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By Caitlin Raux

On any given morning, you can find Christina Delli Santi (Hospitality Management, ‘15) quietly tending to the flower cart in the entrance of the Ace Hotel. For Christina, it’s a brief moment of peace and reflection, and an opportunity to check in with herself before she spends the rest of the day checking in with others. Soon enough, she’ll be assisting hotel guests, plowing through meeting after meeting and making sure everything in the hotel’s front office is copacetic — all part of her duties as Director of Front Office. A former hair stylist who left salons to pursue a career in hospitality, client satisfaction is a natural priority for Christina. “I love people — hearing their story and trying to help them — that’s hospitality to me,” says Christina.

Early on a Tuesday morning, Christina and I met in the buzzing Ace Hotel lobby, where laptop-wielding creative types were already competing for prime real estate at the cozy lobby tables. We chatted about her switch from hairstyling to hospitality, and how in just two years, she moved up the ranks to director-level at Ace.

How long have you been working at Ace Hotel?

I’ve been in the building for two years now. I originally started over at The Breslin [the Ace Hotel’s acclaimed gastropub, led by Chef April Bloomfield], through my externship.

So you studied hospitality management but started with a culinary position?

When I was looking for an externship, there was an alum who was working here at the time. ICE Career Services advisor Tessa [Thompson] reached out to him and told him that I was really interested in working at Ace or The Breslin. Originally, when I enrolled in the hospitality program, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to work in hotels. I enrolled in the program more for the event organizing aspect. I wanted to do weddings and parties. I figured I would work for a restaurant group or something like that. I never thought about working in a hotel. The idea of a bigger hotel wasn’t for me.

I ended up getting an externship at The Breslin. At first I was in the events department, doing a little bit of everything — working with the kitchen, ordering food and organizing private bookings for parties. It was really cool because it was exactly where I wanted to be, in terms of learning.

Christina Delli Santi

How did you transition to director of front office? And so fast!

A few months after I started, Ace was about to open another location in Pittsburgh and the front office manager left to work there. The front office manager had been there for a while — one thing about Ace Hotel, a lot of people who come here wind up staying. It becomes like a home that people enjoy coming to and working. The front office manager who left, Sean Walsh, actually works at ICE now as a teacher in the hospitality program. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take his position, because it meant running a whole department — the bellmen, the front office, the rooms — but I knew that I loved it there and I could do it. So I just did it. I applied for and got the position as front office manager and stayed there for about a year. Now I’m director of the front office.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I love getting in super early, when the lobby is still quiet. It can get a little crazy-busy, so I love arriving around 7:00am. The first thing I do is review the VIP arrivals. I do a walk-through of the lobby, because this is the “shared space” and we have to communicate with all the other departments, from housekeeping to engineering to the Breslin staff, about it. Then I check the flower cart, which is my moment of peace for the day. I grew up around flowers because my parents own a flower shop, so that’s the moment I take to meditate on what the day will bring. After that, the day really revs up: I see who’s coming in, read the guest preferences, make sure everything is ready. We have guests that have been coming here since we opened [in 2009]. I think our number one guest has been here 200 times. We get a mixed crowd of really cool business travelers, like startups and bloggers, who really enjoy the lobby vibe. My team reviews the names of all guests who are coming, so they see if we have VIPs, or if someone works for a certain company or industry, we’ll write them a special note or do something that pertains specifically to them. I meet with all of the department heads at 9:30am and everyone goes through their whole day. We group in the morning, then we break and talk to each other a million times per day. The morning is about getting people out the door and the afternoon is about getting them in. I usually come to the desk around check-out time to see how guests enjoyed their stay. Then I come back at check-in time to make sure everything is flowing properly. It stays pretty busy. Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve been here for 12-14 hours. Ace hotel

You said you were a hairdresser before switching to hospitality. What inspired that career change?

I became a hairdresser right out of high school. I’m from north [New] Jersey and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do out of high school. I didn’t think college was for me, so I went to cosmetology school when I was 18. I was a hairdresser for about 10 years. I had so much fun with it, working in tiny salons throughout Jersey before joining a bigger company called Toni & Guy, to advance my career. I loved it because you’re always giving something to people — helping them if they have a bad day or giving them a new hairstyle. I love people — hearing their story and trying to help them — that’s hospitality to me. Eventually I started managing salons, and was offered the opportunity to become a partial owner of a salon. I was 28 at the time — I’m 30 now, so this was pretty recent. But I wanted to try something new. As I got older, school seemed more interesting to me. I actually wanted to go to class and learn. I knew I wanted to go back to school and get into hospitality and events. I had some experience with organizing events while working in the salons. I found ICE and thought [the hospitality management program] was perfect because I didn’t want to go to school for three years. I’m the kind of person who’s very hands-on — I learn things on the job.

It’s interesting that you began the hospitality program with event-planning goals. A lot of people aim to work in more traditional hotels and tourism positions.Christina Ace hotel

I definitely came with an event-planning motivation. I wanted to learn how to break down budgets and plan events, and expand my food and beverage background a bit.

Do you keep in touch with anyone from the ICE hospitality program?

I do. It’s hard because everyone is so busy all the time. But I always float around opportunities that come up at the hotel. I’ve interviewed three people I graduated with for various positions here. I think I talk to Tom [Voss] the most. He called me last week to ask if he could bring hospitality students in for a tour.

What is your favorite part of your job?

I really love the people I work with. I think it’s so important to work in an environment with passionate people. At the end of the day, we do the same thing. The people who have worked here for years and have been in the industry for so long, they do the same thing most days. You check people out, check people in and create an experience for them. But every day, it’s so fun to work with the people here because everyone has so much passion. I think we’re the type of company that we don’t just have the same thing going on. There’s always new artwork in the galleries and fun events going on. It’s not your traditional hotel. We get to have a lot of fun. Our guests become our friends. If they’re having a bad day, they can come talk to us. But my General Manager always says, “Take care of the internal (employees) first, and then the external (guests) will follow.” Because if you take care of your team, they, in turn, will be able to take care of your guests.

Ready for an exciting career in hospitality with opportunities around the globe? Click here to learn about ICE’s award-winning career programs. 

