Monday, January 31, 2005

So, we're back from NYC and though it would be tough to try and go over everything we did there, I'll try and throw out the major points.

First off, as most of you know, we headed to NYC to check out two cooking schools, namely:
Institute of Culinary Education
French Culinary Institute

Both of which will, from now on, be known as simply ICE and FCI. Those plans were for Saturday though, so let me start at the beginning.

After a short and uneventful flight, we arrived in Newark on Thursday night. Genevieve's gracious aunt Elizabeth and uncle Bob (who were kind enough to let us stay at their place in NJ, just an hour out of NYC for our trip) picked us up. It was too late for a trip to the city that night and we were dead from the flight, so we crashed and got up relatively early the next morning and headed into the city.

Friday -
After wandering around for a bit and stopping by a few places Genevieve wanted to visit in town, we grabbed lunch at a little Thai Restaurant. My dish, called Massaman (and filled with coconut milk and the curry of the same name) was excellent. I often worry about coconut milk, as the first time I tried it (at Lemongrass in Cleveland Heights), I found the pungent stuff to completely overpower whatever dish it's in. I've, later, discovered this to be something seemingly unique to Lemongrass, as I've had numerous dishes with it where it blended perfectly into the meal. This place was no exception. Genevieve's meal, veggies and tofu tossed with a pretty bland chili sauce, was nothing to write home about though.

For dinner, we headed into the East Village and grabbed some Indian at a place recommended by Genevieve's brother. Haveli (I think). The meal, to me, was kind of a mixed bag. The garlic naan, the surprise small cup of Dal we got with our dinner, simply awesome. The Dal was smoky, earthy and perfectly spiced and the naan was some of the best we'd had. The main course, a Malai Kofta, was a bit on the bland side for me. I could have used a bit more kick in it. That's not to say it wasn't good, it was, it just wasn't anything that blew me away.

Saturday -

My first meeting, at ICE, was at 10:00am, so there was no time for sleeping in this morning. We grabbed an early train and managed to get to the school (which is in, I think, the Chelsea area) with no problem. There, I was met with a tour group, which we would be joining. At other schools, the tours had been a one-on-one matter with a meeting at the end, which I greatly preferred. Here, we were given a tour en masse and then met with the admissions person individually (which resulted in Genevieve and I waiting a good long bit, after the tour, to see him). Though I was not happy with this, I found the school to be pretty nice. The class sizes are about 14-16, which I thought was big, until I saw that FCI had twice that (admittedly, they had twice the instructors, but still..that's a lot of people in one kitchen). The teaching staff have some excellent credentials and education backgrounds (many at CIA) under their belts and their program, time and money wise, is very suited to what I am looking for. It is a 6-month program with the last 2 months spent as an externship at a restaurant. That's not to say it's cheap, far from it, at $24,000 for those 6 months, it's a pretty steep cost. But, compared to FCI's or CIA's $41,000, for the same amount of time (at least at FCI), it is a much more manageable sum. (Of course, there will be mondo student loans involved here). They also have some excellent recreational classes that, as a student, I'll be able to grab for free (including one, coming up in April, hosted by Diane Kennedy, which I will be very sad to miss).

Our appointment at FCI wasn't until 2:00pm, so, even though we were at ICE for a few hours, we had some time to kill and grabbed lunch in the Soho area, at a little Italian place called Boom Restaurant (which, with their relatively high prices, I had to have Genevieve convince me to go to, cheap bastard that I am). Their food was pretty standard Italian fare, no surprises, and my sandwich, served with basil, buffalo mozz, and procuttio, was good (if not overly heavy). They were served with a side of rosemary-roasted potatoes (which is pretty common, though a dish I never tire of) and we grabbed some cooked spinach to share (which was *very* good).

Then, we headed onto FCI.

I'd made a bet with Genevieve, before going in. You see, FCI's big claims to fame are three people: Bobby Flay, Jacques Pepin, and Jacques Torres. Three big celebrity chefs. I bet that, before we left there, we'd see at least one or two large (big big!) pictures of these three folks at the school. I was not disappointed. Walking in, we were immediately greeted with a large screen TV showing..who else..but the above-mentioned folks (and other FCI Faculty) talking about how great the school was.

My problem with this isn't so much that they highlight their accomplishments, through these chefs, but that they honestly make it seem like Bobby Flay is going to be working one-on-one with *you* to help make you a great chef, instead of the truth: that, yes, you'll probably see him. But it'll be one seminar or something, during which he'll talk and you'll listen, but there will be no holding of hands to show you the correct chop and there will be no time, after school, spent teaching you the refinements of what you learned that day.

That said, in some ways, I did like the school better than ICE. The kitchens were bigger and better laid out, there was a bit more name recognition and the program was a bit more intense (I think, for their 6 months, you go to class 6 hours a day, compared to ICE's 4). But, to match, they were also almost twice the cost, had no externship (instead, you work at their restaurant, which is all fine and good, but it's not like they're going to hire you in, like a regular restaurant might, when school is done) and had the much larger class size.

The result:
I am going to ICE (though most of you probably already figured that out).
The session that looks like it will work out best, for me, starts Sept. 19th (our lease ends August 31st), so NYC here we come...

(Oh yea, Dinner that night, our last meal in NYC, was at a Mexican place. It wasn't outstanding, but it was good and cheap and their refried beans were amazing.)