Search Results for: meet the chefs

By Carly DeFilippo

Less than five years ago, the stretch of Harlem between Central Park North and 135th Street was, in the words of Chef Mike Garrett, “a total food desert.” But in October 2010, as the Executive Chef of Marcus Samuelsson’s first independent restaurant venture, Red Rooster, Mike and his staff opened a fine dining establishment that would forever change not just the food of this historic neighborhood, but the culture as well.

Chefs Marcus Samuelsson and Michael Garrett pose with their namesake "Red Rooster"

Marcus Samuelsson and Mike Garrett represent Red Rooster at the New York Wine & Food Festival. Credit: MarcusSamuelsson.com

In 2011, Red Rooster received a rave two-star review from Sam Sifton in the New York Times, but its influence went far beyond great food. The restaurant, whose cuisine pulled from the ethnic backgrounds of the neighborhoods’ many diverse communities, was a galvanizing force in introducing downtown diners to the emerging uptown scene. Today, Red Rooster is in good company—playing the wise, inspiring neighbor to such celebrated newcomers as The Cecil, Barawine and 67 Orange Street.

But back before Chef Mike was revolutionizing Harlem’s culinary culture, he was just a 17-year-old dishwasher in upstate New York. When one of the prep cooks didn’t show up for work, the executive chef asked, “Do you know how to make a burger?” One brutal day on the grill station taught the inexperienced young chef to never underestimate the nuances of any dish—no matter how simple it seems.

Posing with his fellow ICE Chef Instructors and NY Jets greats Willie Colon and Damon "Snacks" Harrison.

Chef Mike, posing with his fellow ICE Chef Instructors and NY Jets players Willie Colon and Damon “Snacks” Harrison.

Mike continued cooking through college as a way to earn money, jumping from hotels to bakeries to restaurants. At the time, his professional goal was to be a radio DJ, but after relocating to Baltimore with a friend, Mike realized that, with a little education, his seven years of kitchen experience might prove to be more profitable. Soon enough, Mike was a new culinary school graduate, working his way up through Baltimore’s restaurant scene.

Eventually, Mike returned to New York, where he found work in restaurateur Pino Luongo’s famed empire. At Coco Pazzo, in particular, his interest in becoming an Executive Chef started to grow, as did his interest in exploring other lesser-known cuisines.

As any of Mike’s culinary students can tell you, he’s very passionate about Asian food, with skills that he picked up during stints at pioneering American sushi restaurant, Ringo (a predecessor to Masa and Kittichai). Eventually, Mike’s network landed him a spot in a very young Marcus Samuelsson’s three star kitchen at Aquavit—the then premiere Swedish restaurant in New York City. From 2004-2010, Mike worked under Samuelsson and Chef Nils Norén, graduating from junior sous chef to executive sous chef.

Chef Mike and Marcus Samuelsson in the kitchen.

Chef Mike and Marcus Samuelsson in the kitchen.

 

 

Throughout this period, Mike also found opportunities to open such restaurants as Merkato 55 and Aer Lounge—even spending stints at C House in Chicago. But once Red Rooster came into view, Mike knew it was time to go all-in.

Red Rooster was a massive success from day one. Catering to both the local community and serving as a hip “destination restaurant,” Mike juggled the desires of an almost impossibly diverse clientele. “On a given night, you would have Fab 5 Freddy, Citibank business partners, real estate guys, politicians, actors, musicians—all in the same restaurant. The impact on the local community was incredible.”

But even as he helped Red Rooster open Ginny’s, its downstairs supper club, and reinvent the upstairs menu time and time again, it became clear to Mike that his primary job as Executive Chef wasn’t cooking—it was teaching. And after years of working in fine dining, Mike was most excited to pursue his growing interest in simple, well-executed food.

Meet Chef Mike header

In 2013, Mike joined the Culinary Arts faculty at ICE. As an instructor, he’s particularly adamant about reforming students’ bad habits. (His signature tagline—“control your energy!”—speaks to their tendency to cook too hot, too fast.) He’s also found time to explore his own artisanal hobbies, teaching beer-making or NY Jets tailgating classes for ICE’s School of Recreational Cooking. Yet whether he’s training future chefs or enthusiastic home cooks, Mike’s philosophy remains the same: “[ICE] is the perfect place to make mistakes and iron out the kinks—before you go and test run your skills in the real world.”

Want to study with Chef Mike? Click here to learn more about ICE’s Culinary Arts program. 

By Caitlin Raux

“During the Qin Dynasty, a scholar was studying for an exam. He went to a park on an island to study. The scholar’s wife wanted to bring him noodles for lunch and she had to cross the bridge.” Simone Tong (Culinary Arts, Culinary Management ‘11) was filling me in on the legend behind “crossing the bridge noodles,” also called mixian (mee-syan), the Yunnan province specialty that New Yorkers are eagerly slurping at Simone’s new East Village restaurant, Little Tong Noodle Shop. “She discovered, because she was very smart — smarter than her husband, obviously,” Simone continued, with a chuckle, “that a layer of chicken fat covering the broth would keep the noodles hot while she crossed the bridge. And then she cooked the raw food in the broth once she arrived.”

Ingenuity, it turns out, also finds its way into the kitchen of Little Tong, where Simone’s impeccable technique and reverence for each ingredient is met with her own brand of creativity and humor. The result is dishes like the “Lijiang old town grandma-inspired” Grandma Chicken Mixian: an addictive combination of light chicken broth, tender chicken confit, black sesame garlic oil, tea-steeped eggs, house-made fermented chili and pickles, finished with a smattering of bright flowers. Simone, who cooked with Chef Wylie Dufresne at wd~50 for nearly five years, explained, “I want my food to be seriously tasty, but also have a hint of elegance, a hint of humor and a hint of surprise.”

Simone Tong

Simone Tong during dinner service at Little Tong Noodle Shop (Photos by @caseyfeehan)

On a recent Wednesday morning, while the shutters of Little Tong were still drawn, Simone and I chatted about her path from the kitchens of ICE to wd~50 to her own bustling downtown restaurant.

Little Tong Noodle Shop

Salted Cucumbers with Bang Bang Sauce and Mint

What inspired you to enroll in culinary school?

The first real inspiration came from my mom. My parents are art dealers, so they had a lot of beautiful paintings. My mom had the idea to create a restaurant where they could hang some of their paintings, mostly renaissance period, and she could sip coffee all day. She had no idea what owning a restaurant entailed, so she hired a chef and opened a restaurant called Café Firenze. One day a French chef walked past the restaurant and he thought the restaurant was decorated in good taste, so he wanted to become the chef. I was home from college for the summer, so I helped translate his French-accented English to my mom in Sichuanese. He went into the kitchen and started cooking these beautiful, classic French dishes like tomato concasse. That was my first inspiration.

