By Timothy Cooper

In 2006, Susan Ungaro, the former editor in chief of Family Circle Magazine, became president of the James Beard Foundation (JBF), a nationally renowned nonprofit foundation and culinary arts organization dedicated to celebrating, nurturing, and honoring chefs and luminaries in the culinary industry. Since beginning her tenure, Ms.Ungaro has been instrumental in helping the foundation thrive, tripling its annual revenue from $4 million to $12 million and erasing a previous deficit of over $1 million.

Five years ago, she launched the Taste America cross-country tour. Other forward-looking initiatives she’s established include the annual JBF Food Summit, the Leadership Awards, and the JBF Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change, as well as structures to recognize women in the field, such as JBF’s Women in Culinary Leadership program and the Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership program.

Among other honors, Ms. Ungaro was named one of Adweek’s 30 Most Influential People in Food and one of Irish America’s Top 50 Power Women; she also received the Hope Award from the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children. She has appeared on Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay, Iron Chef America, Top Chef, the Today Show, Good Morning America, and many more.

Recently, we caught up with Ms. Ungaro at the James Beard Foundation’s West Village headquarters to discuss her career and her work with the nation’s most celebrated food organization.

Tell us about your start and how you came to food and hospitality.

If you look around the room, I have little elements of my past life. For example, I have a bobblehead Ronald McDonald. That’s where I got my start in the food industry—working my way through college at McDonald’s. I was a communications major—radio, TV, and print journalism—and when I graduated, I got my master’s from William Patterson, which was then a state college, in New Jersey. I actually started an employee newsletter for the McDonald’s franchise I worked for.

I was slinging hamburgers, making shakes, frying fries, managing. By the time I left, I was a shift supervisor. I knew I didn’t want to stay at McDonald’s, so I sent out my resume and ended up getting a job as an editorial assistant at Family Circle magazine, a big women’s magazine in New York City. I was an editorial assistant, and eventually became a senior editor—I worked my way up. I was at Family Circle for 27 years. When I was seven months pregnant with my third child, my daughter, I became editor in chief.

At the same time, I got married and bought my first house, learned how to decorate. I even learned how to cook from all of the magazine’s recipes and the test kitchens. But I was in charge of the reportage—the articles department—not the food or home or beauty departments. Still, 25 percent of our editorial was food-focused. You name a chef on television or a major cookbook writer—from Bobby Flay to Emeril Lagasse to Ina Garten to Rachael Ray—and they wanted to get their recipes featured in Family Circle, because we had over 20 million readers.

When I left Family Circle, I knew I didn’t want to be in publishing again—I had done that for 27 years. I loved what I did, but during that time I’d also been on the board of trustees of a few foundations. So I knew I wanted to run a foundation, but the James Beard Foundation was not on my radar at all. I was much more involved in child health, homeless families, feeding the hungry, things like that. But in life, and in cooking, timing is everything, as they say.

So when I left, one of the Family Circle’s board of trustees, Barbara Fairchild, then the editor in chief of Bon Appétit, put me in touch with JBF’s board, and I ended up coming here in April 2006.

You’ve led the James Beard Foundation for 11 years. Has it been what you expected when you first arrived?

No. I don’t think you really understand the job until you are in it. I came knowing JBF needed a turnaround. It was financially in a difficult position, losing money. And I didn’t just want to come to the James Beard Foundation because it was known for the James Beard Awards and scholarships. What I also loved was that James Beard was truly an everyman. He liked fried chicken and down-home cuisine just as much as he loved foie gras and haute cuisine. As an editor, you know how to create stories. We needed good PR, and that was part of the mission. I had an expression: “We’re going to take it mass with class.”

For example, Vogue is obviously the height of fashion, but its readership is mass. And I felt that the James Beard Foundation was the height of great food, but it needed to be more mass. More people needed to know how important a James Beard Award was, and what it meant for chefs to be artists.

Food Network had been on the air for just over a decade. Chefs were becoming the new popular celebrities, and I knew how to make sure they became even more popular and part of the culture, not just fine dining. Chefs are the great spokespeople today for food policy, and advocates for better nutrition and better school lunches—it has only grown. So we rode that wave too.

