The Culinary Institute of America (or "The CIA") is a prestigious, not-for-profit, culinary college founded in 1946 in New Haven, CT. When it comes to preparing aspiring chefs for careers in some of the best restaurants across the globe, the CIA is among the top schools in the country. With that reputation in hand this cookbook celebrates another side of the CIA, one that is dedicated to bringing advanced kitchen skills and easily executable recipes to the home chef.
After a brief introduction to the school itself the book starts with a section entitled "Prior To Cooking" which offers tips on the buying and storing of ingredients, the use of seasonings and marinades as well as various other best practices that the home cook will find useful. However, this section is surprisingly short at eight pages including four pages of charts. Although I would have liked to see it longer and better organized there are other books better suited for this type of instruction and this book does not pretend to be one of them.
The remainder of the book is divided into eight chapters. Each chapter is augmented with instructions, information and techniques designed to aid the reader in acquiring the skills necessary to produce professional and predictable results.
The chapters are:
1. Beverages and Snacks
Here one will find 17 recipes for beverages (including Kir Royale, Bubble tea and Mango Lassi) and 17 recipes for cocktail party snacks like Lobster and Prosciutto Crostini and Blackened Tomato Salsa (I really loved that one).
2. Appetizers and Salads
Over 50 recipes that include classic pre-dinner dishes such as Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes and Spanakopita as well as some creative items like Fennel and Chorizo Strudels. Some of the salads are really interesting, such as the Baked Goat Cheese with Mesclun, Pears and Toasted Almonds offering. Incredible!
3. Broths and Soups
The over 40 soups in this chapter come from around the world. I am impressed with the diversity of cuisines that the recipes are drawn from. White Grape Gazpacho with Toasted Almonds and Dill from Spain; Vichyssoise, Onion Soup and Potage Au Pistou from France; Hot and Sour Soup and Fresh Pea Soup from Thailand; New England Clam Chowder and others from the U.S. and many more. I have prepared several of the soups in this chapter and so far my favorite is the Posole-Poblano Soup with Smoked Pork and Jalapeno Jack Cheese. I have made it three times and it has never failed to please.
4. Pasta, Casseroles and Light Fare
In this chapter you will find about 40 recipes that are well suited to casual, informal dinning. Try the Lamb and Eggplant Moussaka or the Bibimbap for a treat.
5. Main Dishes
There are more recipes in this chapter than any other in this book. Over 60 dishes show the depth of the international influence in this cookbook. Even though I love many of the offerings I was expecting some that would knock my socks off and, to be honest, none did. Still there were some real winners, like the Jerked Game Hens with Rice, Beans and Grilled Pineapple-Jicama Salsa.
6. Vegetables and Side Dishes
It has been my experience that no matter how wonderful your main dish is, people will remember your side dishes. This chapter has some recipes that are worthy of recollection. It is my opinion that this section is the best of the book. Roasted Carrots and Parsnips with Herbs, Roasted Corn Succotash, Zucchini Pancakes & Wild Mushroom Saute are among the dishes that I enjoyed in this section.
7. Egg Dishes and Griddle Cakes
Recipes include those for Huevos Rancheros, Scrambled Eggs, Eggs Benedict, Buttermilk Pancakes with Grand Marnier-Infused Strawberries, etc.
8. Baked Goods and Desserts
Muffins, scones, biscuits, , pastry, loafs and buns abide here. For those with a sweet tooth this is a chapter to remember.
The final section includes an appendix of charts and tables of cooking times, best temperatures for specific types of meat, etc.
In addition to the recipes each chapter includes "green" instructional sections that give information on the selection of the ingredients needed and tutelage on the techniques required to complete the various dishes. These sections include "The Basic Steps for a Cream Soup", "Selecting and Preparing Legumes", "Vegetable Cooking Primer" and others.
The quality of the photography in this book is beyond reproach. Ben Fink is one of the top food photographers in the U.S. and his work here ranks among his best. The only problem is that the editors have chosen to group his photos into four major inserts scattered throughout the book. I am aware that this is a cheaper way to produce a cookbook but I personally do not like this style. I prefer a book that has the photos on the pages opposite the recipe. I also would pay more for a cookbook with more photos. This book has over 350 recipes and a little over 100 full page color photographs plus a few dozen, smaller black & white "instructional" photos on the actual recipe pages.
This is a good cookbook for the home chef that would like to become better rooted in the basics, both in technique and in variety of recipes. I find the recipes to be good but a little on the elementary side, which might be perfect for some. I own better reference books but they are either much bigger, much more expensive, or no longer in print. Altogether I recommend this book for those who are looking to gain some basic skills and techniques. However, if you have been a student of fine culinary instruction for more than a few years, you might want to look for a more advanced book.