By Kelly Newsome — Student, Culinary Arts

When you’re a lunatic like me, food gets you so excited that you want to do everything. After a lesson on India’s curries, I was ready to pack my bags for a sabbatical to diligently tend tandoori ovens and learn from the master chapati makers of the Indian sub-continent. After two weeks learning about the regional cooking of Italy, I was fantasizing about working in the kitchen of an idyllic agriturismo in the Tuscan countryside — perhaps learning the fine art of truffle hunting was in my future? Then there’s my love of writing, cookbooks and teaching — how could that fit into my plans? As tantalizing as these possibilities seem, the reality is equally foreboding — I need to choose one thing, right now, and this decision could determine the direction of my culinary career, forever. It feels like taking the SATs all over again. Adding to this predicament has been my recent experience in Module 4, Pastry & Baking Arts. I’d like to blame it on the butter but the truth is: I love the precision that baking demands. Accuracy, care and diligence almost always result in an excellent final product — and I like that. With all these interesting paths to explore, how should I go about deciding which one to follow?

Like many of my classmates who are nearing the end of their class instruction, the challenges we face are practical: we need to make a living; we need to fend off doubters and naysayers; we’re looking for personal fulfillment in our careers; and health insurance would be nice. With these concerns in mind, I’ve decided to lay out a roadmap of my planned approach. I can’t say it’s the right way, but hopefully it will set me on a path toward career fulfillment — and who knows, maybe it will help others who are facing a similar dilemma.

Culinary Student Kelly Newsome

1. Talk To Your Chef-Instructors

This may seem like the most obvious, but it is absolutely the most important. Our instructors have extensive experience performing at the highest level of the culinary industry — a level achieved by people who work hard and make smart choices. Realizing that I needed some serious guidance, I asked my current instructor, Chef Chad Pagano for his advice to culinary students feeling “overly enthusiastic” and a little unsure about their direction. Here’s what Chef Chad had to say: “First and foremost, stop overthinking it. Listen to your heart. Passion and love of the food industry will steer you in the right direction. Within that, work for the best chef you can find. I don’t care if it’s in the basement of his house. Young cooks need two things: practical kitchen skills and work ethic. You should also be reading, watching videos and immersing yourself in the industry. This would include volunteering and attending any and all demos and events at the school. This will help you fall into the proper direction for your career.” With this advice in mind, I’ve been able to narrow my search for an externship because I know I want to start my career working for the best possible chef that will have me. I was also able to narrow my search because there were certain types of restaurants that intuitively felt right to me and others that didn’t. So follow your heart. It may sound cliché, but the truth is, it will never let you down.

2. Explore All Your Possibilities

I have a vast pool of culinary interests, from working in a fine-dining restaurant to becoming a food editor or cookbook author. The great thing about ICE is that we have the opportunity to explore all of these options through externships and extracurricular courses. I’ve decided to apply for both food media and restaurant externships. I will go on trails at restaurants and interviews in test kitchens. My hope is that, just like a date, the experience will tell me the right choice to make.

Kelly Newsome

3. Get Involved

Volunteering at different culinary events throughout the city has not only given me a flavor of what to expect in professional restaurant kitchens, but it has also exposed me to some of the biggest culinary leaders in the industry. You get a sense of how to behave, what is expected of you and the pace and environment you might be walking into. Not to mention, it’s a chance to make a good impression, learn, observe and explore some of the possibilities.

4. Don’t Stress

One thing that I know for sure, because it has been hammered into my head for four straight modules, is that if you work hard, have a good attitude and the desire to perform at your absolute best, you’re going to be okay. So don’t stress, just smile (when possible), put your head down and do the best work that you can at all times.

The most important lesson that I have learned since beginning culinary school at ICE is that you need to stay true to you. Don’t forget what brought you to culinary school in the first place. There will always be people telling you that you didn’t need to go to culinary school, people who say you won’t make any money, people who tell you that you’re crazy for wanting to cook for a living. It doesn’t matter what they think, because if you felt this was right for you, then you are doing the right thing. Some people even say that the term “passion” is overused and has lost its meaning. I say that if passion for food and the culinary arts is what inspired you, keep being passionate and you’ll find the right direction for you.

Ready to embark on your culinary career path? Learn more about ICE’s career programs. 

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By Carly DeFilippo

In the realm of culinary careers, food styling has historically gotten a bit of a bad rap. From mashed potatoes standing in for ice cream to marbles boosting the hearty look of a soup, it’s a profession that was once better known for trickery than honest beauty. Thankfully, recent trends in food media are pointing toward the less polished look. Among the media outlets popularizing this more natural approach to food styling? The celebrated source for all things cooking, Food52.

Spaghetti with eggplant and brussels sprouts, styled by ICE students.

Spaghetti with eggplant and brussels sprouts, styled by ICE students.

