Search Results for: "Chris Gesualdi"

chefchrisheadshotBy Carly DeFilippo

Chef Chris Gesualdi is no slouch. Last night, he whipped 16 novice chefs into shape, prepping a 10-course New Year’s Eve hors d’oeuvres menu in just under three hours. Not only was it one of the most organized cooking classes I’ve taken, it was also one of the most intriguing.

Gesualdi is not only a veritable fountain of culinary wisdom (he’s logged serious kitchen time with Thomas Keller, and worked at some of New York’s most renown restaurants), but a genuinely curious cook. Called “The Scavenger” by his colleagues, he enjoys working with odd bits leftover from other classes. Parsley stems? Throw them in “sachet d’épices” to season your broth. Organ meats? Turn them into such delicacies such as a foie gras terrine. And when it comes to troubleshooting a broken mayonnaise or keeping your mousse from deflating, Chef Chris is your guy.

When learning from a great teacher, it’s the tips that aren’t in the recipe packet that stick with you. Sure, we made a killer tarragon emulsion last night, but – more importantly – we learned how to properly care for the chinois through which it is strained. I couldn’t be more excited to whip up another batch of brandade, but if my guests aren’t big salt cod fans, I can also substitute a combination of sole, lobster and scallops. And that immersion blender I was so keen on purchasing? I’d actually get a smoother puree in a high-quality blender like a Vita-Prep.

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Students shred pork for one of Chef Chris’ cocktail snacks.

In short, with Chef Chris, we didn’t learn how to follow a recipe – we learned how to cook. So tonight, when I’m assembling these hors d’oeuvres to share with my New Year’s guests, I won’t have my eyes glued to a piece of paper. I’ll taste, season and combine ingredients instinctually, because – as Chef Chris humbly insisted – it’s all up to the preference of the chef.

Foie Gras Mousse – Garnished with Minced Black Truffles

IMG_0150Recipe by Chef Chris Gesualdi

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds foie gras terrine
  • 2 sheets gelatin
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • Minced black truffles, as needed
  • Pre-baked pastry shells (or toasted, sliced baguette)

Instructions

  1. Place gelatin sheets in water to “bloom”.
  2. Puree foie gras in food processor.
  3. Remove gelatin from water, squeeze out extra water. Place in a small sauce pan with 1/4 cream to gently heat and dissolve.
  4. When gelatin is dissolved, gradually add cream mixture to (running) food processor.
  5. Gradually add 1/2 cup heavy cream to food processor.
  6. When evenly mixed, remove foie mousse from processor, and refrigerate until chilled.
  7. Pipe mousse into pre-baked pastry shells or onto toasted baguette slices.
  8. Garnish with minced black truffles.

Notes
To lighten recipe, you can use veal or duck stock instead of cream.

More and more ICE students are interested in learning the modernist techniques that are becoming so popular in restaurant kitchens across the world. Last night, one of ICE’s resident experts, Chef Instructor Chris Gesualdi, taught a class on how to use hydrocolloids, or gums, in the kitchen.

In this hands-on class, Chef Chris taught alumni and current ICE students about how to use xanthan gum and carrageenan, as well as perform spherification and reverse spherification. For example, to start the class he blended water with precise weights of xantham gum measured by percentage to demonstrate the different textures the gums could create. More »

When ICE Chef Instructor Chris Gesualdi isn’t busy teaching in ICE’s Culinary Arts Career Program, he can be found crafting recipes and experimenting with molecular gastronomy in any of ICE’s kitchens. I was fortunate to document the process of Chef Chris’s latest creation, salami from scratch.

“The key is to keep all of your grinding equipment in the freezer, where it’s covered, clean and cold,” said Chef Chris as he sliced through a spicy sopressata. The salami was one of six different types Chef Chris made during his most recent round of recipe testing. His recipes included everything from red wine and garlic to white pepper and cayenne, and the process is one that requires following a strict time-line over a 30-day time span. More »


By Caitlin Raux

On a recent Thursday, I had a late morning phone chat with Aaron Fusco (Culinary Arts ’10), sommelier at Daniel. At 31 years old, he’s relatively young to be holding a top rank in the wine program of one of New York City’s most eminent restaurants. Just a couple minutes into our conversation, however, his affable yet polished nature came through. Together with Aaron’s passion for fine dining, it makes sense that he should be managing the expectations of (and schmoozing with) some of the most demanding customers in the industry.

