There’s no better way to bring friends, family or client relationships together than by savoring a good meal in each other’s company. That’s made my interest in the culinary world more personal.

An opportunity to explore the field presented itself last Friday afternoon. I was traveling back from one of our Pennsylvania projects and found myself within a short drive of The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY. (Many call it the CIA, but I find that’s easy to confuse with the Washington agency.)

The Institute is truly amazing. Founded in 1946, it began as a small cooking school for returning WWII veterans. It has now grown to a beautiful main campus overlooking the Hudson River and two additional campuses in Austin, Texas and the Napa Valley. Approximately 2,800 students from every state in the union and several foreign countries are attending our most respected college for chefs.

This place has earned its respected status. The Institute is supported by the likes of Marriott and Hilton. An on campus hall of fame includes Julia Child, James Beard and many other noteworthy American leaders in the field. I’m convinced the CIA put our country on the map as a world leader in culinary arts. Here’s how:

There are five 100 percent student-run restaurants on campus. The chefs, waiters and staff at American Bounty, Apple Pie Bakery, Escoffer (serving unbelievable French food, I am told), Ristorane Caterina de’Medici and the St. Andrews Café are all enrolled in the school, making for well-rounded graduates. Outside of the restaurants the public sees, there are about 40 professional kitchens and bakeshops along with computer labs, extensive culinary libraries and dormitories on campus. The result is the optimal learning environment for our future culinary artists.

What’s more, the CIA offers extensive educational short courses (2-4 days) for those of us non-professional cooks. It sounds like a great weekend getaway—the best way to enjoy the beautiful scenery overlooking the Hudson. I can’t wait to get back.

Since I know many travel to New York City for business on a regular basis, I couldn’t resist sharing the treasure I found in the CIA. Hyde Park is an hour or so north of the city, so it’s an easy side trip that I highly recommend. You can support the next generation of American all-star chefs and walk away with food for thought.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.
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