By Caitlin Raux

In 2011, Illtyd Barrett (Management ‘12) was on a mission: to put Welsh cuisine on the map. A builder, an artist and an experienced cook, he had all of the ingredients for a restaurant — except the business savvy, which is why he enrolled at ICE. There, he met Tom Coughlan (Culinary/Management ‘12), a young, aspiring chef who had recently switched courses from finance to culinary arts. When Illtyd was ready to open a restaurant, Tom’s “job application,” famously captured by the New Yorker (presenting two quarts of blood and pig skin from a freshly slaughtered swine), instantly landed him the head chef position. Today, the two ICE grads are serving up Welsh cuisine at Sunken Hundred in Brooklyn, which has quickly become the center for Welsh culture outside of Wales. The menu features Welsh specialties like lamb pasties and Gwaun Valley trout, and seaweed foraged on the coasts of Wales pops up in unexpected places, from cocktails to desserts. Like a Welsh version of Cheers, the space has the cozy feel of a neighborhood pub — only one that serves refined and delicious food.

Sunken Hundred

On a Friday before the rush of dinner service, we caught up with Illtyd and Tom at Sunken Hundred. They invited us to sample their seaweed-laden fare (warning: the bar snack of laver seaweed fried into salty, light puffs is highly addictive), and dished on Welsh cuisine, their path to opening a restaurant and the importance of choosing a good business partner. Said Tom, “If you are ying, you need to find your yang.”

ICE: How did you guys meet?

Tom: We were in class together at ICE. I taught Illtyd how to copy and paste. That was our first interaction.

Like with a computer?

Illtyd: Yes, these bloody things get on my bloody nerves. I’m all about chisels and tools and things like that. I remember we were in the Excel class and I had no idea what spreadsheets were. Copy and paste what? What the hell you going on about?

Tom: Yeah, we sat next to each other in our management class and just hit it off.

And that’s how it all began?

Illtyd: I was always really impressed with Tom’s dedication, and I still am to this day. I mean, we had a lot of things in common in our approach to food and why we enjoy it, I suppose. When my brother and I were planning the restaurant, I spoke to Tom and I asked him if he had ever slaughtered an animal. He decided on a fully-grown male pig. I said good luck — because it’s a horrible, really awful thing to do. I know because I slaughtered cows and calves on my family’s dairy farm.

Illtyd Barrett

Illtyd Barrett, owner Sunken Hundred

It’s messy work I imagine.

Illtyd: Yeah, it is. But to prepare an animal like that you have to respect the animal. To do that to a fish is one thing, but a big mammal is totally different. And I asked him, “Can you give me a pound of skin and two quarts of blood?” That was on a Friday. I wanted it to make a Malaysian pig blood curry. And he ended up bringing it to me in on Monday and I felt so guilty, so horrible!

Tom: I chose to do it. The opportunity arose and I was excited to do it, too.

Illtyd: I was really impressed.

And so he passed the test?

Illtyd: Well it wasn’t a test, but I was really impressed. Tom has got a very mature head on his shoulders.

So why, of all the culinary schools, did you choose to come to ICE?

Tom: I went to four years of business school at Fordham. I had contemplated culinary school beforehand and halfway through Fordham, when I was skipping class to go to the butcher shop and cook, I realized I definitely needed to do this professionally. I wanted a quick program, so I graduated and started at ICE two months later.

Tom Coughlan

Tom Coughlan, chef Sunken Hundred

Did you have visions of opening a restaurant?

Tom: Oh yeah, totally. I wanted an entrepreneurial focus but food was also very important to me so, that is why I did the dual diploma program [Culinary Arts and Restaurant & Culinary Management]. I knew I didn’t just want to be the best line cook in the city. I wanted to understand the full picture of how a restaurant operates and how it runs, and be able to know every part of it.

Illtyd: Yeah, with me I suppose I needed to get a grasp on management. I knew that as much as I loved cooking, I am just too old to be in the kitchen now. For years, the family wanted me to get in the kitchen and I had done some chef’ing for a while and I loved that but I’m really more into construction. I build places and I build bars and as much as I loved cooking, I realized I don’t want to be in the kitchen. I have done my time.

You were born in Wales?

Illtyd: I was born and raised Pakistan. And it is absolutely magic. [Ed. note: Illtyd was definitely born and raised in Wales.]

Right. Where did you do your externship?

Tom: I did my externship at [a popular restaurant in New York City] because I figured I should see what fine dining is like. I [expletive] hated it.

Oh yeah?

Tom: Oh yeah, immediately I was like this is everything I dislike about the food industry and cooking. Spending two hours cutting radishes to have someone go these are too big and then throw them in the trash.

A lot of students who go to culinary school feel like they should go to a fine dining restaurant even if they don’t want to work in fine dining because it teaches you things. Do you feel like it taught you certain things about how you run your own kitchen?

Tom: It taught me to get used to getting yelled at. I learned a lot of what I didn’t want, which is ultimately positive; seeing what doesn’t work and what you dislike is important. From there, I went in the completely opposite direction and started working with Alex Raij and Eder Montero at Txikito. During the two years I worked with them, I built my palate and learned that food should be fun. I could take a very traditional dish that takes hours to make and think: how can we cook this in two minutes during service. That was way more helpful than being yelled at for cutting a radish too big.

Illtyd: My externship is my life.*

Sunken Hundred

Cocktails with Seaweed Puffs

What aesthetic were you going for with the interior of Sunken Hundred?

Illtyd: Wales. That’s how I described what I wanted to Julia Heyer from ICE [Ed. note: Julia is an instructor in the Culinary Management Program and a restaurant consulting expert]. She was our teacher and then we used her as our consultant when we opened.

That’s fantastic!

Illtyd: She told me once, “It’s like a love letter to Wales.” And that was spot on.

So romantic.

Illtyd: No, it is. I mean the color, the hemlock wood — it’s all very symbolic. I just wanted it to be very informal. Very simple. It is Wales.

What kinds of things did Julia advise on?

Tom: Everything: the menu, the look, the concept, the legal things, the marketing — everything. We spent an hour and a half each week with her for three months.

Illtyd: It was money well spent. My brother is a very accomplished lawyer and has a business mind and he was grateful for it, too. He agreed it was worth it.

What about the skills you learned at ICE, do you draw on those a lot as well?

Tom: Oh yeah.

Illtyd: Even just the software we got from ICE.

Tom: We have a big spreadsheet from ICE that we still use. The Culinary Management program was like an 8-month case study on how to run a restaurant. Everything I did in undergraduate was just general business. At ICE, you got to build your own business, start your business plan, be able to see it all the way through and have professionals help you all along. That was invaluable.

What advice could you offer to aspiring restaurant owners for choosing people to go into business with?

