If one were to ask what institution of higher learning was co-founded by an attorney and aimed at training returning World War II veterans, the popular guess probably would not be the Culinary Institute of America. Nonetheless, that is indeed the back story of the acclaimed academy.
In 1946, Connecticut attorney Frances Roth teamed up with Katherine Angell, the wife of the then-president of Yale University, to establish a school that they hoped to make “the culinary center of the nation.” The New Haven Restaurant Institute opened in May of that year in New Haven, Connecticut, the only school of its kind in the United States, with 50 students and a staff composed only of a chef, a baker and a dietitian.
A year later, the school changed its name to the Restaurant Institute of Connecticut, and by 1950, it counted 600 veterans from 38 states among its graduates. The current appellation became the school’s official name in 1951, reflecting its increasing growth in both enrollment and student diversity. The institute continued to grow, and in 1970, five years after Roth’s retirement as president, the institute purchased the property that would become its new campus in Hyde Park, New York.
The school was granted a charter to confer an Associate of Occupational Studies degree by the Board of Regents of the State of New York in 1971, making it the first culinary college with such authorization. In 1972, the new campus officially opened, and the following year, the school unveiled its first on-campus restaurant, then called the Epicurean Room and Rabalais Grill.
CIA gained another distinction in 1980, when it became the only school permitted to administer the American Culinary Federation exam for Master Chefs. The CIA continued to expand and blaze trails throughout the next two decades, adding new restaurants, buildings, and a baking and pastry school. In 1995, the academy established a branch campus in California’s Napa Valley.
More restaurants and centers popped up as the school’s expansion showed no signs of slowing down, and in 2008, a branch campus opened in San Antonio, Texas. The school hit a speed bump that year, as more than two-thirds of the members of its teachers’ union approved a vote of no-confidence against the president, Tim Ryan, complaining about the equipment and academic standards at the main campus. But, the issue didn’t seem to slow expansion, as the school founded its first international branch campus in Singapore in 2010 in partnership with the Singapore Institute of Technology.
The main campus remains at the Hyde Park location, and continues to live up to Roth’s dream of a premier culinary academy.
Today, the three-person faculty has grown into a campus-wide staff of 140 instructors and chefs from 16 nations across the globe. The main campus at Hyde Park encompasses five public restaurants, 41 kitchens and bakeries, and a culinary library overshadowed only by the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.
Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, CIA now hosts more than 2,800 students from nearly every state and 30 countries. In 1993, bachelor’s degree programs in culinary arts management and baking and pastry arts management joined its existing curriculum of associate degrees in those areas.
Continuing education courses and tuition-free e-learning courses are held for professionals who want to brush up on their skills or get some fresh ideas. The Greystone campus in the Napa Valley features the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies where students can enroll in the school’s Accelerated Wine and Beverage Certificate Program., and the San Antonio campus offers studies in Latin American cuisine.
The Latin American cuisine studies program got a boost in 2007 when Christopher Goldsbury of PACE Picante Sauce donated $35 million dollars to the Culinary Institute. The school used seven million dollars of the gift to expand the Center for the Foods of the Americas and five million dollars to build a center for Latin American cuisine at the main campus. The rest of the money was earmarked for scholarships.
In fact, the school often expands its curriculum to keep up with the ever-evolving flavors of global cuisine. It has divided its world cuisine curriculum into distinct regions, including the Americas, Asia, and the Mediterranean. Its award-winning American Bounty Restaurant course, which focused on American regional cooking, began in 1982. The Caterina de’ Medici Restaurant course began in 1984, and the Colavita Center for Italian Food and Wine was later opened.
Meanwhile, attempts to remain health-conscious prompted the school to join the Harvard School of Public Health in presenting the first Worlds of Healthy Flavors Conference in 2004.
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Applicants need a high school diploma or a GED and at least one recommendation, depending on the program to which they are applying. There is no minimum grade-point average required, but all degree applicants to the Greystone and San Antonio campuses must pass math and writing assessment exams through COMPASS or provide alternative test scores.
Six months of hands-on preparation of fresh food, for at least 10 to 15 hours per week, at a professional kitchen or bakery is also required. This experience is not necessary to apply for admission but must be met before applicants can begin attending the academy. The requirement can be fulfilled by working in a kitchen, but volunteer work, apprenticeships, catering, and high school culinary programs also count toward the requirement. Once accepted, students may be asked to take placement tests to determine the first schedule of courses.
Students may transfer in if they have completed applicable course work from an accredited college or university with at least a “C” average in the last 10 years. Transfer applicants also need to have achieved a score of four or higher on the College Board AP Exam within the last five years. No transfer credits will be accepted for baking and pastry arts, culinary arts, or hospitality and service management courses. Only certain business management and liberal arts courses will be considered for transfer credit approval.
The Financial Aid Office provides aid to the vast majority of its students, with freshmen receiving more than $25 million annually in grants, loans, scholarships, and work study funding in recent years.
A student’s first step in receiving financial aid is filling out the FAFSA form, which determines whether the student is eligible for federal funding such as Pell Grants. State aid like the Tuition Assistance Program, New York’s largest grant program, is also available. TAP provides financial aid for New York state residents who are attending in-state postsecondary institutions.
The school offers merit-based scholarships such as the SAT/ACT Achievement Scholarship and the Cream of the Crop Scholarship, and other monetary awards may be won from external sources like the Culinary Trust or the James Beard Foundation.
Additionally, student loans are a common alternative for financially strapped college hopefuls. Students who have questions concerning their financial needs should contact the Office of Financial Aid.
Most students on the main campus live on-campus in one of the school’s four residence halls or six lodges. Hudson Hall is the largest residence hall, with about 400 students, mainly freshmen. Others include Katherine Angell Hall, Pick-Herndon Hall, and Jacob Rosenthal Hall. The co-ed lodges are named for spices: Cayenne, Cinnamon, Clove, Ginger, Juniper, and Nutmeg halls.
Students can find plenty to do at the Hyde Park location, with on-campus activities like casino nights and standup comedy concerts. Students can also enjoy trips to nearby New York City to take in some of that metropolis’s many cultural or sporting events or fine dining experiences.
For those interested in fitness and athletics, there are ski trips and excursions to whitewater rafting or rock climbing adventures. The Hyde Park campus offers a recreation center with a gym, weight room, track, and six-lane swimming pool. Yoga, zumba, and spinning classes are held, and the school sponsors intramural sports such as basketball, softball, and flag football.
Clubs are centered largely around culinary interests, but there are organizations geared toward diversity and fellowship, and there is a student newspaper, La Papillote.
Student Enrollment Demographics
Student Graduation Demographics
In 2004, the school began truly competing in intercollegiate sports. The Steels, named for a chef’s most-utilized tool – the knife – compete in the Hudson Valley Men’s Athletic Conference and the Hudson Valley Women’s Athletic Conference.
All sports are co-ed, and students must maintain at least a 2.0 grade-point average to play.
Numerous successful chefs and culinary entrepreneurs are counted among the alumni. Some of the school’s noted graduates include Steve Ellis, owner of the Chipotle restaurant chain; Tom Gumpel, who owns the Panera Bread chain; and celebrity chefs such as Food Network faces Michael Symon, Cat Cora, Duff Goldman, and Anne Burrell.
Elisabeth Bailey is a freelance writer and editor with particular interests in academics, food,and sustainability . She is also the author of A Taste of the Maritimes: Local, Seasonal Recipes the Whole Year Round and writes regularly for Canadian Farmers’ Almanac and the National Wildlife Federation. Elisabeth and her family live and enjoy great local food in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.
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