nOn the banks of the Hudson

nOn the banks of the Hudson

River in Hyde Park sits a majestic mansion with cloistered courtyards, beautiful gardens and a river view that can be seen from its magnificent palazzo.

It's not the FDR estate or Val-kill. It's a legendary training ground for the culinary arts.

The Culinary Institute of America opened at this Hyde Park location in a former Jesuit seminary, St. Andrew's-on-Hudson, in 1972. The original school building, Roth Hall, has now been joined by a library, dormitories, The Colavita Center and a continuing education building. All are equally appealing to the eye, and set as separate dishes on the cohesive yet inventive menu that is, to insiders, the CIA.

To look at this bucolic country campus from the outside you would never expect the hustle and bustle that occurs inside these ivy-covered halls. Students scurry down hallways and in and out of the 41 kitchens and bake shops, six professional cooking and baking suites and five public restaurants. The smells of baking bread, roasting meats and hearty goodness permeate the very air you breathe.

Even if you don't aspire to become a professional chef, you can still experience the continuing education classes. Open to the public for a fee, these classes give you a behind-the-potholder peek at the life of a culinary student.

You can take a one-day class or a full-week boot camp in any one of dozens of cuisine topics, from pastry to Italian to vegetarian to Asian.

If taking a class is more than you're ready to experience, then book a tour. You'll get a behind-the-scenes peek at students at work. Be sure to entertain yourself by measuring your palm against the handprints of famous chefs at the Danny Kaye Theatre, inside the Conrad N. Hilton Library. Treat yourself to visions of beautiful wedding cakes in the window of the pastry kitchen, and enjoy the lovely view from Anton Plaza, a 30,000-square-foot landscaped terrace with breathtaking Hudson River and Valley views. And don't forget to explore the herb gardens at the Colavita Center for Italian Food and Wine, which also houses the Ristorante Caterina de' Medici.

Be sure to round out your visit with a shopping spree at the campus store. There are enough kitchen wares and cookbooks to satisfy any foodie.

Would you rather have someone cook for you? Then make reservations at one of the restaurants. The CIA at Hyde Park operates five public student-staffed, award-winning restaurants. You can sample regional American cuisine at the American Bounty Restaurant. Or perhaps your preferences run toward classic French cuisine. Experience the menu at Escoffier prepared true to the principles of the legendary chef of the same name, Auguste Escoffier, but with a contemporary twist for the modern palate.

Ristorante Caterina de' Medici will thrill you with its authentic flavor combinations and seasonal ingredients. St. Andrew's Cafe will delight the entire family with its casual setting and contemporary fare, including an a la carte menu of salads, sandwiches and wood-fired pizza.

If you're more of a spur-of-the-moment person, stop by any weekday at the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe. Great coffee, exotic desserts, cookies, brownies, soups, salad, sandwiches and pizza are available for eating in or take-out. No reservations required.

If you're feeling sorry for the students surrounded by all of these wonderful restaurants and having to eat the college dining hall menu, don't. The Farquharson Hall student dining room is an amazing piece of architecture featuring gilded decorations, mosaics and murals. The food is student-prepared and the selections are every bit as exciting as the public restaurants. Although, if students prefer cereal or a sandwich, they can have those, too.

The Culinary Institute of America is located in bucolic Hyde Park on the Hudson River's east bank on Route 9.

Reservations are suggested for all restaurants except the bakery café. For reservations, call 471-6608, 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, or request a reservation online. For more information about the bakery café, call 905-4500.

The public can schedule tours at 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. Mondays, and 4 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays at $5 per person. Reservations are required. For more information, or to schedule a tour, call 451-1588, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

Group tours for restaurant guests (groups of 20 or more) may be scheduled by calling 451-1544. Course listings can be viewed at Click on the Enthusiasts button and look for course offerings.

Patti Racine is head librarian for the Times Herald-Record. She occasionally writes about food and the culinary arts. Reach her at