Darcy Sala is contagious. Sit down with her and talk for a few minutes about food and you can’t help but catch her unbridled enthusiasm and passion for the culinary profession, and especially for her alma mater.
“Wow, being at the CIA was a great experience,” she gushes. “Every day I’d get up three hours early to be ready for classes. I can cry thinking about how wonderful it was to be around so many people exactly like me.” As a chef-instructor for Dutchess County BOCES Career and Technical Institute in Poughkeepsie, NY, she’s relishing the opportunity to bring that excitement to her own classroom. “I’m taking the knowledge, the enthusiasm, the passion that I got every day from my chef-instructors and sharing it with my students. The CIA gave me the confidence, and I pass that on to them.”
That confidence was in short supply early on in Darcy’s life when the Poughkeepsie, NY native dropped out of high school and entered the working world. She eventually became a very successful waitress at both a high-profile steakhouse chain (Bugaboo Creek) and a fine-dining French restaurant (La Pavillon in Poughkeepsie, NY), but she knew she wanted something more within the food world. Having grown up a stone’s throw from Hyde Park, she knew just where to get it.
“I had heard about the CIA’s incredible reputation for years, so I applied there and was accepted conditionally,” Darcy recalls. “The condition being I had to have my GED.” She passed the exam (“one of the hardest things I’ve ever done”), and soon after began soaking in everything her new college had to offer. “I joined clubs, did admissions work, volunteered at events on and off campus,” she says. “I learned so much from faculty members Eve Felder, Jonathan Zearfoss, and Linda Blocker, who were my mentors. I met Sara Moulton on the CIA campus and Michael Lomanaco at an event in New York City—and ended up working with both of them!
“And best of all, I got to meet my childhood idol, Julia Child, and tell her how all my dreams came true because she told me, through the TV screen, that I could do it.” Darcy received more than 20 job offers when she graduated, but wanted to stay close to home. Following a stint as pastry chef at a local restaurant, she returned to the CIA as a culinary demonstrator for prospective students, which helped her realize what she really wanted to do—teach. She got her chance after receiving a call from Dutchess County BOCES principal Fran McCabe (“a wonderful person and my biggest fan!”), who remembered her from the demos and presentations she did there for the CIA. After bringing her in for a culinary practical, he offered her a job as chef-instructor.
Darcy couldn’t be happier, and gives a lot of the credit to The Culinary. “I have this job because of the confidence the CIA gave me,” she says. “Knowing I had that support system—and still do—is great. I still make phone calls to my old chefs, and find myself repeating to my students the things they said to me. Teaching is wonderful…and I Have summers off!”
But as fulfilling as her current job has been, Darcy’s passion for her alma mater keeps tugging at her. “My dream has turned into this incredible fairy tale, but I’m not finished yet. I’d love to someday come back to the CIA to teach.” No doubt a whole new generation of CIA students would quickly catch Darcy Sala fever.