ST. HELENA — One of the purposes of all the classes offered at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena may be to convince people to cook more, to learn about nutrition and to become more healthy.
If that sounds boring, it isn’t. There’s an energy on campus that starts with the faculty, ripples through the staff and runs through the students in their chef’s toques and white uniforms.
There’s a lot going on at the CIA, which ranges from tours for visitors, a quiet coffee or lunch at the Bakery Cafe by Illy, a two-hour food sampling class, cooking demonstrations on the weekends, food enthusiast classes ranging from a couple of hours to a couple of days, “boot camps” to learn a variety of cooking skills, a full range of wine education and tasting programs, continuing education programs for professionals, two certificate programs and two associate degree programs.
Add in lunches and dinners at the Wine Spectator Restaurant, conferences throughout the year — including the annual Worlds of Flavor conference that brings in chefs from all over the world — and continuing collaborations with the Harvard Medical School on healthy foods, and one gets a sense of how busy Greystone, the historical Christian Brothers Winery, is.
“It is a very fun, very challenging place to work, just keeping up with the pace,” said Dean of Education Russell Scott. “On any given day, wandering from kitchen to kitchen, you can see the core students going through their degree programs, professional classes — we do a lot of work consulting with corporations — a food enthusiast group, and walking upstairs, there might be three different culinary arts degree program classes going on ... one studying the cuisines of Asia, another the cuisine of the Americas and the third studying charcuterie.”
Scott said the Accelerated Culinary Arts Program is a “deep dive into culinary arts for people who have hospitality degrees or a degree from a related hospitality field. If you’re a little too far out of the hospitality realm, we won’t take you. But you might want to be a restaurant manager and obviously manage the kitchen.”
Most hospitality degree students don’t have enough education in culinary arts, Scott said. Those students need more education “to be effective and compete on the level you need to today.”
The Accelerated Wine and Beverage Program is for people with hospitality degrees who want to specialize in beverages and sales or open their own business.
“Your hospitality degree has served you very well, but you find there’s some specialized knowledge and skills that you need to focus on beverages and spirits,” Scott said. “Where do you want to go for that? You want to come to the Napa Valley and come to the Culinary Institute of America, where we have master sommeliers (Bob Bath and Christy Default) on staff.”
Beyond the associate’s degrees and certificate degrees, the CIA Greystone also offers two-hour sampling classes, at $95 per person; boot camps from two days ($750) to a week ($2,195); and a range of food enthusiast experiences, including the Sophisticated Palate program. One of its classes, “Tastes of the Wine Country,” is a custom, private experience for a group from six to 12 people that costs $600 per person per day.
The five-day boot camp will teach participants the fundamentals of cooking, including hands-on training in knife skills, kitchen terminology, dry-heat cooking methods (roasting, grilling, sautéing, pan-frying and stir-frying), and moist-heat cooking methods (braising, shallow poaching, deep poaching and steaming). It is held Monday through Friday and costs $2,195. The next session runs from Nov. 12-16.
Although Scott is new to the Greystone campus, he isn’t new to the hospitality field. When he was in high school, he started his career by washing dishes because he needed some spending money. When the opportunity came up, he also did some cooking.
“I never really considered (hospitality) forever as a career,” he said. His father was a machinist and Scott thought he would follow in those footsteps. In high school, he earned a rare apprenticeship, but he struggled as a machinist.
Shortly after that, he took a hard look at going to culinary school. “At 15, I had several years in (hospitality) and I thought, ‘Maybe I should do this.’ I looked harder at it and decided this is what I would do. Thirty-four or 35 years later, here we are and I’m dean of education.”
Scott has been at the CIA Greystone campus for about seven months and is glad to be back working for the nonprofit CIA. “I don’t know any chef that wouldn’t be happy to come to what most consider the mecca of food and beverage in this country.”
Scott is responsible for all the educational programs. “I do believe one of the keys that keeps the CIA at the forefront of the hospitality industry is education,” he said.
Another, he added, is the CIA’s willingness to take a leadership position in the hospitality industry by taking responsibility for health issues, like obesity, for example, and holding conferences on healthy cooking.
Experts are brought in from around the world and professional chefs are able to come to a conference and learn healthy cooking techniques to take back to their kitchens.
In that way, Scott said, the CIA is actually doing something about this national problem.
“I don’t know anyone else in the educational field that’s doing that,” he said.