The Culinary Institute of America has been on an expansion spree recently. The 66-year-old school based in Hyde Park, N.Y., opened its fourth campus, in Singapore, in 2010, and its San Antonio campus, which opened in 2008, will launch a new certificate program focusing on Latin American cuisines.
CIA president Tim Ryan discussed the school’s recent changes with Nation’s Restaurant News.
What’s behind the CIA’s recent expansion?
We didn’t really have plans to open any new campuses, truth be told. Our goal is to provide the best culinary education. But these two campuses made a lot of sense.
The Singapore campus is fully funded by the Singaporean government, and San Antonio was made possible by a billionaire from Texas [Kit Goldsbury].
Also, San Antonio is the gateway to Mexico and Latin America. The population of San Antonio is almost 80-percent Hispanic, and that’s such an important demographic.
Depending on the city, between 30 and 80 percent of the foodservice workforce is Latin American, and they’re not rising through the ranks at commensurate levels. If we can provide these talented, industrious Latinos with a world class-education, more culinary leaders will come from their ranks.
Also, Mexican restaurants are the most popular restaurants in the country, but we haven’t been exposed much to Argentine, Peruvian, Brazilian or Colombian cuisine.
As for Singapore, in terms of world demographics, Asia’s very important, and also Asian cuisines and ingredients are very important to modern American cuisine.
Do you have plans for future openings?
Happily, there’s not a day that goes by when we don’t get presented with another opportunity. We’ve been talking for some time with the Spanish government, and they have offered us a 14th Century castle outside of Madrid.
We’re also looking at Israel. The hospitality industry there is interested in us, but we don’t have any immediate plans.
The CIA’s main educational focus has been on French cuisine, but you have added education in Mediterranean, Latin American and Asian cuisines. What are your future plans in terms of educating students?
For about eight years we have taught three weeks each of those three regional cuisines [in the core curriculum].
Now, offering more electives is a big focus. As professions develop, the knowledge becomes too great for one single curriculum, so you have to offer more electives.
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We’re going to offer a whole host of electives related to food science. Many of our graduates are practitioners of modernist cuisine, and we have plenty of graduates who are going on to get Ph.D.s in food science and going into research and development.
There will be a lot more in ethnic cuisine studies, because now we’re just scratching the surface. Within the next couple of years, CIA students who want to specialize in Mexican cuisine can take a semester at San Antonio and visit Latin America. If they want to focus on Asian cuisines, they can take a semester at Singapore and visit China.
If they want to focus more on wine and sustainability, they can go to our Napa campus.
There are others that I can’t talk about right now because we don’t want to fully tip our hand.
With the growing media opportunities for chefs, are you planning to teach more media training?
We have television studios, and we’ve contemplated doing [more media training] and have stopped short of doing it. We’re conflicted about it. You’ll see students interviewing folks on camera for our social media outlets, but we want to focus on our students learning the basic [cooking] fundamentals. That’s where it all starts. They’re already well aware of the media, and we don’t want them to lose sight of what’s important while they’re here, and that’s learning the fundamentals.
Paul Bocuse was arguably the first world-famous celebrity chef, and his advice for chefs now is: “Get back in the kitchen.”
The CIA has made some adjustments to tradition based on what looks good on TV. For example, in videos your chefs don’t wear toques because they don’t look good. White is a notoriously bad color for television. Have you considered modifying chef’s whites?
Technology on TV is learning to deal with chef’s whites. I was the first chef to cook on the Today Show in 1982. They asked me to come down on Sunday to do a run though, and they were aghast that I was wearing white. But television has figured out how to work with that now. We’re traditionalists at The CIA. We don’t want to give up our chefs’ jackets and hats.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story has been updated to include corrected information about the CIA's campuses.