Then after I graduated from college, I saw a show called “After Hours with Daniel.” Chef Daniel Boulud would visit different restaurants, talk to the chefs and bring his own ingredients. The first episode of the first season was wd~50 with Chef Wylie Dufresne. I was so wowed by it — the combination of art, science, cooking and food. It seemed so fun to be a chef. You get to sit around, drink, talk about food, taste food.

I did extensive research. Where is wd~50, how do I go there, how do I learn what they do? Then I researched the different culinary schools in New York and I visited three of them. I realized I could get two degrees from ICE — Culinary Arts and Culinary Management, which economically made sense. The other big factor was that at ICE, we would do an externship. So I decided to enroll at ICE. I wrote my first cover letter to wd~50 — I knew I was going there.

Where is wd~50, how do I go there, how do I learn what they do?

Did you use what you learned in ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program to open your own restaurant?

The thing about New York is it’s so crazy. I don’t think you’re ever prepared to open a restaurant — you just do it. But if you’ve never been in the industry, you want to learn from a school that draws the best examples of how to run a business. And that’s what they do at ICE.

Banna Shrimp Mixian

Banna Shrimp Mixian

How did you know it was time to open your own restaurant?

I always wanted to open restaurants. But the opportunity came when a mutual friend introduced me to my business partner, Simon Xi. His background is more finance — very numbers-driven, which is a huge contrast to a chef. But we shared a passion for opening a restaurant that served modernized Chinese cuisine, to bring new memories to New York. We wanted to build upon our memories of Chinatown and Chinese takeout and lo mein.

Little Tong is on the same block as Momofuku Noodle Bar – does that draw comparison?

Sometimes. Food writers either say it’s similar but a different style, or they say “good for her for being so close to this legendary icon.” I worked for Chef David Chang briefly, but we also met when he came to wd~50 from time to time. He’s been very generous and very kind to me. He sent me a text to congratulate me and brought beers over.

Little Tong Noodle Shop

Extra Chili Oil

Tell me about your style of noodles.

They’re called mixian (mee-syan): it literally translates as rice threads. It’s from the Southwest region, a Province called Yunnan, which translates as southern cloud. It’s a very beautiful place, almost like a fantasy world. Not many people have discovered it; people in China only started traveling there in the 1990s. Now it’s popular, because people talk about how beautiful it is.

I was born in the Province next to Yunnan, Szechuan, which is known for spicy cuisine. I didn’t truly discover Yunnan until my research last year — I was there for 3 months — but my passion for mixian developed when I was very young. Mixian is like the foster child of Yunnan cuisine. Everybody knows about mixian in the rest of China. Even restaurants in New York, like in Chinatown or Flushing, serve mixian or “crossing the bridge” noodles. It’s a bowl of rice noodles with 20 plates of different ingredients, and you dump what you want in — kind of like Vietnamese pho. In China they add raw chicken, pork, fish or beef; then some sausage, pickles, lots of vegetables, boiled eggs and tofu. That’s what I grew up eating. You can find this in New York, but there’s not as much raw protein because of health department regulations.

I don’t think food should be something just to show off your technique. It should be wholesome. It should make you smile when you eat it.

What do you add to this traditional dish?

All of the dishes on our menu are inspired by dishes from the region and recreated in our own way. A classic example is the Grandma’s Chicken. It’s our most popular, most written-about dish. I discovered Grandma Chicken at a restaurant that only serves chicken mixian in Lijiang, an old town in Yunnan. We spun that dish around and did something new. We cook the broth for 36 hours. We sear the chicken skin so it’s more dynamic in flavor. We add a lot of aromatics and we also make a black garlic oil with black sesame so it’s toasty and aromatic. We ferment our own fresh chili and cook the chicken in its own fat, which is what they did in Lijiang as well. We use antibiotic-free, cage-free chicken. Then we add a tea egg that’s been steeped in tea and spices, and finish with fresh flowers. If you look at the dish, it’s very spring, it’s very Yunnan. But the flavor is reinvented slightly.

Grandma Chicken

Grandma Chicken Mixian

Do you have any advice for people opening their first restaurant?

With millennials, you can’t be hard on them and chastise them. They will just quit. They don’t see value in putting their head down and working. Inspiration is really the thing and a little sense of humor. [Ed. note: a waitress on duty when we visited the restaurant confirmed, “Simone’s hilarious.”] Sometimes you walk into the kitchen and you can sense that everyone is mad at each other — you can feel the passive aggression. How do you turn this passive aggression around? I’ll find myself shouting orders and they’ll delay five seconds in reading them back. Then I realized I need to try to relate to them and say something humorous to bring them out of their own misery. Refresh them. Then let’s get back to work. Sometimes, though, you have to tell them directly what’s the right thing to do. I have no problem being direct.

I think the most difficult part of having a restaurant is managing the people. How do you build a team from strangers? How do you make sure they’re professional? How do you make them do the right thing? How do they carry the spirit of your restaurant and keep the energy up? It’s everyday mentoring. We’ve changed about 12 dishwashers now. It’s crazy how hard it is to find a good dishwasher — someone who consistently shows up to work. That’s a challenge. It’s all about the people and how to get them to produce the same quality every day.

What is your culinary voice?

I used to watch that show “So You Think You Can Dance,” and I always liked when the ballet dancers turned into break dancers and changed the genre. I want my food to be seriously tasty, but also have a hint of elegance, a hint of humor and a hint of surprise. I want to create something more amusing than serious. I don’t think food should be something just to show off your technique. It should be wholesome. It should make you smile when you eat it.

Ready to hone your culinary voice? Get more information on ICE’s career training programs.

By Kathryn Gordon and Jeff Yoskowitz

ICE chefs Kathryn Gordon and Jeff Yoskowitz recently visited South Korea with ICE alumnus Heejin Lho, who wanted to share with the chefs the traditional foods and culture of her country. While Chef Jeff found his favorite meal (surprisingly) in a food court and learned how to navigate intensely hot kimchis, Chef Kathryn was impressed by the elegant, edible flowers like gardenia and magnolia. Below is a conversation between Chef Kathryn and Chef Jeff that took place during the latter half of their visit.

Korean Temple Food Center

Korean Temple Food center (Photo credit: Melissa Hope)

Chef Kathryn: Jeff, to start this off, what have you liked best so far?

