By Danielle Page

It’s no new news that New York City is known for its incredible eats. Manhattan’s restaurant scene is a constantly evolving mix of avant garde concept restaurants, storied and respected, high-caliber eateries and hidden, hole-in-the-wall gems. And while each borough offers up something unique, every few years or so a new section of the city experiences a fresh wave of restaurants, bringing a resurgence of inventive new fare to the area.

New York City’s latest restaurant hotspot? The East Village. No longer are the village’s best eats limited to the quick, cheap grub on St. Mark’s Place. With restaurants opening by seasoned and up-and-coming chefs alike, getting a reservation in the East Village is quickly becoming a challenge.

Not surprisingly, many chefs and owners behind the latest and greatest East Village openings got their start at ICE. Here are just a few ICE graduates who are at the helm of these noteworthy eateries in the neighborhood.

Simone Tong

Simone Tong, chef and owner of Little Tong Noodle Shop
Culinary Arts, Restaurant & Culinary Management ’11

Little Tong Noodle Shop, Simone Tong’s first restaurant, opened in the East Village this March. “After traveling to source international inspiration from countries like Moscow, Copenhagen, Brussels, Shanghai and Taipei, it really hit me that Chinese culinary stories and cuisines still remain largely underrepresented in the western world,” she says. Tong embarked on a three-month long culinary research trip through the Yunnan Province, which is the cuisine Tong’s restaurant is devoted to — specifically Mixian, a type of rice noodle.

“I spend my days mostly in the kitchen and dining room – preparing dishes, coming up with new dishes, getting to know our customers and interacting with them,” says Tong. “I am always thinking about ways to offer special new dishes and make seasonal updates to each of the Mixian noodle bowls, which pay homage to the beautiful Chinese province of Yunnan.”

Why the East Village for her first venture? “The East Village is a fun, vibrant neighborhood with an inimitable energy and bustling restaurant scene,” says Tong. “There is a younger demographic here full of students, artists, musicians, young professionals, young families and foodies – which Little Tong Noodle Shop really resonates with. Like Little Tong Noodle Shop, the East Village has a humbleness and authenticity to it that we appreciate.”

As for her advice to ICE grads looking to open up shop in the East Village, Tong says to seize the opportunity this neighborhood has to offer. “ICE grads considering locations in the East Village shouldn’t be afraid to look outside of their day-to-day cuisines and at dishes that aren’t often seen in the city and find ways to approachably introduce them to a willing East Village audience,” she says.

Catherine Manning, owner of Villanelle
Restaurant & Culinary Management ’15

Manning opened her artisanal New American restaurant, Villanelle, in the East Village this past March – which had many advantages for this ICE alum. “First, it was important to me that my restaurant be near my home so I could always be available on short notice,” she says. “East 12th Street is situated in a busy commercial, educational and residential corridor with plenty of foot traffic, which was very appealing. We are a vegetable-forward establishment using local and ethically sourced ingredients, so having the Union Square Greenmarket in our backyard has been a fantastic resource for us as well. The multiple subway lines coming into Union Square make it very convenient for our guests and staff to reach us.”

Manning oversees all operations of the restaurant. “The beauty of this business is that there are infinite opportunities to innovate and create and push the envelope with the reward being smiling guests who return regularly,” she says. “It’s very gratifying to work with the team we have who share this same goal. We live and work for those smiles.”

While you’d think that having many businesses competing in one space wouldn’t be the recipe for supportive neighbors, Manning says the East Village has been very welcoming. “It’s a very nice community to work in,” she says. “We know our neighbors by name and we help each other out. I think there are unique opportunities to grow and learn and participate in building something that comes with the types of establishments, like ours, that proliferate here.”

Guy Vaknin

photo courtesy of Beyond Sushi

Guy Vaknin, executive chef and owner at Beyond Sushi
Culinary Arts ’07

Being a resident of the East Village prior to opening his restaurant made this location an obvious choice for Guy Vaknin. “I lived in the area for seven years prior to opening and was always drawn to the neighborhood and its community,” he says. “I opened the first location of Beyond Sushi five years ago on East 14th street.”

Vaknin’s day-to-day duties include creating menus, running the operations of the company, overseeing food quality and managing the chefs. “Our specialty is vegan sushi,” he says. “It’s also a fast-casual concept that focuses on clean eating, using fruits and vegetables as star ingredients.”