In a sense, you might say you’re the manager of both a foundation and a restaurant.

That first week, somebody was coming to visit me here at the Beard House. The front reception area can get kind of messy until right before dinnertime, with boxes and things being delivered, so I wanted to make it look a little nicer. Albert, our night kitchen manager, was sitting and reading the Post. So I went downstairs and said, “You know, Albert, I’m expecting some company. Can you clean up this room?” He looked at me and said, “I haven’t clocked in yet.” I had this aha moment—I was back in McDonald’s, where people had to clock in. That was really the moment when I realized I was running what would now be called America’s first pop-up restaurant. The Beard House is a place where the restaurant, the menu, and the chef change every day.

What does bringing the James Beard Foundation experience on the road via the Taste America tour entail?

We’re celebrating chefs in the cities that we’re visiting. In Boston last weekend, we were celebrating Karen Akunowicz [2015 and 2016 James Beard Award Nominee for Best Chef Northeast] and several other local chefs. Then we bring a chef from outside the city, so we have local stars, and what we call our All-Star, a national star. So in Boston, we had Daniel Boulud. He came and they created a beautiful dinner together. It’s always a big fundraising dinner with auctions, a cocktail hour, and a five-course menu.

Then the next day, we went to Sur La Table stores, where we had two free cooking demos and book signings with the two chefs who participated the night before. So Daniel Boulud showed people how to make this incredible lobster in a chilled broth called homard en gelée, and Karen Akunowicz’s demo was scallops with a Thai salad—really interesting.

In Chicago the week before, we had Michael Voltaggio, who has a restaurant in San Francisco, and won Top Chef. He was our visiting star. Our Local Star was Stephanie Izard, of Girl & the Goat, the first woman to win Top Chef.

How do all these activities carry out the mission of the James Beard Foundation?

We spread culinary knowledge. For example, we grant scholarships to students all across the country. Since 1991, we have awarded over $7 million in scholarships. When I came, the average annual amount of scholarships awarded was $150,000 to $200,000. Now it’s more in the $700,000 range.

Plus we’re taking the Foundation’s name on the road, featuring rising chefs, so people know that these chefs have something to do with a man who was considered the godfather of American gastronomy. James Beard wrote over 24 cookbooks. One of the things I am proudest of is that more and more people know who he was and what he stood for, because we’ve made the Foundation’s footprint national. Bringing the Beard House experience on the road makes us more “mass with class.”

This spring, the PBS series American Masters did a Chefs Flight series—four chefs, four one-hour documentaries on PBS: Jacques Pépin, Alice Waters, Julia Child, and James Beard. The documentary on James Beard was called America’s First Foodie. I’m really proud of that, because it means we’re getting his name out. People know who he is. When they walk into a restaurant and they see a James Beard Award medal or certificate on the wall, they know, that means something.

Tell me about what the James Beard Awards mean and why they matter.

The James Beard Awards are the most coveted awards a chef can get in this country. Obviously, Zagat and the Forbes Travel Guide are different honorifics, but Michelin is only in four cities. It’s only in New York, Chicago, D.C., and San Francisco. But the James Beard Awards are national.

Many chefs will say publicly that a James Beard Award changed their life because all of a sudden, reservations were up in their restaurants; someone wanted them on TV doing cooking demos, just like James Beard used to do on the old Today show in New York City; and they might even get a book contract. It’s an affirmation by their colleagues. Yes, there’s an open call for entries, but ultimately you are voted on by a jury of your peers and journalists.

My first awards in 2006 were at the Marriott. It was a great celebration, but publications like the New York Times had referred to it as the Oscars of the food industry, and it didn’t feel like it. So the next year, we moved it to Lincoln Center. It became a red-carpet event, a reason to dress up. It elevated the awards, the chefs, the restaurateurs, and the media. And a few years ago, we moved the awards to the Chicago Lyric Opera House. It is still the most glamorous night for the food industry in America.

Can you talk about moving the awards to Chicago?

There are 10 Regional Best Chef Awards, for 10 regions of the country. They’re national awards. Even though the Beard House is in New York City and the awards had always been in New York City, it was good to move out. We also moved the nomination announcements to different cities. The day the nominees are announced is a big day around the country. That’s why we visit other cities to do the announcements. [Ed. Note: In 2017, ICE hosted the James Beard Foundation’s annual Chefs’ Night Out celebration, to give chefs, nominees, presenters, and their supporters a chance to mingle before the big awards ceremony.)

