The celebration at the Pearl Brewery Saturday was pure San Antonio. The smoky scent of pit barbecue made everyone think of food, while the music, dancers, a festive crowd and even confetti made up the rest of the picture.
Hundreds of San Antonians gathered for the official opening and offered an enthusiastic welcome to the Culinary Institute of America, San Antonio.
The school is quickly becoming “the artistic, the cultural and the intellectual center of San Antonio,” Mayor Julián Castro said. “We’re sizzling right now and this is a great component of it,” with a good deal more to come.
The development of a culinary school at the Pearl Brewery started several years ago when local developer Kit Goldsbury and his business, Silver Ventures, purchased the vacated historic property that encompasses some 22 acres. Goldsbury’s partnering with the CIA was at the epicenter of his vision for the property.
Goldsbury, clad in his trademark jeans, with a ball cap on his head, was audibly moved as he took the podium on stage. “I thought I was going to cry up there,” he said after the ribbon-cutting. But he was smiling while he said it. “It’s been quite a journey.”
“It’s a great day,” said Ken Halliday, Silver Ventures’ CEO. “It’s a dream come true … But the most exciting thing is looking around and seeing the whole community turn out to share it.”
Goldsbury and CIA president Tim Ryan performed the ribbon-cutting ceremony on a long string of red jalapeño peppers to the sound of a loud blast followed by a shower of colorful confetti which rained down on them. The Urban 15 dance group began the ceremony by leading a parade of CIA graduates in white coats and toques through the stage area.
Ryan credited Goldsbury’s dream, or El Sueño, as it has come to be called, with making the school a reality. But the work is only just beginning.
In today’s cities, Latin workers make up anywhere from 25 to 75 percent of the workforce, yet few of those are owners or chefs, Ryan said. Bringing them through the CIA, under Goldsbury’s scholarship program, will help change that.
At the same time, the San Antonio campus will help “elevate Latin American cuisines to its rightful place with the top cuisines of the world,” he added.
The recent Latin Flavors, American Kitchens symposium stressed that by bringing in chefs from Chile, Brazil, Mexico, and Guadeloupe alongside celebrity chefs, such as Rick Bayless and Mark Miller, to explore traditional Latin cooking techniques and exciting flavors
When the official ceremony ended, lines formed for the tender tacos of spicy Pork Pibil and pickled red onions, a specialty of the Yucatan area of Mexico. The pork, in a marinade of achiote and blood orange juice, was pit roasted all night.
There were also lines for Brazilian churrasco-style meats, including a fire-roasted lamb, as well as Mexican-style black beans from Francisco Javier Cárdenas, ceviche from Cuban-born chef Maricel Presilla and wild mushrooms sautéed with a touch of the Chilean spice, merkén, from Santiago’s Christán Correa.
Local restaurants also got into the act, with the RK Group offering huitlacoche-stuffed tortillas and Las Ramblas offering lobster chorizo and pickled squid. CIA graduate Johnny Hernandez also offered some treats from his restaurant, La Gloria, which is also located on the Pearl Brewery campus.
One of the biggest treats for the throngs that showed up was a free cooking demonstration from Bayless, author of numerous cookbooks on Mexican cooking and star of the TV series, “Mexico — One Plate at a Time.” Folks packed the tent in which he cooked and then waited patiently as he signed copies of his cookbooks.
But it seemed to be the world of tastes that people enjoyed most. And that’s what the new CIA, San Antonio campus promises to provide for many years to come.
Photographs by John Griffin and Bonnie Walker