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This blog posting by Rick Smilow, president of ICE, is the second of two posts on Chef Thomas Keller’s September 7 lecture. Culinary Relations Manager, Virgina Monaco wrote the first. Keller came to ICE for many reasons and one of these was his long time friendship with ICE Chef and Instructor Chris Gesualdi. Thomas and Chris worked and cooked together at three NYC restaurants in the 80’s: La Reserve, Raphael and Rakel.

On Friday evening September 7, ICE hosted Thomas Keller, one of Americas most admired and influential chefs. Keller, most known as the chef and owner of The French Laundry and Per Se, addressed over 100 ICE students, alumni and staff for 90 minutes before signing books – nearly 100 of them!

He covered a wide range of topics and answered a series of questions that students had submitted in advance.

One of the student’s questions dealt with inspiration and where it comes from. Chef Keller said it happens rarely, and that you have to be ready for it, as you don’t know in advance that it will happen. He wryly observed that an artist, a musician, a poet and a chef could be walking down the street together and each see a leaf fall. From that, each would be inspired differently. As a real life anecdote, Keller said that his signature salmon cornet appetizer was inspired many years ago, by a Baskin-Robbins ice cream cone standing rack.

On the subject of what he looks for when hiring new employees, Keller answered that people expect the answer to be passion, but the actual answer is desire. He went on to explain that he knows that passion is something that ebbs and flows, but desire is something that you can bring to work every day.

Speaking about what his goals are for the customer experience in each of his restaurants, Chef Keller said that he wants to make sure each of his guests leaves with a great memory of the dining experience and that memory defines success.

Keller is widely known for his commitment, interest and dedication to using the finest ingredients. Sometimes those ingredients are local, and sometimes not.  But he pointed out that sustainability has various meanings and dimensions. So when his Napa Valley restaurants source butter from Orwell, Vermont or lobsters from Stonington, Maine, the product is not literally local, but he happily knows that he is helping small producers sustain their lifestyle and the economics of their own rural community.

Talking about the future, he said that one of his driving forces now, was what he called the next generation. That means that he, and his top staff, spend a lot of time training and mentoring. Keller said he thinks it is critical that the younger generations in his kitchens have the confidence and encouragement to collaborate.

This Friday evening, ICE was honored to host A Conversation with Thomas Keller and welcome a true culinary legend to the school. Chef Keller’s awards, stars and accolades are too long to list here (and well worth a google if you are unfamiliar with him). Chef Keller and his iconic French Laundry restaurant came to fame at a time when America was known for fast-food and TV dinners, and to be a chef was to be considered a domestic servant, not a culinary arts professional. Ignoring that reputation, he has set the bar for American cuisine over the last twenty-five years and continues to define the ultimate fine dining experience across the country. He visited ICE to share stories of his experiences, philosophies on food and mentor the next generation of great chefs.

Students and alumni packed the sixth floor in anticipation of pearls of wisdom and words of advise. As I listened to Chef Keller give his thoughts on everything from his definition of sustainability to the importance of making memories, I couldn’t help but think that his advise was extremely wise in its simplicity and brevity. This wasn’t an infomercial claiming that you could be a success overnight if you followed four simple rules.  He stressed basic but vital core principles for success – hard work, constant improvement, evolution, collaboration, desire.

There are no shortcuts to success and no secret formulas to revel. His strongest advice to students was to simply try and do just a little bit better than you did the day before. That’s not that hard, is it? With explanations like that, any level of success suddenly seems within anyone’s reach.  It’s not always easy-going. Failures are inevitable and easy paths are tempting.  Doing it right day after day, year after year, every single time, is much harder than it sounds. I could see that most everyone in that room admired Chef Keller for his deceptively simple devotion to doing it right, taking pride in what you do, and doing it even better tomorrow.  Yes, he makes amazing food and yes, we admire his creativity and skill. But what truly inspires is his willingness to work hard, everyday, in order to bring pleasure to others and leave them with the fondest of memories.

My favorite quote of the evening was, “What is greatness if not consistency? Anyone can make one amazing meal. But to make thousands of amazing meals over dozens of years is what makes a truly great chef.”

