Not to date oneself, but The College Whisperer remembers vividly when college campus fare consisted of reconstituted plastic food substitute, served by lunch ladies wearing hair nets under see-through shower caps.

Those days are so over!

While not always a feast fit for the Galloping Gourmet, a trip to the campus dining hall is, more often than not, an enjoyable gastronomic experience.

Indeed, students look to the dining options the way their parents devoured the course catalog. Food on campus is important -- for body if not soul -- and both quality and nutritional value have taken quantum leaps since the days of rubber chicken and make-your-own-sundae.

Why, they even rate food on campus, from Princeton Review to U.S. News & World Report (your Google mileage may vary), as a meaningful factor in choosing a college. After all, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right after lunch and dinner.

Virginia Tech took top honors last year for best campus dining, winning the prestigious Ivy Award from Restaurants & Institutions Magazine. [Institutions? That would include state penitentiaries and federal prisons, wouldn't it?]

Anyway, as the most avid foodie among college students will tell you, there's campus dining and there's campus dining.

Nestled in the beautiful Hudson Valley in Dutchess County, New York, overlooking the placid river that bears Henrik's name, just up the road from Marist College, and a stone's throw from Vassar, is the creme de la creme of campus dining, the Culinary Institute of America.

If life is food (and who would argue with that?), the Culinary Institute of America (CIA, with better eats than the one in Washington) is the Master Chef. [Find the CIA online at, because those savvy artisans at the Cleveland Institute of Art were crafty enough to grab up ;-) ]

Granted, kids will be kids, and you can catch students chowing down on a juicy burger with a side of fries (which, by the way, is as artfully prepared and as savory and appealing to both eye and palate as are the delectable gourmet meals the very same students prepare -- and serve (among other tasks) -- in the CIA's on-campus restaurants (which, thank the gods of gastronomy, are open to the public).

The College Whisperer (along with Mrs. College Whisperer and his mother-in-law. Hi Mom!) had the pleasure of lunching in the CIA's American Bounty restaurant over the long Labor Day weekend, enjoying, among other tummy-satiating treats, chili-seared scallops, pan-roasted lamb chops, and a coffee drink for dessert affectionately called Chocolate Kiss. How sweet it was!

The Culinary Institute offers a Bachelor's Degree (38 months, including a paid externship between the freshman and sophomore years and a food and wine seminar in California, Spain, Italy or China in the junior year) and an Associate's Degree (21 months, including a paid externship between freshman and sophomore years), as well as continuing education and classes open to food aficianados like you and I. The degree programs are selective and rigorous. [Be prepared for the usual appetizers of mathematics, writing and business, together with a hearty entree of menu development, cafe operations, and beverages & customer service.] According to conversations had with soon-to-be graduates, most students leave the CIA with jobs in or related to the industry, a rarity in this dreadful economy.

In addition to the main campus in picturesque Hyde Park, New York (where you can also visit the home of Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Vanderbilt Mansion, sans Gloria's jeans), the Culinary Institute maintains branches in the heart of the Napa Valley in California and San Antonio, Texas.

Sign The College Whisperer up for Chocolates and Confections 101.

Be sure to add the Culinary Institute of America to your "must visit" list of college campus tours, if not in anticipation of applying for admission, then, surely, for the sheer pleasure of dining on food prepared and served with perfection, and watching students hone time-honored skills in the culinary arts, from placing the icing on the cake to painstakingly laying out the tablecloth.

College never tasted so good!

The views and opinions expressed in this blog are solely those of The College Whisperer.
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