A student practices photographing fresh produce; first attempts at still life food styling.

A student practices photographing fresh produce; first attempts at still life food styling.

Yet, however more appealing it may be, this approach to styling isn’t without its challenges. Narrowing your primary tools to good lighting, beautiful props and high quality ingredients makes a talented food stylist’s skill — and speed — even more valuable. That’s why ICE asked Food52 creative director (and ICE Culinary Arts alum!) Kristen Miglore and freelance food stylist Kristy Mucci to share their top food styling tips in our recreational course Food Styling with Food52. Starting with the premise that every dish must be both beautiful and edible, here’s how the pros style food:

  • Start with great ingredients. This is the time to splurge at the greenmarket. Find the most beautiful products you can, as they’re the base on which you’ll build a beautiful plate.
  • Think about how food will change over time. Whether you’re tossing a salad or icing a cake, think about how your ingredients will transform over the course of the cooking process — and how quickly they’ll wilt, melt or dry up while waiting for their close-up.
  • Go easy on the salt. If you’re looking for a golden-brown crust on your steak, salt is your friend. But if you’re sautéing vegetables, wait to season them until after the shot, as the salt will break down their structure as they cook.
  • Give it a spritz. Recapture that freshly cooked look with a few well-placed drops of olive oil or a light spray of water.
  • The two-part freeze. For objects that melt easily (like ice cream), scoop them into the shape you want, and then put them back in the freezer on a sheet pan. That way, each painstakingly crafted quenelle or spherical scoop will have the longest shelf-life possible. (Added tip: When working under hot artificial lights, professional stylists often sift pellets of dried ice over easily melted objects.)
  • Don’t be afraid of the mess. Gently place your base components on a plate, then reposition any stray bits and add extra ingredients for texture or color. If you try to individually plate every strand of pasta or salad leaf, your plate will never look natural.
  • Clean without chemicals. Don’t use Windex on perfectly edible plates of food. Clean streaks or fingerprints with cotton balls or q-tips dipped in a solution of white vinegar (or vodka) and water.
A student plates lentils in the "brown foods" challenge.

A student plates lentils in the “brown foods” challenge.

Kristen and Kristy also shared a few of their theories on what makes (and how to consistently achieve) a great shot:

  • Focus on the food. If your content is all about cooking (or eating, for that matter), then make the food your focus. Don’t be afraid to keep the styling simple or zoom in for a close-up.
  • Shoot raw ingredients and finished dishes separately. As Kristen and Kristy aptly pointed out, there’s a common trend where food stylists use raw ingredients to decorate a shot of a finished dish. Instead, they suggest preparing two separate photographs: a beautiful “before” shot of the raw ingredients and a plated “after” shot to demonstrate the end goal.
  • Explore the negative space. Have you ever eaten something so delicious that you forgot to grab a photo? That’s the idea here. Sometimes crumbs, a leftover streak of sauce or a rumpled napkin tells as much of a story as a perfect-looking plate.
  • Go through the motions. If there are utensils in your shot, think about where you would most naturally place them. (Additional pro tip: Struggling to prop up your fork at a certain angle? Little balls of wax are a perfect non-toxic tool.)
  • Get a safety shot. Does that roasted chicken look pretty good in the pan? Are your pancakes stacked up perfectly pre-syrup? Take the good shot while you have it, and then consider plating your chicken or attempting to get that coveted syrup-pouring shot. If those efforts fail, at least you have that first shot in the bag.
  • Give yourself more than one option. Always have an extra plate, bowl or utensil or two on hand. Sometimes it takes a few tries to create the perfect shot.
  • Keep your eyes open. Sometimes the best photos aren’t the ones you plan. The more time you spend styling and shooting food, the more you’ll begin to notice the visually stunning moments that are a natural part of the process of cooking.

For more information about food styling and media classes at ICE, click here.  

Kristen and Kristy pose with some of their food styling students.

Kristen and Kristy pose with food styling students during a recreational course at ICE

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By Steve Zagor — Dean, School of Restaurant & Culinary Management

I was recently invited to dinner at a long-standing restaurant on the Long Island waterfront. It was 7:30 p.m. on a Saturday and the restaurant was half empty. What’s more, the service was slow. I was hungry. Eight of us were seated at a round table not far from the restrooms. An occasional whiff of pine-scented cleaning fluid swirled by our seats. My new table acquaintances droned on with their unabridged life stories. Enter my chicken Parmesan — at last there was some relief, or so I thought. It was massive: an inch-thick alien creature that totally enveloped the extra large platter. I thought animals like this were extinct eons ago. Without my touching, tomato sauce oozed over the edges of the plate in a lava-like flow and onto the white tablecloth, like blood from a wound staining a hospital sheet. Wedged on top of the beast loomed a towering pile of cheese-soaked ziti, perched like a yellow-capped mountain range on the plains. There were pounds of food on the plate. Only Joey Chestnut, the Nathan’s Hot Dog champ, might have had the fortitude to finish this dish. The whole experience — the pine scent, the huge portion, the sloppy presentation, the long wait, the boring guests — equaled a big turnoff. I lost my appetite. While the restaurant can’t control my dinner companions, they can do something about the rest.