Sommelier Aaron Fusco

Aaron was kind enough to offer us a sneak peak into a day in the life of a sommelier at Daniel, and to answer some hard-hitting wine questions, like whether the best sparklers come from France and if screw-top wines really merit their bad rap.

Was food a big part of your family life growing up?

Somewhat. My grandma was a really good cook and we all really enjoyed dinners at her house, though I wasn’t involved in the cooking very much. It wasn’t until after college, when I had time to focus on other things, that I realized I loved cooking. I just enjoyed it — the productivity and the tactile experience of cooking. I started watching Jacques Pepin programs and it went from there.

What did you do before ICE?

I studied economics at McGill University. Then I took a year in between graduating and starting the program.

That’s quite a change, economics to culinary arts.

I was spending summers working in a law firm, getting a feel for the 9-5 corporate life. That was motivation to do something a bit more fulfilling.

Tell me about your decision to enroll at ICE.

I was doing a lot of cooking at home and I wanted to make a transition into the industry. I considered other schools but I thought it would be crazy to enroll in a two-year program. Then I started looking at ICE and a couple other schools and decided on ICE. The main difference was the externship — I thought the externship was a better way to get good experience.

Were there any instructors or modules at ICE that stood out to you?

Yes. Chef Chris Gesualdi was by far the strongest teacher that I had. He had the real experience in terms of working in the best New York restaurants and was very interested in studying advanced techniques. This was a period when molecular gastronomy was a little more en vogue than it is now. I did a lot of recipe testing and extra-curricular work with Chef Chris, which was great.

Was that your first exposure to modern gastronomy and fine dining?

Absolutely. I was very naïve when I started the program. I didn’t know too much about the New York restaurant scene or the leading chefs outside of the celebrity chefs. Chef Chris helped open my eyes to Alinea and WD~50, which were the big places at the time. He was someone who had been in the industry so long but was still invigorated by what was around him.

How did training as a chef translate into working in wine?

I did my externship at Picholine, which was a two-Michelin star restaurant at the time. I continued to work with the chef after my externship and followed him to a couple of different restaurants. After about 15 months, I decided to make the transition to front of house. From there, it took another two years until I discovered wine and really got into it at Daniel.

What was your first job at Daniel?

I began in July 2012 as a busboy and within a year I was promoted to assistant captain. That’s when I started getting into wine. I was working for just under two years before I became a part-time sommelier.

Going from the kitchen to front of house as a busboy is a substantial change. Did you know you wanted to eventually be a sommelier when you began?

I first worked at Tocqueville — they helped me make the transition from back of house to front of house. I spent 9 months there, getting the hang of things, and then I made my way to Daniel. I had the mindset of I want to work in the best place possible. I figured that the learning curve would be higher.

What’s a day in the life like as a sommelier at Daniel?

I arrive at work at 3pm. I say hi to the management team and let them know I’m there. Then I do a little bit of set up in the dining room. I go downstairs to the wine cellar, say hello to my boss, take a look at the reservations for the evening and make a game plan for service itself. Then we usually have a handful of deliveries to put away — wines that need to be checked in and sorted in the wine cellar. Some evenings, we put some wines aside for private events and do restocking. Then we have lunch, a meeting and service. Service entails speaking with guests, opening bottles and keeping an eye on the tables I’m responsible for. At the end of the evening there’s usually restocking to do in the large cellar and smaller fridges upstairs; I say “smaller,” but there’s still a couple thousand bottles. That’s pretty much it. It’s really focused on service — there’s not as many behind-the-scenes tasks. The majority of work outside of the cellar is interacting with clients.

Now for a few wine and industry questions: It seems like the wine industry is changing in that people are having more fun with wine — taking it less seriously. What are your thoughts?

I totally support the idea of wine drinking becoming more casual. I enjoy wines that have a cerebral element to them, but that’s not to say that every glass of wine you drink should be analyzed to death. It’s a visceral and emotional experience, and if you want to dive deeper that can be fun and compelling. But at its surface, wine should just be enjoyed.

What’s your process for learning wines?

