9 great take away lessons from my CIA MPS program


This past week I was fortunate enough to begin my journey with a residency in Napa for the Culinary Institute of America's new MPS or Master of Professional Studies program. An MPS degree is a master's degree with the purpose of specific professional studies. I liken it to an MBA on a mission! I fell in love with the curriculum of entrepreneurship and sustainability. Plus it is one of the hybrid/low-residency programs being offered at more schools now. I can attend online during the year and be at the campus with everyone for a week in the summer (PRECOVID)!

Here is what I learned over the past week that you might find interesting for food, nutrition, and health communication.
  1. We took a DiSC assessment to learn our strengths about our own behavior. I am not going to write at length on this topic because you can google it and learn from people who are far more knowledgeable than me. The point of mentioning it, though, is to discover how to make the most of your natural talent and vision, as well as how to realize how other people are different. The best quote from our lecturer was, "All perspectives are correct." It was a profound statement that was more easily grasped after learning about DiSC. This way of thinking promotes innovation, inclusion, and collaboration for so many activities and challenges. I found myself having more curiosity and tolerance about differing opinions.
  2. Sustainability is important to ensure an adequate food supply for future generations. The CIA has developed this MPS program so professional chefs and food entrepreneurs can embrace sustainability. Things to consider include soil conservation, waste management, water conservation, organic farming practices, promoting more plant-based foods, using local farmers, helping your community, and focusing on menus planned around flavors and seasonal ingredients.
  3. Plant-forward is a new kitchen term that is consistent with the plant-based term that we all see in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It is not totally vegan but the plant-forward menu we created in class was about 90% vegan. One amazing thing we did was to have all 50 cohorts make their own lunch. We were assigned in teams to 4 different outdoor stations and made a huge feast. I learned to make plant-forward "ricotta cheese" by soaking and grinding macadamia nuts to a fine paste and I put it on top of grilled peaches and pizza. I think you could use any hulled nut for delicious vegan ricotta cheese. More studies and recipes are to come from my own kitchen. Stay tuned!
  4. Farm to table in action is always a great discovery in your own community. I really enjoyed a chance to see a 3-Star Michelin restaurant that sources all fruits, herbs, grains, flowers, and vegetables from their own organic garden. If you visit Single Thread you can read all about them. Single Thread Farm and Restaurant uses food waste from the restaurant to make compost for the farm. They create detailed lists about the seeds that produce the most delicious fruits and vegetables so they grow food for flavor as opposed to looks. The strawberries we ate in the field were amazing. Local foods and local farmers are worth all the time and effort it takes to find them and buy their items to support them.
  5. Tasting activities are fun if done blind. When I saw the tasting activity we did for wine it immediately made me want to share it with you so you could do it with fruits, beans, veggies, milk, etc for your classes. We tasted two items at a time without knowing what they were except for the fact that we were tasting two glasses of red wine, one in the right hand and one in the left hand, dubbed right or left. We voted for our favorite with star stickers on a flip chart and discussed our own preferences. What a fun way to get people to try new things! Every item saw the audience split between the best one.
  6. It is great to have a roommate. I signed up for the dorm program and was put into a 5 bedroom house with 10 other students and we had an amazing experience! We were able to visit after class and walk to restaurants in St. Helena together. We had to collaborate to all get ready early in the morning or to carpool to class. I learned a lot more about them by sharing a house. This is a good idea for FNCE or any conference!
  7. Books are an avenue to a good life! Never worry if you have too many! With a kindle and audible you can keep buying and learning! It is even okay if you don't finish them all. I have too many to count and bought more as speakers were mentioning them. The nice thing about digital books is that you always have them with you and you can search for things digitally. Audible books are nice when you are walking or driving and they give your eyes a rest! I bought one by Kyle Connaughton about Japanese Pot Cooking.
  8. The new CIA Copia Center or CIA Food Business School has many continuing education programs and webinars for adult learners along with their prochef program. I highly recommend them! Check out ciachef.edu to learn more. And no, I do not receive any money or kickbacks although I am an alumnus from the Hyde Park campus!
  9. Mentors are a valuable part of any learning process. We have an entire mentor network of professionals to use for our projects whether as a one-time question and answer session or for ongoing help. What a useful idea for any learning program for people who are trying to learn and develop better habits to see and learn from others who are there. I am also mentoring many students from my former program at JWU! It is very rewarding to be on both sides. You can follow my progress on LinkedIn.