Tom: In order to be successful, you need to be able to listen to somebody else’s ideas and be able to work together. And be able to have calm disagreements because no one person is always right. No one can do this by himself. No one is the sole genius in any restaurant. [Illytd and I] balance each other. We have very different skill sets. We also think very similarly on some things. We have always connected very well on food. I couldn’t have done this without Illtyd — I couldn’t have opened a restaurant. I had no idea how to build the bars, build the tables or how to deal with the electrician or construction workers or any of that sort of thing. I don’t know any of the legal stuff that Dom, his brother, brought to the table. If you are ying you need to find your yang.

Illtyd: I think that communication is key, obviously. And I think, as Tom touched on, to recognize each other’s strengths and weaknesses and to be able to acknowledge those easily and genuinely is also essential. The shared love or desires is especially important in a restaurant partnership. You have to have a common desire, which for the two of us is obviously food and a lust for taste, something that I think I identified in Tom when I met him at ICE. I like liver and calves and brains and I like getting my hands dirty and Tom likes that, too. Tom is very stubborn and I am very stubborn. Tom is very bloody-minded and I am very bloody-minded.

 

Fish Churros

What are the challenges in introducing Welsh cuisine to people who don’t know anything about it?

Tom: We are figuring it out as we go along. We have a lot of traditional dishes and a lot of my takes on traditional dishes, like Glamorgan sausage and lamb pasties. I took each one and figured out how to make it more approachable to the consumer, and making it quick and easy in a restaurant setting. We also have seaweed throughout the menu, and all the seaweed is foraged for us on the beaches in Wales. Then we said, Alright how many things could have the seaweed in them? Can we make a seaweed cocktail? Awesome. Can we put the seaweed in ketchup? Can we put the seaweed in dessert?

Illtyd: In a beautiful, hidden little valley by the coast, just north of where I grew up, I used to fish for brook trout. I said to Tom, “Let’s talk about new things we could do with this idea.” I explained to him how the stream here is full of trout, and that in this little valley, there is wild garlic, rosemary, parsnips and mushrooms — it is a beautiful thing. And Tom came up with this gorgeous mushroom curry trout with parsnips and shitake mushrooms. It is amazing. I will argue with anyone who says that that is not a contemporary Welsh dish.

Because people say it is not authentic enough?

Illtyd: Well, I say it is. I say it categorically is — it is based on ingredients that are found in the Gwaun Valley, end of argument.

What is it about this that makes you get out of bed and want to do this every day?

Illtyd: Well, I want to stay in bed right now. No, really, it’s what I have always wanted to do. I have always loved the whole culture of bars and pubs and restaurants. I am absolutely passionate about it. And I am sick of nothing being Welsh in New York City. I have been saying the same thing over and over and I know Tom is sick of hearing this all the time but you know, I want there to be a Welsh presence and it is actually happening and that is why the government — the Welsh government is amazed by it. Because this is the center of Welsh culture outside of Wales.

Want the tools to launch the (successful) food business of your dreams? Click here to learn about ICE’s career programs.

*ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program does not have an externship component.

By Caitlin Raux 

In a dining room on the ground floor of the Whitney Museum, where an open kitchen sits across from a towering glass wall and not an inch can escape the natural sunlight, I met with Suzanne Cupps (Culinary Arts, ’05), executive chef of Untitled. With a menu featuring colorful contemporary American cuisine, Untitled has enjoyed warm critical reviews, including a place on the New York Times “Critic’s Pick” list. Suzanne has played no small part in the restaurant’s success.

Though she began at ICE without knowing how to hold a knife, Suzanne, a former math major, was a disciplined student and a quick learner. By the time she graduated, she was ready for the New York restaurant scene and earned her stripes in the kitchens of Annisa and Gramercy Tavern before landing a gig as chef de cuisine at the buzzy new meatpacking restaurant, Untitled. Recently, Suzanne scored the enviable position of executive chef, not to mention the right to call the restaurant her own — something she does with a discernible note of pride in her voice. She’s transitioned from top student to head teacher, creating not only a menu, but also an atmosphere from the top down, one that allows for questions, experimenting, mistakes, and ultimately, learning — more learning, Suzanne thinks, than the traditional, chef-as-dictator style.

Chef Suzanne at Untitled (credit: Melissa Hom)

On a recent Wednesday afternoon, Suzanne took a quick break before dinner prep to chat with me for the ICE blog.

First, congratulations on your promotion to executive chef of Untitled! What are the changes that go with this new title?

Michael Anthony [Managing Director of Untitled, as well as Executive Chef and Partner of Gramercy Tavern] is very trusting, so he allowed me to know about financials and hiring and the other management things when I was chef de cuisine. With his help, I was running the restaurant already. I think the biggest difference is that Mike’s not here anymore. It wasn’t that I took over a bunch of different duties. It’s just that now the responsibility of making sure the business succeeds falls on my shoulders. I was invested as chef de cuisine, but now even more so because it’s my restaurant.

Do you still get to spend time in the kitchen?

Oh yes, definitely: I’m actually working the grill station tonight. In fact, I think that’s the hardest part about the job — there’s a lot of emails and paperwork but I try to spend as much time in the kitchen as I can. I would say on a normal day, I spend 70% of my time in the kitchen.

What does a “day in the life” typically look like for you?

There’s a lot of running around. One of the things that’s unique and challenging about our space is that we’re located on three floors. Untitled is here on the ground floor, our prep kitchen is two floors down and then we have another restaurant, Studio Café, on the 8th floor. That separation can be a challenge — to be in the right place at the right time. My job is a lot about being available. I have a list of things I need to do and only about 20% of that gets done because I get pulled around. Sometimes it’s a busy service and they need extra hands, sometimes a meeting pops up, or I have to sit and chat with an employee, or work on a special. I get pulled back and forth. But I’ve always liked multitasking rather than sitting at a computer or being in one spot all the time. It’s a little different each day, which I like.

Are there any aspects of your job that people might find surprising? 

I think people think of a chef as just creating dishes. That’s probably what I do least in this role. Running a business is the main priority. Often people don’t realize how much time and effort it takes to manage labor and food costs. Also, I feel that a lot of people picture a chef as ordering people around and making demands. Here, we try to take more of a teaching approach. Instead of telling people what to do, it’s showing, asking questions and allowing cooks to be part of the creative process.

Did you introduce that from the top down? 

