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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By Caitlin Raux

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did you know you wanted to cook professionally?

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

Maybe you can stop by after this interview.

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

What would be your dream job?

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

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

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

Is that every day?

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

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

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

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

James Beard Award Medallion

Media Awards

American Cooking

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

Video Webcast, Fixed Location and/or Instructional

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

Restaurant and Chef Awards

Best Chef: New York City (Five Boroughs)

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

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

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

 

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

Outstanding Chef

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

Best Chef: West (CA, HI, NV)

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

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