As the pastry chef behind jewelry-inspired bakery Mini Melanie, ICE Culinary Arts alum Melanie Moss serves up some of the most stylish treats in NYC. But before she was catering the city’s most chic parties and designing cakes that are almost too pretty to eat, Melanie trained in some of the country’s most famous restaurant kitchens. We checked in with this innovative alum to learn about the training that prepared her for a dynamic career as a culinary entrepreneur.
Did you have another career before working in food?
I went to college at Northwestern University, where I was an English and French major. During college, I interned at Hachette Book Group, where I found a job in publishing after graduation. I always thought I’d have an office job, but once I was behind the desk for a year or so, all I could think about was cooking, so I started a private chef business. Around the same time, I took a tour of ICE, and I just knew that this industry was for me, so I enrolled as a part-time student in the weekend program.
What was it that attracted you to ICE?
I had zero restaurant experience, and the beautiful, sprawling kitchens at ICE—filled with excellent equipment—seemed like the boot camp I needed to prepare myself for restaurant life. I fell in love with the library, too, as I’ll always be a bookworm! I spent hours looking through the stacks of old Gourmet magazines and ICE’s beautiful cookbook collection. It seemed like the perfect spot to learn and grow right in New York City.
How did you end up working in pastry?
It ironically started with meat fabrication. Chef Ted Siegel (one of my all-time favorites!) was an amazing instructor, but I couldn’t seem to get the cuts right. So I reached out to Pat LaFrieda, asking if I could watch his butchering team one night, and he wrote back straight away, inviting me in for a tour. I started working for Mr. LaFrieda, and I finally got the hang of how to butcher. At some point, he kindly gave me the phone number for the kitchen at Babbo.
The next day, I knocked on Babbo’s door and begged for an externship. Chef Frank Langello made time for a quick chat but said nothing was open on the line. I left disappointed, planning to follow up in a month or so. Then, before I knew it, Chef Frank was chasing after me! He remembered that his James Beard Award-winning pastry chef, Gina DePalma (who is also an ICE alum!), had a member of her team on vacation and needed someone to fill in for two weeks. Suddenly, I had an externship in pastry at Babbo, which turned into a full-time position.
What was your path from Babbo to Mini Melanie?
My time at Babbo was incredible. I’d never worked in a restaurant before, and Gina taught me everything—sometimes the hard way—but it paid off a million times over. Patience, practice and perseverance: that was my mantra each day.
Eventually, I became interested in working for a very different kind of kitchen, so I left Babbo for Blue Hill at Stone Barns. It was thrilling but complicated—I had to move to Westchester in my twenties! I started as Blue Hill’s pastry line cook and, within a month, became the pastry chef for the Stone Barns café, which meant that I was also baking bread for the restaurant.
At Blue Hill, my role continued to grow: teaching classes, developing desserts for Chef Dan Barber and working on special projects such as the Blue Hill yogurt brand. It’s impossible to gauge just how much my time at Blue Hill affected my career, because I learned that much. I was working all the time, but I had incredible freedom, resources and guidance to experiment and grow as a pastry chef. That experience gave me the confidence to begin testing recipes for Mini Melanie.
What was it like to launch your own business, and why did you choose to work with a start-up incubator program?
When I decided to launch Mini Melanie, I had a culinary background but no business experience—but I wasn’t going to let that stop me. In fact, it’s a wonderful thing to launch a food business in 2015. There’s an app for every type of service, social media is king and you can Google many of the questions you have.
Working with Hot Bread Kitchen Incubates—a program that supports NYC culinary start-ups—appealed to me because, in addition to finding affordable commercial kitchen space, you get so much more out of it. The program directors regularly share marketing opportunities, and I learned so much just by mingling and collaborating with other entrepreneurs.
What might people be surprised to learn about your career?
I originally thought I wanted to be a food journalist, and I had no idea how to navigate a restaurant kitchen when I started!
What advice would you give to students who are interested in launching their own business one day?
Research is so important, you have to get a sense of the competition and what products/services already exist in your market. I also recommend listening to podcasts and reading business books—that’s what I did! You’ve got to have the passion and drive to keep things moving forward each and every day.
Eager to launch your own company? Sharpen your skills with an ICE diploma in Culinary Arts.