Chef Jeff: Many things fascinated me this week. I liked making songpyeon — the half-moon shaped rice cakes made with pine needles and dough from sticky and non-glutinous rice [in the Songpyeon Rice Cakes class hosted by the Tteok (Rice Cake) Museum in Seoul]. The dough was counterintuitive in terms of its dryness level. If it was too wet, you couldn’t form the cakes because it stuck to your hands.

Fried Stick Rice Flour Cakes (Photo credit: Melissa Hope)

Chef Kathryn: That rice cake dough was amazing because it was colored by fruits, plants or flowers like strawberry, mugwort and gardenia — but the dough didn’t like me! My right thumb just didn’t “get it” in terms of the shaping for the first 15 minutes. Meanwhile, you were the teacher’s pet!

Chef Jeff: I also really liked our Korean Temple Food center cooking class led by the Buddhist monk. It exposed us to new vegetables and cooking methods, like gingko nuts, lotus leaf, perilla leaf, burdock and acorn jelly. We ate acorn jelly three times this week — I had no idea it was so prevalent! It made me want to track down acorn flour in the U.S. and figure out how to remove the bitterness.

So much flavor came from the lotus leaf, which provides an impermeable layer so whatever you cook in it retains its moisture, while deriving some yellow color and flavor. It was also interesting that the blanched and diced lotus root, which provided texture in the rice, is the root from white flowers, not the pink lotus flowers. I also liked learning about the traditions of mixing sticky and non-glutinous rice.

Chef Kathryn: I loved that in Buddhist temples they eat every part of every plant. We ate a salad made from succulents at The Shilla Seoul hotel banquet. We were exposed to foods that we never knew were foods before.

Chef Jeff: The organization and customer service at The Shilla Seoul was really impressive, but so was the customer service at the high-end food markets at the department stores. At the Hyundai Department Store, I counted 12 people in front of the wine area alone, just waiting to assist you with selecting wine. Each area — the fish, the seaweed island or dried roots — had multiple people waiting to help you in your selection and pack it up. I have never seen that level of presentation, care and customer service before.

Chef Kathryn: Heejin carefully selected our menu for the week so we didn’t just taste traditional Korean dishes. What dish did you find the most interesting?

Chef Jeff: I was a little skeptical when she said we were going to a food court for Korean-style shabu shabu, but the dinner at the Shinsegae Department Store was one of my favorite experiences.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul (Photo credit: Jeff Yoskowitz)

I loved how they made so many dishes from the one base broth. The same broth that cooked the sliced beef was reduced with mushrooms, scallions, cabbage and other vegetables before more meat was added. The broth then reduced a second time while we ate that course, and subsequently it was either used to cook noodles and assorted greens, or to make a thick porridge-like stew with rice and greens.

Acorn Jelly with Vegetables

Acorn Jelly with Vegetables (Photo credit: Melissa Horn)

Chef Kathryn: I liked being exposed to edible flowers. I always love cooking with flowers, but never tasted gardenias before this week. When we visited the Tea Story teahouse in Seoul, they had so many teas based on plants and flowers that we don’t typically eat or cook with in American or Western European cuisines, like mistletoe, magnolia and lotus.

Chef Jeff: And then there’s the situation of trying to order hot tea with a meal — the restaurants we experienced literally did not have any.

Chef Kathryn: We learned that with Korean cuisine, you don’t always drink tea with a meal, like you might at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant.

Chef Jeff: Yet coffee shops are everywhere and seemingly open at all times. Per capita, there seems to be an extremely high interest in coffee — I counted three coffee places on one city block alone. The availability of coffee is much more noticeable than in New York.

Chef Kathryn: What did you think of the dessert scene in Korea?

Chef Jeff: I was impressed by how aesthetically clean the cakes and tarts look in every pastry window, and not just in high-end shops and stores — even a chain-style bakery. There is nothing “homey” here, unless you count the fruit. And the fruits in general are enormous! We’ve never seen such big peaches, apples, figs and grapes.

We tried grape tarts one afternoon. We also saw a lot of desserts made with green grapes throughout the week that are not popular in the United States including shaved ice and blended drinks.

Chef Kathryn: What about the kimchi? We ate kimchi made with a lot of greens, cabbage and daikon this week, and were introduced to white kimchi, which I had never had before this trip.

tea ceremony

Tea Ceremony (Photo credit: Melissa Hope)

Chef Jeff: I feel more educated generally about kimchi, although I definitely learned I prefer the garlic (non-Buddhist) style.

Chef Kathryn: In terms of heat and the dishes we’ve eaten with gochujang chili paste — in one meal, your eyes were watering at the end!

Chef Jeff: There are some hot foods you put in your mouth and then it spreads slowly. Once the heat from the kimchi spread, it was too late for me to do anything about it. I did gain a better appreciation of all the contrasting flavors, and the range of foods to pair with something hot came more easily with practice than in the beginning of the trip.

Chef Kathryn: What else besides food did you find most interesting this week?

Chef Jeff: As we were driving south through the countryside to Cheolla Province, the sheer mass of vertical apartment building construction was astonishing. They don’t build one building at a time. We would look towards a range of mist covered forested mountains and see clusters of towers going up simultaneously with cranes on top of each building.

Want to explore the pastry arts with Chefs Kathryn and Jeff? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.

By Michael Laiskonis — Creative Director

Jean-Louis PalladinAs a young cook honing my skills in the mid-1990s, I fell into a position at Emily’s, a small restaurant in suburban Detroit led by Chef Rick Halberg. With twenty years’ hindsight, I now look back at my time there as an important educational phase of my career — a cook’s equivalent to graduate school. The food culture we see today was only in its infancy then, and our resources were limited to print — this was well before we could scan social media feeds for instant inspiration and ideas from around the world. Emily’s served as a creative incubator for the cooks who worked there. In our downtime, we swapped the latest books and magazines, mining them for techniques and flavors to infuse into the menus we developed. We looked to Europe, of course, but we were also keenly aware of the rumblings here in the U.S. Then, as now, it was an exciting time to be a cook.

Our research materials included dog-eared copies of Art Culinaire (still publishing and quite relevant today), rare issues of the European import Opt Art and the highly influential series of books Charlie Trotter began writing in 1994. One book, however, stood out among the pack: Jean-Louis Palladin’s Cooking with the Seasons, originally published in 1989. By day we cooked French-inspired classics, but at night we studied Jean-Louis’ modern and sophisticated interpretations, documented in sleek photography. Though highly refined techniques and luxury ingredients jumped from every page, the book also served as a love letter to the ethos of “local” and “seasonal” cooking. I recall one dish that we ended up adapting into our repertoire: a deceivingly simple but elegant terrine fashioned from ultra-thin slices of house-cured salmon, spinach and anchovy butter. As my own path was heading toward a concentration in pastry, I also experimented with the book’s dessert recipes, including Palladin’s traditional clafoutis (a staple of his native southwestern region of France) and a raspberry-studded crème brûlée.

