“We don’t allow photography inside the school, outside as much as you want,” says the black coated supervisor/waiter at the Apple Pie Bakery Café. As soon as I put my camera down a flash goes off at the other end of the room. I am not the only one wanting to document a visit at America’s Northeast food temple: The C.I.A a.k.a: The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
It is 13:05 pm and I notice on my receipt that I paid for my food at 12:53 pm. I have ordered my lunch and a few treats to bring Miles who is on the Muttnik film shoot —by the way you can check Miles’ new website here. I’m only twenty minutes away from the set and on call in case he needs anything. I hope he doesn’t call until my Riesling Cave Spring Cellar from Canada comes!
13:08pm: the bag with the to go items is brought to me.
13:10pm: Ah! The Riesling lands on my table. The glass is not perfectly clean, but not dirty enough to send it back. The wine is not cold enough, but again not warm enough to send it back either — plus, I really want to taste it. It is good, maybe a touch acidic, but decent.
At the “pay here” station along with my receipt I was given a plastic card with the number #91 on it. I was instructed to place it on my table. On the center of the table there is a little iron chipped basket carousel filled with cutlery, napkins, salt, pepper, sugar, a decorative apple and in the middle, a stem where to stick my number #91. This is how the student-waiter/tresse will know where to bring the food & drink I ordered at “order here” and paid for at “pay here”. This system makes them wander awkwardly throughout the fairly large dining room café. They have one eye on the tray for balance and the other intensely scanning the center of the tables to find the matching number. It not that easy to decipher when a stem holds several numbers. I am watching the entire waiting staff playing a table hunt game. Maybe it is a new technique in order to test and improve students’ hand/eye coordination! At any rate super entertaining to me, the lone diner!
13:17 pm: I’m patiently waiting for my food. I’m not super hungry but very thrilled to report “live” from the CIA! I have my wine and plenty of observing and writing to do.
Darn! I was going to seriously eavesdrop on the conversation of the five diners two tables away but they are already done and leaving. The jovial chubby gay student’s louder voice had carried over to me via the arch above us, maybe it was gossip about the school? I’ll never know. The table across me is being reassured that their food is on the way. I am reassured too cause I was right behind them on the line “order here”.
13:23 pm: Stretching my wine and noticing that the neighbors got their food. Great! mine must be close.
13:28 pm: The waitress who brought my wine comes to me: “Are you waiting for something?”
“Yes! A BLT and an order of fries”
“Ok! Let me check!”
A sip or two and my wine is done. Right on time when my food will come. I am not having a second glass, it is lunch and I have to drive. I don’t mind not having wine with my food, my favorite glass of wine is before the food comes.
13:13 pm: Food is here… How do they expect me to eat this sandwich? I know that I am not very articulate when it comes to American kitchen sink sandwiches but there is no way I can hold and eat a —at least— two and half inch thick sandwich. The slices of toasted Pullman bread are each one-inch thick! I try to close it as it came open face on a wooden board. Not an easy task: the crispy bacon in the center creates a complication, it pushes out the beautiful red, ripe but firm tomatoes that surf out on the mayo. Ok, I will abandon the top part and hold it carefully as it is now an overloaded toast. It is very tasty, and if the bread was half the thickness it would be a perfect BLT. I got so surprised and busy that I didn’t even pick at the French fries yet. Just by looking at them I suspect they are frozen fries, tasting them confirms my suspicion. On the other hand the potato chips are delicious even if a tad too salty for my taste. Why on hearth did I order fries when potato chips came with the BLT? For one I’m still jet-lagged, and two, I have a craving for fresh French fries as I didn’t eat any in France —all frozen there too— and at the CIA I expected they would be fresh potato French fries.
Ok! Done with the food, I left one slice of bread and most of the French fries. The waitress cleans up my table. I ask if I can order coffee, and as I suspected she tells me that I would have to go thru the long “order here” and “pay here” lines again. I don’t want to so and settle for a glass of iced water. Two tables away some people are getting table service. A women who looks like a manager/teacher comes to take their order, obviously they are VIP’s du jour… and I think it is Joel Berg who is here to give a lecture that I plan to attend. I saw the announcement in the entrance of the hall and I recognize him.
13:5o pm: I must go as I was told sitting for the talk is limited and on first come first serve basis.