When I started, Raj Vaidya, the gentleman who runs Daniel’s wine program, encouraged me to take an autodidactic approach to wine. He told me, Anything you don’t know, go home and look up, and if you still don’t understand, then come ask me. If you do research on your own, it sinks into your brain a lot more than when you’re told something. So that’s what I did. The tasting side is taken care of at work. We have a policy that when we open a bottle, we pour a half-ounce for ourselves, to analyze the wine and make sure it’s in good condition for the guest. In a given night, I taste upward of 30 wines. Then I have a large stack of books and do a lot of reading.

You’re on a date and want to impress someone — what region and year is your go-to?

It really depends on a person’s taste. It’s hard to have an overarching standard. Still, I’d say Champagne is the best way to impress somebody. There are few people who dislike Champagne. I’d recommend getting away from the Roederer, the Krug and the Moët and find a nice grower-producer of Champagne. Then you can talk about how you’re drinking a wine made by a producer family in a small town.

What about a funky sparkling wine from a lesser-known region?

Those are fun, but not always the most refined. I tend toward something refined, smooth and approachable. I’m less interested in rustic wines with sharper edges.

So you’re saying that Champagne makes the best sparkling wine?

Hands-down, absolutely (laughs.) Well, I would say the most complex. If you’re looking for complexity and wines driven by terroir, then Champagne is the answer.

What about screw-tops? Are those always inferior wines? 

I don’t have a ton of experience with screw tops. But you’re placing wine in a 100% anaerobic environment, which overtime could put “reductive taints,” as they call them, into the wine by not allowing for any passage of oxygen into the bottle like a cork would allow. I think for aging wines, it’s not a good thing. But for young, fresh wines, there’s nothing wrong with screw top. Plus, you can get to the wine easier.

Ready to launch your culinary career? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.

paras shah kat and theo

By Carly DeFilippo

Many people believe that to find success in the food industry, you need to start working in kitchens by the age of 18. At ICE, we’ve helped students from the ages of 17 to 70 discover their road to culinary success. Among those graduates is Culinary Arts alum Paras Shah, the executive chef at Kat & Theo in New York City’s Flatiron District. Already noted by such publications as Eater, The Infatuation and Grub Street, Kat & Theo is slated to be one of the most exciting new restaurants of 2016.

Before he was racking up mentions in the press, Paras was a restless 29-year-old, unhappy in his sales job and craving a change. When he saw one of his colleagues let go from the company, it sparked the motivation he needed to make his move. “I thought if there’s a chance for me to be laid off in this career I don’t even like, why not proactively pursue a career I would love? Which, for me, the dream was always to own a restaurant.”

By 30, Paras had enrolled at ICE and discovered his first culinary mentor in Chef Chris Gesualdi. As Thomas Keller’s longtime “right-hand man” and the former Executive Chef at the James Beard Award-nominated Montrachet, Chef Chris exemplifies the attention to detail and professional determination that it takes to cut it in the industry’s finest restaurants. Paras notes, “Chef Chris is an example of a real chef. He takes no flack and understands the value of old school hard work. He always wants to better himself, and I can’t see anybody ever impacting me more than Chef Chris. I can’t thank him enough for all he has done for me.”

Noting Paras’ talent, Chef Chris pushed him to work at the highest levels. “In the final module of the ICE program, he would push me to work even harder, saying, ‘There’s no complaining at Per Se,’” says Paras. “Once I got to my externship at Per Se—with the help of a recommendation from Chef Chris—it all clicked, and I understood exactly what he meant.”

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Students at work in Chef Chris Gesualdi’s kitchen at ICE

At Per Se, Paras found a wealth of opportunities. “Within my first couple hours in the restaurant, I learned what it was to be humble. Here I was at 30 years old, and there were younger kids in the kitchen cooking circles around me. I knew to succeed I would need to step it up, and part of that was breaking down walls within myself—pushing myself physically, mentally and emotionally.”

Among the highlights of his time at the restaurant was his relationship with Chef Jonathan Benno. “There was no room on the line at Per Se, but after my externship, Jonathan called David Chang and got me a position at Noodle Bar. That was before the Momofuku group had blown up—it was just on the verge of becoming an empire.”

Chef Chang also proved a perfect foil to Thomas Keller. “Where Per Se taught me technique, standards of excellence and precision, at Noodle Bar I learned to taste, to use my senses as a cook. Often, there were no recipes! I would be told, ‘Take these ingredients, and make them taste like that.’ I had to develop my palate and start to understand what the food was trying to be.”