Is there a consistent trait you see in the chefs who win a James Beard Award? What makes them outstanding?

Number one, obviously, is that they’re getting great reviews in whatever city they hail from. Their peers are looking to them as leaders in whatever they’re doing culinarily, in their restaurant, in how they’re presenting their food. There may be some trends that they are expanding on, or maybe they’re just doing something that is so beautiful and different that they’re being held up by their colleagues and voted on.

Which chefs stick out in your memory?

To me, every chef who comes and cooks at the Beard House. For many of them, it’s their New York debut. Julia Child said this, not me: Bringing a chef to cook at the Beard House is like inviting a singer to come and perform at Carnegie Hall. It has been such a treat to meet some of our country’s iconic chefs. Jacques Pépin—it’s just so special to be with him. Charlie Trotter, who sadly passed away—we had some memorable times honoring him at the James Beard Awards. For our 30th anniversary, Marcus Samuelsson was basically the keynote, because he came and cooked at our 30th anniversary dinner at the Beard House, and it happened to be his 25th time cooking here. [The dinner will be featured in 30 Years: A Celebration of the James Beard Foundation, on ABC.] All of these chefs are special in their own ways. How do you choose your favorite children? You can’t.

What might surprise people about what the Foundation does?

We are a place where anyone can come to dinner. We even have a student membership, for $25. Anyone can go online and see who is cooking at the Beard House. In general, a dinner costs $175. That includes everything: tip, wine pairings, champagne, and cocktails. And if you’re a member, you’re paying less—generally $135. To have an incredible dining experience—to go out to dinner in New York with five courses with wine pairings—is going to cost a whole lot more than that.

And we have our “Foodies Under 40” program, called “JBF Greens,” in New York and Chicago. Membership is $75, and those events are also fantastic.

What’s something that young or aspiring chefs might not realize about this industry?

Chefs are actually kind, nurturing people, despite what the public image might try to make of them. Sure, it takes all kinds to make this world, but in general, I’ve always felt that chefs, whether they’re men or women, are like mothers. What do they want? They want to feed us and nurture us.

The majority of chefs that I’ve met—even the ones with big, bawdy reputations—want to create the next, best generation of chefs. So you should be looking for role models who fit your ideals. When you go work in a place, if it doesn’t feel right, leave and go somewhere else. In these times, that’s even more important.

Tell me about how you overcame some of the major challenges you’ve faced as head of this foundation.

I didn’t look back. I looked forward. When I took this position, my oldest son was in medical school. It was the white-jacket moving-up ceremony at Mount Sinai, and they had a pediatric cardiologist from Texas giving the keynote to these wide-eyed, ambitious, and idealistic young people who want to be doctors. This doctor’s job was to do heart surgery on babies, on children. And he said the children who did the best were the ones that had parents who were irrational optimists.

I’d never heard those two words put together before—irrational and optimist. I realized that’s what I’d done, because I had been at the Foundation for just a year and a half, and things were already turning around. If you are an optimist, try to keep those other voices—“It can’t be done, it’s never been done”—out of your head. Think that you can do anything—that really does help you succeed. It’s easy to be an optimist when it’s a sure thing. It’s not easy to be an optimist if it’s not that rational at the time.

You’re stepping down as president at the end of 2017, at the conclusion of the Foundation’s 30th anniversary year. What’s next for the Foundation, and for you?

Well, I’m not calling it retirement, but a “rewiring”—because honestly, I don’t know. It’s nice to be able to say, “I’m going to see what comes to me.” I had some time off between Family Circle and the James Beard Foundation, and at the time, all I knew was that I wanted to do something to give back. That’s what I know now as well. I can imagine myself helping other foundations that need my help, but I’m also looking forward to not working “36/7.”

And for the Foundation, we’re poised for even greater things to come. We’ll be giving out more scholarships. We’ll be doing more in the areas of food policy and advocacy, in which we’ve taken a big leap. We’ve been working very hard to create a more diverse restaurant and food world. And our Women’s Leadership Program is growing and having an impact; we want it to be even better than it is right now.

