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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.

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)

“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!

 

“If you want to succeed in the culinary industry, it’s going to take time, and you’re going to have setbacks and some heartache but ultimately if you have it in you, you’re going to be able to make it happen,” said Food Network Star finalist and Mac Truck owner Dom Tesoriero, an ICE alum who, judging by his successes thus far, has it in him.

“I’ve been drawn to the kitchen from a very young age,” said Dom. “Culinary school was a natural fit.” Dom’s Culinary Arts degree from ICE gave him the fundamental tools for thriving in the kitchen. Down the road, ICE connected Dom with opportunities abroad, including a stage at a renowned restaurant in Piedmont, Italy, where he perfected his pasta game.

Though his ambition took him around the globe, the small screen was not necessarily something that Dom aspired toward. Dom was more entrepreneurially inclined, and channeled his years of culinary experience into a novel venture: a food truck serving up gourmet variations of the comfort food classic, macaroni and cheese. Still, television opportunities came knocking on his door. First was an invitation to appear on the show, Rewrapped, where Dom was challenged to (and succeeded at) such tasks as creating barbecue fried chicken potato chips. His kitchen prowess—not to mention that Staten Island accent—attracted the attention of Food Network producers, and landed him a role as a contestant on Food Network Star, where he made it to the final round.

So what’s next for the ICE alum? While he continues serving up toothsome dishes like Braised Applewood Bacon mac and cheese, another television appearance may be in the cards. On screen or off, he’ll be somewhere in the kitchen, drawing upon his wide-range of experiences and realizing his culinary voice.

Ready to find your culinary voice? Click here for more information on ICE’s Culinary Arts program.

 

By Carly DeFilippo

With more than 11,000 graduates in the industry, ICE’s alumni network is a hotbed of food and hospitality talent. In turn, it’s no surprise that many of our graduates have found success working together in the field. In the case of Cristian Quiroz and Ilse Herrera, sous chefs at Txikito, La Vara and El Quinto Pino—restaurateurs Alex Raij and Eder Montero’s trifecta of celebrated NYC restaurants—they may have met on the job, but they get along just like classmates.

isle and cristian resized

What were you doing before culinary school?

Cristian Quiroz: I worked as a waiter at a place called The Crepe Café back in Chile. It was my first restaurant job and I would always bother the crepe cook to let me make the crepes. He kept saying no, until one day he got tired of me and just let me do it. Soon I was able to manage the station on my own. That’s when I decided I wanted to learn back of house skills, to hopefully open up my own restaurant one day.
Ilse Herrera: I was studying singing in a conservatory in Guadalajara, Mexico. I moved to New York just one week before starting classes at ICE.

What specifically attracted you to the programs at ICE?

IH: I liked that ICE offered immersion into the world of cooking within a short amount of time. The modules were well rounded and the program was affordable. Being in New York City was definitely a big plus.
CQ: The length of the programs (Culinary Arts and Management). I had considered CIA because of its reputation, but my father suggested that I would probably benefit more from a shorter, hands-on program, than a traditional 2-4 year degree. I think he was completely correct. In the end, it depends on the learning style of the person.

What have you been up to since graduating?

CQ: I worked at Txikito for a year and a half and then helped opened La Vara in Cobble Hill. After Alex received two stars in the New York Times for El Quinto Pino, we helped open the restaurant’s new dining room, “El Comedor.” Currently, most of my time is spent at Txikito, but I occasionally work at the other two spots as well. As a personal project, I planned a sold-out Chilean food pop-up last September, which I’m considering developing into my own spot in the coming year.
IH: I was garde manger at Lupa during school, and later moved to The West Branch where I was quickly promoted to the pasta station. After a year, I left New York to spend two months in Italy, and upon my return I got a job at Txikito through a former co-worker. I started off as a lunch cook and then became the morning sous-chef. I also helped with research and development and staff training for the opening of La Vara in Brooklyn, and worked with Cristian on the expansion of El Quinto Pino, where I currently run the kitchen.

What are your proudest accomplishments?