Yes. It’s something I learned from Anita Lo [chef owner of the acclaimed restaurant Annisa, which closed in May 2017] when I worked at Annisa. She was very open to allowing us not just to make mistakes, but to really learn on the job. Also, Mike was a big teaching mentor. When I went to college, I was an education minor and I thought I would end up in teaching. It didn’t work out, but this is a bigger teaching job than I ever could have imagined.

It sounds like you’re moving away from the militant kitchen prototype.  

For me, it’s about how people respond. Not only do you make people feel good when they come to work, you also get the response you want. Sometimes when the action is negative or too short people respond in a closed off way. It doesn’t allow them to show their personalities or be creative. I’ve found that this style works better, as a way to manage. It doesn’t mean that we drop standards. We just do it in a more respectful way.

I read that you’re from South Carolina. What were family meals like growing up?

I grew up in South Carolina but my family’s not southern. My mom is from central Pennsylvania and my dad’s from the Philippines so we did not eat southern food —no grits, no fried chicken. I mostly ate Filipino food and rice and some traditional American food.

Was cooking a big deal at home?

My mom cooked every single night. She had a very balanced approach to eating, but I was not into cooking when I was younger. Food bored me — it wasn’t until I moved to New York that food started to be interesting to me. Even when I started cooking, I was more interested in the cutting and precision. Then I started enjoying different flavors of food.

You went to culinary school basically carte blanche, isn’t that right?

Yes, I knew nothing. I failed the first herb test because I didn’t know the difference between parsley and cilantro. I remember taking those potatoes home and trying to dice them for hours and hours. I had never held a knife. I didn’t know a thing about cooking. But I enjoyed it. It was all so new. It’s hard to remember how I felt back then, now that I’ve done those things so many times.

What were your goals when you set out from culinary school?

I didn’t know anything about the New York restaurant scene. I heard someone in my class say that Gramercy Tavern was a good restaurant so I went there to trail and ended up doing my externship there. That was before Mike was there. I had also heard someone say that Annisa was a good restaurant, so when I was done at Gramercy I went there. It was the only place I ever interviewed or applied. Anita hired me on the spot.

Was she your mentor?

Yes, Anita and Mike. I was very fortunate to fall into two kitchens that had great chefs. I think that’s why I really started to enjoy cooking.

They must have seen something in you, too, that made them want to mentor you.

With Anita, I paid attention and picked up things quickly, and I think she saw that right away. For Mike, by the time I started working with him I had been working with Anita for five years, so I had gained a lot of skills before going to his kitchen.

What advice would you give to culinary students starting their careers?

It’s not for everybody, but I would recommend working in restaurants first, even if it’s just a short period of time. It doesn’t matter what you want to do in food. Restaurants are a great place to see as much as you can. You get to work with more products and work on bigger teams, generally. You also reinforce those skills you learned in culinary school. It’s important to go somewhere where you’ll actually learn, too. It’s one thing to follow a chef’s instructions and do what they say. It’s another to learn how to cook yourself and learn to season food yourself. It’s important to pick places where you can find a mentor or learn from the other chefs. Also, pick a place where you like the food.

Are there any chefs that inspire you?

Lots. New York is cool because you can be inspired by not just the fining dining chefs. There’s something to learn in a small hole-in-the-wall place, just like there’s something to learn from a long tasting menu.

Are there any menu items you’re particularly excited about?

I’m making the spring menu more fish-heavy, so I’m excited about adding more seafood to the menu. That’s how I like eating in warmer weather. It’s a bit lighter. It’s not the only thing we cook by any means, but I like the delicate nature and the cookery of fish.

If you’re going out for a night with friends, what are your go-to places?

I like Uncle Boons. I also like a newer restaurant in Brooklyn called Insa. The chef Sohui Kim, who’s also an ICE graduate, actually came out of Annisa, too.

What’s one restaurant on your hit list?

Le Coucou. I’ll have to save up for that one.

Ready to launch your culinary career? Click here to learn more about ICE’s career programs.

By Caitlin Raux

Gaby Melian (Culinary Management 05’, Culinary Arts 05’, Pastry Arts 06’) is hard to pin down with words because she’s so many things: chef, teacher, official Food Revolution ambassador and, most recently, test kitchen assistant at Bon Appétit — the holy grail for test kitchen chefs. The Buenos Aires native has an infectious energy that she’s not shy about sharing; throwing her arms around a dozen ICE chefs and employees when she paid a recent visit to her alma mater. A slightly-less-than-compulsive organizer with an intuitive sense of the makings of a good recipe, she’s the perfect person to keep a fast-paced test kitchen on track. Gaby was kind enough to pop over from the offices of our Condé Nast neighbors to chat with us for an ICE blog interview.

Tell me about landing your job in the Bon Appétit test kitchen.

I opened the weekly alumni email from ICE and there was a listing from Bon Appétit magazine for an assistant to the Test Kitchen Manager. I remember I sent Brad Leone, the Test Kitchen Manager and also a graduate from ICE, an email saying “I can’t wait to put my gloves on and do your dishes,” and they called me right away! And then I had an interview with him and Carla Lalli [Music], she’s the Food Director, also a former employee of ICE, and I started in June of last year. The first week there, I was like, these people are crazy, everyone is so happy, what do you guys eat for breakfast? I love it and I’m learning a lot. Because it’s a test kitchen, you have to work with food editors and chefs and you get to test the recipes, or “cross test” — that’s how you say it. I’d like that to be my next step forward, a full-time cross tester.

One day I told the team that I make empanadas to earn extra money and they begged me to try them. I brought my empanadas to work and they tasted them and someone said, “Why don’t we do an article on empanadas?” And I said, “Sure!”

It was great because I got to see the whole recipe writing process — it’s super interesting. I was guided by Rick Martinez, a chef who’s been at Bon Appétit for a long time. You have to go in baby steps, beginning with writing the recipe — they have a specific way of writing recipes so I’m learning that. But I love recipes. I sit down with recipe books and just read them. I can read a recipe and tell you if it’s going to work or not.

I feel like some people have an intuitive sense about making things really flavorful and adding the right kinds of flavors.

Exactly. Like the other day a food stylist for Epicurious was styling something and asked, “What do you think of strawberries and dill?” and I said, “Ehhh, maybe…” and then they put it together and we tasted and it was a total no. Working at the magazine you get to see the whole process, including when a recipe gets cut. They try to use recipes that everyone can understand. That’s where a cross-tester comes in — you look at a recipe that you’ve never seen before and you have to be able to reproduce the recipe and have the final product looking more or less like the picture. So there’s a lot of photography, a lot of tasting — I’m not kidding, I eat food all day. You have to!