Jean-Louis Palladin

Chef Palladin

Though perhaps eclipsed by chefs who came after (and those who became more ‘famous’), Jean-Louis’ influence on American cuisine can’t be overstated. He was often considered a “chef’s chef.” Cooking styles and aesthetics have changed and few are replicating his dishes today, but his legacy lives on with respect to his insistence on local ingredients. One might argue that most French chefs in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s relied on imported ingredients. Palladin, upon arriving in 1979, made it his mission to seek out the best of what was here. His flagship restaurant in the storied Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. showcased these products with impeccable technique to honor them. A compatriot in this cause was Gilbert LeCoze, who opened Le Bernardin in New York; rather than ship Dover sole from Europe, LeCoze walked the stalls of Fulton Fish Market and championed fish from this region’s waters, and in the process changed the way American chefs sourced and cooked fish. And by no coincidence, Eric Ripert, the current chef and owner of Le Bernardin, worked under Palladin when he emigrated from France, just prior to being hired by LeCoze.

Michael Laiskonis

Tribute, 1999, with Chef Michael (top left) and guest chefs Susanna Foo, David Burke, Roberto Donna and Jean-Louis Palladin

I was afforded my own personal introduction to Jean-Louis years later in 1999, when he cooked as a guest chef at Tribute (also in Detroit), where I had recently become the pastry chef. Many lasting impressions came of these guest chef dinners over the years, but few memories top observing Palladin’s confident swagger at the stoves, his missives barked in an impossibly deep voice and thick French accent. Sadly, Jean-Louis would pass away two years later at the young age of 55, still very much in his prime. But since then, I occasionally pull his book from the shelf and contemplate the evolution of cuisine — what has changed and what fundamental ideas remain the same. I will also quiz younger cooks from time to time, to test their knowledge on the influencers who came before us — I can count how many cooks I’ve sent to the internet in search of Jean-Louis and his generation of chefs.

Michael Laiskonis dessert

Chef Michael’s take on raspberry crème brûlée

I was offered an opportunity to come, in a sense, full circle within my own Jean-Louis story, and straight into his old kitchen at the Watergate just last month. At the urging of my friend Paul Liebrandt, I accepted an invitation from current Watergate chef Michael Santoro to celebrate Palladin’s legacy and the 50th anniversary of the Watergate Hotel. An exclusive multicourse dinner also featured D.C. chefs Robert Wiedmaier, Brian McBride and Watergate pastry chef, Kieu-Linh Nguyen. The most difficult decision was which dessert to prepare, but after several days’ deliberation, all I needed to do was flip through Cooking with the Seasons and the inspiration became immediately clear. Upon seeing my old friend — that raspberry crème brûlée — I created a dessert that served as a metaphor for my own evolution: a sphere of vanilla mousse hiding a liquid raspberry center, glazed with raspberry and set upon a shortbread base. Inspired by the original, this dessert represented a culmination of skills acquired in twenty years, yet still clean and deceptively simple — in the manner of how Jean-Louis taught us to cook.

It’s your turn to study pastry arts with the masters — click here for more information on ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.


By Michael Laiskonis — Creative Director

“If you cook, you are going to get hurt.” The crowd that gathered for a panel discussion on modernist cooking erupted into laughter, but Wylie Dufresne’s observation was gravely accurate. Extreme heat (and cold — working with liquid nitrogen was the object of Wylie’s remark), sharp knives and heavy equipment are some of the perils that cooks must navigate in their daily workplace environment. Add to the mix a dash of occasional chaos and the pressure to produce at breakneck speed, and it’s a wonder more chefs don’t bear hideous deformities.

Chef Sharpening Knives

Young cooks are instantly identified by the rows of scars running up their forearms: the reminders of brief skin-singeing encounters with blazing hot oven racks and pan handles. A cook’s relative experience is easily judged by his or her fingertip’s tolerance to heat (a seemingly heat-proof layer of skin inevitably forms with time). Another telltale sign of a chef is the tough, raised callous at the base of the index finger: the contact point of skin and the carbon steel blade of a chef’s knife. This callous never fully returns to soft, supple flesh, even after years of retirement from daily slicing and chopping. It’s a calling card of sorts, a silent testament to one’s lifelong métier.

While kitchen scars may fade with time, they rarely disappear completely. My first ghastly kitchen injury dates back to my days as a baker. The shop where I worked focused primarily on bread and cakes, but we also did some light takeout fare and off-site catering. During the mid-December holiday season, we were catering one or two small parties every night. One of those afternoons, the chef/owner executed one event while I simultaneously staged a second party at another location. I could easily handle the responsibility of the arrangement, but I was probably still too green of a cook to entrust with the logistical feats these parties presented.

Hot Kitchen Boiling Over Flames

I was wrapping up my prep list with that menu’s protein: a Cajun-spiced, blackened chicken affair (this was the early 90s). Proper blackening technique — as I knew it, anyway — would dictate exposing the oiled, spice-rubbed meat to a fierce high heat and only a little added cooking fat. In my haste to get everything finished, I ignored the gradual buildup of oil in my smoking cast iron pan. Worse yet, I violated the cardinal rule of adding food to any pan: always place the item so that it falls away from you. This precaution ensures that, in the event any hot cooking oil splashes, it does so away from you.

As I tossed the last chicken breast onto the fire, my face and eyes were stung with a spray of hot and spicy oil. I dropped back from the stove and somehow managed to feel my way to the three-compartment sink for some temporary relief. I splashed my face with cold water, wiped myself off and glanced at the clock. I was running late and I didn’t have time to assess the situation properly.

I managed to arrive at the catering gig fully prepped and on time, but as I worked my chafing dishes I was filled with self-conscious dread. I thought I’d scarred myself for life, that I’d need a shroud to hide my culinary deformity like some modern-day elephant man — all because of one impatiently flung piece of chicken. As it turns out, the burn on my face was minor and fully healed within a couple of weeks. But it could have been far worse. The lesson learned? Always respect the fire. That scar may have faded, but others have been permanent.

