For many years, I wanted to visit The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in St. Helena, California. Their amazing campus is located in the heart of Napa Valley. Built in 1889 for Greystone Cellars, the massive 117,000 square foot building housed several wineries before finally, in the 1990’s, becoming the home of the CIA. In 2015, I was able to visit when two of my baking friends asked if I would attend a CIA boot camp with them. I could not sign up fast enough. I patiently waited for three months for that first day.
Our Boot Camp was focused on “all things baking.” And my baking abilities, as well as my endurance levels, were stretched to new heights. A few times, I wasn’t even sure I was going to make it through. I quickly learned the difference between home baking and mass production baking under strict time constraints. We spent each morning in class followed by an afternoon in the kitchen making hundreds of loaves of bread, cookies, pies and cakes. And each evening, starting at 5pm, we had groups of fellow students, employees and residents awaiting our creations. I do have to say, we never let them down.
While in Napa Valley, we spent our downtime touring the local wineries and restaurants and enjoying the breathtaking landscape. My top pick for a winery tour would be Castello di Amorosa. Not only will this winery blow your mind architecturally, you will also taste some of the best wine in the area. Other top highlights from that area are the Model Bakery for the best English muffins, Woodhouse Chocolates for any of their chocolates and the cozy old town of Calistoga for their famous hot springs. My first week at the CIA Napa rates as one of my all-time favorite experiences. I am hoping to one day attend a class or two at the CIA Hyde Park, New York Campus.