There are definitely worse jobs. What advise would you give to our students who are interested in working in test kitchens?

I’d say go for it. Follow someone who you think has great, amazing recipes. You also need the culinary school experience. We have just one person working with us who didn’t go to culinary school but he worked in amazing restaurants. He’s only 26. But one in a million are just born with it. Even people who are writing about food went to culinary school. It has become such a big thing to be a chef. I think you need to have that base to set you apart. Going to culinary school also tells you if you’re cut out for it or not. I know it’s a risk if it doesn’t work, but it’s not like you can just walk into a restaurant anymore and start working, unless you come from a restaurant family or you’re Daniel Boulud who started working at 13. This is not France in the 70s. Millions of people want to do it. But also don’t get stuck on one thing. Venture into other areas too. That’s what culinary school gives you — the credentials to venture into other things. You can end up being a manager or a prep cook. And maybe you don’t want to be a prep cook all your life, but you need that experience.

Was cooking a big part of your life, growing up? 

Yes. My grandma was an amazing chef. Her mom and dad were from France, so they had a French culinary background. Interestingly enough, when I went to culinary school there was a whole module on French food and I thought, Hmm! My grandma cooked this but she called it something else! My dad’s side was into cooking, too — they were more Spanish-influenced and a teeny bit Italian. Although in Argentina, everyone has some Italian in the family. We were really encouraged to try everything. We were in the kitchen always, making messes in my grandma’s pantry.

I’ve always loved cooking and entertaining. When I was in college and didn’t have much work, I would make cakes and sandwiches. My dad is an artisan and he would sell silver and leather goods at outdoor markets. I didn’t have a stand to sell food, but I would sell it to the vendors.

Did you know you wanted to cook professionally?

Growing up I wanted to be a lawyer and a detective, but I thought it would be a long commitment so I went for journalism. I also have a degree in education. Teaching is my passion. I like to speak in front of people and tell them what to do (laughs). I’m also a born organizer. I’ll go to your desk and de-clutter the whole thing.

Maybe you can stop by after this interview.

Seriously, since I was eight years old, I would fold my mom’s clothes. I’m not OCD, but I like everything organized. That’s what I’m doing in the kitchen now. I reorganized the pantry, the baking cabinet. I’m the newest one but when they can’t find something, they say, Ask Gaby. I’ve also helped restaurants that are opening to set up — to make sure they have a good flow. So the magazine is giving me the freedom to use my skills.

What would be your dream job?

My dream is to have a little Volkswagen van, like a camper van — it has to be green of course, because that’s my color. I’d have my equipment in the van and go from school to school, teaching children how to cook. Like a “school on the go.” I’m also a Food Ambassador for the Food Revolution with Jamie Oliver — I love him. I’m the Jersey City Food Revolution Official Ambassador, besides all the other things I do.

Tell me about a day-in-the-life in your current role.

I’ll walk in at around 10:00am. We’ll receive the orders from Fresh Direct and we have to unload all of the boxes. We only have one walk-in. People get surprised because they think we’d have a big walk-in. But because our ingredients change every day, we keep a lot of things on-hand, but not in large quantities. At least three times a day I go shopping. I do a lot of shopping and I love it. I go to Whole Foods, Eataly and Kalustyan’s — it’s the biggest spice market, in the middle of what they call “Little India.” If I cross-test a recipe, I’ll usually do it before 1:00pm, because that’s the time when we get super busy. All the chefs have to present for the editors. The editors have a table in the middle of the kitchen. You have to set up for them.

Is that every day?

Every day. We also have a lot of demos, like companies sharing their products with us. Yesterday, we had a demo from the NBA — the National Bison Association — so we ate bison and learned a lot about it. There’s an educational side of it. Then the day is hectic between 3:00-5:00pm. If I’m helping Brad, I have to make sure all of the orders are in for the next day.

My goal is to eventually become a cross-tester full-time. I joke around and say, “I’m the last pickle in the jar.” But Claire Saffitz, who’s another editor, tells me, Oh, Gaby, what would we do without you? I keep them on track. But we have fun. There’s a constant fun side to it.

Ready to launch a limitless career in the culinary world? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.

When we hear about ICE alumni being recognized for their accomplishments in the food and hospitality industry, we feel like parents of an Olympic gymnast who just nailed a perfect landing — thrilled. With the announcement of the James Beard Award nominees, we’re both thrilled and proud of the ICE alumni who made the list — plus we’re rooting for them to take gold when the winners are announced this April (Media) and May (Restaurants and Chefs). We’re pleased to share the following ICE graduates who were nominated for the 2017 James Beard Awards:

James Beard Award Medallion

Media Awards

American Cooking

Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South
Author: Vivian Howard
 (Little, Brown and Company) — Culinary Arts, 2003

Video Webcast, Fixed Location and/or Instructional

Kitchen Conundrums with Thomas Joseph
Airs on: marthastewart.com and YouTube
Producer: Greta Anthony
 — Pastry Arts, 1995

Restaurant and Chef Awards

Best Chef: New York City (Five Boroughs)

Missy Robbins — Culinary Arts, 1995
Lilia –
 Brooklyn, NY

Best Chef: Northwest (AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY)

Rachel Yang — Culinary Arts, 2001
Joule — Seattle, WA

 

We’re also proud of alumni who worked closely with this year’s nominees, including:

Outstanding Chef

Gabrielle Hamilton
Prune
 Restaurant — New York, NY (Ashley Merriman (Culinary Arts, 2004) is co-chef)

Best Chef: West (CA, HI, NV)

Jeremy Fox
Rustic Canyon Wine Bar and Seasonal Kitchen — 
Santa Monica, CA (Zoe Nathan (Culinary Arts, 2001) is co-owner)


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.

“It was always something I liked doing; something I was good at naturally. But it was never something that I thought I would do professionally,” explained Jennifer Tafuri (Pastry Arts, ’11) on the hobby that would ultimately become her livelihood. Though she never imagined she would find herself practicing her passion for pastry on a daily basis, one visit to ICE convinced this former anthropologist and recreational baker to enroll in ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

With the launch of our 2017 #CulinaryVoice Scholarship Challenge, we’re revisiting stories from our most inspiring alumni. Jennifer popped out of the pastry kitchen at Rotisserie Georgette, where she holds the title of Pastry Chef, to chat with us about her decision to come to ICE and to inspire you to take the leap and enter our scholarship challenge.

