Paul Harris experiences some of the less obvious places in the Hudson Valley and New York State
THE invitation seemed just too good to be true... “Enjoy a student-guided tour of the CIA.”
Wow! This had to be every journalist’s dream come true: unfettered access to the Central Intelligence Agency, America’s much vaunted intelligence service that reports directly to the President himself, with a student to show me round.
Perhaps the fact that I was in New York State, rather than in Virginia, headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency, should have provided a clue.
However, I was escorted round the CIA and I was offered some classified information.
This CIA, however, was the Culinary Institute of America, an organisation as respected in its own field as the country’s intelligence service.
And the semi-classified information I was offered were some of the secrets of trainee chefs’ kitchens. Fishy, yes, but of the scaled variety.
The CIA I visited was founded in 1946 in Connecticut as the New Haven Restaurant Institute and was intended to provide training for 30 servicemen demobbed after the Second World War.
The CIA is open to the public who, with a guide, can wander its corridors, enjoying a literal window on the world of the Michelin-starred chefs of the future.
It felt almost voyeuristic and intrusive as I wandered the building, watching trainee pastry chefs producing some amazing works of art, decorating their masterpieces with all the skill of the great artists and then sitting in on classes in which the students’ work was being discussed and dissected.
The 1,900 students on campus are trained in every aspect of the culinary world and that includes a three-week wine course and learning management skills.
Graduates, it becomes obvious after a visit, are really the finished article, even learning the art of wine-making and beer brewing.
Three times a year, 400 potential employers from all over the world attend a job market at the CIA to pick the best candidates for vacancies at their hotels and restaurants.
Visitors are welcome to tour the campus on Mondays at 10am and Monday to Friday at 4pm when classes are in session. It costs just $6.
For $250 members of the public can enjoy a full-day cookery class.
To book either, telephone 001- 845 451 1588.
There is always the option, too, of dining at the fine Ristorante Caterina de’ Medici, the Bocuse Restaurant, the American Bounty Restaurant or the Apple Pie Bakery Cafe.
All are staffed by willing, highly trained students, under the watchful eyes of their lecturers. (Restaurant reservations: www.ciarestaurantgroup.com or phone 001-845 471 6608).
Incidentally, the Danny Kaye Theatre was funded by the entertainer’s daughter in recognition of his own love of cooking, particularly Chinese dishes.
Sixty miles away, and about a one-hour drive, is the non-sectarian Sleepy Hollow (formerly Tarrytown) Cemetery in the town of the same name.
It is the final resting place of such luminaries as the Scottish-born American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, Washington Irving, author of Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, cosmetics queen Elizabeth Arden and members of the Astor family.
Irving was a close friend of the famed Jewish Gratz family of Philadelphia.
Sir Walter Scott is believed to have based the character of Rebecca in Ivanhoe on Rebecca Gratz.
Her close friend was Matilda Hoffman, to whom Irving was engaged.
During the final years of her life, Matilda was nursed by Rebecca and one bedroom in her home was known as the “Washington room” because it was where Irving used to sleep when he visited Philadelphia.
Some time after Matilda’s death, Irving visited Scott in Europe and recounted that encounter in one of his essays, des-cribing to the novelist Reb-ecca’s beauty, pride, wealth and devotion as a nurse to Matilda.
He was also impressed by her strong Jewish identity and thus her refusal to marry a Christian — the very qualities Scott ascribed to the character, Rebecca, in Ivanhoe, which was published just a few years later.
Rebecca, incidentally, went on to work tirelessly for charity and education in Philadelphia and even raised a family of orphans when their mother died.
She was secretary of the Female Association for the Relief of Women and Children in Reduced Circumstances, founder of the Philadelphia Orphan Asylum and became organiser and secretary of the Female Hebrew Benevolent Society in 1819 and then founded the first Jewish Sunday school in America.
Ten minutes drive from Sleepy Hollow, on the Hudson River, is the Lyndhurst Mansion, the home of the railway tycoon, Jay Gould, between 1880 and 1892.
He purchased it from George Merritt, who owned the patent for train carriage springs.
It had previously been a residence of New York City mayor William Paulding.
Gould was one of the wealthiest people in America at the time, on a par with the Rockefellers and Vanderbilts.
He owned the Union Pacific Railway and with it 10,000 miles of track. He eventually took over the Western Union trunk lines, too.
His great rival was Cornelius Vanderbilt who owned the railway line in front of Lyndhurst.
Rather than use that line, Gould had a 250-foot yacht built to sail the 45-minutes along the Hudson to his New York office.
A notable feature of Lyndhurst are the luxurious, wood-panelled ‘buffets’ in each of the horse stalls in the carriage house.
The Gould family remained at the mansion for 81 years.
Over the years there has been considerable speculation about whether Jay Gould’s roots were Jewish, although there has never been conclusive evidence either way.
Under an hour away is West Point, the United States Military Academy and museum.
One of the first sights to greet visitors is a section of the 550-yard great chain that stretched across the Hudson River from 1778 to prevent British sailing up it during the War of Independence.
Each two-foot link weighs 114lbs and it was known affectionately as “George Washington’s watch chain”.
It was removed each winter before the river froze and then refloated by soldiers in spring over a four-day period.
Troops realised the war was ending when it was not repositioned in 1782.
The West Point Academy opened in 1802 at the behest of President Thomas Jefferson and it was 1976 before women were admitted.
There’s a Jewish chapel that opened in 1982 and so-called, rather than a temple or synagogue, because it is military terminology. West Point has seven chapels for different denominations.
One of the first 10 cadets to graduate in 1802 was Jewish.
West Point occupies a 3,000-acre site and visitors can see cadets training in various skills, including parachuting.
It’s like a small town and even has its own fire brigade. Entry to the museum, whose prime mission is to educate the US Corps of Cadets, is free. It is open daily from 10.30am-4.15pm.