The Culinary Institute of America located in the beautiful tree lined streets of Saint Helena, California. Needless to say, I've been anticipating this culinary tour for months. Timing each minute with precision to our departure, arrival and focus to touring one of the best known culinary schools in California. What is it they say about anticipation? Benjamin Disraeli said, " What we anticipate seldom occurs, what we least expected generally happens." Well, in this case Benjamin Disraeli hit that quote with a bulls-eye. And, I don't mean that in a "Oh, boy that was a great tour" kind of way.
First I have to admit, we were running a tad bit late. Late meaning that, when traveling with others who have never been or set foot in wine country in YEARS, give them time to revel in all that the wine country has to offer. Let them savor that last glass of wine, let them lounge at the table having exciting dialog with friends/family. Don't push it... it's way too hot in wine country to rush. Secondly, consider ... if tour cost money ask what you will get for your $10.00 per person? Third, do some research before you go, such as location, timing of the tour and identify a purpose. In this case the tour did cost $10.00 per person, even my 13 year old Niece.
The tour itself started out fine with a historical viewpoint of the institute with glass cases, upon glass cases of kitchen utensils of years past. Actually, the 15 minutes of a woman pontificating about the winery, the selling of my beloved Christian Brothers land to help build the institute and the legacy were pretty interesting. At least to me. I'm a GAEL and spent many memorable times at the Christian Brothers landmark on retreats in High School and College. So learning of the separation of a..literally Church to institute followed by me cheering very loudly, 'GO GAELS!" No one, I mean no one, other than myself understood what that meant. Even the tour guide gave me a sneer of "how dare you darling interrupt me". Well, at the end of her lengthy monologue we were placed in the hands of a graduating student to take us on the tour of the facility. At which time, my trusty LECooks resident Techie, Seraphina, said "Wait, what?!? She leaving us?"
The space was beautifully decorated. A nice mixture of the Old and The New regime. However, I felt the tour was lacking something. Something personal. The Student Guide pointed us from one floor to next with enthusiasm, but no personal interaction. One finger to the left, this is where we prepare our meals". One finger to the right, this is where we "Baker's" clash with the real "Cooks". Two fingers straight ahead and this is where we are holding a wedding reception this evening and no... don't go past the imaginary line. No sign. Just the stern glare from the guide. See the barrels in the picture. Yeah, the one to the left. The barrels have carvings of influential Vintners from the past to current day on each barrel. Being the curious little Gemini I've always been... I wanted to see. But, no. That's not allowed. Maybe I was hoping the tour would be similar to Le Cordon Bleu in San Francisco. Now, that was a tour! No cost. Personal floor by floor tour of each section of the gallery. Introduction to Chefs' left and right. Most of all ... and dare I say the most seductive of the entire tour, was the caressing of a stand mixer almost as tall as me. Now, that's sexy kitchen machinery!
So disappointed. So much so if, I or even a impending student was considering enrollment, I'd have to take pause... and wonder. There has got to be somewhere else to learn the culinary arts. My opinon aside. I hope the school offers an excellent education and promising opportunities to it's graduating students. After all they are in the middle of wine country with land so fertile even in a drought magic still makes it into each bottle and on the many restaurants in the area.
I don't mean to give any one sour notes on the place.... just ask question. Do your research and know why you are taking the tour. On a positive note... the hand made chocolate in the gallery on the first floor next to the gift shop is really good.
Cooking with love, makes every recipe taste better.... and I'm sure they cook with love... I just wish they put the same love into their tours.