Chopping Onions

Another early mishap of mine persists in the form of a long-term, conspicuous reminder. A year or so after the blackened chicken incident, I was working my way through a very large pile of onions. It was a straightforward task: hack the polar ends off of each one, score through the skin, peel that off, then halve the onion lengthwise and perform a simple, uniform julienne. At ICE, our fledgling cooks are taught to tuck the thumb back and under, using the broad surface of the resulting fist to both secure the food and guide the knife while chopping. Of course I knew that then, too. But in my urgency to finish all those onions in time, I either looked up or the heavy chef’s knife slipped…and into the mountain of sliced onions went the tip of my left thumb.

My reaction was swift. I didn’t want to look closely at the damage, nor did I have much time to fret over it. I rinsed my hand in the nearby sink, slapped on two or three Band-Aids, wrapped it with a length of gauze and secured it all with what must have been a foot or two of electrical tape. And then I went on with my prep.

I certainly didn’t forget about it over the course of the night’s work. I was in a sense of denial. I was uninsured and living check-to-check on my cook’s wage. I didn’t want to bother with any workers’ comp benefit I may have been entitled to, so there was no professional medical attention given to the mangled digit. After a day or so, when I realized I might have made an error in judgment, I still didn’t seek help. I feared getting yelled at by some nurse or intern for not going directly to the emergency room. Instead, I kept it clean and wrapped, and it eventually healed. The contour of my left thumb is no longer rounded, but now sloped off at a sharp angle.

Butchery Fish Butchering

I’ve heard many stories over the years—likely mythical legends by the time they got to me. The fish bone that went in one side of someone’s finger and emerged months later on the other side. The arm broken in multiple places by an industrial mixer. The fingers severed on deli slicers. I’ve had close calls throughout my twenty years battling in the kitchen, but in comparison to many colleagues, I’ve survived mostly unscathed. My worst injuries were the result of total rookie moves.

A young cook might boast over a particularly gnarly burn or gash, eager to display it as a badge of honor. It’s part of the bravado, the mandated sense of fearlessness that pervades the kitchen. As I grow older, I’m not proud of my mistakes. With time, one increasingly feels stupid over the tiniest nicks and scratches, embarrassed for even a split second’s lack of control. So a word of advice to those starting out in the industry: the second you sense you’re playing too close to the edge, slow down. You won’t work faster with a half of a finger, a burnt face or a broken arm.

Want to study with Chef Michael? Click here for more information on ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

By Carly DeFilippo

Wall Street consultant. Macaron master. International pastry competitor. Best-selling author.

Like many culinary professionals, ICE Chef Instructor Kathryn Gordon never intended to work in food. Yet today, this former management consultant is one of ICE’s most celebrated pastry instructors, one of the country’s foremost experts on the art of French macarons, and was recently named one of Dessert Professional Magazine’s 2017 Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America and inducted into their prestigious Hall of Fame.

Kathryn Gordon Headshot cropped

ICE Chef-Instructor Kathryn Gordon

Growing up, Kathryn didn’t have a “home base.”  Her father’s work in the oil business meant that the family was constantly on the move, offering her exposure to various regional cuisines, such as the Creole recipes of New Orleans.  She even spent part of her childhood in Australia and attended high school in London, where she sampled a wide range of ethnic foods.

Before she realized her culinary ambitions, Kathryn completed her undergraduate studies at Vassar College, and later, obtained her MBA at New York University’s Stern School of Business. Her work as a consultant in the high-stakes world of Wall Street trading left her more than prepared for a new career in the fast-paced world of restaurant kitchens. So, after earning an honors certification from L’Academie de Cuisine in Washington DC, it’s no surprise that Kathryn excelled in the kitchens of New York’s “big three” restaurants — The Rainbow Room, Tavern on the Green and Windows on the World — then, the three highest-grossing restaurants in the country.

Among her many contacts in the industry, Kathryn names Kurt Walrath as her most influential mentor. From serving dinner for 700 at the Rainbow Room to Sunday brunch for 2,000 at Tavern on the Green, there were few tasks he challenged her to take on that she did not master. Yet it was at Windows on the World, as pastry chef of Cellar in the Sky, that Kathryn realized her primary job responsibility was teaching — instructing a sizable staff of experienced chefs and interns during her time there.

Kathryn Gordon Dessert Professional

Shifting her focus, Kathryn was hired as an instructor (and subsequently became the Program Director for the pastry program) at New York Restaurant School, one of the city’s top culinary schools (now closed). During that time, she also collaborated with an American artist who owned a hotel in France to launch a series of culinary tours and French pastry classes for U.S. based industry professionals.

In 2003, Kathryn joined the faculty at the Institute of Culinary Education and has since helped to launch ICE’s own culinary study abroad programs. She has also proved a formidable competitor in National and Regional pastry competitions, and has even been the Master of Ceremonies for a number of pastry events, including the live Carymax World and National Pastry Championships.

Back in ICE’s New York teaching kitchens, Chef Kathryn aims to create extreme scenarios that challenge students to think on their feet. In 2011, she published a best-selling guide to crafting French macarons, which was described by the Wall Street Journal as the most “comprehensive and inspiring” book on macarons in any language. In 2016, Chef Kathryn also published a companion cookbook entitled Les Petits Sweets: Two Bites Desserts from the French Patisserie.

Inspired by her attention to detail and determined focus, it’s no surprise that Kathryn’s students have gone on to find their own significant success. Two, in particular — Dana Loia of Dana’ Bakery and Kathleen Hernandez of Cocoamains— have followed in her footsteps, opening entrepreneurial macaron businesses catering to NYC’s latest dessert craze.

celebratory summer cocktail

Ready to launch a rewarding and creative career in Pastry & Baking Arts? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs. 

By Caitlin Raux 

“The Italian language wasn’t passed on — but the food definitely was,” says Chef Frank Proto, ICE’s newest career program instructor, on his Italian-American upbringing in Long Island. Since childhood, Frank received a firsthand education in Old World cooking methods: homemade sausages hung to dry from bamboo in the cellar; wine made from Grenache grapes purchased at the Brooklyn Terminal Market. It’s no surprise that once he became a chef, Frank gravitated toward unfussy Mediterranean cuisine made with the highest quality products.

Chef Frank Proto

At the outset of his career, Frank found a mentor in renowned Chef Joe Fortunato, now chef/owner of the West Village mainstay Extra Virgin. Chef Frank not only rose through the ranks in Joe’s late restaurant Layla, he helped him to build new restaurants from the ground up, and went on to do the same with restaurateur Marc Murphy, too. When the New Haven restaurant Barcelona needed an executive chef, Chef Frank had the chops to take the helm. Young chefs who have had the opportunity to work with him, and now ICE students, would be lucky to call Chef Frank a mentor. With an affable, encouraging disposition, he’s the kind of chef that makes you want to work harder and better because his passion for cooking and his high expectations for others who have chosen a culinary path are clear.