For info on the next Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs lectures, including David Burke and Lucinda Scala Quinn of Martha Stewart Living, check out our culinary career development class listings.

 

The ment’or BKB Foundation is a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire excellence in young culinary professionals and preserve the traditions and quality of cuisine in America. The group held their prestigious 2016 Young Chef and Commis competitions last week in ICE’s kitchens. Ment’or is led by Daniel Boulud, Thomas Keller and Jérôme Bocuse—considered three of the world’s most celebrated chefs, with nearly 20 restaurants and over 30 industry honors between them—who founded the organization together in 2008 and came to ICE last week to oversee the day’s events.

Chefs Thomas Keller, Jérôme Bocuse, Daniel Boulud at ICE culinary school

(From left) Jérôme Bocuse, Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, James Kent and Richard Rosendale judge the 2016 ment’or Young Chef and Commis Competitions at the Institute of Culinary Education in New York City.

The judges panel was a veritable “who’s who” of the country’s top chefs, including:

  • Daniel Boulud – Chef/Owner, Restaurant Daniel, DINEX Group, 4-time James Beard Award winner, including “Outstanding Restaurateur” and “Outstanding Chef of the Year”
  • Thomas Keller – Chef/Owner, The French Laundry, Per Se, Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, 4-time James Beard Award winner, including “Outstanding Chef: America” and “Best New Restaurant (Per Se)”
  • Jérôme Bocuse – Vice President, Bocuse d’Or USA and Chef/Owner, Les Chefs de France
  • Gavin Kaysen – 2007 Bocuse d’Or US team member and Chef/Owner, Spoon & Stable
  • Philip Tessier – Winner of the 2015 Bocuse d’Or Silver Medal
  • Barbara Lynch – Chef/Owner, Barbara Lynch Gruppo
  • Bryce Shuman – Executive Chef, Betony
  • Chris Hastings – Chef/Owner, Hot and Hot Fish Club
  • Gabriel Kreuther – Chef/Owner, Gabriel Kreuther
  • James Briscione – Director of Culinary Development, Institute of Culinary Education
  • James Kent – Executive Chef, The NoMad
  • Richard Rosendale – Chef, Rosendale Collective
  • Mathew Peters – 2017 Bocuse d’Or US team member and Executive Sous Chef, Per Se
  • Robert Sulatycky – Founder/Principal Chef, Taste Restaurant Group
  • Shaun Hergatt – Chef, formerly of Juni and SHO Shaun Hergatt
  • Timothy Hollingsworth – Chef/Owner, Otium and Barrel and Ashes

These events give skilled young chefs the opportunity to showcase their talents in a live cooking demonstration. Winners have the chance to stage with the 2017 Bocuse d’Or Team USA and attend the finals this coming January in Lyon, France.

Student young chef competitions at ICE culinary school

ICE students also had the unique opportunity to volunteer during the event. Christopher Lewnes, an ICE culinary arts student had this to say of his experience: “I was truly inspired by the young chefs who were participating in the competition. Seeing other young chefs doing what they were doing and all the different techniques displayed, I was motivated to learn more and achieve more to become like them. It was also enormously inspirational just to be in the presence of chefs like Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller.”

Institute of Culinary Education President Rick Smilow with Thomas Keller, Daniel Boulud, Top chefs at ICE

Ment’or offers annual educational grants and internships to culinary professionals through their Continuing Education Program, affording young chefs the opportunity to earn a paid stage anywhere in the world. For young professionals who have already begun their career, the Young Chef and Commis Competition series provides these ambitious individuals with a chance to add increased value to their work through educational opportunities and access to a network of esteemed mentors. ICE students and alumni can have the honor to participate in these prestigious programs. Applications for the competitions are announced via their social media at @mentorbkb.

Thomas Keller speaks at ICE culinary school in New York City

According to ment’or President Chef Thomas Keller, “As established chefs, it is our responsibility to create and foster programs that promote mentorship and shared experiences which elevate and influence the next generation of chefs in the United States.” ICE is proud to be a part of this prestigious organization and help the next generation of chefs find their culinary voice.

