Time to check out what’s happening at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, where three gourmet restaurants are offering three-course prix-fixe meals at $26 for lunch and $39 for dinner, now through April 26 on weekdays (Tuesday through Friday). The prix-fixe menus will change daily in each of the three primary restaurants: American Bounty, Bocuse and Ristorante Caterina De’ Medici. Call ahead to find out what’s cooking. For example, currently at the American Bounty Restaurant (open Tuesday through Friday), hungry customers can experience contemporary and traditional regional dishes in a casually elegant setting. The focus is farm-to-table foods, expertly whipped up into delectable appetizers, soups and salads, and main course entrées. From a Roasted Sage Kabocha Gnocchi starter to Grilled American Beef Wagyu Culotte with Ancho-Parsley Root Purée, the American Bounty menu reflects the abundance of seasonal dishes.
The mission of Waldy Malouf
“My idea for this campus is to change the restaurants’ reputations from fancy and stuffy and hard to get into and expensive,” says director of Food & Beverages Waldy Malouf. “They’re not. We usually take walk-ins, with no dress codes. Also, we’ve opened a tavern in American Bounty. We turned the old bar into a casual tavern where you can get salads, soups, sandwiches and burgers – to make it more appealing to a different clientele.”
Indeed, the Tavern at American Bounty (open from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday) has been transformed into an inviting spot for drinks, a quick meal and a meeting with friends. From amazing bar snacks (no dry popcorn here) to burgers, the Tavern has become a destination for hungry locals.
Malouf has been at the CIA for five years, initiating and overseeing big changes on campus. He says that the college has worked to develop its relationship with the community on both sides of the river, to be less imposing. “We’ve opened the Post Road Brew House, which is a pop-up restaurant, but it will be full-time in the future; and, as we change our curriculum a bit, we’ll need a fourth restaurant for our students year-round. It’s closed right now, but will reopen in the summer or fall. It’s off-campus and still student-run, but with very high-quality food.
“Bocuse was our first reinvention, and that’s doing really well. Next is Ristorante Caterina, our Italian restaurant. We’ll be doing the same thing there that we did in American Bounty, with a more casual bar setting. We’ve redone the Apple Pie Bakery Café completely. One area is now a grab-and-go for pastry, coffee and bread from what’s basically a takeout kiosk. We created a separate entrance for the dining room, which eliminated the lines. You used to have to wait to get in. We’ve lightened it up completely.”
The college now runs a brewery on campus, which is part of an advanced beverage class. “We have one of the best brewmasters there,” Malouf says. “All the beer produced is sold in our restaurants and at our events. We just got a wholesale license in partnership with Brooklyn Brewery. We only do kegs, but you can buy a 32-ounce can, a growler, to take home.”
The Egg, the Marriott Pavilion, dinner and a movie series
Another relatively new addition to the campus is the Egg, a student dining facility on the riverfront that seats 500. “It’s also open to the public – although I recommend the public comes on weekends, when the population of the school drops from 2,000 to about 700. During the week it’s busy. There’s outdoor dining in good weather. The food is great and very inexpensive.”
The grandest accomplishment that Malouf has overseen is the Marriott Pavilion, a 300-seat conference center with an 800-seat theater, the Ecolab Auditorium. Unveiled in 2014, the facility has expanded the CIA’s ability to advance culinary education. Hosting various gatherings to promote industrywide innovation, the space allows for special events such as Menus of Change, coming up in June.
“In partnership with Harvard, we invite about 500 people from all over the world to this event to explore changing the way people eat to a more plant-forward emphasis and not quite so heavy on the animal protein. So, instead of a 32-ounce steak and some creamed spinach, you do a lot of sautéed spinach with a smaller steak, for example. We’ve also hosted the Hudson Valley Economic Development Beverage Summit [this year on Tuesday, May 14] and others.
“We’ve opened the campus for special events, corporate events, weddings, catering on-site events, which we haven’t done for years. Other special events are scheduled for this spring and summer,” says Malouf. “We’re doing a lot with Women’s History Month right now. On three Friday nights, we’re doing dinner and a movie. For example, at Bocuse, we screened Julie and Julia in the theater.
“We’ll be in American Bounty on Friday, March 15, and the movie will be Commanding the Table, highlighting the life and influence of Ella Brennan, who had Creole restaurants in New Orleans, the most famous of which was opened in 1948. It became a huge institution. Emeril Lagasse was a chef there, and Paul Prudhomme. Ella was the queen of the dining room. In a man’s world, she really took over.” The film series will end on Friday, March 22 at Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici with The Goddesses of Food, which documents the many female chefs around the world. Dinner at 7 p.m. and the movie at 9:30 cost $55 per person; a discussion follows each screening.
Also happening this month: Award-winning chefs Lidia Bastanisch, Melissa Kelly and Eugenie Brazier are honored by their signature recipes being served in the three main restaurants. In 1938, Brazier became the first female chef running a three-star Michelin restaurant, La Mère Brazier, in France. Kelly, a CIA alumna, co-founded the Primo Restaurant in Maine and is its executive chef, specializing in Italian and Mediterranean cuisine. Bastianich, beloved celebrity television host, author of multiple cookbooks and restaurateur (four New York City restaurants: Felidia, Becco, Esca and Del Posto, and Lidia’s in Pittsburgh and Kansas City), was recently the keynote speaker at CIA commencement ceremonies.
The Hudson Valley passion for food
“The dedication and passion to food and drink – it has become huge in this region,” says Malouf, who wrote The Hudson Valley Cookbook 25 years ago, before the words “farm-to-table” were uttered. “At that point we were saying how this region was going to change into a food destination, with agricultural tourism, all that stuff. It didn’t happen as quickly as we thought it would – I guess I was a little ahead of my time – but it’s certainly happening now.”
“On June 1, we’re doing a Movable Feast for our fourth year. In the big chapel at Farquharson Hall, we’ll have a reception for about 275 people, then we divide them into groups of 80 to 85. One group goes to each of the restaurants, has one course, then they all get up and go to another restaurant, with ten minutes in between of entertainment – music and a magician – which gives the staff time to clear and reset for the second course, and at the third restaurant you have your main course and dessert. We get people to sit with different people at each seating. It’s a fun thing.
CIA students need the community to come to its restaurants
“Doing these types of events helps us reach out into the community so they’re not scared of the ‘pearly gates.’ The building, the whole campus can be a little intimidating. The reality is that we see about 300,000 visitors a year. The CIA is the largest tourist attraction in this region. That’s how we keep the restaurants open. We need the community to come to the restaurants, each averaging 80 to 100 seats. We need customers in order for the students to run the restaurants. If a restaurant is empty, they’re not getting the education that they’re supposed to. It’s been my goal since I’ve been here to do things that attract the community.”
Malouf has come up through the culinary trenches, opening and operating seven restaurants of his own in the past. “From an operational side, when you’re a chef/owner it’s different than being an executive chef. You have to run the restaurant business, too. So I understand the finances, work with accountants, point-of-sale systems, servers, buying china/glass/silver, chairs and tabletops, setting up bars, hiring and firing and scheduling. That’s actually what this school teaches now. Cooking is what we started doing [in 1946], and you still get a very good base of cooking training here. But we’ve become a hospitality college offering a BA degree and a Master’s in Food Business and Wine Management.”
As for those other prix-fixe options now running at the French restaurant Bocuse (open Tuesday through Friday) and the Italian Ristorante Caterina (open Monday through Friday), check the website for full menus at www.ciarestaurantgroup.com. The Culinary Institute of America is located at 1946 Campus Drive, just off Route 9 in Hyde Park. Call (845) 452-9600 for further information and reservations.