Chef Frank plans to use his straightforward approach and decades of restaurant experience to teach ICE students how to succeed in the culinary industry and how to prepare delicious, uncomplicated food. On a recent Thursday, after introducing a class of culinary students to Lombardy cuisine, Chef Frank and I sat down to chat for ICE’s “Meet the Chef” series.

Growing up, what was food like at home?  

My dad’s side of the family is Italian-American. And though my mother’s side of the family is German, she learned to cook from my paternal grandmother. So I grew up with Italian-American traditions, like making wine and sausage. We still make our own tomato paste — it’s a process I’ve never seen anyone else do. We dry the tomatoes, we peel them, remove the seeds then dry them in the oven for 48 hours until they’re brick red — it almost looks like a brownie.

Do you still make sausage?

I made sausage in the restaurants where I worked. I’d like to get back into making dry sausages at home. We used to make the sausages then hang them on bamboo in the wine cellar to dry out, because the temperature is perfect in there. We’d dry them out and put them in old, glass mayonnaise jars, then top them with olive oil so they’d store well. Then you peel the skin off and eat it like a salumi.

Chef Frank Proto

What was your first restaurant job?

I worked in a catering hall in Long Island in high school and college. I was a dishwasher, a prep cook, a line cook — I did everything. I always wanted to be a chef, though. I know that’s kind of weird — kids usually want to be firemen or policemen or lawyers. I don’t know where I got the idea but I always wanted to be a chef. I come from a family that cooks. Back in the 70s, when people were eating canned stuff, my mom always had fresh vegetables, and not for health reasons — that’s just the way my grandma taught her. You go to the store, you buy vegetables and you make them. You don’t get them from a can. So we had a lot of good food as kids.

Tell me about your decision to enroll in culinary school.

I had gone to community college for two years to study restaurant management. For me, culinary school was the next step. So I enrolled at CIA [Culinary Institute of America].

What was your first job out of culinary school?

I did my externship at Tribeca Grill, but my first job out of culinary school was at Layla. It was a restaurant that served Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food. That’s where I met my mentor, Joe Fortunato. I worked up the ranks and became sous chef there. Then I moved around with Joe and I also worked on and off with my other friend Marc Murphy. When Joe was opening something, I’d help him open it, when Marc was opening something, I’d do the same.

When I started working with Marc, I helped him open Landmarc and Ditch Plains. I was the corporate chef.

What does being corporate chef entail?

Doing everything. We did all the menus together. I was the operations manager and he managed the big picture. I trained chefs, cooks, planned menu changes, specials. I managed costs, all of the ordering systems, basically building everything from scratch. When I left, we had two Ditch Plains and two Landmarc locations.

Chef Frank Proto

Did you choose Joe as a mentor or did he choose you? How does that work?

It was kind of mutual. He wouldn’t have been my mentor if I did a crappy job. I’m a bit of a bulldog in the kitchen. I come in, I work hard and I’m quiet. Maybe he saw something in me. By him just pushing me along, he became my mentor. Eventually he moved me up to sous chef. At that point, he knew what I could do.

It goes both ways. There are a lot of guys who I chose to mentor when I was working as a restaurant chef. They get chosen because they have the work ethic and the passion for it. You say through your work if you’re worth being mentored.

What would you say is your approach to cooking?

I like simple. Don’t get complicated. A lot of people like to put a lot of stuff on the plate. Sometimes, the less you put on the plate, the better. A lot of young cooks do that before they have experience. Joey always used to ask, “Do we really need to put that on there?” I like to keep everything simple. The last restaurant I was working in, Barcelona in New Haven, was a joy because we’d cook a piece of fish on the plancha and serve it with a good salsa verde. That’s the way I like to cook.

I also like Middle Eastern and North African ingredients — the spices, pomegranate, molasses… the mezze. Even before small plates became the big thing, I always liked small plates. I don’t like committing to just one thing. I don’t play golf because I can’t commit myself to five hours on the golf course. That’s how I feel about a meal, and cooking, too.

What are you excited about teaching ICE students?

I’d like to bring some of my Spanish cooking background and influence to the curriculum. In the restaurant industry, for the past 15 years it’s been the cuisine. Now people are starting to recognize it outside of the restaurant industry.

Other than that, I want the food to taste really good. I want students to walk out of here knowing they’ve made some really good meals. I also want them to walk out of here with as much information as possible about working in the real world, and I’ve tried to include that in every lesson I’ve taught so far. Things like: when you go into professional kitchens, there’s not going to be a ton of paper towels like we have at the school; the less pans you use the better — I want to teach them the nuts and bolts, together with the substance of the lesson.

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

Show up early. Show up prepared. I always tell my cooks, If you come in 10 minutes early and ready to go, you already stand out. There are ways to stand out that take no effort at all. When I was a culinary student, I read and got as much information as I could about food. That’s another thing: be an information seeker. Learn your craft.

I read every day still, after 20-some odd years. There’s always something that interests me.

What do you read?

I read the Eater newsletter every day, I read Saveur, Food52, even the home cook-focused outlets like Bon Appétit. I like to see what they’re doing. I’ve always got the New York Times in my bag. I’ve been going to the public library more, too. It’s such a great resource. I also collect old books. I bought a copy of Larousse Gastronomique and a Fannie Farmer cookbook in the Berkshires last week.

What are your favorite things to do outside of the kitchen?

I have a workshop. I’m just starting to build it up. I really want to learn how to forge. I brew beer. My son and I just brewed beer last year and we’re doing another batch soon. Most of the things are food-related. In my workshop, I made gnocchi boards out of wood. I give them to friends.

gnocchi boards

Ready to hit the ground running on your culinary career path? Click here to learn about ICE’s career programs. 

By Emma Weinstein — Student, Culinary Management ’17 / Culinary Arts ’17

When considering different culinary schools, one of the aspects that attracted me to ICE was the exposure to different elements of the culinary world. Throughout my culinary management course, I have been able to hear some amazing speakers thanks to ICE’s “Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs” lecture series. So far, I’ve had the chance to attend lectures by Sylvia and Steve Pryzant of Four Story Hill Farm, Rob Kaufelt of Murray’s Cheese, Eamon Rockey of Betony and Ruairi Curtin of the Bua Hospitality Group. On the surface, these speakers may seem to have little in common. Their expertise ranges from raising milk-fed veal calves to curating the cocktail program of a fine dining establishment. All of these individuals, however, shared with us the triumphs and hardships of their culinary careers — and through their stories I came away with some key points that will help me on my own path:

  1. Perseverance

Have faith in yourself and your concept. Sylvia and Steve Pryzant of Four Story Hill Farm lost their farm twice — first in a deadly blizzard in 1993 and again during an ice storm in 1994. Their barn collapsed and many of their livestock didn’t survive. Still, they resolved to rebuild and Sylvia decided to study how to raise a unique type of bird: milk-fed poulardes from Burgundy, France. Once she learned to raise these specialty birds, she built a list of clients that included the country’s most acclaimed chefs, including Tom Colicchio, Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller, Daniel Humm, Charlie Trotter and Mario Batali, among others.