For more information on how to get involved with ment’or and apply for their programs, contact Chef James Briscione at jbriscione@ice.edu.

By Robert Ramsey — Chef Instructor, School of Culinary Arts

In the early 2000s, I cracked open “The French Laundry Cookbook” for the first time. A young and inexperienced cook, I was working in a hotel kitchen and still only halfway through my culinary school education. I remember the moment with vivid clarity — pouring over the glossy, crisp pages with my fellow line cook, Caleb. The sous chef, who had brought in the cookbook for inspiration, was taken aback that we hadn’t seen it before, let alone heard of the man behind the book, Chef Thomas Keller.

Chef Robert Ramsey

Chef Robert Ramsey

Why has this seemingly mundane moment stuck like glue to my otherwise mediocre memory? Because it was truly pivotal in my culinary career. Up to this point, I was cooking because I was having fun, but my career path was rather aimless. I didn’t have goals, wasn’t making strides to advance my skills and was putting minimal effort into my culinary education. But then “The French Laundry Cookbook” came along and showed me what food could be: refined, inspired, creative, elegant, restrained yet exceedingly complex and simply exquisite! This was the moment when I woke up — my eyes opened to the world of cuisine. I began developing my goals and narrowed my focus on working in fine dining. I started collecting cookbooks from the hottest restaurants at the time — Alinea, Momofuku, Noma, Eleven Madison Park — reading them cover to cover, imprinting the images deeply into my brain. I made it my new mission to train in the kitchens of one of these restaurants. Young and cocky, I sent resume after resume, sure that one of them would hire me.

Young Chef Robert – discovering his career path (and a very large oyster mushroom)

Months later and with no offers on the table, I saw an article about a collaborative dinner with the team at the then lesser-known Blackberry Farm in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Everything from the food to the space to the natural surroundings looked incredible. Unfamiliar with the restaurant, I did some research and discovered that this exclusive meal was hosted by a working farm, inn and restaurant with close ties to Thomas Keller — the proprietor had trained with him. The on-site restaurant called “The Barn” had just opened and was proving itself on par with the best restaurants in the country. Offering five- and nine-course tasting menus with ingredients sourced from the surrounding farmstead, it had an interesting twist that appealed to a budding young chef like myself. Plus, they did regular collaborations with leading chefs from around the world. It would be like working at all of the top fine dining establishments — only they would come to you. I sent my resume right away.

One week later and still no response, I called, emailed and sent my resume again. Two weeks later… still nothing. But I didn’t give up. I called human resources to confirm that they received my application. “Did you forward it to the chef?” I inquired. They assured me that they had, but one month later, I still hadn’t heard from them. Unwilling to admit defeat, I called again, but this time directly to the restaurant front desk. I asked to speak with the chef and, shockingly, they put him on! Nervously, I stumbled through my case and was offered a three-day stage on the spot. My persistence had paid off. I was headed to Tennessee.

Blackberry Farm

Blackberry Farm

After completing my stage, I ended up working at Blackberry Farm for two years. I did collaborative dinners with Daniel Boulud (my first weekend on the job!), Alain Ducasse, Tien Ho, Barbara Lynch, Judy Rodgers, Francois Payard, Michael Schwartz, Steven Satterfield and many, many more. I harvested fresh produce from the garden. I learned to make farmstead products — preserves and pickles, aged charcuterie, even cheese produced from the sheep on the farm. I was exposed to new skills, techniques, ideas, chefs and ingredients, and, most importantly, I excelled. I quickly worked my way through every station. When the chef and executive sous chef traveled to New York City to cook at the James Beard House, they left me in charge of The Barn — I got to run the show!

As much as I learned during my time at Blackberry Farm, in the end I realized that I wasn’t in love. I found the pace of fine dining to be too slow for my tastes, the diners too fussy, the service too precious, the costs too astronomical and the expectations too inflated. I cherished my experience and had no regrets, but a career in crafting tasting menus was not for me. I had to see what else was out there.

