The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) is often touted as the best culinary college in the United States and one of the best schools in the world to learn the restaurant business. The main campus in Hyde Park, New York provides public tours and has specially prepared classes for visitors, but in the 50 year history of this private college, there has never been a documentary crew allowed onto the campus - until now. This week, Epicurious launched the first episode of a 12-week series documenting the journey of four students as they attend classes, work with colleagues, and struggle with the challenges of becoming a chef.
The CIA (the Central Intelligence Agency was formed a full year after the Culinary Institute of America, so the acronym CIA really belongs to the culinary college) teamed up with CondeNet last fall shortly after Epicurious Editor-in-Chief Tanya Wenman Steel conceived of the idea. The idea? A weekly web video that exposes the inner workings of the CIA, and the students who are working through the rigorous program. In this day and age where contrived reality shows dominate broadcast television, it's only natural to desire something less obviously sensationalized (Hell's Kitchen?, Top Chef?) or staged (Iron Chef?) and answer the question: what's it REALLY like?
That's what Inside the CIA is trying to do. This week, the short introductory video is augmented with blogs and video blogs from the four real-life CIA students (Erin and Claire are studying Baking and Pastry while Jared and Markos are majoring in Culinary Arts) and wets our appetite for the upcoming weeks.
When I asked Tanya if the audience will get a chance to learn along with the students or if the show was going to be mostly entertainment, she responded that Inside the CIA "will continue to try and achieve a good balance between getting a sense of what it's like to be a student there and go through such a rigorous education, and get a sense of what they are actually learning so that yes, the millions who come to Epicurious also glean some actual cooking knowledge".
So, are the students acting? Are the teachers real? Inside the CIA is definitely more documentary that reality show - the teachers are real instructors at the CIA and all the students that are captured on video are real students taking the classes with our show's students. Isn't this disruptive? "How does this work?" I asked. Tanya told me, "This is an ongoing project and the students shoot everyday (each has their own camera)--we're only about a week behind what they are shooting, and so far, most of the students and teachers have been pretty relaxed about it. We have created a system however, that whomever does not want to be in a shot should have a different color pen in his or her chef's jacket. We also set up signs on campus that shooting is ongoing."
In any case, they've got at least one viewer - I'll be watching as the episodes come out.
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