CIA facility combines state-of-the-art student feeding, noncommercial training

Published in FSD Update

Students with a high food IQ are hardly a rarity in today’s college-and-university dining halls. But the youngsters served by the new student-feeding facility at the Culinary Institute of America may be a different breed altogether.

As food enthusiasts on their way to becoming top-pedigreed culinary professionals, the chefs-in-training bring a dining sophistication typically beyond what most Food & Wine readers can boast. The $25-million facility, dubbed The Egg, has the dual mission of meeting those lofty expectations and showing the future kitchen stars what they might not yet know. Dining there is part of the students’ education, a way of introducing them to new preparations and demonstrating how the high-volume cooking of a noncommercial facility can be healthful, artful and flavorful.

“If they’re not educated yet on any of the dishes, we want to educate them,” says Waldy Malouf, the CIA’s senior director of food and beverage operations. The former fine-dining chef was the one who largely hatched The Egg at his alma mater, the CIA’s main campus in Hyde Park, N.Y.

And if the new facility should entice a few to follow a career track in the onsite channel, it’s not happenstance. The objective is not just to please tomorrow’s chefs as customers, but also to broaden their thinking about noncommercial foodservice and foster talents peculiar to that side of the business.

Working The Line

Students learn on both sides of the service counter. The CIA tweaked its meal plan to drive freshmen to a component of The Egg called The Line, a high-production kitchen typical of what’s found in a healthcare, business-and-industry or C&U facility, though fronted by a walk-up counter.

That will expose them to healthful ideas such as cutting the meat content of burgers to 50 percent, with beans, mushrooms, eggplant or other vegetable components constituting the other half. A so-called 50/50 burger is featured every day.

Another permanent menu item is the tempeh ribs, a meatless dish consistent with the CIA’s Menus of Change initiative, a 24-point plan the school is promoting in collaboration with several public-health groups to foster healthful eating. The Protein Flip, or supplanting meat as the center of the plate with enticing vegetables, is one of the core principles. 

Healthful dining is also an aim of The Egg’s a la carte pricing. Better-for-you riffs on familiar foods—a chipotle lime-glazed cauliflower taco, for instance—is discounted by at least 20 percent from the full-freight versions.

Students learn how to prepare those and other items in volume on the other side of The Line’s counter. The kitchen was designed to reflect what a chef would find at a noncommercial job. “We wanted to show the students proper flow,” says instructor and chef Bruce Mattel. “It’s very important that you have that process, that steady flow from the back of the house forward.”

High-volume education

The kitchen is manned by 20 to 24 students in each of three daily classes. What they prepare is served to fellow students. The school’s faculty, staff and visitors are also part of the clientele. All told, The Line is expected to service 1,200 to 1,400 meals per day.

For that reason, “it’s a more practical setup than you’ll find in any other class,” says Mattel. “We did extensive field work, looking at facilities everywhere, from UCLA to the University of Pennsylvania and UMass at Amherst.

The Line is one of five components of The Egg, which measures 47,000 square feet in total. In the center is The Café, a more traditional student-feeding facility that’s run by Restaurant Associates. Its menu includes such staples as burgers, sandwiches and flatbread pizzas.

One station features local craft beers on draft and wines from the area. The meal cards used by students to purchase from The Café indicate whether or not the buyer is 21 years old.

Restaurant incubator

Near the entrance to The Egg is the CIA’s nod to “Shark Tank” and restaurant incubators. Student teams are charged as part of the school’s entrepreneur curriculum with developing an idea for a restaurant, complete with menu, brand name, supporting trade dress and a business plan. The teams pitch their concepts to an executive committee. The best notion is green lighted to operate in the allotted space for a semester, with the students managing the staffing and P&L as if the facility were their own freestanding fast-casual restaurant.

The first student-run facility, a Mexican street-foods concept called Leyenda, will open next semester. In the meantime, a ramen outlet run by RA fills the space.

A convenience store toward the rear of the facility sells a mixture of ready-to-eat foods and ingredients for students to cook in their dorms or off-campus housing. The emphasis is on healthful choices, with products ranging from fresh locally grown vegetables to artisan ingredients. Included is a bar where students can mix their own snacks or trail mixes. 

A brewery, too

Not yet open is The Brooklyn Brewery at the CIA, a working brewery run in collaboration with the well-known New York City suds source. While doubling as a classroom on beer brewing, it will eventually produce the beer sold in The Café.

No soft drinks sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup are sold anywhere in The Egg. Instead, students are welcome to serve themselves unlimited free agua frescas or unsweetened tea if they bring their own containers. If not, they can buy one for 50 cents.

Coffee is dispensed through a system that enables customers to input various attributes for a customized brew that’s then dispensed through a tap-like spout.

A la carte orders are placed through touch screens, and work is underway on a smartphone app.

“It’s a technological wonder in its mechanics,” said Malouf. For instance, the HVAC system and kitchen hoods are computer controlled to vent and replace the vented air in the most efficient way possible.

The Egg seats 525 students inside and another 175 outside. The seating is actually a series of distinct areas rather than one continuous area of identical chairs and tables. Included is a fireplace surrounded by seating. A stage showcases local performers and will soon air movies.

The Egg will be open from 5:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., serving all three meals. “It is expected more or less to break even,” says Malouf, noting that it’s as much of a classroom and student lounge as it is a dining center.

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