This is not just for restaurants. In the food product world our desire to eat is similarly affected — it’s the packaging; the title titillation or name of the product; the room lighting and location on the shelf; the color of the label; the font; the logo. It’s the price; the ambient room noise or music; the noise the package makes; the sound the food makes in your mouth; the scent of the room where the food is sold; and much more. In our minds, we “eat” the package — it’s a direct link to the product inside. Our minds control our mouths.

And don’t forget our own individual preferences. Each customer has a lifetime collection of stimuli and experiences that affect our judgements and make us unique. Spicy to me may be mild to you. Exciting to me maybe routine for others.

Nowadays, competition in the food industry is scary. Hundreds of restaurant seats go unfilled and thousands of artisanal food products go unsold. If food producers only looked at the full picture, they would fare better. Study after study tells us that taste and food appreciation is only partially from the tongue — the rest comes from various stimuli affecting our minds. It’s called the science of gastrophysics, and it’s important for your customer’s taste buds and for your bottom line.

Though this is not new science, it’s often overlooked. We hear of menu psychology and scent stimulation, but we focus on what we know —the food — without a full appreciation of the vast array of other things that equally affect success. Each time we serve or sell food, we create an emotional bond with the purchaser. The better we are at controlling the brain brattle — the many incitements that rattle our brains causing us to judge, appreciate and react — the more likely we are to succeed.

Walt Disney was known for over-managing the customer experience. In his opinion, no detail was too small. Maybe we should consider his perspective more seriously when our product doesn’t fly off the shelves or our seats go unfilled.

None of our group from that Saturday night will return to that restaurant on the waterfront. Despite the great chef and the picturesque location, the experience didn’t click. Regardless of how tasty my massive chicken Parmesan was, the other stimuli turned me off completely. Just another case of mind over mouth.

Interested in learning to run your own food business? Click here to learn more about ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program. 

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Tina Ye (Culinary Arts, ’17) is not just our newest student blogger, she’s also one of the 2017 #CulinaryVoice Scholarship Challenge winners. In this post, she shares her path from interaction designer to culinary student at ICE — and how she discovered the superpower of food along the way.

By Tina Ye — Student, School of Culinary Arts

I wasn’t supposed to end up in culinary school. The way I got here was quite by accident. In fact, I started out my adult life very much wanting to be an interaction designer. An interaction designer is someone who makes digital products and services user-friendly. If you looked up directions on your phone today, and it felt as natural as picking your nose, then we did our job right.

I got to be on the path to interaction design because I’ve always been a huge nerd. In the sixth grade, I started building websites for fun, filling them with adolescent treasures like Spice Girls song lyrics, listicles and drawings of Sailor Moon. Eventually, adults picked up on my computer abilities and I was given the opportunity to trade them for money. While my peers toiled away at the local Baskin-Robbins developing asymmetrical bicep syndrome, I made logos at $250 a pop — not a bad rate for a 16-year-old.

culinary student Tina Ye

Food wasn’t really on my mind until college. By then I had gotten it into my head that I wanted to be an artist, but I reassured my mom that I’d be employable by dual-majoring in architecture. Neither turned out to be more than just a degree (I was too naive back then to know that college was for asking questions, not picking a life path), but still, they took up most of my time. To fill the social vacuum that comes from being a closeted dual-major, I turned to cooking with my roommates.

At the time, I was living in a rather unique situation. Four friends and I—one of them my then-boyfriend (now spouse)—decided to move off-campus into a big, creaky colonial house: two stories, a huge eat-in kitchen, and front and back decks for grilling. It was collegiate paradise. My roommates and I felt so adult when we signed that lease. We even had a car that we drove to visit fun and exotic places like…the grocery store!

The five of us were obsessed with grocery shopping—it felt like going to Six Flags. Every Saturday, we would explore the local Costco and load up on cheddar cheese, bacon, orange juice, chicken breast, ground beef, salad, canned beans, bread, bags of onions and potatoes hefty enough to crush a German shepherd, and yes, bulk boxes of Pop-Tarts.

When we got home, we’d drink half the orange juice within minutes, then I’d bust out “The Boston Globe Cookbook,” “101 Fast ‘n Easy Recipes,” or cookingforengineers.com (nerd pride!) and set to work. We made shepherd’s pie, jerk chicken, chili, New England clam chowder, meatloaf, sugar cookies with our own royal frosting, even Caesar dressing from scratch (I’ll never forget that moment my friend Elliot taught me you could eat raw egg). Friends of friends heard about our feasts and “casually” rolled by. My social life bloomed like the rind of a good Camembert. Who needs frat parties? All I needed was a good wooden spoon and the kitchen table of 82 Bristol Road!

