As the director of special projects at Union Square Events, the catering and venue hospitality division of Danny Meyer’s celebrated Union Square Hospitality Group, ICE alum Omri Green is working at the pinnacle of the food and beverage industry. “It’s crazy to think I’m entering year 13 with this company,” says Omri. “Without a doubt, I wouldn’t be where I am today without that fundamental background [I received at ICE] in both Culinary Arts and Culinary Management.”
Yet working in the food industry wasn’t always Omri’s professional goal. Upon graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 1997, Omri worked on New York City film sets, eventually in a full-time position at Miramax Films. There he gained extensive experience in business affairs and post-production, until he realized that furthering his career in film would require a move to the West Coast. “I’m a born and raised East Coaster, and I wanted to have a career that would keep me closer to home. So I decided to explore something that was always a passion for me: the culinary industry.”
By Jenny McCoy—Chef Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts
In the culinary industry, there’s more than one road to success. While many culinary students dream of working for the Food Network, some of the most celebrated and respected chefs in the industry don’t have names or faces that you’ll regularly see on TV. In fact, most chefs go to work with a drive to be creative, to have an outlet to make food every day and to share their passion with others—not to become famous. If you’re a current ICE student, it’s wise for you to learn the names of some of these unsung heroes—the restaurant chefs who push our industry forward each and every day.
Below are five restaurant pastry chefs who have garnered significant recognition in their hometowns and across the country. Most of them have won an award or two, and some may even have had their 15 minutes of fame. But you won’t find their faces on your television screen five times a week because they are tirelessly creating extraordinary pastries in their kitchens—sometimes setting trends and always setting the standard. Whether they’re longstanding favorites or relatively new to the industry, all of them have become incredibly successful by following their own personal values and professional principles.
Read on to learn which pastry professionals make Jenny’s list.
By Michael Laiskonis—Creative Director
As I transitioned away from life as a full-time restaurant pastry chef three years ago, my goal was to create, in part, a day-to-day routine that was, well, different each day. My role as creative director at ICE certainly provides a wide range of pastry projects and endless possibilities for research, but that role was also conceived with a flexibility that encourages special side projects. These very diverse projects not only fulfill me and expand my own knowledge base, but they also enhance what I can offer ICE students from an educational perspective.
Technically, my initial experience with consulting began while I was still the pastry chef at Le Bernardin, as I designed dessert menus and trained the pastry staff at various satellite restaurant projects Executive Chef Eric Ripert managed and partnered with. The primary lesson I took away from these projects was the importance of not only a restaurant concept, but of its location as well. The products and the layout of a menu in Miami differ wildly from that of a restaurant with a similar clientele in Washington D.C. or Philadelphia. I also learned how to create more efficient systems (and desserts) that work across a spectrum of kitchens, not to mention the essential skill of troubleshooting problems from afar (in between sporadic seasonal visits).
Read on to learn more about Chef Michael’s experience as a consultant.
By Laura Denby—Student, School of Culinary Arts
After months of hands-on lessons in ICE’s kitchens, my classmates and I were reaching the culmination of our education: the completion of an externship of our choosing. In preparation for this real-world experience, my classmates and I had spent months researching different restaurants or culinary businesses and trailing. Yet even with the most extensive research, the externship itself can often be very different than expected.
As a public relations professional with a passion for cooking, I chose to pursue an externship in the field of food media at Tasting Table. My goal was to hone my skills in the kitchen while learning the ins and outs of recipe testing and writing.
As an extern, my role is to contribute recipe ideas, assist in recipe testing and work alongside the full-time staff on the execution of menus for private parties and Tasting Table partnership events. I’m thrilled to have the opportunity to work in a professional culinary environment where I learn new things every day and, after about a month on the job, I wanted to share three of the most important lessons I’ve learned so far about transitioning from the classroom to an externship site.
Read on for three key lessons from Laura’s time as an extern.
By Kathryn Gordon—Co-Chair, Center for Advanced Pastry Studies
A graduate of ICE’s professional Pastry & Baking Arts program, Roger started his career in the kitchens of Jean-Georges and Gucio Chocolatieri. He then worked for several years as the pastry sous chef of Gramercy Tavern, followed by a stint under Brooks Headley as Del Posto’s pastry sous chef and chocolatier. In 2014, Roger became the head chocolatier at Cacao Prieto in Red Hook, Brooklyn. In anticipation of Roger’s upcoming CAPS class on September 10-11, we sat down with this innovative alum to learn what inspired his career in chocolate.
What sparked your move from pastry kitchens to focusing exclusively on chocolate?