Here are a few photos. The first two are of the Chuck Williams museum at the Culinary Institute of America Copia campus in Napa, California. Chuck was the founder of Williams and Sonoma and he donated his private collection of cooking utensils and vessels to the CIA along with the funds to display them. Next, you will see the lunch we cooked including vegan paella and aqua fresca with fresh lemon and herbs from the garden. The CIA at Greystone campus and its kitchen is featured followed by our Single Thread Farm tour and wine tasting activity.

Spring 2021 Update: after a few calls for more info about my journey and nearing the end 2 years later in summer 2021, here are more highlights. I just got a call from a prospective student and my review of the program to him on the phone, plus his request to update this blog article, made me think about all of the things I learned and the benefits of this degree and it is time to update and share those thoughts.

First of all, I am not sure if it is a blessing or a curse to enroll in a master's program right before COVID hit! But maybe it is good because we learned a lot about the current world and got something to do during all the time spent social distancing. I would like to think that the workload of running my business plus schoolwork made the time at home go by faster.

First of all the meaning of sustainability goes much deeper than just the environment and being plant-based or eliminating food waste. There are many perspectives and values. We considered the people who are involved in the food system as well as the production of food and eliminating waste. There are many stakeholders to consider from the employees to the farm animals to the air and soil and to the consumption of water or the elimination of carbon. There are byproducts that can be used, waste to eliminate, and packaging that can be designed to be recycled. There is also an important health consideration of the consumers eating the food. I can't pick a favorite, they are all important. I can only do the best that I can to stay informed and improve my own values and choices on all of these issues as they evolve. I feel that if we become tunnel-visioned and pick one thing we might not grow and switch to something else more important when it pops up.

It was super fun to network with all of my cohorts and to meet many guest speakers who are friends with all of the professors. The CIA network is always strong, vibrant, and full of great ideas. People are the bedrock of this program.

We had a wonderful virtual residency last summer that shared many of the conferences put on by the CIA including Plant Forward and Menus of Change. I remember enjoying many speakers who shared their thoughts on adapting plant-based foods. My favorite tip was to use meat-like seasonings and cooking processes on vegetables. Steak seasoning tastes great on air-fried potatoes as well as mushrooms. And watching Dirty Candy's social media feed has given me a lot of great ideas. It is possible to make a kale cobbler! The sky is the limit.

We learned about upcycling food waste into more innovative items. Maybe I will make muffins from coffee flour! Food waste is very serious and it is not about just composting things it is about reducing any waste and being more "circulatory" in general with our consumption habits.

With COVID we watched as the supply chains got upended and then discussed them along with all of the trends that are following. We considered the "last mile" which is how food gets to the consumer. It is rapidly changing. Restaurants starved and went out of business while grocery stores were stripped clean. Restaurant versus CPG or consumer packaged goods are two different systems so it was hard to watch so many animals get euthanized and wasted after the meatpacking workers got sick with covid while we know people are starving and out of jobs. But the efficiency of our food system in the US means that if animals get too big they can't go through the slaughterhouse machines. The whole story made me sad. While I am not completely vegan I become more plant-based as I go.

My biggest takeaway is to think about the entire blockchain of your food from start to finish. How were the people, animals, and environment treated? How will the food affect your eating plan and health? We all vote with our pocketbooks.

I also learned a lot about branding and using social media for branding, digital advertising, and networking. When I get time I will have to post my favorite booklist. My kindle has bloomed into hundreds of reads and Audible will never run out of things to read!

I would recommend the program to anyone who wants to put an emphasis on food, food branding, and sustainability versus just an academic or generic business degree. The program is growing and developing and we were able to provide valuable feedback with a new online system and we left the program better for the students who will follow us. It is a great program for working professionals because they get to meet more people who have valuable food experiences and it is more affordable than most master's programs from my research. The online venue is fabulous for juggling schedules with work and family. I spent a whole day each week on lectures and homework or more as needed.

Here are some blog posts that were influenced by my studies:

The American Diet

Plant Based Burger Choices

Plant Based Shopping List

By Judy Doherty, BS, PCII

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