IH: The critical acclaim in the press has been very gratifying in the five years that I have worked for Alex and her husband, Eder. I have also cooked at the James Beard House on two different occasions with Alex and have had the chance to cook my own Mexican dinner at Txikito for one of their “txokos” (a dinner series inspired by Basque private gastronomical societies), mainly focusing on food from the states of Michoacán and Sonora.
CQ: I’m very happy with the job I’ve done in Alex and Eder’s restaurants. In addition to helping achieve two stars at both La Vara and El Quinto Pino, the whole experience of starting two new restaurants from scratch is personally very gratifying and entertaining.

What is a day like in your working life?

CQ: My day typically involves quality control during dinner service, expediting, ordering, creating specials and maintaining food safety. Training staff is a big part as well.
IH: I get in at 9:00am and take a quick inventory of the kitchen. Then I check the morning production list, take on some prep tasks, and manage quality control for the team throughout the day. When the night crew comes in at 2:00pm, I communicate with the supervisor about any new specials or menu items. I have a lunch break from 3:00-4:00pm, then prep is continued until around 5:00pm. Finally, I do inventory of vegetables, fish, meat, dry goods, etc. and place any necessary orders before I go home.
CQ: Working with Isle has been amazing. Both times we helped open new restaurants (La Vara and El Comedor), it would basically be Isle in the morning, then I’d come in for lunch and dinner service. She would train prep cooks and maintain quality control prior to opening, while I would do the same during service. I remember hearing somewhere that chef/owners normally need two close and very trustworthy cooks to rely on to run a restaurant—it’s definitely been true in my experience.

What might people be surprised to learn about your job?

CQ: I wasn’t looking for the “celebrity chef” life when I got into the business, but I’ve met a lot of people who got into the job thinking it was going to be a piece of cake. You should be ready for long hours and hard work. Certain kitchens and staffs are more pleasant than others. One chef will think screaming is an essential part of his job; others are laid-back and don’t care—but you should show up ready for anything.
IH: There is more to being a cook than just cooking. A lot of discipline, respect for others, teamwork, cleanliness and speed are required. It’s not the way it looks on television. You have to truly be passionate about food in order to be happy in this field.

How would you describe your “culinary voice”?

IH: I would describe my culinary voice as clean and simple. I believe in staying true to the flavor of each ingredient and searching to complement it in unexpected ways. I have been taught (the Basque way) to get rid of black pepper as a staple seasoning. A little bit of olive oil and salt are all a great ingredient needs. As far as plating is concerned, I like natural-looking food that can make it to the table without looking ruined. I don’t oppose the modernist approach, but I love the example of a chef who once said to me: “Imagine a light breeze brought your salad over to the plate, and… ahh,” while letting the greens fall naturally.
CQ: The way I understand food is entirely influenced by Alex and Eder. I have far more experience working with Spanish food—and some Middle Eastern flavors at La Vara—than any other cuisine, but currently I’m excited to develop a Chilean restaurant concept. Chile is a country whose cuisine has been defined by the immigrants and colonies that have arrived there, especially Spanish, German and Italian. I’m looking to maintain the authenticity of traditional Chilean flavors, but present them in a more creative, appealing way.

Click here for more inspiring ICE alumni stories.

By Carly DeFilippo

No two roads to a career in food are the same, and ICE Culinary Arts alum Randy Zweiban is a prime example of a professional shape shifter, finding success in all corners of the culinary industry. He launched his career with the purchase of a small catering operation and soon found himself in the Miami kitchens of celebrated Chef Norman Van Aken. After seven years, Randy relocated to Chicago, garnering acclaim for his work with Lettuce Entertain You restaurants. For his first independent project as Chef/Owner, Randy launched the acclaimed Province, Chicago’s first full-service restaurant to attain a Gold-Level LEED certification. Today, Randy is among the industry’s leading consultants, with clients that range from restaurant groups and food councils to such large-scale organizations as the California Avocado Commission or Kraft foods.