During his second year at Noodle Bar, Paras began preparing an application for the ICEX Spanish Trade Commission scholarship. An award for young chefs, scholarship recipients are given the opportunity to spend 14 months in Spain, working at some of the country’s best restaurants. “When I was applying,” Paras explains, “it said that special attention would be given to chefs under the age of 27 who had at least five years of experience in kitchens. Neither of those guidelines applied to me, and yet, I still won. It taught me that if there’s something you want, you have to go for it.”

paras shah icex pain

A snapshot from Paras’ time abroad in Spain

Over the course of his time in Spain, Paras worked at many diverse restaurants, from The Hotel Santo Mauro in Madrid to El Bulli, to Echaurren, an acclaimed, family-run restaurant in a rural corner of La Rioja. In particular, Echaurren’s Chef Francis Paniego influenced Paras’ understanding of innovation through his creative take on traditional riojano cuisine. “The people who are the biggest innovators have a strong hold on the past. You need to know the traditions, be proud of your heritage and then expand upon those ideas. You can’t be afraid of putting your spin on a dish, but you also can’t forget the importance of old school technique.”

El Bulli was an incredible machine of precision, repetition and discipline for Paras. Chef Ferran Adrià was an incredibly collaborative chef, sharing his questions and challenges with his entire team of chefs and pushing them to come up with creative solutions. “The coolest thing about Ferran was that he wasn’t satisfied with throwing chemicals into something just to make it look cool. He wanted to show the inherent worth of each ingredient and treated an orange with just as much respect as foie gras. He was constantly in pursuit of the simplest, most elegant solution.”

Upon returning to New York City, Paras sought out Chef Josh DeChellis at Manhattan’s La Fonda del Sol to continue his pursuit of Spanish cuisine, working his way up to executive sous chef. In 2014, Paras toured the country with Dinner Lab, an innovative pop-up dinner collaborative that pulls from a wide range of international cuisines. Shortly after Paras started at Dinner Lab, Chef Josh reached out with an enticing offer.

paras shah charred octopus kat and theo

Charred octopus – photo compliments of Kat & Theo

The owners of Kat & Theo were looking for an executive chef to complement their vision for a Mediterranean restaurant. Just 24 hours after preparing a tasting for the restaurant’s team, Paras was offered the job. “Working at Kat & Theo has been a crazy experience. It’s my first time working the opening of a restaurant—and it’s my restaurant. So I’ve tackled a lot of general manager tasks that I’d never tried before—cash flow, employee management and official inspections from the department of health. My experience in business has helped a lot.”

Paras has advice for other career changers eager to get into the food industry: “Stay humble and listen without judging. You’re there to learn and increase your skill set, and even if something doesn’t make sense immediately, there’s probably a reason your chef wants it done a certain way. But also, have fun. The only reason to work in this industry is for the love of what we do, and if people don’t taste that love on the plate, that would be a terrible result.”

Ready to follow in Paras’ footsteps? Click here to request free information about ICE’s Culinary Arts program.

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By Carly DeFilippo

Today, it’s nearly impossible to remember a time before food media stars and celebrity chefs. But, in fact, many of the most respected restaurant industry pioneers grew up knowing that their parents and friends looked down on their career choice.

Such was the case for Brian Buckley, ICE’s first Culinary Management instructor. After more than 35 years in the industry, Brian has seen it all—and he’s having the last laugh. “After college, I tried working a normal job writing advertising copy, but after a year, a friend told me about a really good bartending gig. I realized I could make way more money doing something I liked! My parents were totally freaked out and begged me to go to law school, but I was smart enough to see that there was a real possibility to make a name for myself in the restaurant business.”

To structure his culinary education, Brian strategically worked a wide range of positions in every kind of food establishment imaginable—from three-star Michelin restaurants to dive bars. “It was a real awakening because I saw different aspects of the industry, and I learned a lot about the people management side of the industry.” Then, about 10 years into his career, Brian decided to advance his skills by enrolling in the culinary arts career program at ICE (then known as Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School).

Watch Brian explain the concept of “food cost” in our restaurant success video series:

“After 10 years in the business, I thought I knew everything,” Brian explains, “but ICE made me aware of so many more aspects of the industry—it kicked my butt.” The experience also stoked Brian’s entrepreneurial fire, and he started researching possibilities for an Italian steakhouse concept. At the same time, Brian’s network of contacts started reaching out with various consulting opportunities.

