75 Years of The Culinary Institute of America

The CIA’s curriculum and training throughout the years

The CIA’s curriculum and training has evolved in complex ways during its extensive 75-year history.

Provost and Certified Master Chef Mark Erickson says the college’s mission is to focus on the future while remaining mindful of what has come before it. “We have to be constantly looking out in front while at the same time keeping a respectful eye on the wisdom of the past,” he says. “Any developing profession should take in account the lessons learned and best practices that have been built over the years. But my job specifically is to make sure the curriculum that we offer our students is going to also prepare them for the future.”

Hyde Park

Growing degree programs

The culinary profession—originally not considered a “profession” at all, but a vocation—remains in a constant state of evolution. “As the methodology by which chefs learn their craft has become more structured and sophisticated over time, so does the way we deliver our education and instruction of that craft,” says Provost Erickson.

The CIA was one of the first institutions in the country to offer a full bachelor’s degree in culinary education. It was also one of the first in the country to introduce a complete Baking and Pastry degree program to complement the savory side of culinary education.

In the past two decades, the college has introduced a range of additional degree programs and concentrations, and most recently, masters’ degrees in food business and wine management. “We chose a remote platform for our masters’ degree programs to support working professionals who may not have the time or ability to uproot their lives and families to earn an advanced degree and make an impact in their industry,” says Provost Erickson. “At some point in the future, we will likely introduce a PhD program.”

The Professional Chef

The fundamentals and mise en place

Each of these areas of specialization at the CIA are still founded on a very solid foundation of the culinary craft. “A fair amount of that is attitude-based,” says Provost Erickson. “It’s well known that chefs approach their work with a very strong discipline, and the business world has recognized that.”

At the core of the CIA’s training is the notion of mise en place—not just chopped ingredients in different bowls, but a mindset of readiness, preparedness, organization, and structure. This has helped students excel in their fields, especially during the stressful time of the pandemic.


“We teach our chefs how to be ready and prepared,” says Provost Erickson. “An attitude toward excellence is a key trait that our students have when they graduate from the CIA. A lot of employers specifically recruit students from the CIA because of that.”

Just like doctors must complete years of schooling and residencies before practicing, Provost Erickson says, the CIA makes sure students have access to plenty of experience, both in the classroom and in commercial kitchens before landing a full-time job.

A diverse landscape

There are many career paths in the culinary arts—not just chef at a restaurant. Alumni have gone on to be leaders in many areas and have included the founder of Blue Apron and the creator of Chipotle, as well as many successful chefs in the areas of research and development, healthcare and even food policy and advocacy.

“We expose students to the truebreadth of hospitality and the food industry and educate them about all the different things they can do with their education, like even start a software company or a food product line or procurement business,” Provost Erickson says. “The vast majority of students when they first arrive at the CIA say they want to open their own fine-dining restaurant, but what we notice is that their aspirations often expand into areas they didn’t even know existed before they came here.”

New areas of instruction

The coronavirus pandemic introduced increased opportunities for the CIA to teach students how to be critical thinkers and adapt to changing environments—even how best to prepare food specifically for take-out and delivery.

“We are still trying to predict what is the lasting impact of the pandemic,” says Provost Erickson. “We’re not sure yet if things like ghost kitchens are just temporary or if they are here to stay—either way we choose to take a deeper dive and have all of these debates so that our students are prepared for what the future might hold. The pandemic has certainly pushed chefs and operators to be more creative and rethink age-old business models.”

Mark Erickson

More about Certified Master Chef Mark Erickson

Certified Master Chef (CMC) Mark Erickson is provost at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA). In this role, Chef Erickson oversees all aspects of the college’s culinary programs. An honors graduate of the CIA class of 1977, Provost Erickson was director of culinary education at the Hyde Park campus from 1988 to 1990 and held both faculty and department head positions prior to that. Provost Erickson’s career also includes serving as chef garde manger of the Palace Hotel in Gstaad, Switzerland; executive sous chef of the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia; sous chef of the Everglades Club in Palm Beach, Florida; and executive chef of Cherokee Town and Country Club in Atlanta. A native of Alexandria, Minnesota, Provost Erickson was a member of the gold medal-winning United States Culinary Olympic Teams in 1980, 1984, and 1988, and part of the U.S. team that won the 1985 Culinary World Cup. He earned “Crystal Chef” honors by having the highest score in the ten-day Certified Master Chef examination administered by the American Culinary Federation in 1985. Provost Erickson holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Restaurant & Hotel Management from the University of New Haven and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York.

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