Terroir in culinary education

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Students explore the worlds of cuisine firsthand with travel abroad programs to Japan and Italy.

The importance of place, or “terroir,” in regard to a food product is very well documented, but I would argue that terroir is important as well in regard to culinary education. The experience of eating a particular food that is made technically correct and follows the cultural norms for preparation
is still going to taste different in different places. Tacos made in New York are different than tacos made on the streets of Mexico City—even if made by the same hands. However, culinary educators still strive to duplicate and replicate the “real thing” when teaching the many different cuisines of the world.

For several years, the Culinary Institute of America has offered semester-away programs in Singapore, California’s Napa Valley, and San Antonio, Texas.

The CIA has embraced terroir as a crucial element to further the growth of students. That’s why the CIA recently launched an Advanced Cooking Japanese Cuisine class in collaboration with the Tsuji Culinary
Institute in Osaka, Japan. A Tsuji faculty member spent 15 weeks teaching CIA students about the nuances and subtleties of Japanese cooking at our Hyde Park, N.Y., campus, and we made every effort to duplicate the experience of cooking and eating in Japan with Japanese ingredients, dishes, pots and pans—every detail right down to the water was considered. (Because the water in Japan is softer than in New York, it changes the outcome of recipes.) Next up, we are planning a semester-away program in Japan.

For CIA’s new Italian program, we partnered with the Puglia Culinary Center in Ugento,
Italy. For the first semester of 2017, CIA students learned firsthand the cuisines of the regions of Italy and the Mediterranean. In a small southern Italian town, they soaked in the culture with the ability to travel and wander Italy. The kitchens are built into a retrofitted 900-year-old castle with the newest cooking suites custom-built for the property.The program also brought in experts on salumi, butchery, cheese making, olive oil, pastries and bread, fishing and more so students could see, taste and learn.

A successful chef today must be fluent in many cuisines and cooking styles, and the ability to replicate foods from around the world is enhanced by visiting those places and learning from the locals whenever possible.

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