Eamon Rockey

Eamon Rockey of Betony

  1. Know Your Market

Whether your goal is to sell a gourmet food product or open a restaurant, making sure your business is targeted towards a certain demographic is critical. Ruairi Curtin shared that anytime he and his partners are looking at spaces for a new bar, they sit at the local train station and watch people getting on the train during the morning rush hour. They try to decide whether or not the people who live in that area will be their market. You may have an awesome concept, but it’s important to ask yourself if local residents will be your customers. If not, can you guarantee people will travel to your business?

  1. Know Your Strengths and When to Delegate

All of the speakers had a wide breadth of knowledge in their fields, but primarily in a particular aspect of their businesses. Rob Kaufelt had no intention of having an e-commerce site to sell his cheese — that is, until he met a woman who convinced him that he was missing out on a huge business opportunity. He let her set up the Murray’s Cheese e-commerce site, which then became a huge success. Rob would never have ventured down that route had he not been nudged in that direction. Likewise, with Eamon Rockey, while he has a great deal of front-of-house experience at Betony, he specializes in the cocktail program and delegates other aspects of running the restaurant to his partners. One of the hardest aspects of opening and operating a business is learning to manage the desire to be involved in every aspect. An owner has to know the importance of delegating tasks — you simply cannot do everything yourself.

Rob Kaufelt

Rob Kaufelt of Murray’s Cheese

Murray's Cheese

Gooey Cheese from Murray’s

 

  1. Choose the Right Partner

Choosing the right partner isn’t just about deciding to go into business with a friend or partnering with someone who shares your vision. Make sure this person will be someone with whom you can efficiently and effectively run a business. Look for someone who complements your strengths and weaknesses. With the exception of Rob Kaufelt, all five speakers had a business partner or partners. As they stressed, the restaurant and food business is one of the most stressful environments in the world, so it’s critical that if you decide to have partners, just like a marriage, you will stick together through thick and thin.

  1. Stay Relevant

People are fickle — especially in a city as fast-paced as New York — and there’s always something new opening around the corner. Staying relevant is critical to surviving in the restaurant industry, whether by updating the menu and beverage program or by adding a new type of product or service. You need to constantly think of ways to improve your business and keep up-to-date with the market and the needs of your demographic.

  1. Never Stop Caring

Ruairi Curtin spoke about how he finds going to his own bars stressful because he is constantly finding flaws in the service and seeing ways in which things can be improved. Curtin said he and his partners always check on the restrooms each time they visit one of their bars and normally end up cleaning the bathroom in the process. Eamon Rockey told us how he helped one man over a period of several months plan the perfect proposal dinner for his now-wife. Going above and beyond for your clients will help give your business the best chance for success. As soon as you stop caring about your product, including your bathrooms or special client requests, your staff and others will stop caring as well.

  1. Love What You Do

This is perhaps the hardest goal to attain and yet the most important lesson I learned from listening to these five lectures. It was clear that they are all extremely passionate about their careers. Several had jobs in different fields before making the switch to the food or restaurant industry. They all stressed how the field is challenging but also very rewarding. What makes the food/restaurant industry unique is the nature of the business — to constantly interact with people and create experiences for them. Food is crucial, but at the heart of the restaurant industry is service. Having a memorable waiter or personable bartender can have a profound impact on a guest’s experience.

I’m looking forward to picking up more nuggets of wisdom in the upcoming “Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs” lectures.

Want to launch your own food business? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.


By Caitlin Gunther

With the heart of a globe-trotter and a passion for lifelong culinary education, Lourdes Reynoso (“Chef Lorrie”) is always up for an adventure. Whether she’s stationed in St. Petersburg for a three-month teaching residency or exploring the best parrillas in Buenos Aires, Chef Lorrie is continually feeding her voracious appetite for foods and cultures of the world. She shares both her global perspective and her expertise in international cuisines with the culinary arts students at ICE.

chef_lorrie_reynoso_9-16-16-2

Chef Lorrie comes from a big, food-loving family in the Philippines. Seven of the nine Reynoso siblings, including Chef Lorrie, work in some facet of the food industry. In fact, her sisters, pioneers of their time, founded a culinary school in Manila in the 1960s. Today, the Sylvia Reynoso Gala Culinary Art Studio counts among the most well-known culinary schools in the Philippines. As Chef Lorrie explains, “In Manila, my family is more or less synonymous with culinary school…and good food.” After receiving a bachelor’s degree in world history, Chef Lorrie earned the prestigious Grand Diplôme from Le Cordon Bleu in Paris. She remained in Paris to study the French language at Le Sorbonne and art history at the Louvre museum, before returning to Manila to join the teaching staff at her sisters’ culinary school. Her ultimate career path came as no surprise to her family. “Even when I was in high school, I was teaching children’s baking courses during the summer,” says Chef Lorrie. Teaching in the kitchen was her calling from a young age.

Drawing upon the classical French techniques she learned at Le Cordon Bleu, Chef Lorrie taught culinary arts in Manila for several years. When she wasn’t in the kitchen classroom, she was traveling—feeding her second passion for discovering new foods and cultures. The opportunity arose to teach at the New York Restaurant School (now The Art Institute of New York City) and Chef Lorrie jumped on it. Asked about the intercontinental move, Chef Lorrie recalls, “I wanted to be in New York. At that time, it was just becoming the food capital of the world and a true melting pot.” She continued to teach there for twenty-one years, helping to train such prominent chefs as the current executive chef of Nobu, Ricky Estrellado, who considers Chef Lorrie a mentor.

chef_lorrie_reynoso_9-16-16-4

In 2008, when The Art Institute announced that it would discontinue its culinary program, Chef Lorrie immediately thought of ICE. Since 2009, she’s been part of the ICE teaching staff and has continued her own culinary education by traveling when not in the kitchen classrooms. Her most recent adventure has been her multiple teaching stints in St. Petersburg, Russia at Swissam, a top hospitality and culinary arts school that partnered with ICE in 2012. Though she was hesitant to go at first, Chef Lorrie quickly fell in love with St. Petersburg. “The food culture is extremely advanced. That’s why Swissam was opened. Before it opened, Russia had new wealth and great chefs like Alain Ducasse and Jaime Oliver were going there. But they still had communist-style hospitality schools. The owner decided to establish the best culinary and hospitality school he could.” Chef Lorrie has enjoyed being one of the ambassadors of the ICE curriculum, all while taking in Russian art and culture.

chef_lorrie_reynoso_9-16-16-1

From sampling the spices in the souks of Morocco to exploring the best parrillas in Argentina, Chef Lorrie has had her fair share of culinary voyages recently. For this lover of international cuisines and passionate teacher, ICE is the perfect place to call her permanent home.

