“You’re going to get your close-up if you want it,” explains renowned chef and Food Network personality Alex Guarnaschelli. “But when it happens, what will you know how to do, and what will you have to say?”
This week, Chef Alex spoke to a packed room of ICE students and graduates as she shared insights from her storied culinary career. Alongside her in the kitchen was ICE Culinary Arts alum Michael Jenkins, who has worked under Alex at Butter Restaurant for the past 10 years. Michael began as an extern and currently heads the restaurant as chef de cuisine.
The theme of navigating the early stages of one’s career persisted throughout Alex’s talk, as she fielded student questions and explained her evolution as a chef. Before stepping onto a set at Food Network, she had already logged 17 years as a culinary professional—including a stint as a chef instructor in ICE’s Culinary Arts program. “When I first appeared on food television, I only had to adapt to the lights and the cameras. Cooking was second nature to me by then, but I’ve seen many chefs step into the spotlight before they were ready.”
By Christen Clinkscales—Student, School of Culinary Arts
The first time I walked into an ICE kitchen, I could not wait to start cooking! I quickly found out how much there was to learn before I’d be allowed to craft a complete dish. Initially, I was disappointed that we weren’t going to jump right in and prepare elaborate feasts. That’s what I signed up for, right? As it turns out, consistently producing an amazing plate is harder than it looks. From knife skills to sauces to butchery, it’s amazing how many “basic” skills I learned in just the first two months of school.
The ICE Culinary Arts program is divided into five modules, and “Mod 1” is all about these basics. During this intensive dive into the foundations of professional cooking, my classmates and I learned about the evolution of cooking throughout history, the importance of sanitation, basic knife skills, herb identification, culinary math, stock making, fabrication (also known as butchery) and more.
Read on to learn more about the first weeks of culinary school at ICE.
By Michael Laiskonis—Creative Director
“If you cook, you are going to get hurt.” The crowd that gathered for a panel discussion on modernist cooking erupted into laughter, but Wylie Dufresne’s observation was gravely accurate. Extreme heat (and cold—working with liquid nitrogen was the object of Wylie’s remark), sharp knives and heavy equipment are some of the perils cooks must navigate in their daily workplace environment. Add to the mix a dash of occasional chaos and the pressure to produce at breakneck speed, and it’s a wonder more chefs don’t bear hideous deformities.
Young cooks are instantly identified by the rows of scars running up their forearms: the reminders of brief skin-singing encounters with blazing hot oven racks and pan handles. A cook’s relative experience is easily judged by his or her fingertip’s tolerance to heat (a seemingly heat-proof layer of skin inevitably forms with time). Another telltale sign of a chef is the tough, raised callous at the base of the index finger: the contact point of skin and the carbon steel blade of a chef’s knife. This callous never fully returns to soft, supple flesh, even after years of retirement from daily slicing and chopping. It’s a calling card of sorts, a silent testament to one’s lifelong métier.
By Jenny McCoy—Chef Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts
I am constantly asking my students at ICE, “What role does this ingredient play in the recipe we are making?” In the case of butter—an ingredient most cooks take for granted—there are many answers. Most students immediately respond that butter adds flavor and richness to a recipe, which is correct. But did you know that butter could also be considered a leavening agent? (Think about puff pastry!) Let’s take a closer look at what—beyond flavor—butter is adding to all the fabulous baked goods ICE students are making in our classrooms.
Butter is nothing more than an emulsion of butterfat, water and 1% or so of milk fat solids. In the United States, there is a minimum federal standard of 80% butterfat content needed to label and sell a product as butter. Your average supermarket brands will go no further, squeaking in at 80% butterfat. Butter labeled “European-style” generally has more butterfat, upwards of 83%. And artisanal butters—usually made by very small, local dairy farms—will produce butter with even higher amounts of butterfat, sometimes between 85% and 86%.
Read on to learn more about the role of butter in baking.
By Steve Zagor—Dean, Business & Management Studies
“As Minimum Wages Rise, Restaurants Say No to Tips, Yes to Higher Prices,” reads the New York Times headline. I experienced this seismic change firsthand on a trip to St. Louis. My son and I stopped for an impromptu lunch at a very modest neighborhood café (see: worn upholstery, paper menus and general shabby charm). Only two other tables were occupied during prime lunch service, and one look at the extravagant menu prices had me wondering if we were in for a taste of highway robbery.