Why does Vaknin think the East Village has become the new restaurant hotspot? “The East Village is a dynamic place to be,” he says, “[with] diverse residents, and it’s always changing.”

 

Chef Miguel Trinidad

Miguel Trinidad, executive chef and owner at Maharlika Filipino Moderno and Jeepney Filipino Gastro Pub
Culinary Arts ’07

Miguel Trinidad grew up in the East Village, which he says made it a logical location to open his restaurant. “I opened the restaurant with my partners eight years ago,” he says. “The East Village has always been a mixture of great food. It is the perfect place to showcase a new cuisine.” While there are plenty of diverse restaurant offerings in the area, Trinidad says the fact that there aren’t many Filipino options in the East Village also gave this location appeal.

Trinidad’s daily duties include everything from menu development to kitchen management and administrative tasks. One piece of advice he has for ICE alums interested in opening up shop here? Get used to tight quarters. “Make sure your skills are honed as you will be working in small kitchens,” he says. Despite the minimal work space, there is still plenty of room for opportunity in this lively NYC neighborhood.

Ready to carve out your space in today’s vibrant culinary scene? Learn more about ICE’s culinary and hospitality career programs.

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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.

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By Caitlin Raux

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

Sunken Hundred

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

ICE: How did you guys meet?

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

Like with a computer?

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

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

And that’s how it all began?

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

Illtyd Barrett

Illtyd Barrett, owner Sunken Hundred

It’s messy work I imagine.

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

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

Illtyd: I was really impressed.

And so he passed the test?

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

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

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

Tom Coughlan

Tom Coughlan, chef Sunken Hundred

Did you have visions of opening a restaurant?

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

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

You were born in Wales?

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

Right. Where did you do your externship?

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

Oh yeah?

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

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

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

Illtyd: My externship is my life.*

Sunken Hundred

Cocktails with Seaweed Puffs

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

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

That’s fantastic!

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

So romantic.

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

What kinds of things did Julia advise on?

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

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

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

Tom: Oh yeah.

Illtyd: Even just the software we got from ICE.

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

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

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

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

 

Fish Churros

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

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

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

Because people say it is not authentic enough?

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

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

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

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

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

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By Caitlin Raux 

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

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

Chef Suzanne at Untitled (credit: Melissa Hom)

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

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

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

Do you still get to spend time in the kitchen?

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

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

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

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

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

Did you introduce that from the top down? 

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

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

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

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

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

Was cooking a big deal at home?

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

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

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

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

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

Was she your mentor?

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

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

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

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

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

Are there any chefs that inspire you?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s one restaurant on your hit list?

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

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

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By Caitlin Raux

Back when she was a tween, Tanya Edmunds (Culinary Arts ‘09, Culinary Management ‘09) took an interest in makeup. This being before the days of Pinterest and YouTube tutorials, her mom bought her makeup books filled with pages of application instructions. Tanya would spend hours in her room carefully studying the tutorials then replicating them on herself until she mastered each lesson. From the beginning, it was clear that she would be drawn toward creative, hands-on pursuits.

Though she studied theatre at NYU, practical considerations and a knack for whipping up delicious home-cooked dinners led her to enroll at ICE. Fast forward to present day, Tanya has found a calling that allows her perfectionist qualities to mesh with her creative flair and passion for food: as director of training and development at Shake Shack. If you’re not familiar with the brand, it’s the fast-casual burger chain with a cult following and scores of customers waiting to dig into reliably fresh, juicy burgers on pillowy potato buns — the need for well-trained employees to feed the hungry masses is without question. Spend five minutes chatting with Tanya and you’ll realize she’s got the confidence and the energy to manage training of those employees.

Tanya Edmunds

Tanya Edmunds during a recent visit to ICE

Tanya chatted with us about landing a gig at New York’s favorite burger mecca and offered some advice for those looking to follow a similar path.

How did the idea of attending culinary school come about?

It was my dad’s suggestion. I moved home after my undergrad years at NYU, and I was trying to figure out what I wanted to do — what I was passionate about. While I was home I didn’t have to pay rent but cooking dinner was my responsibility. I started looking up different kinds of recipes online and watching cooking shows a lot. My dad is very entrepreneurial at heart. He started his own business, leaving behind a successful sales career. We started talking about whether it would be feasible to open my own restaurant someday. I looked at all of the other things in my background — managing people through stage management when I was in college, my creative side and inclination toward stage design. I thought with my skills and interests I could keep up with a restaurant.