Nacional 27

What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE, and what attracted you to the programs?
After college, I was trained as a diamond setter and worked in the Jewelry District of Manhattan during the day. I also was a drummer in a rock band during the evenings, and I juggled both for about seven years. It was during that time that I began to explore the restaurant scene of Manhattan, and realized my passion lay in the culinary field. When it came time to select a school, I appreciated the fact that ICE offered night classes and some flexibility in scheduling.

Randy and Chef Norman Van Aken at the 2014 Food Arts BBQ.

Randy and Chef Norman Van Aken at the 2014 Food Arts BBQ.

Are there any accomplishments of which you are particularly proud?
To start, becoming a member of the original group of alumni honored in the ICE Alumni Hall of Achievement, along with winning the 2004 “Best Independent Operator Menu” award for my work at Nacional 27 from Nation’s Restaurant News. I am honored to have cooked at the James Beard House a number of times and, most of all, to have had the good fortune to have partnered with some amazingly talented people throughout my career, including Norman Van Aken and Richard Melman.

Early on in his career, Randy cooks for the likes of Julia Child and Robert Mondavi.

Early on in his career, Randy cooks for the likes of Julia Child and Robert Mondavi.

How would you define your “culinary voice” and your personal principles of hospitality?
The key word is “hospitality.” Treating food with respect, care and passion is as important in a fine dining restaurant as it is in a fast casual one. Working with a team in any environment is what makes that operation great. I am lucky that I get to do what I love and make a living at it. We are lucky in this business to always have opportunities to continue to learn and get better at what we do.

Describe a typical day. What might your schedule look like?
At present I am working on a few consulting projects, which have had me traveling to places like Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and Cleveland, although I live in Chicago. When not on the road, I am working with my partners at VRZ Hospitality Group on developing concepts for hotels, airports and private equity companies. Most days I am up early and work into the evening, but it’s not the late-night restaurant hours I had kept for many, many years.

What might people be surprised to learn about your job?
Being a chef encompasses so much more than cooking. It’s managerial, operational and analytical. Every project has its own set of circumstances and processes. Being able to communicate and listen well is paramount to success when working with different groups on a variety of initiatives.

What advice do you have for those looking to work in the hospitality industry?
Get experience, pay your dues and don’t just jump from one place to the next. Spending at least a year or two in a variety of experiences will help round out your skill set. Always listen and always be prepared to learn. There are no fast paths or luck involved. Hard work, diligence and passion is what will move you forward and upward.

Where would you like to see yourself in the future?
Definitely someplace warm! But, more generally, I have two great partners in VRZ Hospitality Group, Steve Rennau and Norman Van Aken, and I am enjoying growing our new business and looking forward to future opportunities.

Click here for more stories about inspiring ICE alumni.

By Virginia Monaco

At ICE, we’re always thrilled to celebrate the successes of our graduates, and, in particular, to invite them “back to school” to share their stories and expertise with our current students. Most recently, we invited two outstanding alumni—Miguel Trinidad and Kamal Rose—to demonstrate some of their signature dishes and impart industry advice from their years of experience after ICE.

miguel kamal

Chef Kamal Rose started working at the famed Tribeca Grill after graduating high school, enrolling at ICE as a way to further advance his technical skills. As the years went by, he worked his way up the ladder—and through every station in the kitchen—until he was named the restaurant’s Executive Chef in 2012. His culinary voice combines his Caribbean heritage with Tribeca Grill’s new American style, as in one of his signature dishes, crab cakes with avocado mousse and black bean pineapple salsa.

ICE - Alumni - Kamal Rose - crabcake

Students were treated to very different dishes by ICE alumni Miguel Trinidad when he demonstrated Filipino street food, or pulutan. Miguel is the chef/owner of Jeepney Filipino Gastropub and Maharlika Filipino Moderno, both of which feature the foods he fell in love with while backpacking across the Philippines. The dishes he presented were chicken “cracking,” beef skewers and barbecued pork, all paired with a vinegar sauce called suka.

photo-550x413

In addition to introducing the audience to new techniques and flavor combinations, Chefs Kamal and Miguel also shared valuable career advice based on their own professional careers. Both stressed that ICE provided them with a solid culinary foundation, but that learning never stops when you work in the kitchen. For students nervous about trailing or beginning their externships, they recommended three tips: write everything down in a notebook, work enthusiastically and be inquisitive but humble. While admitting that kitchen work can be very demanding, they stressed the pride in a job well done and the sense of satisfaction they feel at the end of the day. Their final take-away? Success is in the hands of each student, and a culinary career is one where you get out what you put in.

