Food Arts presents the May 1995 Silver Spoon Award for sterling performance to Ferdinand E. Metz, president of The Culinary Institute of America and visionary educator.
When he heard the mother of graduate say "My son, the chef" with the pride traditionally invested in phrases such as "My son, the doctor" and "My son, the lawyer," Metz knew the millennium was at hand. Indisputable, the profession of chef had been elevated.
And when legendary French chef Paul Bocuse sent his own son to study at the CIA in Hyde Park, New York, Metz felt the school received the ultimate stampt of approval as the most appropriate present-dat place to educate students for the profession.
In the 15 years he's served at the helm of the CIA, Metz has firmly believed the school should play a leadership role in the food revolution taking place in America. "We are not here to turn out widgets," he says. "Our graduates influence how America eats today." Indeed, the CIA, which will celebrate its 50th anniversary next year, has become synonymous with the advances in American food and the people who prepare it. "Chefs are no longer hidden in the kitchen," says Metz. "They've moved to the foreground. They have to be more educated. They have to talk to the customers. Today a chef can't afford to say he's not interested in wine, service, pastry, etc."
During his tenure, the CIA has added a baccalaureate degree program, a pastry and baking program, continuing education, a nutrition center, three new public restaurants including St. Andrew's Cafe in the nutrition center, The American Bounty Restaurant, and The Catherina de Medici Dining Room, as well as outreach programs in the Caribbean, Mexico, and South America.
At any one time 2,200 students are enrolled full time, and an additional 5,000 participate in continuing education programs, a figure that will double, Metz says, when the CIA at Greystone in St. Helena, California, its continuing education campus in the Napa Valley, opens this fall. The school's annals list 30,000 graduates all over the world. "When I visited Moscow last summer, I ran into four CIA graduates who were executive chefs at the biggest hotels there," Metz says.
Interestingly, Metz himself came up through the traditional European apprentice system. "My father was a master butcher and a master chef. So there was no discussion about what I would be. On my 15th birthday, I was given a knife and a chef's uniform, and I started an apprenticeship."
After Metz won a contest naming him the best apprentice in Bavaria, the banquet manager of the former Astor Hotel in New York City saw an article about him and sponsored him to come to America. "At the time, that was the biggest banquet facility in New York, and he became a mentor to me," Metz says. "He told me that no matter what, I must work at Le Pavillon, which was then considered the best restaurant in America, and I did."
Later, when he was working as a senior manager of new product development for the H.J. Heinz Company in Pittsburgh, Metz took advantage of the opportunity to study for a Master of Business Administration. Ultimately, the combination of culinary experience and business knowledge that Metz brought to the CIA has enabled him to provide the kind of leadership as well as organizational and fund-raising abilities crucial to an institution educating the chefs of the future. Metz says young chefs today need more than an apprentice system can provide and points proudly to the fact that even his German colleagues realize this and are turning to him for assistance. "The chefs association of Germany came here recently and said they were unhappy with their apprenticeship program," he says. "They use the same cookbook they were using 35 years ago when I was an apprentice. The world has changed and they have fallen behind. So they want to send their apprentices to the CIA for one year." Validation indeed.