So you want to be a chef, but don’t know if you’ll like working in restaurant kitchens? Well, what if restaurant experience could be a powerful tool in launching a less traditional career in food? That’s what happened for ICE Culinary Arts graduate Alex Laudeman, who now works on the culinary development team for one of NYC’s hottest food delivery startups, Maple. We caught up with this trendsetting alum to learn what it’s been like shifting from restaurants to research and development.
What was your education or professional background before working in food?
I attended Wake Forest University, where I studied art history and communication. It was after returning to the United States from a yearlong experience teaching English to high school students in Bangkok, Thailand that I decided to dive into the culinary world.
What inspired you to take the leap?
My family has owned a restaurant for three generations, which my father now runs. He started taking me to work when I was 12, and over the years I did just about everything: prepping little baskets of fried shrimp, manning the cash register, bussing, serving, bartending. After I’d returned from Thailand, I was a little lost, and I started teaching myself to cook at home. Pretty soon it was the only thing I cared about, and any ideas I had about a different career were kicked to the curb.
Where was your ICE externship, and how did it influence your career path?
I did my externship at ESCA—a Batali/Bastianich seafood restaurant in Midtown—and wound up staying for four years. It gave me a base to build my career, in terms of both contacts and skills. Then, about a year ago, I left ESCA to work for the research and development team at Maple.
What has it been like transitioning from restaurant work to R&D?
It’s a completely different game, but I’m lucky because I still get to work in a very active, hardworking kitchen. At Maple, our R&D kitchen is attached to our production kitchen, which is great because I like that energy. I miss the rush of dinner service, but I’ve found other things that are incredibly rewarding about this job. Watching a dish go from a vague idea to a coherent item on the menu is exciting. Figuring out how to fix the unique problems that are presented by Maple’s business model is a daily challenge that I enjoy.
Is there anything people might be surprised to learn about your job?
I do a lot of running around between different locations, trying to figure out issues that are sometimes not related to R&D at all. We have a small team, so we all have to keep our eyes and ears open to everything all the time. My restaurant experience has been an invaluable asset for this job.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in culinary careers outside of restaurant kitchens?
Don’t get too stuck on one particular job type. Be open to things you hadn’t considered before, because you never know how a job will change and develop.
Eager to follow in Alex’s footsteps? Check out ICE’s diploma program in Culinary Arts.