Olive trees, herbs and thick vegetable rows thrive in sun-drenched gardens outside the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Copia, a sizeable facility set along the winding Napa River. Patio seating for the venue’s Restaurant at CIA Copia, which opened in early 2017, overlooks those gardens. Inside, leather seats, weathered wood, warm earth tones and artsy, large-scale prints of kitchen utensils soften the dining room’s industrial bones.
The restaurant serves California cuisine with a global twist, incorporating ingredients grown just outside the door and pairing plates with Napa Valley wines, craft cocktails and local beers. On one side of the room, counter seats afford views of the culinary team at work—and sometimes, a chef might pause to chat about the day’s harvest or share a timesaving cooking technique with guests.
Since opening its doors in late 2016, the center has been rolling out an ambitious mix of private and group classes, cooking demonstrations, tastings, author events, culinary displays and family-friendly happenings.
The facility occupies the former Copia: The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, a restaurant, museum and educational center open from 2001 to 2008. Wine legends Robert and Margrit Mondavi and chef Julia Child were instrumental in establishing the original facility; today, larger-than-life sculptures of the Mondavis look out at Napa from atop the building’s tower. The Culinary Institute of America acquired the property in 2015 and spent more than a year revitalizing the front gardens, removing interior walls, redoing the structure’s façade and creating a more welcoming point of entry.
“We wanted to open up the space and make it more friendly,” says Anne Girvin, assistant director of strategic marketing for the CIA. “We’d like to get local community members back into the building, and give visitors something new to do while they’re in town.”
In addition to revamping the venue’s sit-down restaurant, the CIA at Copia team turned a former box office window into a casual grab-and-go lunch counter that offers salads, sandwiches and soft-serve ice cream. Through the adjacent doors, in an airy, glass-walled atrium with soaring ceilings, six custom-built wooden bars accommodate guests participating in CIA at Copia’s daily Tasting Showcase. Wineries from Napa Valley and beyond pour their latest releases on a rotating basis, making it easy for visitors to sample blends by a variety of producers while talking with well-versed educators from each location.
The wine stations serve flights, glasses and full bottles that guests can drink at the tasting bar, in the facility’s outdoor gardens or at lounge seats located throughout the hall. They can also browse the CIA at Copia’s Wine Hall of Fame, a free exhibit that honors pioneering men and women of the American wine industry. Displayed at St. Helena’s CIA at Greystone campus from 2007 until a 2017 move to downtown Napa, the bronze bas relief plaques feature biographies that spotlight each inductee’s achievements.
The atrium overlooks the Jackson Family Wines Amphitheater, a terraced outdoor venue used for public dining events, private receptions and weddings. Just off the main hall, the Store at CIA Copia stocks culinary gifts and goods, garden tools, cookbooks, kitchen gadgets and seasonal items. In addition to CIA-branded apparel, culinary themed children’s items and vintage cooking supplies, the store also carries artisan foods from local producers plus cookware, stemware, pottery and baking essentials.
“The store includes a thoughtful selection of items, so you’ll find one or two of the best tools in a given category, rather than an endless number of options,” Girvin says. “We host book signings, author events, demonstrations and seasonal events in the store, as well.”
For day-trippers and vacationers interested in a deeper gastronomic dive, the CIA at Copia offers a robust menu of food and wine classes for beginning cooks, seasoned home chefs and families. Most daily events take place in the 72-seat Napa Valley Vintners Theater, which is outfitted with a demonstration kitchen. CIA instructors and guest lecturers teach a variety of seasonally themed options and everyday staples in workshops that last from one to three hours. Topics range from Thai food basics and classic Spanish cuisine to crafting fresh pasta, cooking with beer and making mac and cheese with children.
Registration prices vary for the classes, which require no prior experience and are open to the public.
“Our goal is to provide exceptional food and wine experiences to visitors and locals. Participants learn how to do things the CIA way, and they see what that might look like in the home kitchen,” says Girvin.
CIA at Copia will unveil additional components in 2018, starting with a spacious, second-floor teaching kitchen slated to open early in the year. By late spring, the new Chuck Williams Culinary Arts Museum will showcase items from the late Williams-Sonoma founder’s extensive collection of vintage kitchen items collected around the world.
The destination will continue adding new events and classes, as well, connecting guests to area chefs, vintners and culinary educators while encouraging a new level of engagement in the kitchen.
“Understanding a few simple techniques and recipes can make all the difference,” says chef Anne Cornell Krauss, who leads many of the CIA at Copia classes. “One of my favorite things is to demystify the cooking process for people.”
In a ground-floor demonstration kitchen at the CIA at Copia, chef Anne Cornell Krauss stands before a stainless steel pot and gently stirs a gallon of fresh, whole milk that’s been heated to about 182 degrees Fahrenheit. She has sprinkled a teaspoon and a half of citric acid into the liquid, and she invites students participating in her homemade fresh cheese class to move closer and watch as curds separate from the watery whey.
“You’re looking for those big, fluffy clouds of curds,” explains Cornell Krauss, as she uses a skimmer to transfer puffs of fresh ricotta to a cheesecloth-lined sieve.
Over the next hour, the chef shows students how to mix mascarpone, whip up crème fraiche and stretch mozzarella by hand. She discusses cheese making ingredients, pairs samples with tomatoes, figs and fresh-baked crostini, and answers questions about incorporating cheese into various menus. Like the CIA at Copia’s other chef-led classes, this interactive experience spotlights how fun and simple cooking can be.
“I just want to inspire people to get back into the kitchen, to make their own dish, to try that new recipe,” Cornell Krauss says. “It’s not so scary once you try.”
The CIA at Copia offers a busy lineup of kitchen demonstrations, cooking and baking classes and private lessons.
In the Neighborhood
Plan a full day of food and wine activities with stops at these attractions located within steps of the CIA at Copia.
Oxbow Public Market
Local farmers, producers and vendors staff stalls at this 40,000-square-foot culinary marketplace along the Napa River. Fieldwork Brewing Company, Three Twins Ice Cream, the Model Bakery and Hog Island Oyster Co. are among the market’s merchants, and the venue also features a fish market, artisan cheese shop, spice store, coffee shop and chocolate company.
Gustavo Brambila spent a year at Chateau Montelena before moving to Grgich Hills Cellars in 1977, where he made wine for 23 years. These days, Brambila’s own blends are available at this tasting room across the street from Oxbow.
Mark Herold Wines
Mark Herold earned a doctorate in ecology and worked as a research enologist for Joseph Phelps Vineyards before focusing on cabernet with his former Merus label. Today, his eponymous reds and whites are offered in an Oxbow-adjacent tasting room.
Napa Valley Wine Train
This three-hour Napa Valley train ride and tasting experience boards just a few blocks from Oxbow Public Market.