By Shannon Mason
25-year-old Jonathan Horn isn’t afraid of working hard—or taking risks. After dedicating 6 years to the pursuit of a medical career, he’s now logging long hours at ICE, as a dual Culinary Arts and Culinary Management major. Inspired by the joy his grandparents—both Holocaust survivors—brought to the table, Jon exudes an incredible passion and appreciation for the kitchen. We sat down with him to learn more about his path to ICE:
What inspired you to enroll in culinary school?
Every interaction I’ve had with my grandparents at the dinner table and in the kitchen paved my path toward culinary school. They are both immigrants from Eastern Europe and, having survived the Holocaust, came here with nothing. The notion of having a simple, filling meal with their family gathered is the most gratifying experience for them.
As a child, I don’t think I quite grasped what was going on in my grandfather’s head when he would say, “Eat’em up.” in broken English at each and every single meal. Or why my grandmother would cook these amazing meals with every grandchild’s favorite dish, and then just stare at us with a huge smile on her face without even thinking of eating her own food. My family’s best experiences always revolved around a lavish meal, and frivolity always ensued. Over time, I really began to understand and cherish these meals. I don’t think anything can beat a good plate of food and a nice glass of wine. It really brings people together.
My grandfather worked as a cook seriously into his 80’s. I think he always dreamed of having his own place, and I really want to fulfill his dream. At the same time, I want to provide that same convivial atmosphere for others—to have fun, celebratory, and sometimes more meaningful experiences, just like my grandparents offered me at their dinner table.
Has entering the culinary field always been a dream of yours? If not, what was your career goal before coming to ICE?
Despite having loved food my entire life, I never considered a career in it as being remotely plausible or practical. I actually intended on becoming a doctor. Most of my family works in the healthcare field; both my parents are doctors, my brother is a doctor, and my sister is pursuing a PhD in public health. Watching surgery as a kid excited me and the sciences interested me, so I always thought I could be good at it.
Yet, at the end of the day—and years of exploring the medical field—I realized that medicine had always been a practical decision and not one that I genuinely felt an internal excitement toward. So despite having studied premedical sciences for four years, worked in orthopedic research for two years, and succeeded on my MCATS, I decided to throw it all aside. Instead, I moved on to something that has always filled me with joy and excitement: working with food. I definitely learned a lot about myself over those years, and I can genuinely say now that I have no regrets about changing careers and delving into this brand new world.
What has been the most memorable part of your ICE experience?
On my second day of school, I attended a demonstration by Rudy Weid where he broke down an entire lamb. I walked into the room, and there was this huge lamb, completely untouched, just sitting on the counter! Watching him break down this completely intact animal into that lamb chop you would serve on a plate was really special. It gave me a greater appreciation of where our food comes from and the whole process required to get to that finished plate.
I’ve always really appreciated the idea of starting with simple ingredients in their original form and creating something more complex which showcases their potential. Following that demonstration with two weeks of intensive training in meat, poultry, and fish fabrication was really memorable.
What has been your proudest moment or biggest accomplishment at ICE?
I think working at the James Beard House for Chef Nemo Bolin’s dinner event has been my proudest moment. I was on my feet the entire day, prepping for the event, working the stoves, pulling sheet pans full of food to and from the oven, and plating dishes—and it was the first time I was given a lot of responsibility in the kitchen.
I think Chef Bolin took notice of my inquisitiveness and desire to work hard, so he really involved me in the whole cooking process. Despite standing for 12 hours straight in the tiny, cramped kitchen of the Beard House, I felt exhilarated afterward. Chef then invited me out for a fantastic night of spectacular food and cocktails to celebrate the event’s success. That was the first time I proved to myself and saw that, despite having little practical experience, my passion and hard work would pay off in a real kitchen setting.
What experiences have been difficult or challenging for you to overcome?
I actually grew up in an Orthodox Jewish family and community, where kosher dietary laws are strictly observed. I currently maintain a kosher kitchen in my household. Dairy and meat cannot be cooked or eaten together, so we have separate pots, pans, and dishes for dairy and for meat. Only certain animals are considered kosher, and those meats have to be slaughtered under specific guidelines (making kosher meat really expensive!).
Although I do taste the food I cook in school, I can’t practice many of the techniques I learn at home. I can’t even use butter in any meat preparations! So finding alternative ingredients while still applying the same techniques has been challenging but fun. It’s also been difficult for some family and friends to understand and for me to explain to them that I’m pursuing this career path despite the potential conflicts with my religion.
It’s been a great few months, with a ton to learn every day and a lot of intensive work between the two programs…much more than I had expected! But it has been extremely gratifying and fun working so hard.
What are your goals after graduating from ICE?
My ultimate goal is to open my own restaurant as executive chef-owner.
Do you have a personal motto or mantra that motivates you?
Find a job you love, and you’ll never have to work a day in your life.
We’ll agree with that!