ICE - Alumni - Kamal Rose

For more ICE alumni stories, click here. And if you’re an ICE graduate, don’t hesitate to reach out and share your success story by emailing alumnilisting@ice.edu!

By Carly DeFilippo 

image001In New York City, we may look first to the New York Times or other local publications for restaurant ratings, but on the international stage, there is no more respected standard of excellence than the Michelin star. As those familiar with Michelin well know, the stars are often concentrated in certain cities of excellence—for example Paris or Tokyo—and earning multiple stars outside those well-frequented cities is an especially challenging feat. That’s why we’re thrilled to announce that two entrepreneurial ICE alumni, Georgianna Hiliadaki (Culinary Arts/Culinary Management ’03) and Nikos Roussos (Culinary Arts ’03) have risen to the top of the pack. Their restaurant—Funky Gourmet in Athens, Greece—is one of only two 2-star Michelin restaurants in the whole country. We connected with the creative pair to learn how their time at ICE influenced their innovative style.

What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE?
Nikos was working in his family’s silversmith business while Georgianna had just graduated from the University of Reading in the UK with a degree in European Studies and Italian. We loved the fact that the classes at ICE were hands-on, with many opportunities to practice our skills.

Where were your externships, and what did you learn from the experience?
We both did an externship at Kitchen 82, which was a very casual Upper West Side restaurant. Looking back, we’d say that it was a good experience, but perhaps a different choice—one more on a par with the cooking skills and techniques that we had acquired at the school—would have been better. Chef Ted strongly opposed our decision and with hindsight we can admit that he was right, something more upscale would have been better. Our advice to other students would be to try to take advantage of the name of the school and go to the best restaurants of the country, even if they are outside of New York City (Alinea, the French Laundry, etc.).

assets_LARGE_t_175762_54054420Can you describe the journey from graduation to Funky Gourmet?
For a couple of years, we both worked in different restaurants in Athens. After that, Nikos went to Amsterdam and worked there for a year while Georgianna did an internship at El Bulli in Spain. When we returned to Athens, we started a private chef business, which in 2009 evolved into the Funky Gourmet restaurant. The rest is history!

Are there any accomplishments of which you are particularly proud?
The truth is that Funky Gourmet has traveled along an amazing path. In 2012, after just two years of operation, the restaurant was awarded its first Michelin star. Then in 2013, TripAdvisor ranked us as the 6th best restaurant in the world. Most recently, in March 2014, we are very happy and proud to have been awarded our second Michelin star.

2

Can you describe a day in the life of Funky Gourmet?
Things are pretty hectic, as you can imagine. On the restaurant’s operating days (Tuesday to Saturday) we begin work at 14:30. Our responsibilities are in the kitchen, supervising and helping with the food preparation, but at the same time we have to take care of a million other things that have to do with the restaurant. Since we are both chefs and owners, there is a lot to think about, organize and manage on a daily basis. At 17:45, there is a break in the kitchen and we spend the next 15 minutes cleaning up. At 18:00, we all sit down together for our family meal. At 18:30, we go back for last minute preparations, and at 19:00 we have our daily meeting with the staff. The restaurant opens its doors at 19:30 and we take last seating at 22:00. Around 2:00, when the last customer has left and everything is in place, we are ready to call it a day.

What might people be surprised to learn about your work?
We will never forget what Chef Ted told us from day one at ICE: “Don’t expect that when you complete your studies here you can actually think of yourselves as Chefs. Even the dishwasher in any kitchen will know more than you—how to cut better, be faster, etc.” You have to put loads of effort and dedication to achieve something great as a chef.

