One of the best kept secrets of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park is their student run restaurants which are open to the public. You can enjoy meals prepared by a future Iron Chef like Cat Cora, a modern culinarian like Grant Achatz or a food biographer like Anthony Bourdain (all former CIA grads) at the American Bounty Restaurant, Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici (FYI, both are participating in Hudson Valley Restaurant Week through March 24th) or St. Andrew’s Cafe. Reservations are a snap using the CIA’s on-line reservation system, and (shhhh!) with a quick phone call you might even snag same day reservations.
All the buzz, though, is the complete metamorphosis of the Escoffier Restaurant into the very contemporary Bocuse Restaurant (those reservations are available on Open Table!). Patrice Costa, here, along with my blogger cohort and food photographer, Margaret Rizzuto, reporting on our day at the CIA’s newest restaurant:
It was much more than a name change from Escoffier to Bocuse. Chef Auguste Escoffier, born in 1846, was a leader in the development of modern French cuisine for the 20th century, and to present (and past) CIA students, an important part of their culinary history lessons. On the other hand, chef Paul Bocuse was born in 1926 and is known for his involvement in French nouvelle cuisine, recognized as one of the first chef/owners and introduced the concept of the open kitchen. He is a living icon to the CIA students, making the new Bocuse Restaurant a testament to 21st century French cuisine.
“Good products, good food” — the simple sentiments of chef Paul Bocuse
positioned perfectly at the outgoing door of The Bocuse Restaurant kitchen
is a constant reminder to all the chefs-in-training
We met with Jennifer Purcell, Associate Dean of Restaurant Education and Operations, who graciously showed us around the restaurant, wine room, and kitchen before joining us for lunch. The restaurant is a mix of black, white, and red with clean textures of leather, dark wood, glass, ceramic, and steel. The space is open, airy, and inviting. Gone are the heavy linen tablecloths and the now exposed bare wood tables create a casual, more approachable dining atmosphere.
Around the room, there are a few decorative touches that seem to give a culinary nod to Bocuse like the toque (chef hat) wall sconces,
the colorful grouping of roosters,
and the replicas of his signature lion head truffle soup bowl transformed into a chandelier which adorns the private dining room.
In a glass enclosed wine room, bottles of French Hermitage share space with Japanese Sake and local Millbrook Chardonnay.
The ultra modern and very spacious open kitchen gives diners a bird’s eye view of the chefs and tempted this culinary geek to enroll in classes on the spot.
While in the kitchen, we met chef instructors Stéphane Weber (Baking and Pastry Arts) and Sergio Remolina (Culinary Arts) who oversee the student chefs.
Chef Weber enthusiastically showed off the very high tech MIWE combination oven being used for breads and pastries.
Chef Remolina explained the details of the kitchen operation. Approximately 40 students split their time between the kitchen and the front of the house to complete this last rotation before graduation. It’s amazing that these chef instructors are able to expertly train a completely new kitchen staff of students every three weeks!
Back in the dining room for our lunch, traditional tableside service has been bumped up a notch with the addition of a sparkling cart, and I couldn’t resist starting out with a glass of St. Germain infused prosecco.
Next, a panzanella amuse bouche was a one bite salad of eggplant, sour dough bread, cucumbers and red and yellow peppers.
For our appetizers, tender and buttery frogs legs had an accompanying watercress rémoulade in a way-cool customized housemade tube.
The French Green Bean and Wild Mushroom Salad was fresh and bright with a diverse selection of cremini, portobello, shitake and those cute little white enoki mushrooms.
The highlight for me was Bocuse’s 1975 signature dish of Black Truffle Soup presented in the special lion head bowl with a golden pastry top,
and hidden inside is a flavorful consommé with tiny cut root vegetables and truffle pieces.
We enjoyed a wonderful sampling of entree offerings like Potato-Crusted Lemon Sole,
Lobster and Vermouth Ragout
and my favorite, a Breast of Duck served perfectly medium rare with a rainbow of carrots, candied orange and a chestnut puree.
We were happy we saved room for some really special desserts. The Table Side Ice Cream and Classic Treats was a mini variety of French delights like Cannele de Bordeaux and Chocolate Beignet,
but it’s the ice cream that totally steals the show. Imagine having fresh ice cream made right at the table with high tech liquid nitrogen in a low tech retrofitted crank Kitchen-Aid mixer.
Not to be shown up, the Mont Blanc is a rum soaked pound cake decorated with chestnut cream, which rises from the center of the serving platter. It is then turned into a herb-scented rolling cloud when water is poured into a surrounding moat of dry ice and spices.
Dining at any one of the CIA’s restaurant is truly a special experience. If you’ve never been — go; if you’ve been before — go again! Yes, of course, the focus is on the food, but when you are there take some time to explore the beautiful campus and remember to stop into the Apple Pie Bakery for some sweet treats to take home.