 Do you have some final words of wisdom for people entering this career?

I’ll use something that I used even before I came to the James Beard Foundation: The ten most important two-letter words are: ‘If it is to be, it is up to me.’ Ultimately, in every aspect of our lives, we’re in charge of ourselves—no matter what’s happening around us. That’s a really important life lesson to take, no matter where you go.

And I’ll give you one other bit that my father used to say: Be like a tea bag. You get stronger the longer you’re in hot water.

Ready to launch your career in the culinary arts? Learn more about ICE’s career training programs. 

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By Michael Laiskonis — Creative Director

While it’s back-to-school season for most, class is always in session at ICE. More to the point, cooks are perpetual students for whom the learning never ends, no matter our level of skill or experience. Ideas and inspiration that fill our social media feeds are at our fingertips 24 hours a day, but I still rely on — and often prefer — books and magazines. The autumn publishing season also means a shelf-load of new releases. Below are a few of those just-published books I am looking forward to, as well as one or two that I’m finally catching up on.

Image courtesy of Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream

Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream: The Art and Science of the Scoop
By Dane Cree

Summer may be over, but that doesn’t mean ice cream season is. Dana Cree’s book is a revelation on two fronts — in addition to creative frozen dessert recipes, it was one of the first books of its kind to make accessible the technical approach to ice cream that professionals employ. A well-traveled pastry chef, Dana presents the material much in the same way she approaches high-end plated desserts: serious, but with a playful ease.

BraveTart

BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts
By Stella Parks

When I first started reading Stella’s BraveTart blog several years ago, I knew it would lead to a book. She approaches sweet traditions and preparations not just through the eyes of a cook, but rather an investigative journalist, always digging deeper to tell a story or to better understand the complex chemistry of the pastry kitchen. If baking perfection is built simply on the sum of many well-executed steps, the attention to detail in Stella’s book gives cooks of all skill levels essential building blocks for classic American desserts and beyond. Be sure to check out her work as contributor to Serious Eats.

Megan Giller

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution: The Origins, the Makers, and the Mind-Blowing Flavors
By Megan Giller

As a cook, I often think about how the discovery of a new ingredient or technique is able to radically redirect one’s career path. Certainly, I never set out to make chocolate, but since we created the Chocolate Lab two years ago, I think about chocolate for most of my waking moments. For Megan Giller, a sartorial moment with a fruity, complex bar made from Madagascar cocoa beans created an obsession that led to a blog, and then this book. While covering the basics of chocolate from origin to processing to tasting, she also takes on the task of documenting the dynamic “craft” chocolate scene in real time. I liked the idea so much, that when asked, I wrote the foreword. I will also join Megan for a discussion and tasting here in NYC next month. Also of interest is a new release from our friends at Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco, Making Chocolate: From Bean to Bar to S’more.

Bread Wine Chocolate

Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love
By Simran Sethi

Just as important as acquiring recipes and technique, a deeper understanding of the complex culture of our foodways is also valuable to cooks. Released last year, Simran’s book explores our relationship with nature through the lens of products we might take for granted. Her perspective on chocolate has also led to my favorite podcast of the year, the Slow Melt, which tackles issues big and small, in addition to insightful interviews with the most influential of today’s “craft” chocolate-makers.

Fou de Patisserie

Fou de Patisserie
http://www.foudepatisserie.com/

This time last summer, I had just returned, inspired and energized, from a quick three-day tour of the Paris haute patisserie scene. Few resources capture the trends of the moment better than the French magazine, Fou de Patisserie. Each issue (virtually ad-free) is jam-packed with recipes and ideas from pastry legends and rising stars alike, including Philippe Conticini, Christophe Felder, Cedric Grolet and Cyril Lignac. In addition to publishing, the magazine also runs a shop in Paris — part pop-up, part fancy pastry exhibit — featuring the work of a rotating line-up of pastry chefs. On the topic of pastry magazines, one can’t forget what may be the most exciting resource, So Good, the hefty haute patisserie magazine of international scope.

