Sunday, March 24, 2013

Reflections on Fair Trade Chocolate

A year ago this week I did the craziest, coolest, most notable thing that I had done in my life (uhh..still). I flew to Lima, Peru in search of answers about the fair trade industry, and then spent three days on an organic cacao farm in the middle of the jungle. I have never learned so much in one short week, or had one individual make such a lasting impression on me as my dear farmer, Carlos. Now, it's a year later. I can still remember how I felt during my stay in Peru and the emotional 'high' I came back to the States with.

This week I have been  re-reading my original post about my trip and remembering all of the things I learned and all of the wonderful people that I met. Fair trade, as opposed to 'organic', is not a buzz word. It is not a marketing ploy, it is a trading system regulated by organizations like the World Trade Organization, the European Union, and the United Nations. It is a system put in place to protect the people who do not have the resources to protect themselves in an international market. Crops like coffee, chocolate and sugar cane biologically cannot be grown in certain areas of the world, yet they are consumed in every area of the world. This is where the problems start.

I could go on and on about the importance and ethical arguments, but that's not what this post is about. This week is about remembering Carlos and his family, his community in Echarate, Peru and the kindness they showed me: a random American girl with a college education and an iPhone. Fair trade is a hard thing to understand and shell out the money to support if you haven't seen its effects first hand. Which is why I'm reminding myself of what I learned, but most importantly who I met and who is still affecting my daily life one year later.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Pomegranate Cupcakes

It's finally starting to warm up around here (although we got a few inches of fresh snow last week) and this cupcake is the perfect one to wrap up the winter season with. My favorite part of winter are the citrus flavors that come in to season- I will never get tired of the light and fresh flavor. Pomegranates are sweet and tangy, and they make for a really uniquely flavored cupcake.

They're topped with fluffy citrus cream cheese frosting, that gives it a little extra tart-ness and balances the dense texture of the cake. To garnish, there are pomegranate seeds and strips of candied ginger. 

No extra coloring was added, the bright pink hue is all from the fresh pomegranate juice! These are the perfect little bites to treat yourself with in this Winter-to-Spring in between time; sweet, tangy and a little spicy from the ginger. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Why Come to the CIA?

When I made the decision to go to Culinary school this was a question that I was asked (and asked myself) a LOT. Like any other college, Culinary school comes with a hefty price tag. Enrolling here meant making a financial commitment for years to come and taking a big leap of faith. After I made the decision to go to A Culinary school, I had to make the decision to come here. As of this week, I have been in school for a month and half. When I ask myself now, was it worth it? The answer is already a resounding yes. In a very short month and a half, I've gotten to do and see life-changing things surrounded by other people just as passionate as I am. These are the things that you just do not get at just any Culinary school:

  • The very first weekend I was here, I shared a couch with this guy while we watched the premier of his latest appearance on the Food Network- an episode of Sugar Dome Challenge. He graduated from the CIA in 2009 and now owns a successful cake shop here in the Hudson Valley. He's been on Food Network Challenge 3 times already and offered a really unique perspective on what really happens on Food TV. 

Did I mention we got to meet him because he was a judge for the annual cake competition held by the Baking and Pastry Society here at the CIA? That was pretty cool too.

  • On week two I sat in on a lecture and question and answer session given by Michael Specter from The New Yorker on Genetically Modified Organisms in our food system today. He's given a TED talk that was revered by Bill Gates and he's a very well respected journalist on science and technology. Since I'm super interested in sustainable farming, eating local, and all that jazz, I found this really unique. His lecture was nothing like I was expecting, and was actually in defense of GMO's as a way to sustain the food supply, but it was a really interesting perspective to hear. Just the fact that such a respected science journalist came to a culinary school to speak is notable.

  • Week three can be summed up in two words: donut icecream. We had an entire class devoted to eating it.  Life. Changing.

  • Since the first second I got here, everyone has been buzzing over the opening of the newest restaurant on campus, Bocuse, and the huge celebration the school was planning to kick it off. A celebration that included a panel discussion with five of the best chefs in the WORLD. That's right- I was in the same room (as was the entire rest of the school) as french chefs Paul Bocuse (named the chef of the century), his son Jerome Bocuse, Daniel Boulud, Jean-Georges Congerichten and American rock star chef Thomas Keller. All five of these chefs are judges at the Bocuse D'or competition that is considered the unofficial Culinary World Championships...they're that good. 

Paul Bocuse turned 87 that week and he doesn't speak a single word of English. Even through a translator in a room with a thousand people who didn't speak his language, Chef Bocuse managed to transmit his wisdom, grace, and even a little humor. Many things shared by all five of the chefs I will take with me as I start my career, but one of the last things that Chef Bocuse said will stick with me the most:

"If you think you've succeeded, then you've already failed." 

Happy Birthday Chef Bocuse! It was a huge sight to see all of the excitement that went into his arrival and presence on campus. All five chefs are an inspiration to every single student here.

Post-externship Baking and Pastry students worked on this cake for over a month.

The inside is all foam but all of the decorations on the outside are edible and made from sugar by hand.

My friends and I with Jerome Bocuse, executive chef of Les Chefs du France in Disney's Epcot

If I've gotten to do all of this in the first month and a half of being here, I'm confident in saying that I made the right move. What I'm getting out of the CIA is irreplaceable, and will only mean good things for my career and my customers. The biggest problem is that I've been so busy doing cool things that I haven't had much of a chance to post about it! Now that I'm all settled in though there will be plenty of cake coming this way soon.