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Photo Credit: Lea Latumahina[/caption]
I ran down my typical checklist. Was the restaurant an alum of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives? Was it a farm-to-table, locally sourced, organic, natural, gluten-free, green, Slow Foods-endorsed, celebrity chef-fueled find? Nope. None of the above. Discomfort swelled inside me like a cheese soufflé rising in a too-small cup. Finally, I saw a small note between the burger of the day and the Caesar salad stating, “all prices include basic gratuity.”
Read on to learn how wage increases are changing the rules for restaurateurs.
In today’s food culture, ingredient-focused or “farm-to-table” cuisine has become so commonplace that many young chefs can’t remember a time before it existed. Before the dawn of Instagram, food blogs and YouTube videos, a generation of chefs willed this movement into existence through a series of earth-shattering cookbooks. Those books—most importantly, Cooking the Nouvelle Cuisine in America and the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook—reshaped the culinary landscape and have since paved the way for such famous chefs as Thomas Keller and Mark Ladner.
Other chefs may name other books as the ones that defined their careers, but for the students who ask about my formation as a cook, I always recommend they read these two texts. While it’s important to stay up-to-date on modern trends in food, learning about the roots of contemporary American cooking can both further young chefs’ understanding of current kitchen culture and spark their personal creativity.
Read on to learn more about California cuisine and the “American culinary revolution.”
From a tiny farm-to-table restaurant in the Pacific Northwest to the high-volume luxury of NYC’s Waldorf Astoria, ICE Chef Instructor Sam Kadko’s career has been nothing if not diverse. After 40 years in the industry, he’s still exploring the limits of his skill set, from growing organic produce to implementing ICE’s curriculum at our partner school in Russia.
Yet despite his wide-ranging success, Sam has always remained grounded in his philosophy. “From the beginning, my aspiration was to master a trade—to be as good as the chefs I saw in the restaurants where I first worked. Being rich or famous never crossed my mind—it has always been about refining my skills.”
Read on to learn more about Chef Sam’s diverse culinary career.
By Lauren Katz—Student, School of Pastry & Baking Arts
I didn’t think field trips could get any better than grade school visits to the zoo, the science center or the monuments in Washington, D.C. But when Chef Jenny McCoy announced our class would be visiting Mast Brothers Chocolate Makers and OddFellows Ice Cream Co. in Brooklyn, I had a feeling this field trip would top them all. What I didn’t realize, however, was that this particular field trip would inspire a possible focus for my career path in pastry.
After a long workday, it was comforting to walk into the Mast Brothers factory to be greeted by the warm aroma of chocolate. (By the way–did you know Rick Mast is an ICE Culinary Management alum?) Unlike some store/factory hybrids, almost all of the production at Mast can be seen from the entrance, as glass windows reveal a large aging and tempering room. What’s most impressive about this small company is that they produce all of their chocolate from bean-to-bar on-site.
Read on to learn more about Lauren’s field trips to Mast Brothers Chocolate Makers and OddFellows Ice Cream Co.
What would it feel like to prepare a truly life-changing meal? Just ask ICE Culinary Arts alum and hospital nutrition expert Pnina Peled. As the senior executive chef at New York Presbyterian and the former executive chef at Memorial Sloan Kettering, Pnina has spearheaded the dramatic transformation of New York City’s hospital food over the past five years.
Before she was customizing nutrient-dense menus for sick patients—and even before she worked in some of NYC’s top kitchens—Pnina’s circumstances were just like the average ICE student. Raised by a family of restaurateurs, her weekend wake-up call was literally, “Time to make the donuts!” She dreamed of pursuing a career in medicine, but her family encouraged her to stay close to home, so she did and earned her college degree in business management. Initially, Pnina made rent by working in the accounting department at a law firm. While she excelled at her job, she knew accounting wasn’t her calling, so she enrolled in ICE’s evening Culinary Arts program to launch a new, creative career.
Read on to learn how Pnina became an executive chef at two of the country’s top hospitals.