A sneak peek of the interior at the soon-to-open OPSO in Marylebone, London.

A sneak peek of the interior at the soon-to-open OPSO in Marylebone, London.

Where would you like to see yourself in the future?
The big news really are that we are just about to open an all-day, modern Greek restaurant in London called OPSO! But down the road, we’d love to see ourselves somewhere between Athens, London and—why not?—NYC.

For more international alumni stories, click here

 

By Casey Feehan

florian_pinelTechnology and the culinary industry have been natural allies throughout history. From new tools and appliances to advancements in our scientific understanding of food, these innovations have helped chefs lighten their workload, augment their creativity and enhance the experience of eating. Now more than ever, technology is setting new standards for how we cook, and ICE alumni are the ones leading the charge. In particular, Florian Pinel, IBM Senior Software Engineer and a graduate of the ICE culinary program, is at the forefront of this revolution, leading the research team for Watson’s “cognitive cooking” project. But back when he was a student at ICE, Florian never imagined that he’d be the tech expert behind the world’s coolest food truck.

What were you doing before enrolling at ICE?

I was working in the research division at IBM. I began there in 1999 after graduating from university in France. I was spending most of my weekends cooking at home, but I wanted to take my skills to the next level and work in a restaurant, with the idea of possibly opening one of my own someday. I checked out the major culinary schools in New York and chose ICE because it offered the best options in terms of program quality and schedule. I graduated in 2005.

Florian, outside the IBM Food Truck with ICE Creative Director Michael Laiskonis.

Florian and ICE Creative Director Michael Laiskonis outside the IBM Food Truck.

Where was your externship? Did it help you make any particularly meaningful connections in the industry?

I did my externship at Danube—a Michelin-starred Austrian restaurant of David Bouley’s (now closed). Since I was still working at IBM during the week, I worked on weekends and, on some occasions, weekday nights. Around the same time, I saw quite a bit of Cesar Ramirez, who was chef de cuisine next door at Bouley (before he moved on to open Brooklyn Fare).

What have you done professionally since graduating?

I continued working at Danube after my externship for almost three years, until the restaurant closed in 2008. During that time, I rotated through all the stations in the kitchen: cold apps, hot apps, deep-fryer, seafood and meat. Regretfully, I never made it to the pastry station: the desserts at Danube were great (Alex Grunert, the pastry chef, went on to work at Blue Hill at Stone Barns). When I create savory dishes, it’s easy to manipulate those ingredients to do what I want, but pastry is still sometimes a struggle: there’s a lot of experience and imagination needed for pastry work, in particular when it comes to achieving the perfect texture or an appealing plate composition.

After Danube closed, I realized I was having a great time creating my own recipes, and eventually started a food blog, foodperestroika.com. The focus is on Eastern Europe and combines recipes, restaurant reviews, and travel reports. Throughout that time, I was still working at IBM, and I began research for the Cognitive Cooking project about two and half years ago.

Florian Pinel - Alumni - ICE

Chef Florian Pinel (right), with Lav Varshney (left), a former IBM research scientist.

Are there any accomplishments of which you are particularly proud?

I think the best accomplishments are the ones still to come!

Briefly describe a day in your current career.

With all the interest in the IBM Food Truck, my days have become much busier in the past few weeks, and my schedule is packed with interviews, meetings and a lot of software engineering. While juggling a wide range of media requests, we’ve been simultaneously working to transform our prototype into an application that consumers would feel comfortable using in their kitchens every day. My favorite projects are those that involve helping someone create new recipes with our tool for an event. That’s when I get to do some hands-on work in my kitchen or pay a visit to James Briscione and Michael Laiskonis at ICE to see what they can come up with.

ICE - Alumni Interview - Florian Pinel - IBM Cognitive Computing Food Truck

From left: ICE Creative Director Chef Michael Laiskonis, Florian, and ICE Director of Culinary Development Chef James Briscione, in the IBM Food Truck.

What might people be surprised to learn about your job?

That IBM doesn’t make computers any more! Or that you can work at IBM and wind up creating cocktails as part of your job.

