Farm to Table Dining at the Culinary Institute of America’s St. Andrew’s Café

Situated on 80 acres overlooking the Hudson River in Hyde Park (Dutchess County, NY), The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) has become arguably the world’s premier culinary college enrolling more than 2,800 students from virtually every U.S. state and 30 countries in its degree programs.  At its main campus in Hyde Park (the former Jesuit seminary St. Andrew-on-Hudson), the college operates five student-staffed restaurants.  One of the five, the St. Andrew’s Café (its name evoking the history of the college’s campus) caught my attention with its commitment to local foods.

The café’s menu describes its mission to embody “all that is good about the local, sustainable food movement,” and notes that “As much as possible, we draw our produce and meats from local farmers and purveyors.”  Being a part of the CIA’s educational experience by enjoying a farm to table meal, prepared and served by the college’s students at its St. Andrew’s Café, required some planning with reservations recommended by the college.  With the intention of meeting up at the café with friends, who would be driving north from New York City, while I drove south from Albany, I made a reservation several weeks in advance for lunch on the first day of April.  We also anticipated burning a few calories with a pleasant hike over the Hudson River Walkway [http://www.walkway.org/], a former train bridge that recently has been transformed into a pedestrian walkway over the river in Poughkeepsie, just south of the college’s campus, after indulging in a leisurely meal at the café.  Unfortunately, Mother Nature had a spring snowfall in store, or at least that was the forecast the day before our planned meal.  My friends decided not to risk the drive north into a snowstorm.  But when the day turned out to be rainy and not snowy, I decided to drive the 90 miles south from my home in Albany to Hyde Park.  A memorable meal, prepared and served by CIA’s culinary students, with an enthusiasm and pride that provided a lift to the spirits, as well as a deeply satisfying dining pleasure, made this drive in the rain a very wise decision.

Greeted by a friendly host, the reservation for three, which earlier in the day I had changed to solo dining, created no difficulty, and I was led to a comfortable table, with a professional and welcoming grace.  The café described as “casual, family-friendly,” nonetheless had an elegant air, with linen tablecloths, formal place settings, and attentive and friendly wait staff.  When a reservation is made at one of the college’s restaurants, a non-refundable deposit of $10.00 per diner is required.  With this knowledge that my lunch tab would be at least $30.00, I decided to explore a number of dishes and to begin with a glass of red wine.  The café’s wine list offers a choice of seven different wines by the glass, all of which commendably were fine New York State wines, with a choice of either a Hudson Valley, Long Island, or Finger Lakes region wine.  A glass of Whitecliff Winery’s gamay noir ($6.50), with its smooth and fruity flavor from Beaujolais grapes grown just west of the Hudson River in Gardiner (Ulster County), was light bodied and perfect for a lunchtime meal [http://www.whitecliffwine.com/].

With my glass of red wine in hand, the Meiller Farm Meatloaf ($12.00), with roasted garlic whipped RSK Farm potatoes, crispy onion rings, and herb gravy with Bulich Farm mushrooms was an easy choice to make for a main entrée.  With the pork and beef for the meatloaf from Meiller Farm in Pine Plains (Dutchess County), potatoes from RSK Farm in Prattsville (Greene County), and mushrooms from Bulich Farm in Catskill (Greene County), which has been operating its mushroom farm since 1945, this was locally sourced comfort food reflecting the agricultural bounty of New York’s Hudson River Valley.  With a hearty meat dish for an entrée, I decided to start my meal with two salads, a local green salad ($6.00) with Old Chatham Sheepherding Company’s “Shaker Blue” sheep milk cheese [http://www.blacksheepcheese.com/] and crunchy croutons, lightly dressed with Brother Victor’s Red Wine Vinaigrette made at the nearby Our Lady of the Resurrection Monastery in Lagrangeville (Dutchess County) based on a monastic recipe from the Middle Ages [http://ourladyoftheresurrectionmonastery.webs.com/monasticvinegars.htm], and an asparagus and roasted baby beet salad ($8.00) with marinated RSK Farm new potatoes, Toma Celena cheese, a nutty and rich Italian table cheese which is a creation of the Cooperstown Cheese Company and “named after the first person to sample it, love it, and buy the first wheel,” and a hearty helping of local greens, all lightly dressed with a mustard-shallot vinaigrette.  This remarkable salad was perfection, with a memorable blending of flavors and textures.  Nonetheless, it seemed unlikely, given the severe winter we’ve experienced in upstate New York this year, that the asparagus was local.  The waiter said he would check on the source of the asparagus, and to my surprise, Dwayne LiPuma, the St. Andrew’s Café Chef Instructor and an Assistant Professor at the college, appeared at my tableside in chef’s toque and explained that the asparagus was grown in California but plans were going forward to establish an asparagus bed on the grounds of the college this spring.  His commitment to sourcing the café’s produce locally was palpable.  Later, the attentive wait staff quietly commented to me that they have grown a deep appreciation for the “love” that Chef LiPuma brings to preparing food and to sharing his vast culinary knowledge with his students.