Brian credits his ICE diploma as the primary driver behind this unexpected consulting business. From developing a series of chicken recipes to establishing strategies for staff training, there was nothing he wasn’t recruited to do. “After about the third or fourth consulting gig, people starting telling me I was good at it. So I printed up some business cards and, 25 years later, I’m still consulting for a living.”

As a consultant, Brian has worked with everyone from California cuisine innovator Wolfgang Puck to the Food Network, Kitchen Arts & Letters, Cook’s Illustrated and even a wildly successful New York City Penn Station bar and grill called “Tracks.” “I’ve done every job in hospitality except valet parking,” jokes Brian. “If I saw that I could learn something new, I took the job.”

Watch Brian report in as an expert on breaking food safety news on CBS:

That diverse range of experience made Brian the ideal candidate for teaching, which is how he became the first instructor in ICE’s Culinary Management program. Sixteen years into teaching, the program has an incredible roster of alumni, including successful restaurateurs, specialty food retailers and food marketing professionals.

“It’s such a positive experience to work at ICE, and I love the students,” Brian notes. “For someone like me who has an insatiable appetite for learning, the ability to walk down the hall and see Michael Laiskonis working on chocolate or to have Chef Chris Gesualdi say, ‘Here, taste this sauce…’—that’s the dream.”

Brian’s advice for his students is to take the long view: “Your first project may not be your dream project, but it may help you establish your reputation or raise financing. You never know where this career will take you, so intentionally learn things you don’t need for your current job. With the nature of this business, there’s no skill that you won’t use at some point.”

Ready to boost your entrepreneurial skill set? Study with Brian in ICE’s Culinary Management program.

 

By Stephanie Fraiman

This weekend, ICE received the ultimate nationwide honor from the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP), winning the 2015 Award of Excellence for “Culinary School of the Year” at this year’s Annual IACP Conference in Washington, D.C.

Rick Smilow - IACP2015 - IACP - Culinary School of the Year

ICE President and CEO Rick Smilow accepts the 2015 IACP award for “Culinary School of Excellence.”

The IACP is a forum of 3,000 professional food and beverage members from 32 countries engaged in and committed to excellence in all aspects of the culinary industry at the local, national and global level. Each year, the IACP Awards pay tribute to notable culinary professionals or institutions that have made significant and lasting contributions to the culinary industry.

This award comes at a pivotal time in ICE’s history—2014 had record enrollments and 2015 marks the school’s 40th anniversary. In April, ICE will be moving to its brand new, expanded 74,000 sq. ft. home at Brookfield Place, overlooking the Hudson River in Lower Manhattan (225 Liberty Street).

“ICE’s mission is to help our students find their culinary voice, be it as a restaurant chef, food entrepreneur, master baker or simply a better home cook,” said Rick Smilow, ICE’s president and CEO since 1995. “This award not only validates those efforts, but also acknowledges our ongoing mission to be one of the world’s most programmatically diverse, creative, inspiring and state-of-the-art culinary institutes.”

At the IACP Conference, ICE won a second award as Culinary Arts Chef Instructor Chris Gesualdi was named 2015 “Culinary Educator of the Year.”  During Chef Chris’ 10 year tenure at ICE, he has made a lasting impact on thousands of students through his unyielding commitment to excellence in the kitchen. Prior to a career in education, Chef Chris worked at some of New York City’s best restaurants, including Le Bernardin, Tonic and Montrachet (where he received 3 stars in the New York Times and a James Beard Award nomination for his work as executive chef). Among Chris’ most formative colleagues is Chef Thomas Keller, who notes: “Chef Chris’ commitment, dedication and work ethic were unmatched and continue to be an example today. Our profession is in a better place because of [chef instructors] like Chris who truly understand what it takes to be a chef.”

chef chris

“ICE operates classes and events more than 350 days per year, helping people from across the country hone their culinary skills or advance their careers. We’ve created the ideal culinary community for anyone to find what they are looking for in food and hospitality,” said Richard Simpson, ICE’s vice president of education. “We are constantly looking to enhance this community with innovations like migrating our curriculum to iPads, installing a bean-to-bar chocolate lab in our new facility or partnering with leading brands like IBM and the New York Jets, and we’re proud that our professional colleagues recognize that effort and imagination.”