Want to get in the kitchen classroom with Chef Lorrie? Click here to receive more information on ICE’s career programs.


By Caitlin Gunther

On a sunny Friday afternoon, Rob Laing and I meet in a conference room at ICE, a clear view up the west side of Manhattan just outside. Rob is the founder of Farm.One, the organization that grows and tends to the fresh produce and herbs in ICE’s hydroponic farm. Wearing a heather grey tee emblazoned with KALE, he’s agreed to meet with me to discuss a subject he’s passionate about—vertical farming. So passionate, in fact, that he left behind a successful Tokyo-startup career to dedicate himself to vertical farming full time. With the help of his farm manager David Goldstein, Rob brings to hydroponic farming a level of care instilled in him by years of immersion in Japanese culture. Take a look at his Instagram and you’ll see his attention to detail and the neatly composed minimalism that results from it. Start-up minded and forward-thinking, Rob’s not satisfied with growing the same old Genovese basil—he’s after the herbs and greens that aren’t readily available, the stuff that students, chef instructors and even visiting culinary masters like Thomas Keller haven’t before tasted.

In anticipation of forthcoming posts focusing on ICE’s hydroponic farm, I sat down with the man behind the greens to chat about his path to ICE and the state of agriculture and vertical farming today.

Rob Laing First things first: what is vertical farming?

Vertical farming is about moving food production to cities—rooftops, vacant lots or growing things inside buildings using artificial light. Vertical farming is the conceptual vision of this. Then there’s another concept of vertical farming, which is layers of growing areas that use artificial lighting stacked above each other. People started doing this type of vertical farming in Japan with 12 or so layers. With the advances in LED light technology, vertical farming has become way more efficient and less expensive. Ten years ago this stuff would be completely unfeasible.

What’s special or advantageous about vertical farming?

One of the really exciting things about vertical farming is that if you look at our agriculture system, there are so many negative externalities that we don’t even think about. Vertical farming can offer many ways to combat that. If you compare it with mono-culture farming, those are huge, efficient crops but they affect so many other systems with pesticide usage, shipping and so on. With small scale, vertical farming, a lot of those externalities disappear—there are no pesticides, we don’t have to ship anything, and we don’t use manure so there’s no need to even wash what you grow. Granted, vertical farming can be good in certain situations, but not all situations. People tend to think of agriculture as one monolithic thing, but it’s extremely complex—you’ve got vine crops, root crops, large-scale grain, herbs and greens. I think urban agriculture can fit into that herbs and greens category really well.

We’re growing things like toothache plant, purple ruffle basil, papalo, bronze fennel, red shiso (which is ten times better than normal shiso), and ordering new stuff all the time. We’re really trailblazing.

You lived in Tokyo for several years before turning to vertical farming. Have Japanese cuisine or culture had an influence on your work?

Yes. Think about it: what do people love about Japanese cuisine? First, the respect for ingredients—whether you’re a sushi fan or kaiseki fan, it’s about finding the best ingredients, not messing around with them too much and presenting them for people to enjoy. The second thing people love is Japanese attention to detail in service. Sometimes people confuse minimalism for simplicity, but you can only achieve minimalism if you have high attention to detail and quality.

I want to take that same level of respect that chefs have in the kitchen and bring that back to farming. If you look at the way chefs treat food on a plate, we want that same attention to detail in growing, which you can do on a small scale.

Farm one hydroponic farm herbs

 

How does the location inside a culinary school affect the farm?

It’s amazing to be located at ICE and around people who are enthusiastic about food. Plus, the exposure to random encounters is a truly valuable thing and when you’re on your own, you don’t get that. That’s the beautiful thing about being in an educational institution.

Thinking long-term, I love that everyone here supports us growing new things. We want to bring seeds from all over the place and taste new things. It’s a great opportunity for experimentation.

How do the chefs and students interact with the farm?

It’s fun because you get to see people who fall along the whole spectrum of skill levels. Some students come in and have literally never seen something grown. They get excited and ask questions. Then there are chefs here who are much more experienced but deal with the frustrations of not having access to fresh things. Maybe they’ve never tried a particular type of basil before and they try it here and that inspires them. Then at the super level we have visitors like Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud and Michael Laiskonis, chefs who have such a refined palate that they can try an herb and know exactly how to use it.

Farm.one 1

What are the challenges involved in vertical farming?

You can do a lot of theoretical planning, but achieving is another challenge. Even the installation of equipment took longer than planned. There’s no standard equipment for hydroponic farming. Remember when people started planning bicycles? There were different styles, starting with the Penny Farthing, then they kept tweaking the design. We’re still at the Penny Farthing stage. We’ve tried out different systems and we’ve had to throw out unwieldy equipment and start again. Coming from my startup background, my approach is: if it’s not working, fix it as rapidly as possible or chuck it out and start again.

Another challenge is that there is no guide. Most of what we’re growing, no one has done it hydroponically before. Either that or they’re not talking about it because there’s no research out there. We’re growing things like toothache plant, purple ruffle basil, papalo, bronze fennel, red shiso (which is ten times better than normal shiso), and ordering new stuff all the time. We’re really trailblazing.

What is special about what Farm.One is doing at ICE?
We’re trying to grow things that most people have never tasted before or have never had access to. We’re growing those things in a controlled environment that allows them to be cared for. One example is papalo, an herb I came across in a farmers’ market in Santa Monica. It’s a flat leaf that has elements of cilantro, citrus freshness and is used in Mexican dishes like cemitas. You can find papalo in LA, but in New York you can maybe find it in a Mexican grocery, and even then it’s not really fresh. We can say, “We’ll grow that here in New York,” and no one else in New York is doing that.

Rob Laing hydroponic farm ICE

Take a look inside ICE’s groundbreaking hydroponic farm. 

Check out the Farm One blog.