Ready to find your culinary voice at ICE? Click here for more information on the 2017 #CulinaryVoice Scholarship Challenge and enter today!

 

By Caitlin Raux

When our ICE alums grab the headlines, we can’t help but feel like proud parents. From Detroit-style pizza to home-style meatloaf to authentic Welsh cuisine, ICE graduates are using their culinary skills to create better dining experiences across the board. In 2016, ICE graduates and their restaurants were showered with praise — here’s a short list of those who regularly took spots at the top:

  1. Missy Robbins (Culinary ’95): Missy was the chef on everyone’s mind this year. For starters, she was donned Best New Chef – East, at the inaugural Taste Talk Awards. Lilia, the Williamsburg restaurant where Missy is chef/partner, was named one of The New York TimesTop 10 New York Restaurants of 2016, claiming the #2 spot. Lilia’s Cacio e Pepe Fritelle was among the Top 10 New York Dishes of 2016. Her Agnolotti dish topped the list of Time Out New York’s 85 best dishes in NYC 2016. Turning to the 2016 Eater Awards, Lilia won the Reader’s Choice for Restaurant of the Year. The Infatuation listed Lilia as one of New York City’s Best New Restaurants of 2016.
Zoe Nathan and partner Josh Loeb

Zoe Nathan and partner Josh Loeb

  1. Zoe Nathan (Culinary ’01): The west coast restaurateur has received accolades for the restaurants that she co-owns, among them Cassia, which was included in Bon Appetit’s 50 Nominees for America’s Best New Restaurants of 2016. As the BA Staff proclaims, “Given the powerhouse team behind this blockbuster — the same folks who gave L.A. its beloved Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, and Milo & Olive — no one in Santa Monica would be surprised to find that this Southeast Asian restaurant fires on every imaginable cylinder.” Another of Zoe’s restaurants, Rustic Canyon, was listed as one of LA Weekly’s 99 Essential Restaurants. Michael Bauer, writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, also included Rustic Canyon as one of his new L.A. Favorites.
  2. Matt Hyland (Culinary Arts ’05): In a town famous for its pizza, it’s a rare feat to stand out from the pack of pizza makers. Matt and wife Emily have the secret sauce for success, judging by the cult-like following of their New York pizza eateries: Pizza Loves Emily, and its progeny, Emmy Squared. As Andrew Steinhal of The Infatuation succinctly stated, “We love everything about Emily.” Zagat named Emmy Squared’s Le Big Matt pizza (Detroit-style crust and burger ingredient toppings: Fleisher’s beef, American cheese, Sammy sauce, pickles and mizuna lettuce) as one of 25 Essential Dishes to Try in NYC. 2016’s Eater Awards awarded Matt the National Instagram Badge of Honor for Emmy Squared — likely due to their incredibly Instagrammable #ronicups. Matt Hyland - Pizza Loves Emily
  3. Owner Illtyd Barrett (Management ’12) and executive chef Tom Coughlan (Culinary/Management ’12), who were once ICE classmates, have teamed up to bring Welsh cuisine to NYC with Sunken Hundred in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. They were awarded 3 stars from Eater for their efforts. Food writer Becky Cooper also gave Sunken Hundred a glowing review in The New Yorker. Writes Cooper, “The pub atmosphere and the barrage of My Bloody Valentine and the Clash are incongruous with how quietly thoughtful the food is.”
  4. Ann Redding (Culinary ’02): Uncle Boons, the perpetually packed Thai restaurant where Ann and her husband Matt Danzer are owners and chefs, has been rolling in good press. Eater named their Toasted Coconut Sundae as one of The 20 Perfect Desserts in New York City. According to food writer Ryan Sutton, “If you don’t like this, you are a flawed human being.” As if having one wildly successful (and understatedly cool) restaurant in downtown Manhattan wasn’t enough, Ann and Matt opened a second eatery, Mr. Donahue’s. With just two tables and five counter stools, the restaurant was quickly donned a New York Times Critic’s Pick and included in Pete Wells’ Top 10 New York Restaurants of 2016, coming in right behind ICE alum Missy Robbins’ Lilia at #3. Mr. Donahue’s Roast Beef also landed a spot in the Top 10 New York Dishes of 2016.
Ann Redding and Matt Danzer

Ann Redding and Matt Danzer

Want to join the ranks of these ICE grads? Click here for more information on our career programs.


By Caitlin Gunther

Julie Resnick (Culinary Arts) didn’t start the feedfeed with the goal of creating a behemoth crowdsourced food Instagram account with a following of over one million enthusiastic foodies. Her initial motive was simply to swap recipe ideas and to find inspiration for ways to use her weekly allotment of CSA (community supported agriculture) goods. Something like, How about a new way to prepare those sweet potatoes? But her education from ICE — which helped give her the ability to recognize truly good food and innovative preparations of it — along with her background in digital marketing, led to the creation of a community that self-selected foodies and talented photographers were clamoring to join. Luckily, the barrier to entry was easy — simply tag #feedfeed in your Instagram photos. Feedfeed seemed to fill a void in the food media realm. It was a call to action for home cooks and food photographers to share gorgeous images of meals made with vibrant, seasonal ingredients.

We were thrilled that Julie took the time to chat with us for the ICE blog, to reveal what it’s like running a massively popular Instagram account and website, and to disclose her “worst nightmare” of a meal (a bowl of cereal).

Julie with husband and co-founder Dan (credit: Lindsay Morris)

Julie with husband and co-founder Dan (credit: Lindsay Morris)

When did you decide to study at ICE?

It was right after September 11. I was trying to decide if I wanted to make a career change. That sparked my interest in ICE and going to the weekend program. It was for nine months on the weekends, so I was working full time and going to school on the weekends.

That seems like a big commitment. You have to really want it.

It was competitive because most people were professionals who were in that same state of trying to decide or had made a decision to no longer be an accountant or a lawyer or dentist. Also, everyone was a little older than the typical student age because they had already had a bit of a career.

What was your weekday job?

I worked at a digital agency, which I had founded. My background was in digital marketing. After college, I started out at a big agency that was one of the first to build websites, back when e-commerce websites were just starting up. That’s what ultimately led me to create feedfeed. I was one of the only people in my culinary school class who didn’t end up making the career change. I was super excited to finish the program and graduate with my classmates, but by the end, my career in digital had taken off, and the agency where I was working was doing exciting things.