I moved to New York, the food capital of the country, to explore the endless possibilities available in the food industry. Soon enough, I was working for James Beard Award-nominated chef Anna Klinger, and rose to the rank of chef de cuisine at her restaurant Bar Corvo. Anna’s restaurants (she also owns Al Di La and Lincoln Station) had the kind of casual and convivial environment I connected with, but maintained an emphasis on exceptional, authentic and honest food. While I felt I was cooking some of the best food of my life at the time, I began to see my role as chef morphing into that of a teacher. As my career progressed, I found a love for sharing my knowledge of food and cuisine. As a chef running a restaurant, I realized how much I cherished those teaching moments on the job — watching someone master an emulsion for the first time or slice into a perfectly rosy grilled pork chop. When I was offered a teaching position in the culinary arts program at ICE, I jumped on the opportunity. Finally, I had discovered a way to combine my two passions: cooking and teaching.

My experience shows that with all of the confidence and determination in the world, you can still be wrong about which path is the best fit for you. But there is only one way to find out if you are destined to be the next Thomas Keller or not, and that is to commit to trying. My philosophy in life is to figure out what you want and then go after it. Sometimes, you will be wrong and that’s okay. It’s a cycle, and hopefully, you’ll never run out of things you want, and you’ll never run out of the drive to go after them.

Want to train in the kitchen with Chef Robert? Click here to learn about ICE’s award-winning Culinary Arts program.


Recently, ICE hosted another successful Career & Externship Fair, where current students and alumni had the chance to meet one-on-one with top employers in the food and hospitality industry — Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, MeyersUSA, Blue Hill, Craft Hospitality Group, Union Square Hospitality Group, Momofuku and more. To build on the momentum, we tapped one of our experienced career services advisors, Tessa Thompson, to offer some pointers for launching a culinary career.

ICE Career Fair

By Tessa Thompson — Career Services Advisor

Starting your culinary career is a thrilling time. You’ve made the big decision to begin culinary school and become a culinary professional. Chances are, you’re filled with a combination of excitement, anticipation, hopefulness and a touch of uncertainty. You’re finally here — so now what? How do you make the most of your time as a student to start your career in the right direction? Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you kick off your successful culinary career.

  1. Educate Yourself. You may have decided to come to culinary school for various reasons, but one thing that everyone has in common at ICE is a passion for food — eating it, cooking it, talking/writing about it, even dreaming about it! Equally important is knowledge of what’s going on in the industry and who the key players are. Today, researching is easier than ever and the Internet has a wealth of information at your disposal. Take advantage of it. And don’t forget to hit the pavement — there are at least 10 great restaurants within walking distance of ICE and at least five sweet spots for delicious hot chocolate in Brookfield Place alone…can you name them? Get to know your surrounding culinary businesses and hit them up for information (and hot cocoa!).
  1. Use Your Resources. ICE has a near limitless supply of resources — from our instructors and alumni, to guest speakers and professional development classes and more. Honing your knife skills and perfecting your pan sauce are necessary parts of your culinary education, but learning how to use your resources will open up endless opportunities for your future. Develop relationships with your instructors, your advisors and your peers. Take advantage of your class credits, attend the Wine Essentials course or be a part of First Fridays here at ICE. Ask questions, volunteer your time, cultivate your curiosity and use all the resources at your disposal to get the most out of your ICE education.
  1. Find Mentors. Support and encouragement from family and friends is an important factor in your success. But finding industry mentors is equally as crucial. Non-industry folks are well-intentioned but may not fully understand the demands of life in the kitchen. “So you’re telling me you want to stand on your feet for 12 hours a day peeling potatoes for minimum wage with a chef screaming down your neck — WHAT?!?! Are you crazy?!” This is the all-too-familiar response from non-industry friends and family. Industry people can assure you what is or is not normal and offer solutions for the many challenges that you will face in your career. Often, just talking to someone who’s been there and understands you will make a huge difference. So, find a chef you connect with or a trusted career services advisor to help support you in your culinary journey.