So, how did you take these skills and start in the culinary business?

Education was the first thing that I looked into when we came up with this idea to open a restaurant. With my love of New York City and its amazing food scene, I knew that was where I wanted to be. Ultimately, I chose ICE for a very unique reason. I focused on the environment I was going to be happiest in.

It sounds like from the beginning you had a clear vision of what you wanted from the programs.

My hope was to manage a restaurant and not let anything stand in the way of being successful. So I wanted to have as much information as I could.

I ended up loving the Culinary Arts portion — being hands-on and creating new dishes each day. That spoke more to my creative side. It was a nice balance, going from the intellectual ideas of my culinary management classes to the hands-on creativity of the culinary lessons.

Don’t judge your path. Work towards things that make you happy.

How did you go from ICE to Shake Shack?

After I graduated from ICE, I was looking for jobs in the management field and the kitchen. My first job was in the pastry kitchen at Maialino. I had a great connection with my chef there and we’re still friends to this day. I got to make croissants and brioche from scratch and work a shift that was 10:00 p.m. – 8:00 a.m., then commute back to New Jersey. My dad would pick me up and we’d go have lunch at my favorite diner and then I’d go home and go to sleep.

What a schedule!

It was a cool experience but I wanted to move back to New York City. A neighbor from New Jersey was the director of banquet services for Restaurant Associates in the Bank of America tower. I landed a job there as assistant pastry chef and worked in corporate dining for 14 months. That opened my eyes to another part of the culinary world. I went from a rustic, Roman-Italian restaurant run by Danny Meyer, to working in a huge corporate restaurant kitchen for Bank of America. I learned a lot there, but I kept thinking about management and how I could work in that area.

Tell me about landing your first gig at Shake Shack.

I checked ICE’s alumni job listings every Thursday and had to apply when I saw a position for restaurant manager at Shake Shack. At the time of one of my interviews, Shake Shack was serving a special eggnog-flavored custard for the holidays. As I was waiting for the general manager to interview me, he apologized for being late because they’d run out of the custard needed for recipe. I said, “I have a background in pastry and I make ice cream all the time, can I help?” I looked at the recipe and told him a way to make it faster. I think that might have been one of the things that threw me over the top.

At what point did you transition to training manager?

I was promoted about two years ago.* I’ve been with Shake Shack for over five years. I’m in charge of overseeing everything that happens at new openings and our in-person classroom-style management training. I also collaborate with other departments to make sure we’re executing our manager training as needed.

When you’re sent to a new city to train a new team — what’s a typical day like?

Everywhere is a bit different – whether it’s Tokyo, Texas, Boston or Orlando – and I gather information before I go. Typically the area director will tell me something about their team, such as the staff is made up of all high school students. So I’ll tailor the training for the younger staff, include mentions of Snapchat. I want the audience to engage with the training. I’ve come to realize I’ve got the coolest job in the world. I get to meet managers from all over the country. I get to teach people about what Shake Shack does as a company and what they do for their employees and share my passion for this company. It’s amazing to see people walk in thinking they got a job at a typical fast food restaurant and seven days later they feel completely different about it. They’re excited and engaged.

What advice would you give to students considering going into management, particularly with a huge brand like Shake Shack?

I would say: don’t expect it to happen quickly. Allow your path to be what it’s going to be. Don’t feel like it’s too long or too short because it’s going to happen naturally. My path was unexpected. If you had told me in 2009 that I was going to be leading the training for over 3,500 employees, I would probably tell you that you’re full of you-know-what. So don’t judge your path. Work towards things that make you happy.

One thing I like about your story is that it seems that you were constantly reassessing where you were and where you wanted to go — which I think is important for people at the beginning and throughout their careers.

I’ve been with Shake Shack for five years. Every time I open a restaurant I ask myself what was successful about it? What was challenging about it? Do I want to keep doing it? And the ultimate answer is always yes. As a student, as you’re continuing to learn, it’s good to explore, to try things, to ask for new things. In a sense, I’ve been able to write my own job description, but I’ve worked hard for that.

*After our interview, Tanya was promoted from training manager to director of training and development.

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

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