The meatloaf, served in the small iron skillet in which it was baked, was moist and flavorful with a perfect blending of pork, beef and herbs.  The mushroom herb gravy and crispy onion rings were perfect accompaniments to the hearty meat dish.  A basket of sour dough bread, with a crunchy crust and soft interior, was handy for soaking up the delicious gravy.  Although fully satisfied by the two salads and the generous serving of meatloaf, the café’s dessert menu was irresistible.  It offered a range of options with ingredients which are locally sourced from Hudson Valley farms located in Dutchess and Columbia counties, including warm Glorie Farm [www.gloriewine.com/ourfruitfarm.html] apple tart with honey thyme anglaise, Ronnybrook [www.Ronnybrook.com] butter pound cake with strawberry-rhubarb ice cream and strawberry compote, Coach Farm [www.CoachFarm.com] goat cheese cheesecake with local fruit and Hummingbird Ranch honey from nearby Staaatsburg (Dutchess County) [http://www.hummingbirdranch.biz/Honey.html], and my hard-to-make choice of two ice creams made from Hudson Valley Fresh [www.hudsonvalleyfresh.com] cream and raspberry sorbet ($5.00).  Hudson Valley Fresh is a not-for-profit dairy cooperative committed to sustainable agriculture with living wages for its farmers and their families (a group of 9 dairy farms located in Dutchess and Columbia counties which are within 20 miles of each other) and which processes all of its milk at Boice Brothers Dairy in Kingston (Ulster County).  This dessert of creamy, flavorful malted chocolate and vanilla bean ice creams and complimentary raspberry sorbet, served with nutty flavored crunchy cookies, was a perfect ending to a pleasurable meal.

If only the cold rain had stopped in order for me to burn off some calories with a hike over the Hudson River Walkway, my day trip to Hyde Park and the Culinary Institute of America’s St. Andrew’s Café would have felt less indulgent.  Next time I visit, I promise to hike twice as long on the Hudson River Walkway (FWB 4/4/11).

The tab included a 14% service charge with the following explanatory note: “A key component of the education process at the CIA is learning how to deliver outstanding service. Students at The Culinary Institute of America are not permitted to accept tips, in accordance with IRS regulations and the CIA Student Code of Conduct.  We thank you for honoring the ‘no tipping’ policy, and for giving our students the opportunity to serve you.”  [St. Andrew’s Cafe @ The Culinary Institute of America, Route 9 (1946 Campus Drive), 845.471.6608, Lunch: Mon-Fri (when classes in session) 11:30AM-1:00PM, Dinner: Mon-Fri (when classes in session) 6:00PM-8:30PM, www.ciachef.edu/restaurants/standrews/ ]
[Editor’s Note- St. Andrew’s Cafe has temporarily ceased operation with the Culinary Institute of America’s American Bounty focusing on the use of local Hudson Valley ingredients]

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