Before long, we all graduated and moved on from that first experiment in communal living. But I continued those experiments elsewhere, with other roommates, in other shared apartments. The cooking got ever more ambitious (at one point I attempted to make puff pastry from scratch in 90° heat — poor life decision, turns out). Through it all, I felt a growing sense of comfort, community and pride. I loved having friends over and filling their bellies with food and their heads with conversation. With a stove and a pot, I discovered I could salve a wounded heart, crack open barriers of indifference, create warmth and fill emptiness (even if it was just stomachs). I started to have an inkling that food harbors immense superpowers, and somehow I was able to harness and direct those powers in positive ways.

Eventually, I moved to New York to study Interaction Design at the School of Visual Arts. The rolling snowball of my previous computer-y accomplishments just kept…rolling. I graduated and went from tech startup to tech startup. It all felt very logical, orderly and well-calculated. I had a professional salary even my family could approve of. What could possibly be missing?

I wouldn’t blame my growing restlessness on any one factor. But as I worked on project after project, I began to notice patterns. Tech startups are volatile places to be. The rewards are immense if you succeed, but so are the risks, and every day, teams of dedicated, hard-working people operate in stress-inducing environments of high uncertainty. When people are faced with so many unknowns, one natural tendency is to grasp for certainty. We fall back on assumptions instead of examining facts. We avoid dissent and seek the comfort of those who agree with us. We dig in and harden and stop listening.

I have seen this happen in many tense product meetings and feedback sessions, sometimes to the detriment of the organization’s mission. I began to wonder: in today’s world, where we have no shortage of uncertainty and immense challenges ahead as a society, can we learn to become better listeners, more willing collaborators and more open-minded friends, colleagues and neighbors? I thought back to those moments around the kitchen table, when even a sulking roommate will come out of hiding to check out the soup. Too busy chewing, even the most voracious talker becomes a good listener.

In March of this year, I made a video that posited that we can build bridges with food. I envisioned traveling around the country, learning about the lives of people who are very different from me, and sharing their stories in the form of evocative dishes. I entered the video into ICE’s Find Your Culinary Voice scholarship challenge. To my surprise, people responded with immense enthusiasm, and with the votes of friends and total strangers alike, I was awarded a full scholarship to ICE’s Culinary Arts program. Goodbye, old life of pushing pixels. Hello, new life of…who knows! Anything could happen.

Since beginning culinary school, I’ve been on a whirlwind tour of learning how to think and act like a world-class chef. I considered myself a pretty decent ingredient wrangler before, but now I’m really discovering how to treat these things with finesse and respect. Under the tutelage of chefs Lorrie, Michael and others, my cuts are straighter, my mise en place neater and my heat control more accurate. I am learning not just cooking techniques but also discipline, humility and professionalism. Just as important, I am meeting people from all walks of life in my classmates. (Who knew the hopes set out in my video would so soon be fulfilled?) Though our backgrounds are different, we support one another with tips and stories from our past lives, and cheer each other on through the critiques and exams. If I could convince people to gather around a table before with my slightly overcooked chicken, just think what I can do with these skills and this network after graduating. 

I came to ICE not necessarily to become the next Top Chef, but to answer this question: what is food’s real superpower? And can I harness it to do what I’d always wanted to do as an interaction designer: make a tiny, positive dent in the world? There is much work to be done, but I’m grateful for this chance to train for all the challenges ahead at ICE.

Interested in discovering where a culinary education can take you? Click here to learn more about ICE’s career programs.

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For 15 years, Kelly Newsome (Culinary Arts ’17) dreamed of going to culinary school. Though her infatuation with food and cooking was sparked during college, various factors (like concerns from family and friends) pushed her off that track and into office jobs. It’s not an uncommon situation, but what set Kelly apart was her tenacity — it drove her to take small steps toward achieving her ultimate goal. First, she enrolled at New York University’s master’s program in food studies and spent three years working full-time while burning the midnight oil between classes and assignments. Then, she landed an attractive marketing position with a food science company, edging ever closer to the kitchen. Finally, at age 38, Kelly decided she couldn’t ignore her true passion any longer, and enrolled in ICE’s Culinary Arts program. “I just realized I’m never going to be happy unless I follow this passion inside me, which is to work in food.”

Why culinary school, instead of diving directly into the kitchen? Kelly explained, “I don’t have the luxury of working my way up in a kitchen at this stage in my life. So going to culinary school will certainly give me confidence when I walk into the kitchen for the first time.”

 

Want to gain kitchen confidence of your own? Click here to learn more about our Culinary Arts career training program.

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