By Cindi Avila and Stephen Zagor
For the past two weeks, The Institute of Culinary Education has had international students walking its halls. Students from ICE’s Russian campus were in New York City to learn the tricks of the trade from some of ICE’s best culinary management instructors. A year after ICE first opened its doors at its new school in St. Petersburg, Russia, fifteen students from the school traveled more than 4000 miles for the chance to train with instructors such as Stephen Zagor and Vin McCann. Most of the students are in their mid-twenties, and speak both Russian and English fluently.
The students, most of whom hope to own or manage their own restaurants back in Russia, spent their two-week visit soaking in the sights and sounds of New York City, enjoying trips to Eataly and Blue Smoke, and spending time with ICE staff, students, and instructors.
Here’s more about the visit from the Dean of ICE’s School of Business Management, Stephen Zagor:
While it’s tempting to envision Russia as a beacon of Eastern European culture, untouched by globalization’s influence, it is a far cry from the reality. Today, Russian is overrun with shrines to the best America has to offer, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Papa John’s, Subway, and the soon-to-open Shake Shack. Our former rivals can’t wait to absorb American culture, much like Sponge Bob eating a Crabby Patty.
Upon noticing Russia’s interest in American food, ICE and SwissAm partnered together to open an Cooking and Culinary Management school in St. Petersburg. The school’s aim is to train Russians in American styles of cooking and culinary management. Over the course of the past two weeks, ICE hosted the first class of Russian students enrolled in our St. Petersburg location during their visit to New York City.
I had the opportunity to spend some time with the students and their leader, the Director of Food and Beverage studies at ICE St. Petersburg. This group of highly motivated, focused and excited students–none of whom had ever stepped foot on American shores prior to this visit–reminded me of the first time I took my son to Disney World, albeit in a different setting. Their reaction to the New York food scene was a resounding “WOW!” They couldn’t get enough of this American culinary fantasy land.
The students informed me that Russian restaurants are where American restaurants were twenty or thirty years ago. Smoking is the norm. Dining concepts are largely unfocused and lack nuance; sushi rolls might just as easily contain raisins and chicken as tuna.
The dark, leafless trees of the past now blossom with new potential for economic growth and restaurant development. As a result, SwissAm, which owns over 70 restaurants in Russia, has a keen interest in training a new fleet of Russian chefs that will breathe life into the culinary scene. If that isn’t enough, they are also developing a behemoth 20,000+ square foot restaurant complex on 8th Avenue and 42nd. So who’s invading who?
All I know is this–I learned so much in the short time I spent with our visiting Russian students and their leader that I felt the role of teacher and student was practically reversed. They are a sharp, dynamic, and impressive group. Their appetite for success is strong–very strong. It reminds me of watching my son grow from a child into a better version of me. Don’t be surprised if we train the Russian to be better versions of us.
Maybe if we are lucky, some will end up back here at ICE or in the USA. That would be a win-win situation. Until that day (hopefully) comes, we here at ICE NYC wish them all the best of luck!