75 Years of The Culinary Institute of America

CIA Through the Years

The Culinary Institute of America celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. Initially born from a time of great change, the CIA was founded in 1946 to provide vocational training for veterans returning from World War II. Over the course of the past eight decades, the CIA’s programs evolved and expanded. Now offering associate, bachelor, and master’s degrees, the college has graduated more than 50,000 individuals in all corners of the globe who, working in all corners of the globe, have gone on to make the food, beverage, and hospitality industries what they are today. 

 The cumulative effect of the CIA is the number of alumni who have helped not only move the institution forward, but also the industry forward,” says CIA President Dr. Tim Ryan. “Our graduates are at the forefront of changing and improving the way America and the world eats.”

And as we find ourselves, again, in a time of great change—and recovery from the greatest disruption the industry has ever faced—the CIA continues to deliver the world’s premier culinary education to the people who will reimagine and redefine the industry. Dr. Ryan—a CIA alumnus and certified master chef—recently shared some of key highlights of the organization’s history.


The Early Years

On May 22, 1946, Frances Roth and the New Haven Restaurant Association, led by Charles Rovetti and Richard Dargan, founded the New Haven Restaurant Institute, with the dream of becoming the culinary center of the nation. The first and only school of its kind in the country, its first 16-week class, had 50 students and a faculty of one chef, one baker, and one dietitian. Just one year later, board member Katharine Angell secured a five-acre site with three buildings. A second year of study was added to the program and the name of the school was changed to the Restaurant Institute of Connecticut. By 1951, the school had graduated 600 veterans from 38 states, and fittingly, changed its name a final time to The Culinary Institute of America.

Setting the Standard for Professional Excellence

When the college was founded, there wasn’t really a career path for cooks.  Cooking was viewed as a trade rather than a profession. From its earliest days, the CIA set about creating a positive image for culinary careers in the U.S., grounded in formal education as opposed to the apprenticeship model that existed in Europe. The Institute set standards for professional conduct, including behavior, language, work habits, employee relations, sanitation, and a strict uniform dress code.

“It has been a major mission of the institution to professionalize the industry and it’s easy to see how far we have come in looking at the history,” says Dr. Ryan.

One such example is the book legendary Chef Paul Bocuse once referred to as “the bible for all chefs,” The Professional Chef. The CIA published the first edition of this text, which provided a complete introduction to European cooking, in 1962. A nod to its staying power, the ninth edition of the book—which has since been updated to integrate other global cuisines. The 10th edition of this definitive resource is expected to be released in 2023.

By the late 1960s, enrollment at the CIA had grown so much that the college needed to expand.  In 1970, it purchased the St. Andrew-on-Hudson Jesuit seminary in Hyde Park, NY for its new campus, which officially opened in 1972.  It was also during this time—1971, to be exact—that New York State granted the college a charter to confer Associate of Occupational Studies (AOS) degrees.

The CIA’s first public restaurant—The Epicurean Room, later known as The Escoffier Restaurant—opened just one year later in 1973.

Putting American Cuisine on the Map

The CIA was at the forefront in shaping what is now considered American cuisine, in a space once dominated by French chefs and fine-dining European-style restaurants. The college added American regional cuisine to its curriculum in the early 1980s, spotlighting local and seasonal ingredients, cooking methods, history, and cultural influences native to this country.

“When I first came to work at the CIA as an alum in 1982, there was no such thing as an ‘American restaurant,’” says Dr. Ryan.

He was tasked with developing one, leading to the establishment the CIA’s American Bounty restaurant, at its New York campus—one of the first restaurants in the country to showcase local food. The restaurant opened that same year, to national acclaim.

CIA alumni, including Larry Forgione, “the Godfather of American cuisine,” really helped solidify the concept of American cuisine, including the farm-to-table movement in the culinary landscape.

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Expanding the Mission

In 1993, New York’s Department of Education granted the CIA the right to confer bachelor’s degrees.  Two years later, the college opened its first branch campus in California Wine Country—the CIA at Greystone.