In the field of cookbooks and food journalism, three ICE alumni also received top honors at the conference, including “Best Culinary Column” (Kristen Miglore—Genius Recipes, Food52), “Cookbook: Judges Choice” (Jody Eddy—North: The New Nordic Cuisine of Iceland) and “Cookbook: Children, Youth & Family” (Ramin Ganeshram—Future Chefs: Recipes by Tomorrow’s Cooks Across the Nation and the World).

ICE has won IACP Awards in the past for “Best Vocational Cooking School” and “Best Recreational Cooking School.” Additionally, ICE Creative Director Michael Laiskonis won the “Culinary Professional of the Year” award in 2014 and Smilow, ICE’s president, won “Culinary Entrepreneur of the Year” in 2011.

Click here to learn more about ICE’s award-winning career programs.

By Carly DeFilippo, Culinary Arts Student

Beyond mise en place, butchery and learning various techniques to build rich flavor, one of the most fascinating parts of culinary school is, quite simply, discovering new ingredients. It could be something as simple as chervil (a faintly licorice-flavored relative of parsley) or as strange as sweetbreads (a cut of offal derived from an animal’s thymus gland). Every new discovery is just a drop in the endless sea of flavors and ingredients available to the contemporary chef.

They may look like chicken nuggets, but I assure you, they're sweetbreads.

They may look like chicken nuggets, but I assure you, they’re sweetbreads.

Yet of all the unexpected ingredients I’ve discovered as a student, there is none so bizarre—and cool!—as caul fat. A natural, thin membrane that surrounds the internal organs of animals such as cows, sheep and pigs, this spiderweb of fat is most often harvested from pork. In an industry that increasingly celebrates snout-to-tail or “whole hog” cooking, this natural casing for stuffed roasts adds moisture and flavor that will literally melt away while helping your dish keep its shape.

caul fat

Chef Chris Gesualdi shows our class how to use caul fat, also known as “crepinette.”

Rabbit is another of the more interesting ingredients we’ve had the chance to work with, a protein that many of my fellow students had never tasted before preparing it in class. From a butchery perspective, rabbit is among the most challenging animals to break down, due to its small frame and tiny bones. That said, once you understand the anatomy of the rabbit, it can help inform your butchery of much larger four-legged animals (which chefs usually buy in smaller cuts, rather than in their entirety). For our most recent preparation, we wrapped a saddle of rabbit (a cut consisting of part of the backbone and both loins) around sautéed mushrooms and used the caul fat to wrap each little package. The fat cooked off beautifully, resulting in a striking golden-brown color while still maintaining moisture.

However, interesting ingredients don’t only come from animals. I’ve always enjoyed when my Dominican friends prepared tostones (a chip-like preparation of under-ripe plantains) for their dinner parties, but had never worked with platanos myself. I learned to carefully fry, flatten and re-fry these mildly sweet cousins of the banana, then topped it off with a delicious mojo sauce of cilantro and garlic.

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Freshly fried tostones in mojo sauce

Yet the real thrill of cooking with these adventurous ingredients goes beyond their novelty. Working with the unfamiliar can help us see new possibilities for preparing the everyday foodstuffs that we take for granted. Whether butter, chicken, potatoes, parsley or other basics we regularly stock in our refrigerators, it’s fun—and, professionally, important— to find ways to revisit these ingredients and take stock of their untapped potential. With just a twist in technique, the ordinary can become as adventurous and exciting as any of the world’s most bizarre ingredients.

So switch out your weekly steak for sweetbreads. Swap out parsley for chervil. Wrap your roasted chicken in caul fat. You never know where the next culinary adventure will take you.

Come see all the exciting kitchen action in person. Call (888) 997-CHEF to arrange a personal tour of ICE.

 

 

By Carly DeFilippo

3 stars in the New York Times. Sous Chef to Thomas Keller. ICE Chef Instructor.

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From the Beatles to Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplin to Oprah Winfrey—some of the greatest success stories come from unlikely candidates who were told they would never “make it.” But if ICE instructor Chef Chris Gesualdi was once an underdog, you’d never know it today.

ICE - Meet the Chefs - Chris Gesualdi

Growing up in Connecticut, Chris’ first encounter with the culinary industry was as a dishwasher—a job he picked up to help pay for his motorcycles. But when the chefs were absent, Chris had to fill in, so by the time he finished high school he had already worked as a cook in two restaurants.

As part of his culinary education at the CIA—where he studied alongside fellow ICE chef instructors Ted Siegel and Mike Handel—Chris externed at several sites. At the first restaurant, the chef told Chris he would “never make it,” a pivotal moment that only motivated the young chef to work even harder.

