With four campuses—Hyde Park, New York; Napa Valley, California; San Antonio, Texas; and Singapore—this venerable institution was founded in 1947 and has since schooled some of the culinary greats, including their most famous graduate, Anthony Bourdain (’78), and forward-thinking Portuguese NYC chef, Georges Mendes (’92). If you’ve been fortunate, you may have toured their gorgeous grounds, eaten a meal in a student-run dining establishment, taken a class (online or in-person), or even graduated from the CIA. A foodies dream, right?

In 2004, they launched their James Beard Award-winning World Culinary Arts Video Series, “seeking out the gold standards of culinary traditions, examining iconic recipes of a given country, that when understood, provide a window into the whole of that nation’s culture.” Each country or region’s edition begins with an introduction to their unique cuisine and culture then continues with short master class episodes. In these, you’ll enjoy top chefs discussing flavours, ingredients, and techniques while preparing signature dishes. And, in true teaching form, you’ll find two free, downloadable recipe books—one from the CIA and one from the series’ generous supporter, Unilever—with each location they’ve visited.

In 2020 Portugal was the focus—one of the world’s great food cultures—in the latest instalment of the CIA’s World Culinary Arts. Among the 21 videos exploring Portuguese gastronomy, we learn about what’s been called one of the world’s 20 best soups, Caldo Verde, the suckling pig (that Carl Munson from Good Morning Portugal! raved about) at Rei dos Leitoes, a visit to O Churrasco for the secret to their amazing spinach, and more in this in-depth series that captured our hearts.

We sat down with CIA graduate (’97) and Director of Strategic Initiatives, Digital Media, John Barkley, to learn more about this instalment of the video series.

Relish Portugal: Hello John and thank you for your amazing, award-winning work and this detailed look at Portuguese cuisine. Let’s dive in with a look at the video series as a whole.

John Barkley: My pleasure, really happy to join you. Thank you for inviting me.

We’ve been producing this series for over 17 years, documenting the cuisines of the world, focusing on several key dishes of each cuisine. We look at both what’s happening on a street food or informal culinary level as well as what’s happening on the high end. In this series, we strive to provide insight into what makes authentic dishes authentic, what makes classic dishes classic, and what key ingredients and cooking techniques you need to know and master when cooking this cuisine in a restaurant or home kitchen.

Our goal is to take a cross-segment of any given cuisine and document that for future generations of our culinary students and the media. Added to our archives at the CIA, we’re very happy to have this great, free online resource that’s available to everybody. It’s been underwritten by Unilever Food Solutions. They are a partner in developing this and have been since the very beginning.

We’ve travelled all over the world to many different countries and regions, Peru to Indonesia to Scandinavia to Spain and Italy, all over. Our most recent edition, still in progress, is centred on American barbecue, which is the first time we’ve focused on barbecue or the US. We’re making an effort to go around the world and add to the understanding of world cuisines.

RP: It’s an impressive collection of work. And Portugal, the 16th instalment of this documentary series. What brought you here and what’s so special about Portugal’s gastronomy?

JB: We base our next location on many factors. Portugal is a special country in terms of its history in world trade and colonization. Also, Portugal is responsible for disseminating and exchanging many of the key ingredients and cooking techniques we employ today, such as frying. A lot of people don’t know that frying was introduced to Japan by the Portuguese. While we don’t know if it originated in Portugal, the Portuguese introduced tempura to Japan. There’s a deep history with Goa, in the Portuguese trade through there, as well as the Spice Islands and other regions throughout the world. I think Portugal has a unique place in European cuisine, as well as world cuisine, in terms of its history and legacy.

RP: How do you choose what dishes, chefs, and locations to spotlight?

JB: We have several different sources, a large extended family of adjunct faculty and contributors plus chef partners around the world. It’s a chorus of voices. We reach out to those people and ask for recommendations. We also consider food guides such as Michelin. That’s part of the research. We compile the information we’ve gathered, sort through it, and do pre-interviews. Also, we work with chefs on the ground, recommending other chefs. They’ll say, “you’re coming to my place but you definitely want to check out this place.”

Because we’re in the country for a limited amount of time, usually about two weeks, we boil it down to a small list. It ends up being nine intensive days of filming. We look at a cultural cross-section, from street food to cutting-edge types of restaurants as well as institutions that can’t be missed.

RP: You had the good fortune of spending time with Chef José Avillez, a local hero and international culinary icon. Tell us a little bit about your time with him.

JB: He was great. He took us to the market and showed us around a couple of his Lisbon restaurants. Chef Avillez is a very accomplished professional, very worldly, has travelled extensively, and has a wide network of chefs and food professionals. He was able to describe how modern contemporary Portuguese cuisine fits on the world stage and articulate the place that Portugal holds within that community.

On the other side of the Atlantic, New York City’s Chef George Mendes at Aldea was able to provide a contemporary view on translating authentic world flavours for North American audiences. Flavours native to his country, true to their origin.

RP: What surprised you most about Portuguese gastronomy?

JB: Two things. First, the vast and various connections to world cuisine. Filming this edition was a history lesson as well as a lesson in appreciating the tastes of each particular region.

The abundance and quality of fresh ingredients was a revelation. With the history of the cuisine and Portugal’s amazing natural resources, chefs can do remarkable things.

Excellent seafood is paired with simple applications: straightforward sauces or even just olive oil and garlic. That was deliciously apparent when we visited Marisqueira Cervejaria Ramiro. It’s the freshness, the diversity of the different seafood. Not just the many different prawns but different shellfish. That makes it special.

RP: Can the home cook learn from/at the The Culinary Institute of America?

JB: Absolutely. Our World Culinary Arts Video Series and accompanying recipe books, exploring 25 locations, is available online, free. There are also online courses available. And we’ve just opened a limited number of multi-day culinary Boot Camps and one-day hands-on classes at our California, New York, and Texas campuses. Consider this an invitation, we’d love to see Relish Portugal readers there.

Watch World Culinary Arts: Portugal here https://www.ciaprochef.com/wca/portugal/

Learn more about Portugal’s thriving food and culture scene in the award-winning, English-language Relish Portugal magazine. It’s a free, online, quarterly publication for Portugal lovers everywhere. The Apr/May/Jun 2021 issue is now available! What are you waiting for? Sign up and get your instant download here: relishportugal.com