It was also in the 1990s that the college began broadening its reach to include education and professional development opportunities for chefs and foodservice operators. Its flagship Worlds of Flavor International Conference and Festival—now widely acknowledged as our country’s most influential professional forum on world cuisines, food cultures, and flavor trends—launched in 1998.

The CIA also has been at the forefront of pushing the industry forward in terms of helping chefs and foodservice operators optimize menus to focus more on health and wellness, including advocating for the removal of trans fats, development of the blended burger—a forerunner of the plant-forward juggernaut—that is taking the industry by storm today.

Through collaborations with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Department of Nutrition, initiatives including Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives and Menus of Change, as well as Worlds of Healthy Flavors, have helped educate tens of thousands of leaders in commercial and non-commercial foodservice, as well as health and nutrition professionals.

“We have been focused on trying to prepare the industry for what we believe is the next business opportunity, not only through curriculum, but also through conferences and events,” Dr. Ryan says. “The CIA has long been focused on plant-forward cooking and sustainability and those are two incredibly important areas businesses need to continually examine and address through menu strategy and supply chain in the post-pandemic reboot of our industry.”

San Antonio

Setting the Course for the Future

Throughout its 75-year history, the CIA has both pioneered new and expanded its existing degree programs—to support career paths both in and outside the kitchen—including specialized study in global cuisines and cultures, culinary science, sustainable food systems, entrepreneurship, and more.

Of note, the CIA was the first college in the U.S. to introduce a complete baking and pastry concentration, and in the past decade, the college has introduced groundbreaking bachelor’s degree programs in culinary science and applied food studies, as well as hospitality management, and food business management.

Beverage program innovations an on-campus brewery, in collaboration with Brooklyn Brewery, and an accompanying art and science of brewing course. The course is part of the bachelor’s degree curriculum and helps future industry leaders think differently about beer and elevates its status as a fine beverage.

Master’s degrees in Food Business and Wine Management were introduced in 2017 and 2019 respectively. Each program targets professionals already working in the industry and looking to grow their careers, with convenient online curriculum complemented by short in-person residences at the CIA’s New York and California campuses for invaluable opportunities for teambuilding and networking with industry professionals.

And today, the college shows no signs of stopping, expanding its global cuisines and cultures studies to include a new African cuisines concentration slated to debut next fall, adding a new master’s degree in sustainable food systems, and continuing to add programming focused on innovation and technology.

“We will continue to push the edges of all the burgeoning areas of the industry,” said Dr. Ryan. That is the history of the CIA, and will continue to be the college’s legacy.”

Dr. Tim Ryan

More about CIA President Dr. Tim Ryan

Since 2001, Dr. Tim Ryan has served as president of The Culinary Institute of America, where he graduated in 1977 with a bachelor’s degree. Dr. Ryan later earned his Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of New Haven and his doctorate degree in education from The University of Pennsylvania. With the unique background of being a Certified Master Chef (CMC), the industry’s top marker for culinary excellence through the American Culinary Federation as well as a Culinary Olympic champion, he is the first alumnus and faculty member to rise through the CIA ranks to become president. In more than three decades at the college, Dr. Ryan has been instrumental in generating the sustained excellence, innovation, and growth that have shaped today’s CIA. He led the establishment of two new campuses in San Antonio, Texas and overseas in Singapore, as well as the college’s collaborations with the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to create the “Menus of Change,” “Healthy Kitchens, Healthy Lives,” and “Worlds of Healthy Flavors” conferences, which have become some of the most widely attended culinary events in the world. Dr. Ryan is well-known throughout the hospitality world with the distinction of being the youngest national president of the ACF elected at age 36, and the youngest chef to receive his CMC certification at age 26. Dr. Ryan is also one of five Americans ever to receive the Presidential Medal from the World Association of Chefs Societies and he has been inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food & Beverage in America

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