Since August 2013, renowned chef Larry Forgione, a.k.a, “The Godfather of American Cuisine” has been teaching the next generation of chefs with a “hands-in-dirt” approach. The innovative, conservatory-style educational model has students not only working in a restaurant setting, but also on three Napa Valley farms to get a deeper understanding of where the ingredients they use for their culinary creations come from.
“Understanding the relationship between the farmer and chef is critical to understanding the health, nutrition, flavor, creativity, and sustainability of food in America,”says Forgione. “It is hard to believe that anyone would be willing to eat anything that they do not have an understanding of where it came from, how it was grown, and as often as possible, who grew it,”
Chef Larry Forgione
He should know: Forgione helped launch the farm-to-table movement by embracing American cuisine using seasonal, sustainably-produced local ingredients. He graduated from the CIA in 1974 and worked at some of the finest restaurants in the world, before opening An American Place in Manhattan in 1983. He cofounded and is now the culinary director of the CIA’s Conservatory at Greystone.
The American Food Studies: Farm-to-Table Cooking concentration brings students from the CIA bachelor’s degree management programs in Hyde Park, New York, to the CIA at Greystone in Napa Valley for 15 weeks where they plant and grow crops in the school’s gardens, and source ingredients from local farms, fields, and forests under the tutelage of Forgione and farm manager Matthew Gunn. The students not only learn restaurant concepts and how to create inventive menus, but environmental stewardship and food ethics as well.
Students worth closely with Gunn,who oversees the college’s four-acre farm, located next to the school at the Charles Krug Winery. He’s responsible for all aspects of the farm, from soil health to harvest, and also tends the school’s herb garden. Gunn has worked on a number of farms in California and studied under the agronomist Bob Shaffer at Kona Keei Farm in Honaunau, Hawaii.
Farm manager Matt Gunn
There have been 138 students in the farm-to-table program, including the current class of 18, along with 24 Advanced Wine, Beverage and Hospitality students, who create the wine and cocktail menu at the restaurant each week. The program is growing in popularity, says Forgione, and the hope is that the graduates will continue to incorporate healthy, sustainable culinary practices in their future endeavors.