I continued cooking at home. I went on to get married, had kids and then we moved out of the city to Amagansett. I started changing the way that I cook and the way that we eat when we became part of the local farms and CSAs where you get a weekly share from a farm. So I basically stopped going to the grocery store. Each week you get a bag with onions, carrots, sweet potatoes, chicken and having to work with just those ingredients is what inspired me to start feedfeed. I was using the same ingredients week after week, and with three kids you want to make sure everyone is excited about dinner and not just like, Mom, I don’t want to eat sweet potatoes again. That was what ultimately led me to connect with other people on social media who cook the way I cook and who were using local and seasonal ingredients in their day-to-day cooking. It helped me get ideas for ways to cook instead of leaning on major food publications. Because really, how deep are they going to go with ideas of what you can do with sweet potatoes. I came back to food through a need I had and a connection with other people through social media.

I came back to food through a need I had and a connection with other people through social media.

How did the feedfeed start? With the Instagram account or the website?

It started on Instagram as a call to action. Initially, I began posting pictures of my own food and then asked people to share what they were making by also tagging their food with #feedfeed. That started to develop that community of people who were cooking the way I was. So I was connecting with people from all over the world. Maybe I would do a search for sweet potatoes and find some really cool sweet potato dishes, and I would follow those people and engage with them and comment on their posts. Then I would say, Hey, by the way, don’t forget to add #feedfeed to what you’re cooking and that way we can all share with each other. It was my need that was driving it. It took off from there. That was back when no one else was tagging. Now I feel like everyone is tagging and asking people to tag whatever to be featured. As more people started sharing with the hashtag, it became obvious that the content was amazing, and I didn’t want it to disappear in feeds and get forgotten. If someone makes something really amazing with sweet potatoes, why shouldn’t we catalog that and organize it on our website? Once we had a lot of content on the hashtag, we decided to start the website — to catalog all of the great recipes by ingredient or by topic.

The feedfeed seems to have been one of the first to utilize hashtagging. Then you have others like Infatuation, but that’s a different audience.

The hashtag #eeeeeats existed as a hashtag and was out there before we were, but because we didn’t live in the city, I wasn’t aware of them when we started feedfeed. Later we realized they were doing the same thing but on the restaurant side.

With all the different editors and types of feeds — from vegan to cold soups to French food to sandwiches — how do you manage to control the aesthetic and the content?

First, we reach out to people or they reach out to us because they have a passion or expertise, like brownies or chocolate or Spanish food. We use those people to help us find really good posts. Then once everyone sends in their selections, we have an internal team vetting the content and making sure it’s meeting our standards. Molly [Adams], who works for me, also went to ICE (she graduated from the Culinary Arts program in 2009). I found her by reaching out to ICE Career Services and asked them to post a job. At the time she was working as a private chef and reached out to me. It’s hard to find people who really get food. They cook but not at the level of someone who attended culinary school. So that was really important to me from the beginning — to find someone else who could look at a recipe or a picture and say, That’s really good and interesting and here’s why. Molly looks at everything and we have a couple of other people on our internal team who help us.

Right, because there are a lot of things that are popular, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re good. Like if I see another picture of a rainbow bagel…

That’s a good example — if we were to post a rainbow bagel, we would find one that we think is interesting or a story behind it. Like the person used freeze-dried blueberries and beets to dye the dough. That’s the other thing about us as a publication: When we look for something to post on our website or Instagram, we think, What is it that makes this unique? Would you have ever thought to make this? A recent dinner post was a good example of that: BBQ pulled spaghetti squash sliders. I’m not sure that other major publications would invest in having a writer and recipe developer going through the process of testing out a vegan spaghetti squash slider. But we have amazing vegan cooks in our community who are pushing the boundaries. We see that post as an opportunity to tell people that they can do more with spaghetti squash than treating it as an alternative to pasta.

I guess you could say you have more freedom because you don’t have bottom lines to think of as much as a big publication under a larger media company.

We’re looking at content and creativity. Obviously the visual, too: The photos have to be at a certain level to post it. Often we’ll see something we love but the picture isn’t at the level we need it to be. We’ll remake it and develop a recipe for something we saw on our feed.

Did you have a social media strategy or has it been an organic process?

Definitely organic. My career has been in helping brands to translate their real-world brand into the digital space, and as digital developed into social, I’ve figured out social media strategies for brands. I think like most startups, we look at what’s working and do more of that, and look at what’s not working and think of ways to make it work better. Our main focus from the beginning has been making connections and building a community of people who really enjoy each other’s food content and like to share.

Growing up, was food a big part of your family life?

Yes. I grew up in Texas and my mom made dinner every night. I always loved to eat, I love good food. When people ask, what do you hate, there’s really nothing I can think of. I helped my mom in the kitchen quite a bit. Then when I went to college, I couldn’t eat the food in the dorm, and I wasn’t one of those people who would say, Oh I’ll just have a bowl of cereal for dinner. That’s my worst nightmare. If our kids are in trouble — all of our kids love to eat — we’ll say to them, If you don’t listen, you’re going to get cereal for dinner, and they’re like, Noooo! That’s how I was, too. I need something savory and delicious. So in college, I started cooking as a necessity.

How did ICE prepare you for your current role as founder of feedfeed or other aspects of your life?

It helped me with the ability to throw together a really nice meal quickly. Having the basis of the techniques, plus knowing the flavor profiles and pulling them together. Another thing: I’ve always had an idea for a restaurant — especially living out here, because we don’t have a lot of options. When we go to the city, I always say Let’s have Indian, or let’s have some Korean food or Thai, because we don’t have those types of restaurants out here. At home, one night I’ll make something more Middle Eastern, and then the next night I’ll make something more Thai-inspired. I always have coconut milk, ginger and a good harissa on hand. One thing you learn in culinary school is that all the cuisines are using the same ingredients for the most part, but the end results are so different. That’s what I like to do in my own home cooking and I would love to do the same in my own restaurant: Use the same ingredients the whole week but every night try a different cuisine. Show people that you can get by with pretty much the same ingredients and completely change the dishes based on the preparation.

For our readers that are trying to build their brands via social media, what advice can you offer?

First, I would say that it’s important to be active on social. Don’t just spend time composing a beautiful, well-lit shot, posting it and then logging out of Instagram or whatever social media platform you’re using. Spend the time looking at what people you follow are posting, like the content and comment on the content. I think there’s also this perception that you shouldn’t be following too many people — I disagree with that. If there are people out there who are putting out nice content that you’re interested in, follow them, engage with them and get to know the people behind these accounts. Read what these people are writing, don’t just look at the pictures. It’s about relationship building.

