The CCA's Carême Room served its last grand buffet this past Friday. Anyone who has recently driven by that familiar corner of Polk and Turk, with its clumps of white-clad culinary students smoking on the sidewalk, would have suspected as much, what with that huge sign advertising "Building for Lease."
With only 300 students enrolled -- down from a peak of over 2,000 -- it became untenable to sustain two separate facilities. The SF Weekly's exposé last year about the institution's "burnt chefs" is old news. For years already, chefs and kitchen managers (myself included) had banned CCA interns from our kitchens because of their abysmal lack of skills. Still, few of us expected to hear that the grand Polk Street location would be abandoned in favor of the Potrero Hill's cold, unwelcoming space.
Going out in style, the academy hosted a multi-course buffet representing the culinary trends of each decade since their Polk Street kitchens opened. We moved from Salmon Coulibiac to blackened fish, through gooey macaroni and cheese to the "mo-ga" of present fascination (molecular gastronomy, the woman in front of me in line explained).
My husband, gesturing toward one particularly complex and well-executed ballontine, asked me "Is that a turducken?" Even I, with my 12-inch, dimpled-blade slicing knife that I haven't used since my final garde manger class in 1996, had to laugh. There were the usual glistening ice sculpture, two red-meat carving stations, and the ever popular and elaborate dessert table.
Standing before the deeply sculpted, soaring columns of the main dining room, current CCA president, Jennifer White, tried to put a positive spin on the evening. She reminded us that the heart and spirit of the school resides not in the building but rather in those gathered in the room.