It was during this period of externships that Chris learned his work ethic (notably, his ability to truly enjoy working 80-hour weeks) made him distinct from other cooks.  Even today, as a chef instructor, Chris balks at the idea of taking long vacations. He’s happiest at the stove—and when he’s not teaching at ICE, he’s typically trailing, doing stages at such acclaimed restaurants as Per Se, wd~50 or Blue Hill. “Nowhere in my life am I comfortable,” he says, “This is what I do for a living—I learn.”

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After graduating from school, Chris soon landed in New York, working his way into the kitchen of one of the country’s most buzzed about restaurants: La Reserve. Thomas Keller was at the helm of the kitchen, and Chris volunteered to work for free (while sustaining another full-time kitchen job) until Keller gave him a paid post.

For the next seven years, Chris was Keller’s “right hand man” and sous chef, from La Reserve to Rakel and Restaurant Raphael. At times, those back of the house teams were just the two chefs and a dishwasher. When Keller moved west to open the now-renowned French Laundry, Chris had a standing offer. But he knew he wanted to strike out on his own.

“The years I worked at La Reserve, Raphael’s and Rakel were some of the most formidable of my career and Chris was there every day. His commitment, dedication and work ethic were unmatched and continue to be an example today. I am blessed to be able to call him a colleague and friend, and our profession is in a better place because of chefs like Chris who truly understand what it takes to be a chef.” – Thomas Keller

The pinnacle of Chris’ ambitious career came at Montrachet, where he started as sous chef and was made Chef de Cuisine within a mere six months. Eventually named Executive Chef of the restaurant, Chris collaborated with legendary restaurateur Drew Nieporent, earning a 3-star New York Times review from Ruth Reichl—noted as one of the “best reviews” the writer ever penned. At a time when Tribeca had zero restaurant scene, Montrachet was one of the city’s first great downtown restaurants, serving fine-dining fare in a relaxed bistro setting. From the Daily News to the Observer to Zagat, Chris received the highest marks. In GQ magazine, his truffle-crusted salmon was named one of the “10 best dishes in the US”.

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Yet unlike many chefs of his generation, Chris wasn’t looking for the fame and the spotlight of the media. He says the kitchen is his escape from the pressures of life, where cooking in and of itself is the reward. In our age of celebrity chefs, Chris’ perspective is remarkable, an uncompromising dedication to cooking. And it’s that very passion that has transformed a man who has Thomas Keller and Drew Nieporent on speed dial into one of ICE’s most beloved and respected chef instructors.

In Chef Chris’ kitchen, things run with the smooth efficiency of a traditional French brigade system, but discipline alone can’t turn a hodge-podge team of future chefs into a well-oiled machine. Chris takes his students’ performance personally, and it’s that level of investment in each individual that transforms eager students into professional cooks.

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It’s hard to imagine a chef more inspiring or a teacher better suited to our diverse community of students. His famous tagline—“make it beautiful”—doesn’t just apply to the final plate. Every task—from washing dishes to crafting a sauce—has equal value. You don’t just learn technical skills in Chris’ class; you learn to respect yourself as a cook.

 

Click here to read more about Chef Chris.

By Carly DeFilippo

At ICE, we pride ourselves on the diversity of our community. In any given class, recent high school or college graduates learn knife skills along-side clinical nurses, marketing executives or former investment bankers. When it comes to career changers, we tell our students that all the skills they gained in previous careers will be of huge benefit to them when they enter the industry. As for finding a student who exemplifies that truth, there are few better examples than Culinary Arts graduate John Feingold.

John_Feingold_Headshot

John Feingold

What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE?

I’ve had several unsatisfying careers over the past 35 years. But I love to cook and eat almost more than anything else, so I decided to put my career where my mouth is. I quit my day job as a senior vice president at a big NYC real estate advisory firm, enrolled in ICE’s weeknight culinary program, and went out and bought a run-down restaurant property in Maine. My plan was to open a place that served food I’d like to eat. I’d been an adventurous home cook all my life, and I had taken lots of recreational courses, including some at ICE. I liked the ICE curriculum and the instructors I’d met, so ICE was an easy choice among several otherwise excellent schools. 

Where was your externship, and where have you worked since graduating?