Spring Career Fair

  1. Enthusiasm: Act Like You Want it. Ours is an industry of hospitality. Chefs, servers and restaurateurs — we all have a desire to be generous and make others happy. But in order to receive the benefit of a helping hand, you must act like you want it! Enthusiasm comes in many forms and no better time to act like the professional you want to be than right now. Take advantage of opportunities to learn. Volunteer and network as much as possible. Show up to class and your trails with a can-do attitude. Make sure your resume is in order, your emails are free of typos and your whites are clean. Communicate and follow up with those who offer help. Act like you want it and you’ll find that the hospitality flows.
  1. Try, Try, and Try Again. If at first you don’t succeed (or even if you do!), starting your career is about trying different things to discover what’s out there and finding the best fit. Trailing is a big part of this process. As part of finding an externship at ICE, you’ll work with your advisor to research and come up with a list of potential sites. Variety is key here, as is a willingness to move beyond your comfort zone. Ask for recommendations, sign up for industry newsletters and discover what’s out there. Trailing, whether for an externship or a job, is a fun process, so take full advantage of it and try out at as many places as possible. 
  1. Reach for the Stars! You’ve chosen to attend one of the premier culinary schools in the world, so why limit yourself when it comes to your externship (or first job)? Whether fine dining is your thing or really tasty Mexican cuisine, build a strong foundation by setting your sights on the best in the field. Don’t know the top sites? Educate yourself, use your resources and ask for help! Work hard and aim high — you’ll find the stars are within your reach!

Ready to launch a rewarding culinary career? Click here for more information on 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

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.

 

By Chef-Instructor Ted Siegel

With the imminent closing of The Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City next month, I have been reflecting on the profound influence this restaurant has had on the North American dining scene and restaurant industry since its opening in 1959. The Four Seasons Restaurant was heralded as the first modern American restaurant (post World War II) to promote North American regional ingredients and seasonally driven menus—a quality that is lauded in today’s food culture. Historically, however, another great New York City restaurant that opened in 1823 was the so-called “Godfather” of this trend—Delmonico’s.

Chef Charles Ranhofer cookbook The EpicureanBy the middle of the 19th century, Delmonico’s was considered to be the greatest restaurant in the United States. To put it in perspective: the way we think of Thomas Keller’s French Laundry today is the way Americans spoke of Delmonico’s back then. The key date in Delmonico’s history was 1862, when a great French chef from Alsace named Charles Ranhofer took over Delmonico’s kitchen. His devotion to regional North American ingredients introduced Americans to ingredients that were not commonly served at that time. He used black sea bass from Narragansett Bay in Rhode Island; soft shell blue crabs from the Chesapeake Bay area; shad and its roe from the Hudson River Valley; locally caught sturgeon; alligator pears (that is, avocados from Florida) and samp, a hominy-like dish based on hulled corn kernels from the southwest that Chef Charles served with wild teal duck. Some of his most iconic preparations, such as Lobster Newburg and Baked Alaska (which he called “Alaska, Florida”) have become staples on many American menus—including some of the earliest menus of The Four Seasons Restaurant. All of these dishes and thousands more were memorialized in his book The Epicurean, published in 1894, five years before his passing.

Jeremiah Tower, former executive chef of the prominent Berkley, CA, restaurant Chez Panisse, speaks quite poignantly in his cookbook, New American Classics, about how The Epicurean inspired him to transform the Chez Panisse menus to reflect Northern California’s indigenous ingredients and produce. In fact, he mentions that the very first Northern California regional dinner menu he prepared at Chez Panisse in 1973 paid homage to Chef Charles’ influence by adapting Delmonico’s green corn and crayfish soup on that evening’s menu.

Looking at the early menus conceived by James Beard and Albert Stöckli, executive chef of The Four Seasons Restaurant, the influence of The Epicurean is evident. Hence, no discussion of North American regional cuisine, including the recent farm-to-table and locavore trends in menu concept and execution, is complete without a discussion of the impact of Charles Ranhofer, Delmonico’s and The Epicurean.

