with a big poof of pastry. The soup was a bit thin and bland (or I just couldn't taste anything because I was sick). The truffle flavor was there though.

Pistachio pate (a bit salty, so I ended up eating it with bread). It tasted bloodier(? More raw?) than I remember pate being (at least 10 years ago, in a mass produced canned version).

Part pate, part snail, mashed potato, and potato chip. I wonder if they made the potato chips on-site. The lattice structure must be difficult to make and fry. The snail was chewy. I'm used to eating snails coated in  cheese, so having it this way was less salty and fatty than expected.

Someone else ordered the fried frog, which came with a watercress sauce. The frog tasted just as I remembered (when we used to eat them in HK some 10 years ago). The batter was really light. Think tempura coating.

I picked lamb as the main dish, and it was probably the most difficult to eat in a civil manner because of the bones. The lamb came in 3 forms: a chunk of lamb (which tasted a bit overcooked), a croquette with lamb shreds (really good and tender), and a chunk of lamb with bone and a mouthful of fat (extremely difficult to eat politely, but delicious).

And here I am, being messy with the food on my plate. I ended up not following etiquette and just using my hands to hold onto the bone while I ate the lamb. Oh well.

Here is a chunk of steak from KV, sitting diagonally from me, and a chunk of chicken from HB, sitting next to me. The steak was really tender (but I haven't had real "steak" before - i.e. one from a steakhouse), and the chicken tasted very plain.

Then dessert! Among many classic desserts (chocolate mousse thing, madeline, marshmallow) were nitrogen ice cream, which they made in a KitchenAid mixer right in front of you, and a pineapple upside down cake with coconut icing and dry ice. A red (not for eating) liquid was poured onto the dry ice, resulting in a fragrant smoke that reminded me of hibiscus, even though I couldn't really smell it since I was sick.

The ice cream wasn't really cold and the stick thing was edible but I'm not sure what it was. Some sort of not-too-sweet cookie? Overall, I felt that the cake was kind of stale.

We were surprised with mini cakes and truffles before we left! The truffles were made on-site (we could see them make them through the window to the kitchen).

At the end, we filled out a survey on their iPad regarding service and menu. We requested additional outlandish desserts (e.g. fire). Although the portions aren't as big as those in some chain restaurant, I was extremely full for the next 7+ hours. This was definitely a great, calm, friendly dining experience.

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