For me, becoming the head chocolatier at Cacao Prieto was a return to the flavors, aromas and traditions of my native Dominican Republic. Ultimately, the decision was not a question of switching from restaurant chef to chocolatier. In the world of chocolate, there is the farmer, the broker, the chocolate maker and the chocolatier. By joining the team at Cacao Prieto, I’m involved in every step of the process. As a pastry chef, it offered me a different view of the product and an opportunity to go back to the basics.
Growing up, Dalia Jurgensen always knew she wanted to cook. But, like many ICE students, she also wanted to pursue a four-year college education. After graduating with a degree in English, Dalia tried her hand at a career in the publishing industry, but soon realized that working in a traditional office environment wasn’t a good fit.
“By then, I knew I wanted to go to culinary school, but didn’t want to repeat college by going the traditional two-to-four year CIA route,” Dalia explains. Instead, she got a job as an entry-level pastry cook at Nobu and attended a part-time culinary school program on the weekends.
Since then, Dalia has worked in a number of celebrated NYC kitchens, from Veritas to Dressler. She has also found time to publish a memoir, SPICED, recounting the rewards and challenges of a life in the kitchen, as well as a few outrageous behind-the-scenes stories.
When it comes to teaching at ICE, Dalia says, “I like teaching even more than I thought I would, in large part because of the kind of people who want to go into cooking; many of us feel that we don’t fit in more traditional roles. I like encouraging students to see that there’s more than one path to success, and that, through discipline and hard work, they can discover for themselves what they’re capable of, rather than having someone else decide for them.”
Read more to learn how Dalia’s culinary training and passion for pastry have shaped her dynamic career and teaching philosophy at ICE.
By Alison Mahoney—Student, School of Pastry & Baking Arts
Choux pastry is awesome for a number of reasons—mostly because it’s everywhere. For example, I was in Paris just six months ago, and I tried my first Paris-Brest, which I learned is also made with choux pastry! It’s the base for so many beloved desserts: cream puffs, profiteroles…you name it.
What’s the trick to making choux? Essentially, you start with a roux. From there, you add eggs: delicious, forgiving, wonderful eggs. In fact, making pâte à choux isn’t all that hard—you just have to pay attention and move fast. As long as you follow the instructions your chef instructor provided, you’re golden.
When alum Brooke Siem started in the Culinary Arts program at ICE, she never imagined her future would be in cupcakes. It took a debilitating back injury, a last-minute trip to Israel and one very cool technique she learned at wd~50, but eventually Brooke discovered her calling: Prohibition Bakery, a liquor-fueled sweet shop. We caught up with the Zagat “30 Under 30” winner to learn how she transformed an unfortunate series of circumstances into a delicious mix of booze and frosting.
Did you have another career before studying at ICE?
I enrolled at ICE just after graduating from Middlebury College with a major in history, so I didn’t have any prior professional experience. Ultimately, what attracted me to the program was that it was based in the real world. I didn’t need another undergraduate degree, and I was looking for a part-time program, so ICE was perfect for that. I actually started working in the kitchen at Bar Boulud when I was still in school, which allowed me to get an education from all angles.
By Steve Zagor—Dean of Business & Management Studies
Once again, the headline reads: “Well-Known Neighborhood Café Closes Due to Escalating Rents.” We hear it about the iconic temples of gastronomy like Danny Meyer’s Union Square Café. The local bistro where you proposed to your wife. Or maybe it’s—worst of all—that little neighborhood coffee shop that always remembered your order. In fact, last year Zagat reported twice as many restaurant closings as openings—the first time that has happened since 2007—due in large part to rising rents.
As a consultant, I’m privy to insider information about these kinds of restaurant woes. I recently received a call from an owner of a long-established East Village restaurant whose lease expired after 15 years. She was forced to sign a short-term, interim lease to see if she could afford the huge rent increase. “It’s better than closing or moving,” she said.
But is this really the whole story? Who is right? Who to believe?
Read on to learn about the many factors that affect a restaurant’s life span.
In the past few years, macarons have become a staple in the New York pastry scene, but when ICE Pastry & Baking Arts and Culinary Management alum Christina Ha first conceived of Macaron Parlour, they were far from your everyday treat. With flavors that expand beyond traditional French offerings, Christina has always pushed the boundaries of creativity, and her latest venture—the city’s first “cat café”—is yet another unexpected innovation. We caught up with this entrepreneurial career changer to learn about her sweet success.
What would students be surprised to learn about your job?
I think most people would be surprised to learn that most of the cooks I hire work Monday – Friday, 9:30 to 5:30, like a traditional desk job. It took me a long time to figure out how to make that happen, but today, we’re able to produce everything we need for our online shop, wholesale clients, three bakeries and two market stands on that schedule.
Read on to learn more about Christina’s road to pastry entrepreneurship.