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STUDENTS here have simply called it the “E Room” as they toiled in the kitchen to feed some 1.5 million diners over the last 38 years. But on Thursday, the Escoffier Restaurant, the fusty, classically inspired, formal French dining room of the Culinary Institute of America, will close its doors in preparation for a radical transformation into a sleek, haute brasserie.
When it reopens next year, after a $3 million down-to-the-studs renovation with an interior by Adam Tihany, who also designed Daniel, Jean Georges and Per Se, the restaurant will offer a contemporary, French-accented, globally influenced menu. It will also have a new name: the Bocuse Restaurant, after Paul Bocuse, the celebrated 86-year-old Lyonnaise chef.
But the change is not simply an homage to Mr. Bocuse. In shedding the name of Auguste Escoffier, who codified the French cooking canon and helped create the hierarchical kitchen brigade system that long ruled grand kitchens about the world, the 66-year-old school hopes its new restaurant will reflect “the dining revolution in America,” said Tim Ryan, the institute’s president. It will embody, he added, the shift away from kitchen servitude — and toward creativity and collaboration — that has taken place over the years.
“C.I.A. has to stay ahead of the curve,” said Mr. Benno, the executive chef of Lincoln Ristorante and a 1993 graduate. “But it’s one more little piece of history, and of our culture as chefs, that is being put on a shelf in a library.” He remembers the kitchen as the place where, “for the first time, I’d ever seen and cooked frogs’ legs. It was eye-opening.”
Mark V. Erickson, the institute’s provost, said the new kitchen would not have the rigid hierarchy and separation of the classic stations of the original Escoffier, where specialized brigade stations, like saucier and legumier, were adorned with printed signs in 1974. At Bocuse, sauces, sautéing and vegetable preparation will be done at several stations, and there will be much more collaboration among the cooks. The size of the teaching kitchen will be doubled. More fundamentally, in the original Escoffier, classic menu items dictated the ingredients chefs bought; in the Bocuse, Mr. Erickson said, chefs will shop for the most seasonal and pristine ingredients, and then write a menu to showcase them.
Dr. Ryan said that in the end, the new restaurant would be about instruction. “Students will go out from Bocuse to change the industry,” he said. “The next Grant Achatz is here.”