After excellent trailing experiences in the kitchens at Tocqueville, Jean-Georges’ Nougatine, and Daniel Humm’s The NoMad, I selected Restaurant DANIEL for my externship site. That summer was a phenomenal learning experience, especially since I rotated around the kitchen and worked at every station, with every sous chef and chef de partie. Working side-by-side with Daniel Boulud, himself, was certainly memorable.

Following my externship I spent a month in Paris as stagiare at SPRING, an acclaimed contemporary French restaurant, in the 1st Arrondissement. The kitchen at SPRING had a tiny staff – just six, including myself – so again, I worked every station. Since returning from Paris, I’ve done some private cooking for parties, which has been a lot of fun. The most interesting was offering my services as a private chef to a charity auction and then preparing a knock-out meal for 8 people at the winner’s palatial Park Slope brownstone. 

But, my real work since graduating has been putting together my own restaurant project, a 40-seat place on a remote island in Penobscot Bay, Maine. The island is called Vinalhaven, it has a large summer population, and is one of the largest lobster ports in the country. My restaurant – SALT – was a former restaurant that fell into disrepair. I bought it a couple years ago and have renovated the place, completely gutting and reconstructing the kitchen. We’ll be doing simple, delicious, and beautiful things with locally-sourced seafood, produce, and meats in what I am calling a “contemporary coastal” style, rooted in classic French technique. I now am hiring staff and finalizing the systems, recipes and menu for a Memorial Day 2014 opening. I like to say that anyone can eat out, but not everyone can eat way out—like 20 miles way out, on Vinalhaven.

JOhn ICE

A throwback from Feingold’s days as an ICE culinary student.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Lots of things, but here’s one that comes to mind. On the first day of my stage at SPRING, where I showed up jetlagged and bleary-eyed, I spent 8 hours doing prep work in an unfamiliar kitchen. Then, I was put on the line at the aperitif station (appetizers), where I was responsible for plating entrées. Now, this is no hot dog stand – SPRING had a 72 euro, market-driven prix fixe menu, and it gets over 850 reservation requests per day for its 46 seats. It has an open kitchen and my service station was 3 feet away from seated diners watching (and photographing!) every move I made, so I felt the heat. Somehow I performed, and did so every night of my stage. That, to me, was an accomplishment. One night Pierre Gagnaire (if you don’t know him, he’s like the French Thomas Keller), came in for dinner. We went on high alert, but did our jobs and served dinner. Later, he came around and shook each of our hands and said très bon. But I’d be more nervous had ICE Chef Instructor Chris Gesualdi come in for dinner.

What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from your time in the industry?

Watch and listen, do as you’re are told. Have your work checked early and often. Ask questions – know why you are doing what you are doing and what the end result is intended to be. Keep your knives sharp. But, maybe more importantly, my training in the fundamentals provided a base on which to build and learn. At first, I saw cooks in these high-powered restaurant kitchens doing high-end techniques that I wasn’t yet familiar with. But I quickly realized that I couldn’t do those things well – say, take full advantage of water oven cooking or sous vide – without having mastered the basics at ICE.

Briefly describe a day in your current working life.

For the past several months, I’ve been building a business. That means getting approvals, licenses, refining a business plan, solving equipment problems (like, what’s up with the exhaust fan?), directing contractors, recruiting and vetting staff, and spending what seems like ungodly amounts of money on equipment, supplies, professional services, marketing, etc. But I’ve been having a lot of fun meeting with local farmers and fishermen and researching local and regional vendors/distributors to source the best fish, shellfish, meat, greens, vegetables, and dairy possible. I like to say that I’ll be sourcing my food from the lands and waters of Vinalhaven and North Haven, but I might also have to import some items from Maine.

The best part of my daily routine, of course, is cooking – menu and recipe development, testing, tasting, tweaking. I give myself cooking assignments every single day. My family and friends eat well.

What might people be surprised to learn about your job?

I think people would be surprised to know how hard my so-called job is. Putting together a restaurant is a huge amount of work, and my days and nights are completely full. But what surprises me every day is that I’ve actually taken on this job – quit the corporate rat race and am building a restaurant. It’s a high-wire act, and I have a lot of sleepless nights. But I’ve always been inspired by what Harry Dean Stanton said in the movie Repo Man, “The life of a repo man is always intense.” Like the restaurant business.

Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?

In the kitchen in whites watching a small staff prepare the food I love.