Where would you like to see yourself in the future?

At IBM, I’d like to deliver a cooking app that’s useful to home cooks and chefs alike, and later investigate how computers can help us be creative in other domains. For example, can computational creativity help us take better pictures or create more exciting travel itineraries? Outside of that, I’d love to have an opportunity to write a cookbook! I have plenty of recipes on my blog, and tons of recipe ideas in my notes that I hope to try some day.

 

To read more about ICE’s inspiring alumni, click here.

 

By Casey Feehan

Chefs get their inspiration from many different places, but it was a well-timed fortune cookie that helped ICE alum Zac Young realize that his future was in the kitchen. Since graduating from the Pastry & Baking career program, Zac has gained widespread recognition as a contestant on Top Chef: Just Desserts and has led the pastry team at some of New York’s top restaurants.

What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE? Was there something that sparked your decision to attend culinary school? 

ICE Alumni Interview - Zac Young - ice.edu

ICE alumni Zac Young.

I was working in the wig department at Radio City Music Hall. I decided that baking cookies would be a fun hobby and found myself becoming obsessed with the balance of creativity and structure involved in baking. Baking can be very precise: there are only so many alterations you can make within a recipe before it fails, and what I found was that I really enjoyed playing with those boundaries. As the Christmas season was winding down, my mother called and said, “You don’t talk about theater anymore: all you talk about are your damn cookies. Go to culinary school.” That night, I ordered chinese food and the message in my fortune cookie said, “Some men dream of fortunes, some men dream of cookies.” The universe was telling me something.

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

I was actually the first extern at Bouchon Bakery, and I burned down the microwave. Since then, I’ve been the Pastry Chef at Butter and Flex Mussels (including the Flex Donuts pop-up shops). I’ve also done development work for a large packaged food company specializing in boxed cake mix and frosting. Now I work for David Burke. Right now, my home base is David Burke Kitchen in SoHo, but we have so many new projects on the horizon – it’s fun to be a part of something that’s expanding.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I really love the little side projects I get to do, such as making dresses out of chocolate or creating a gingerbread version of the Chrysler Building.

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

Show up early, leave late. Pay attention: listen to what your chef tells the other cooks and implement those things in your own work. Don’t complain.

Zac Young - Alumni Interview - ice.edu

Zac MCs the 2013 Dessert Pro Magazine “Top Ten Pastry Chef” awards at ICE.

Briefly describe a day in your current working life. 

I get to work at David Burke Kitchen in SoHo by 9:00AM and eat whatever is left over from breakfast (though I’m partial to just eating the fruit filling out of a danish). The sous chef and I go over prep lists and production for the day, and I make sure the station is set and ready for war before lunch picks up around 12:30PM. Lunch is tough because guests like to get in and out quickly. At 2:00PM we start bread production for dinner service. We can easily go through 300 mini loaves of bread so I like to lend a hand: I call it our “Bread Party.”

Around 3:00PM we put out amenities for the hotel, which can include chocolates, cookies, cheese, birthday cakes, chocolate-stuffed strawberries and champagne. When 3:30PM rolls around, I chat with the other properties (Townhouse, Fishtail) about specials or upcoming events.

At 5:00PM, I check the service station for dinner service. Pre-meal begins at 5:30PM with the front-of-house staff and we review the night’s specials. Once dinner service starts, I go back to the production kitchen and help with prep for the next day. My sous chef and I start inventory/ordering at 8:00PM, and we go over prep lists for the following morning. If there’s a private party or event at the restaurant (and there always seems to be one), it’s usually around 9:00PM that I put out their desserts, hoping that when 9:30PM comes I’ll get to head home. But most nights it’s closer to 10:30PM.

What might people be surprised to learn about your job?

How much work we do for the savory side of the kitchen: we make pizzas, potato rye crisps, savory flans, etc. I also help wherever help is needed in the kitchen. If that means plating hors d’oeuvres or expediting the line, so be it.

Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?

This is my dream job, so I’m not really sure what more I could ask for. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

To read about a typical day in the life of a restaurant pastry chef, click here.