If you want to delve deeper into cookbooks inspired by The Epicurean, here are some recommended reads:

The Four Seasons Cookbook (1971 ed.) by James Beard and Charlotte Adams

The Four Seasons: The Ultimate Book of Food, Wine and Elegant Dining (1980) by Tom Margittai and Paul Kovi

The Four Seasons Spa Cuisine (1986) by Seppi Renggli

New American Classics (1987) by Jeremiah Tower

Interested in studying with Chef Ted? Click here to learn more about our Culinary Arts program.

kate edwards

 

By Carly DeFilippo

When it comes to hospitality, ICE Culinary Management Instructor Kate Edwards ranks among the industry’s most respected service experts. With a resume that includes stints at Keith McNally’s Balthazar bistro and Thomas Keller’s fine-dining mecca, Per Se, Kate has long worked with the food industry’s finest. With the recent release of her first book—Hello! And Every Little Thing That Matters—she’s sharing her service secrets with aspiring hospitality professionals in the food industry and beyond. We sat down with our resident service all-star to learn her make-or-break tips for restaurant success:

First and foremost, what inspired you to write this book?
The idea for the book came to me as early as 2008. I had some theories about what makes great service, but I needed to prove the theories to write a book. Since that time, I’ve pursued a wide range of consulting projects in addition to teaching at ICE, which allowed me to refine my thoughts. In 2011, I wrote the book proposal, and five years later, here we are!

Why do you think the industry needs a new manual for service?
The book started as something that was specific to the restaurant industry, but the final version deals with service across all industries. Service has never been more crucial in business; it’s the most important added value that a company can use to differentiate itself in the market.

Hello! Customer Service Book Kate Edwards

What are some of your core principles for great service?
The guest experience is comprised of everything you deliver—from the initial greeting to crumbs on the banquette, to a flickering light bulb overhead. Beyond that, my background is in theater, and I quickly realized that working in hospitality isn’t that different from the stage: all eyes are on you. You must be incredibly self-aware because people are always watching, and your passive actions speak volumes.

I believe in a theory that I call “I notice = I care.” In our business, everyone is trying to tell people to be empathetic, altruistic, etc. But that’s not a direction you can give; being empathetic isn’t a practical command. However, asking your staff to notice the things that affect your guests—and to act on what they notice—will raise the level of service and result in your customers feeling cared for. It ultimately becomes a game for the employees. Once they have a specific goal in mind—notice your customers and act on what you see—they know how to win.

We also need to consider that some people are more gifted at service than others. What are your top tips for hiring service professionals?
In an interview, I always ask a potential employee to tell a story. Tell me about a time that you made something better for someone—either another colleague or a guest. The way they tell the story and the details they remember will tell you an incredible amount about them.

I also encourage companies I consult with to establish their core values and to use those values in hiring. For example, if honesty is one of your values, ask an interviewee to tell you about a time they had to share some unfortunate news or feedback for another person’s benefit. It’s through these strategic questions that you learn if someone is drinking the Kool-Aid that fuels your business.

lecture - culinary management - kate edwards - steve zagor - classroom

Within the realm of service, are there any leaders you particularly respect?
Tony Hsieh of Zappos is incredibly inspiring as a leader and an author. His Delivering Happiness is so user-friendly; it’s a first-person story that is very relatable, and he shares case studies from his business. Hospitality starts in the interactions between employees—even before the guests are involved—and he’s built a brand that people are excited to work for.

In the restaurant industry itself, I have a great deal of respect for Keith McNally. I worked with him for seven years and he always said, “Just be decent to people.” It was an earnest plea, and it made me realize that hospitality isn’t always about going above and beyond. Most people just want to be recognized and treated fairly.

You’ve already enjoyed quite a deal of success since the book’s release. What are your hopes for the future?
I’ve had people tell me they were going to use my book as a manual for their teams. Obviously, every company needs to have their own, personalized handbook, but I do hope that Hello! can be a trusty, dog-eared guide—a way for hospitality professionals to reset their batteries and gain some perspective.

Interested in studying service with Kate? Click here to request free information about the Culinary Management program at ICE.