Modernist Bread

Modernist Bread: The Art and Science
By Nathan Myhrvold, Francisco Migoya

After the release of the mammoth multi-volume set of Modernist Cuisine several years ago, the question on everyone’s mind was: “What will Nathan Myhrvold do next?” To the surprise of many, The Cooking Lab, which is home to Modernist Cuisine, immediately took on the subject of bread – its traditions and pathways toward innovation. Talented pastry chef Francisco Migoya led the effort, which resulted in a new set of books that actually rivals the first in size (and weight). Ahead of its October release, Francisco visited ICE last month to offer a sneak preview of the book, over three years in the making. From what I’ve seen thus far, all I can say is that the project will become a defining resource for bread bakers for years to come.

What are you reading this fall? Let us know in the comments! 

Take your pastry practice to the next level — learn more about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

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By Tessa Thompson, Department of Career Services

If you’re a culinary or pastry student at ICE and haven’t heard the word “trail” yet, you will soon enough! Just as “86,” “mise en place,” and “hot behind!” are all part of the unique and universal kitchen lingo, the concept of the trail is also a defining aspect of the restaurant world.

Imagine going for a job interview that lasts 8-12 hours, where your potential employer poses questions while you casually peel carrots and de-stem thyme. You get a firsthand view of what life on the job would be like…by actually doing the job. In short, it’s unlike any other type of interview.

What Is a Trail - Working Alongside Chef

All ICE students trail as part of their externship selection process, but it doesn’t end there. Restaurant professionals continue to trail throughout their careers, from their first job as garde manger to years later, when they’re vying for an executive chef position.

A trail is a working audition: a chance to show your best work, from knife skills to efficiency to knowledge of ingredients. It’s a chance for an employer to see if you would be a good fit on their team. It’s also an opportunity for you to experience the specific culture and environment of a kitchen and decide if it’s the right place for you—something you’ll never get from an interview for a more traditional job.

What is a Trail - Fast Paced Restaurant

So, now that you know what a trail is, how can you ace the opportunity and land the job? The most important first step is to go in with a positive attitude, an eagerness to work and a willingness to listen and learn. Here are some additional “FAQs” that we frequently get from students at ICE:

What should I wear?  First impressions start at the front door, before you change into your chef whites.  Generally, a nice pair of pants and button-down shirt are appropriate to wear to the restaurant. When you change into your uniform, make sure it is ironed, clean and complete—kitchen shoes, socks, hat, apron, hair tied back, etc. Leave your jewelry at home and go light on any make-up or perfume.

What should I bring?  Your knives — but not every single one! Just bring the five essentials: your chef’s knife, paring knife, serrated knife, peeler and sharpening steel. For pastry students, add an offset spatula and a thermometer. Also, be sure to have a pen, a sharpie and a small notepad to take notes.

Bread Baking - Baking School - Pastry School - Bread Baking - Baking Student

What NOT to bring?  Valuable items. Wads of cash. Jewelry. iPads and other electronic equipment. And while they don’t expect you to leave your phone at home, be sure it is turned off and out of sight in the kitchen.

When is the best time to contact a chef?  Generally, it’s best to reach a chef before or after service on less busy days in the restaurant (normally Monday to Thursday, between 3-5pm).

How many trails should I go on?  Every student is different, but a minimum of three to five trails is generally a good amount for your first job. Once you’re working in the industry, you can do one-day trails or short “stages” at as many restaurants as you like. The general rule is to see enough different kitchens to compare sites (but not so many that it completely muddles your thinking).

If you keep these simple guidelines in mind, you’ll go into each trail with the confidence to tackle whatever is asked of you.

Click here to learn more about ICE’s career training programs. 

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ICE students and graduates benefit from a full range of career services. Whether their goal is to cook in a Michelin-starred restaurant, to launch a food startup or to work in the hospitality industry, our Career Services Division provides so many ways to help students and grads to obtain their dream careers: from job fairs and in-house workshops to career development seminars and one-on-one career coaching sessions. Here’s an in-depth look at our Career Services Division.

Click here to learn more about ICE’s career training programs. 

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By Michael Laiskonis — Creative Director

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

Chef Sharpening Knives

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

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

Hot Kitchen Boiling Over Flames

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

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

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

Chopping Onions

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

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

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

Butchery Fish Butchering

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

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

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

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