Will you eat the food of the next celebrity chef at CIA’s Escoffier? [classic article]

If you’re a foodie, you have to admit that it’s a pretty exciting concept to eating the food of up and coming young chefs before they hit the big time. The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY (Dutchess County), known as “CIA,” boasts grads as Anthony Bourdain, John Besh (whom I interviewed here), Michael Symon, Roy Yamaguchi – of Roy’s fame – as well as Cat Cora, Charlie Palmer, Grant Achatz and others.

I was very excited to be hosted to experience their classic French restaurant, Escoffier, named after the Father of French cuisine. Another neat part is that students are also doing the serving, many of whom have “front of the house” aspirations. They’re very earnest! For some people, a job is a job. But for them, food is their life!

I started out my meal with some sparkling wine, because it was recommended as “cleansing” with the richer foods I was ordering. I feel the same way about sparkling water and often order it with luxurious meals. I know a lot about water, read more HERE.

The amuse bouche sent by the kitchen was a crispy baguette slice with garden fresh basil, chives and radish.

Breads are all baked in house. The server presents a variety from raisin to French baguette.

The next course was a foie torchon: fois gras pâté with peach and apricot relish, brioche toast, pickled prune and red wine sauce. Fois gras is a local product from New York. The fois slice was very creamy and generous. It was garnished with a cardamon seasoned granola, giving a nutty flavor without the oiliness of nuts. The prune sauce had sweetness but also heartiness, perfect for Fall. Other garnishments included baby celery leaf and Maldon sea salt on the fois, along with buttery toast.

My next course was the braised veal sweetbreads in acacia honey demi-glaze, with sauteed mushrooms and truffled salad. This was a delightfully different preparation of sweetbreads than I was used to. They were grilled and not overly sauced. The mushrooms had a touch of garlic in them.

The next course was green bean salad with truffle vinaigrette, cold tomato tartare and brioche toast with goat cheese and figs. The tomato was absolutely beautiful — sweet and red. Imagine that, this time of year! The goat cheese had some goatiness, it was more pronounced than some beginner’s chevre. It had a touch of sweetness, too. The green beans were firm and crisp.

I next tried the wild mushroom cream soup. It was rich and intense, while being more about the mushroom and less about the dairy.

For an entree, I got to try the pan-roasted beef tenderloin with crispy truffle pudding, asparagus and port wine glazed onions, tarragon and fois gras sauce. The server asked for us to cut into the meat, to see if it was prepared as ordered (medium rare). It was and I liked that caring touch. The meat was tender and well seasoned, a beautiful cut. The asparagus was big and thick and the truffle pudding — kind of a polenta type creation — really did have good truffle flavor.

I also got to try the roasted brined Cornish hen, sweet pea and lemongrass puree’, black trumpet coulis, garlic sauce and braised baby leeks. The Cornish hen was very meaty and tender. The flavors were complex while still being familiar, comforting.

Escoffier as a restaurant is about to move locations on campus to become “Bocuse,” after the French chef. At that time, with a full liquor license, they’ll be more focused on table-side mixology (and sous vide) preparations, rather than table-side dessert prep. For now, life and table-side prep is still sweet! I enjoyed my bananas Foster, very close to how they do it in New Orleans.

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