West Coast Living at Greystone

CIA in California

BY: Mike Feist, BBA Food Business Management

Some people get lucky. If you can find a way to live somewhere unique for a year or two, don’t say no. I decided to spend my two AOS years out at Greystone, in California’s Napa Valley.

The California CIA campus is in northern California, about 60 miles from San Francisco. There are enormous mountains, deserts, volcanoes and hot springs, vast tundras, and awesome beaches all over the state. And being outdoors is perfect almost anytime and anywhere: most areas never drop below forty degrees, it never gets humid, mosquitoes are very rare, and it hardly even rains. Most days year-round are sunny and stay around 70 degrees. I found opportunities to go backpacking, canoeing, whitewater rafting, snow caving, and skiing, and I could camp out under a single tarp most nights without a problem.

The town of St. Helena (officially a city, though a tiny one) hosts two other small college campuses. It has a small permanent population and relies almost entirely on tourism. You can find excellent high-end restaurants, boutiques, and gourmet shops like Woodhouse Chocolates. Their boxed chocolates have been rated the best in the US, according to Consumer Reports. St. Helena is also a town away from the French Laundry and near famous wineries like Robert Mondavi’s, Peter Mondavi’s Charles Krug, Stag’s Leap, Francis Ford Coppola’s, and Opus One. The area draws millions of tourists from far away for their Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Zinfandel. So if you love food, wine, or desserts, you’ll be in heaven, but there are fewer attractions that concern art, history, or science. It’s not like New York where you can find three museums on the same block. People in the Napa Valley are looking more to relax, enjoy the outdoors, and have a good time.

In St. Helena, it’s hard to find cheap food, and it’s hard to find things to do without spending a lot of money. So my friends and I, broke college students, had little to do there. My friends and I still have nothing to do in Hyde Park, but instead because we’re in the middle of nowhere. San Francisco and Sacramento are very far away from the California campus, and they surprisingly don’t offer as much as I initially thought. However, find a way to visit San Jose, Palo Alto, and Berkeley; there’s so much more there, and you’d definitely not regret going up to Portland and Seattle either. Public transportation can be tricky. It’s not nearly as convenient as Metro-North or the New York City subway, but it is much easier than the public transit in Dutchess.

Greystone’s campus is very small. It’s mostly all within one building, which is about ¾ the size of Roth Hall by square footage. Greystone’s unique in that on the top floor there’s the hot side and the cold side, separated by our only cafeteria. So there’s only one bakeshop (the cold side) and one main kitchen for culinary arts. There’s another kitchen on the first floor for use by one or two classes at a time, but the main one gets the bulk of the school’s use, and up four to five classes or groups can use that space at once. And I should mention it was designed fully open – no walls between the three sections – so you can see from the end of the bakeshop to the end of the kitchen, and glass walls that continue behind the kitchen allow you to see two-thirds of the building’s top floor from any spot.

Another potentially big difference is with carts and reqs. I’m not sure how the requisition system works in Roth Hall, but at Greystone we had to go to a corner of the building every day, check over every item if Purchasing had pre-assembled our cart, or help build our own if they were behind. We’d have to wheel it across back passages through the entire building, unless the elevator didn’t work (which was often). In that case we’d have to wheel all the food across the entrance hall of the building. Luckily it was usually early in the morning, so we didn’t have to find a way past the tourist crowds that show up later in the day. There also was never a specific place designated for carts and speed racks, you sometimes had to search the entire building to find one. Dealing with these problems every day helped us learn to adapt quickly in future situations.

Greystone also only has one restaurant for AOS students. Your schedule is therefore even more fixed than AOS students have it over here, but luckily our restaurant was a lot of fun. It was called the Wine Spectator Greystone Restaurant, a mouthful when trying to greet guests over the phone or at the door. Yet the front- and back-of-house instructors were probably the most helpful and nicest of all that I had. The food we served was delicious, and I was just as proud to cook it as I was to serve it. Our wines were fantastic, as were the cocktails. The whole system was the cleanest and one of the best-organized restaurants I’ve worked in, even though we started out with little front-of-house experience. By the end, we were all part of a fantastic machine we were proud of. Among the random things that I heard Hyde Park kids do differently in the restaurants and out are: not flipping cutting boards for new tasks (oops), actually peeling celery and asparagus, and washing pots and pans by hand! I was sad when I found out that with Greystone’s new satellite campus, the restaurant is being removed. AOS students will now use the restaurant formerly run by the BPS Farm to Table semester-away students, now called the Gatehouse Restaurant.

As I was leaving Greystone last spring, the CIA had bought and was renovating Copia, formerly a huge nonprofit museum entirely dedicated to food, wine, and all forms of culinary arts. I so wish I was around to see this enormous facility in its prime – complete with art, history, and science exhibits, massive theaters, demo kitchens, a rare book library, wine tasting rooms, and a cafe and restaurant. As a lover of food, wine, and culture, I would’ve spent all my time there. I managed to visit the empty space a few times, at first without even knowing it! Like most other Greystone students, I thought “what’s Copia?” when I first heard of the school’s purchase. I had been to the nearby food hall and farmers’ market, literally feet away from the building, and didn’t even know about Copia. A while later, I familiarized myself with the whole building, including its gardens and shaded paths, the reflecting ponds, and beautifully modern architecture. I’m looking forward to going back now that its long-empty halls are finally full.

As I was beginning my AOS, I realized Greystone is a bit more like an institution, not a university. So if you’re an older or a more mature student, it may be a good choice. You may even prefer it – come in, take serious classes, and leave. Clubs are few in number and disorganized, given Greystone’s lack of a four-year program. School trips and events are less common with a smaller student body, and there’s no on-campus gym, pool, or club rooms. The library is maybe half the size of the gift shop here and permanently shares its space with the learning strategies center. And because the campus’ only cafeteria requires business casual or chef whites and doesn’t include comfortable chairs or places for laptops, it lacks a university dining hall’s convenience and charm. There’s still a community feel to the campus because of its small size. My classmates and I felt Greystone was like a family.

I hope that the above ideas will help you and inspire you, whether you’re considering vacationing in the Napa Valley or spending a semester at our Napa Valley campus. Trust me,  you’ll be glad you did!

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