More subtly, the CIA is tweaking the master-apprentice relationship that has been a hallmark of professional kitchens since the days of suspending iron pots over wood fires. The traditional way for a trainee to respond to a request is, ‘‘Yes, chef.’’ Now school administrators want to make it closer to, ‘‘Why, chef?’’ They want students to come up with hypotheses, test them, and discover the best methods.
Provost Mark Erickson explains that in some cases, those traditional beliefs can be improved, like the practice of simmering stock slowly at around 185 F to make it clear and tasty. Erickson said tests show simmering at a rolling boil at about 210 F produces a more flavorful, if cloudier, stock.
George Vollkommer, a CIA junior from Chicago, said it’s a bit scary to go from ‘‘Just do it because I told you’’ to bringing scientific inquiry into the kitchen. But Vollkommer also is excited to move beyond tradition and explore contemporary food preparation methods such as sous vide and quick freezing.
‘‘It’s trying to balance these new techniques with being able to execute them properly. Some of them are very technically advanced to perform, even dangerous,’’ he said. ‘‘If you look at liquid nitrogen, you can lose a hand doing that.’’