By Ted Siegel—Chef Instructor, School of Culinary Arts
 

In today’s food culture, ingredient-focused or “farm-to-table” cuisine has become so commonplace that many young chefs can’t remember a time before it existed. Before the dawn of Instagram, food blogs and YouTube videos, a generation of chefs willed this movement into existence through a series of earth-shattering cookbooks. Those books—most importantly, Cooking the Nouvelle Cuisine in America and the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook—reshaped the culinary landscape and have since paved the way for such famous chefs as Thomas Keller and Mark Ladner.

california cuisine cookbooks

In the late 1960s, the nouvelle cuisine revolution shook French cuisine and culture to its core. As more and more Americans began to travel abroad after the war, it was inevitable that this movement—characterized by fresh ingredient-focused cooking and artistic presentation—would have a profound impact on modern American cuisine. The result was an equally innovative shift on American soil: a regional cooking revolution that began with what the media dubbed “California cuisine.”

In 1979, two young American cooks, Michèle Urvater and David Liederman, published a text called Cooking the Nouvelle Cuisine in America. This book was one of the first cookbooks available in the U.S. that comprehensively explained the principles and techniques of nouvelle cuisine and made them accessible to American cooks. As a young chef, I had more than one epiphany while reading this book, and today my copy is quite dog-eared after many re-readings.

In Cooking the Nouvelle Cuisine, Urvater and Liederman spoke eloquently about how the culinary principles codified by such French chefs as Ferdinand Point had turned the classical cuisine of Escoffier and Carême on its proverbial head. In short, Point realized that, after the war, the old school style of cooking no longer fit into the lifestyle of contemporary French people. He preached that chefs should be more creative with their menus and that their dishes should reflect what was immediately available in the marketplace.

Within the guidelines of nouvelle cuisine, menus also became smaller and more manageable, reflecting the need to change with the seasons and the ability to work with smaller kitchen “brigades.” From a technical perspective, Point preached eliminating starch thickeners from sauces. Instead, chefs could create sauces of a much lighter quality based on a series of reductions (a technique called “stratification” based on the work of Andre Guillot). To complement this change, Point recommended that chefs emphasize lighter and quicker cooking techniques such as sautéing, steaming and poaching. He recommended simpler plated presentations to highlight the natural integrity of the ingredients. If you’ve eaten at an upscale restaurant in New York City recently, you’ll have seen all of these principles in action.

california cuisine plated plating

A few years later, a second nouvelle cuisine-minded text furthered this movement: the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook by Alice Waters. I could write a whole doctoral thesis on the significance of Waters’ impact on the history of American cooking. Together with other leaders of the California cuisine movement, Waters radically altered the manner in which culinary professionals produce, grow, prepare and present food—both on the plate and on a menu.

In addition to the principles of nouvelle cuisine, Waters was profoundly influenced by the ancient principles of Japanese cooking. Benefitting from the abundance of agricultural resources in California, the staff at Chez Panisse captured the imagination of a whole generation of American cooks and chefs.

What the Declaration of Independence was to colonial Americans in the 1700s, the introductory chapter of the Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook was to 1980s American chefs. Called “What I Believe About Cooking,” it was truly a culinary “shot heard ’round the world.” Waters explained how alienated and alienating our experience with food and cooking had become since World War II. In particular, Waters’ greatest contribution was in the idea that, “No cook, however creative and capable, can produce a dish of a quality any higher than that of the raw ingredients.”

california farmer's market

Produce at the San Francisco farmer’s market

I was lucky enough to work under Waters at Chez Panisse. One of my most endearing food memories includes the first time that I smelled fresh, earthy, piney chanterelle mushrooms from the Pacific Northwest. Or when I tasted Waters’ famous baked goat cheese salad with baby lettuces that were locally grown in the Berkeley Hills. Each week, the kitchen staff would anxiously await the printing of the next week’s menu—a so-called “gazetteer” that featured small, local producers.

Other chefs may name other books as the ones that defined their careers, but for the students who ask about my formation as a cook, I always recommend they read these two texts. While it’s important to stay up-to-date on modern trends in food, learning about the roots of contemporary American cooking can both further young chefs’ understanding of current kitchen culture and spark their personal creativity.

Further reading:

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