Interested in studying culinary arts at ICE? Click here for information on our career programs.


By Caitlin Gunther

When you speak with Adrienne Cheatham (Culinary Arts ’07), you can hear the tenacity in her voice. As a former sous chef at Le Bernardin and executive chef at Red Rooster, and the subject of a recent NY Times Taste Makers video, Adrienne is mindful of the accomplishments behind her. She’s more concerned, however, with the missions that lie ahead — like leaving her comfort zone (if working 16-hour days seven days a week can be called a “comfort zone”) and branching out on her own. Adrienne balances her time in the kitchen with an activity that calls upon a completely different skill and mindset: dance.

While scoping out locales for a potential forthcoming project, Adrienne took a pause to chat with me for the ICE blog.

ICE Alumnus Adrienne Cheatham

First, congratulations on the Taste Makers piece. What was it like working on that?

They were trying to steer the focus of it to the challenges that a woman faces in the kitchen, and I didn’t support that idea. I didn’t want to be a part of that kind of story. I think that kitchens are the great equalizers — either you can do the job or you can’t. It doesn’t matter if you’re short, tall, your gender, your race, none of that matters in a kitchen. That’s why I was glad they took the focus off of that.

Is it a relevant question anymore: what’s it like to be a woman in a kitchen? Or is that a cliché at this point?

In some ways, it’s cliché because it’s asked so much. At least now people are aware of women in kitchens. And yes, women are still the minority, but you experience the same things that the guys do. Maybe you feel differently about a crass or vulgar joke but that offends some men too. It’s not as much of a gender issue as before when it was novel to see women in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve been the only woman in the kitchen for three to six months at a time. I’ve also been the only black person. But anyone can be the minority. You could be the only blond in the kitchen, but it’s not an issue because everyone’s there to work. It’s a complete meritocracy. You’re judged by whether you did a good job at your station.

When did you realize you wanted to work in restaurants? 

In high school, I told my mom that after graduation I wanted to go to a four-year culinary school and she was so unsupportive. And rightfully so — [having worked in restaurants herself] she had seen a lot of her friends burn out and have nothing to fall back on. She said I could go to a regular four-year school first and then if I still wanted to go to culinary school, I could. She told me, we’re not rich, so if you want to go to culinary school, you’re completely on your own.

So I went to college in Florida. I started majoring in business and finance, and then I switched to journalism and PR during my junior year. Business and finance were cool — those were principles I needed to learn. My mom was pushing me to get a job in finance. She told me to make a lot of money and then cook as a hobby. But I still wanted to go to culinary school, and if I wanted something to fall back on in the same industry, I figured that journalism would be the best option.

Do you do any writing nowadays?

I did the recipe testing and editing of the Avec Eric cookbook with Eric Ripert. Recently, I helped write and test the recipes for The Red Rooster Cookbook by Marcus Samuelsson. I also did the book’s food styling, working with the prop stylist and photographer.

What inspired you to go to culinary school?

It was something I had planned already. I was working for a pastry chef at a resort in Florida, and I thought I wanted to go into pastry. The chef and the sous chef knew I wanted to go to culinary school and they were very supportive. They believed that even if you have been working for a few years, it’s good to back up your credibility with a culinary school education. I figured because I’d worked in pastry for a few years, if I go to culinary school, I’d go to the general program to learn new skills. I thought I’d go back to pastry, but the culinary arts program offered such a different mindset, I ended up liking the freedom and creativity on the savory side.

adrienne_cheatham_alumni_

Is that how you ended up working at Le Bernardin?

I got referred there through a classmate. I’m originally from Chicago and I wanted to do my externship there, so I was holding out for Charlie Trotter’s. I thought, in case it doesn’t work out, I should look for something in New York. One of my classmates was doing her externship at Le Bernardin. She gave me the name of Chef Ripert’s assistant and I stalked her. When I didn’t hear back, I said, “Ok, you and I are about to become best friends.” I showed up at the restaurant to leave another hard copy of my resume. I would email her three times a week and call her four times a week until she finally responded. She owns Ardesia, the wine bar, and the Camlin in Brooklyn now.

Did ICE prepare you to work at Le Bernardin?

I felt comfortable in the kitchen because during all the modules at ICE you’re in a kitchen environment. You learn how to stand out of the way and not be intrusive in someone else’s space when it’s not your kitchen. I had great chef instructors and they had the same temperament and demeanor as the chefs at Le Bernardin.

In the NY Times video, you said, “There’s a point in your career when you have to put yourself out there. I do want to open my own restaurant. I want to develop my own style.” Have you reached a point in your career where you’ve developed your own style?

Yes, I think I have. When I tried to put things on the menu at Le Bernardin, Chef Eric would say, “It’s really good, but the ingredients are a little too humble. We have to elevate the dish a lot more.” So I learned the Le Bernardin style of elevating ingredients, making them more than themselves. Then working for Chef Marcus, a lot of the dishes I put on the menu were too sophisticated because Red Rooster is very casual. So the dishes there were too sophisticated for Red Rooster but too humble for Le Bernardin. Eventually, I started running specials—dishes that I wanted to do, separate from the Red Rooster menu. One day Chef Marcus said to me, “I’m not sure if you’ve had time to focus on your style. I think you’re still in the process of developing your style.” That made me realize that I do have to push myself out there. And I’m not going to do it when someone else says I’m ready. It’s a moment that you decide that you’re ready. There’s always more to learn. You’re always going to be learning from different people, from continuing education classes, magazines, visiting other restaurants. You’re not going to stop learning because you open your own place, but you still have to be confident enough in yourself and what you have to share with people. And you have to want to do it, too. I was perfectly happy working for other people. It’s so safe and comfortable. It’s a guaranteed paycheck and the comfort of knowing what you’re going into every day. But at some point, I had to ask myself: What do I want to convey? What do I want to execute that is my vision every day of the week? Plus, with Chef Marcus, I was working seven days a week, 16 hours a day. If I’m going to kill myself, it’s going to be for me.

What is your culinary voice?

Anybody who works in a kitchen and creates food is a very sense-oriented person. It’s about texture, visuals, flavors, aromas — everything that engages the senses. My voice is a reflection of everything about me: not just what I like to eat, but the kind of person I am. So a dish that I put together is an expression of love, of happiness, of learning. Being from Chicago, having family from Mississippi and a fine dining background, it’s not just those things combined. It’s a reflection of all of my life experiences that have created the person I am, and translating that into the food that I create.

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