By Jenny McCoy—Co-Chair, Center for Advanced Pastry Studies
Working your way up the professional ladder in the kitchen is a wonderful experience, filled with constant exposure to new cooking techniques, methods of organizational management and learning how to work with a team to execute the day’s work. It’s the type of work that never gets old, at least not for me.
Once I reached the top of the kitchen hierarchy, I noticed an enormous shift in my focus. While I enjoyed the creative freedom of creating new dishes for the menu and I thoroughly enjoyed teaching my staff new ways to hone their skills, I found my learning curve dropped dramatically. No longer did I have a chef to teach me—I needed to be the chef that taught everyone else. In short, the excitement of my daily work reduced—a lot—and I had to find a way to rekindle the fire.
Read on to learn how continuing education furthered Jenny’s career.
So you want to be a chef, but don’t know if you’ll like working in restaurant kitchens? Well, what if restaurant experience could be a powerful tool in launching a less traditional career in food? That’s what happened for ICE Culinary Arts graduate Alex Laudeman, who now works on the culinary development team for one of NYC’s hottest food delivery startups, Maple. We caught up with this trendsetting alum to learn what it’s been like shifting from restaurants to research and development.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in careers outside of restaurant kitchens?
Don’t get too stuck on one particular job type. Be open to things you hadn’t considered before, because you never know how a job will change and develop.
Read on to learn how Alex transitioned from restaurants to R&D.
By Michael Laiskonis—Creative Director
The kitchen can also be an incredibly stressful place to work and requires a certain personality for survival. One of my favorite aphorisms from Fernand Point’s Ma Gastronomie says a cook should “never dirty his apron outside of the kitchen.” I’ve always interpreted this as, “Be cool, don’t talk smack and remember that your reputation precedes you both in the kitchen and outside of it.” The way we carry ourselves at work—how we deal with the stress, long hours and other people—reflects upon our character and ultimately dictates that reputation.
Of course, this process doesn’t happen in a vacuum. As cooks—and, in particular, as sous or executive chefs—we are constantly forced to process problems, mistakes and the many special requests that inevitably occur. I’m all for keeping the rules, the standards and the intensity that animate professional kitchens, but I’m less impressed with the bravado and barking that often comes along with it. Over the years, the futility of such a display has become all the more evident to me. If anything, I simply find it a huge waste of energy, interfering with the sense of economy I like to apply in the kitchen. Fear, humiliation and guilt are not the best motivational tools for young cooks.
Read on for more of Michael’s thoughts on styles of leadership in the kitchen.
By Richard Vayda—Director of Wine Studies
Recently, in the first session of my Introduction to Wine class at ICE, a student posed the question that plagues many new wine drinkers: “What makes a wine good or great?” The question was more than fair, considering we had spent the evening tasting a variety of wines and noting the worthy qualities of their differing characteristics. Light, heavy, young, old, dry, sweet—could they all be good? Well, the short answer is yes.
Before delving into a more detailed look, first we have to recognize that one’s sense of taste is quite personal and subjective. Likewise, context—when, where and with whom we taste a wine—plays a critical role. From there, we also need to make a distinction between assessing a good wine vs. a great wine. For now, let’s take a look at a few things to examine in determining if it’s a good wine.
Read on to learn five key questions for evaluating wine.
By Lauren Katz—Student, School of Pastry & Baking Arts
Throughout my life, I’ve learned to appreciate high quality ingredients—both in the food I’m cooking and dishes prepared by others. One of my biggest revelations on the road to pastry school was the first time I tasted the difference between a cake made from a boxed mix and one made from scratch. Ultimately, I feel infinitely happier consuming something when I know exactly what went into it to make it taste so good. However, it wasn’t until pastry school that I truly understood the impact the best ingredients make in the final product.
In our bread unit, I have noticed there is a distinct difference between the flavor of breads made with white flour and breads made with wheat. Of course, I already knew that whole wheat bread is healthier, but it wasn’t really until I baked bread myself that I truly realized how ingredient selection impacts the flavor, texture and nutritional aspects of artisanal products.
Read on to learn more about the importance of quality ingredients in baking.
When someone mentions “creativity” in the context of cooking, you might initially think about artful plating, unusual ingredient selection or innovation in cooking techniques. ICE alum and culinary director at Dig Inn Matthew Weingarten has built his career on a completely different type of creativity. Namely, Matt has dedicated his career to reconciling the poetic mission of supporting local, sustainably sourced ingredients with the practical demands of running a successful business.
“It’s great that we all care about how our food grows and where we’re buying it,” explains Matt,“but none of that matters if you can’t survive as a business. I feel incredibly strongly about that—learning the business side of the decisions we make as chefs is the best way to realize our ideas and our dreams.”
Read on to learn about Matt’s business-savvy approach to mission-driven cooking.
Over the course of more than 35 years in the hospitality industry, there’s little that ICE Dean of Hospitality Management Tom Voss hasn’t seen. His career spans the heights of both hotel operations and food and beverage management, serving as general manager of no less than three different luxury properties and numerous hotel restaurants.
The ICE Hospitality Management program has seen incredible success under Tom’s guidance, including several alumni who are now general managers of hotels. “We’ve placed people at the likes of the New York Palace and the Waldorf Astoria straight out of school,” says Tom. “Our students find success because they have been trained not only on the core principles of hotel management, but also in such key technologies as the OPERA software.”
Read on to learn about Tom’s storied career in the hospitality industry.
“You’re going to get your close-up if you want it,” explains renowned chef and Food Network personality Alex Guarnaschelli. “But when it happens, what will you know how to do, and what will you have to say?”
This week, Chef Alex spoke to a packed room of ICE students and graduates as she shared insights from her storied culinary career. Alongside her in the kitchen was ICE Culinary Arts alum Michael Jenkins, who has worked under Alex at Butter Restaurant for the past 10 years. Michael began as an extern and currently heads the restaurant as chef de cuisine.
The theme of navigating the early stages of one’s career persisted throughout Alex’s talk, as she fielded student questions and explained her evolution as a chef. Before stepping onto a set at Food Network, she had already logged 17 years as a culinary professional—including a stint as a chef instructor in ICE’s Culinary Arts program. “When I first appeared on food television, I only had to adapt to the lights and the cameras. Cooking was second nature to me by then, but I’ve seen many chefs step into the spotlight before they were ready.”
By Christen Clinkscales—Student, School of Culinary Arts
The first time I walked into an ICE kitchen, I could not wait to start cooking! I quickly found out how much there was to learn before I’d be allowed to craft a complete dish. Initially, I was disappointed that we weren’t going to jump right in and prepare elaborate feasts. That’s what I signed up for, right? As it turns out, consistently producing an amazing plate is harder than it looks. From knife skills to sauces to butchery, it’s amazing how many “basic” skills I learned in just the first two months of school.
The ICE Culinary Arts program is divided into five modules, and “Mod 1” is all about these basics. During this intensive dive into the foundations of professional cooking, my classmates and I learned about the evolution of cooking throughout history, the importance of sanitation, basic knife skills, herb identification, culinary math, stock making, fabrication (also known as butchery) and more.
Read on to learn more about the first weeks of culinary school at ICE.
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 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.
Young cooks are instantly identified by the rows of scars running up their forearms: the reminders of brief skin-singing 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.