By Caitlin Raux

“During the Qin Dynasty, a scholar was studying for an exam. He went to a park on an island to study. The scholar’s wife wanted to bring him noodles for lunch and she had to cross the bridge.” Simone Tong (Culinary Arts, Culinary Management ‘11) was filling me in on the legend behind “crossing the bridge noodles,” also called mixian (mee-syan), the Yunnan province specialty that New Yorkers are eagerly slurping at Simone’s new East Village restaurant, Little Tong Noodle Shop. “She discovered, because she was very smart — smarter than her husband, obviously,” Simone continued, with a chuckle, “that a layer of chicken fat covering the broth would keep the noodles hot while she crossed the bridge. And then she cooked the raw food in the broth once she arrived.”

Ingenuity, it turns out, also finds its way into the kitchen of Little Tong, where Simone’s impeccable technique and reverence for each ingredient is met with her own brand of creativity and humor. The result is dishes like the “Lijiang old town grandma-inspired” Grandma Chicken Mixian: an addictive combination of light chicken broth, tender chicken confit, black sesame garlic oil, tea-steeped eggs, house-made fermented chili and pickles, finished with a smattering of bright flowers. Simone, who cooked with Chef Wylie Dufresne at wd~50 for nearly five years, explained, “I want my food to be seriously tasty, but also have a hint of elegance, a hint of humor and a hint of surprise.”

Simone Tong

Simone Tong during dinner service at Little Tong Noodle Shop (Photos by @caseyfeehan)

On a recent Wednesday morning, while the shutters of Little Tong were still drawn, Simone and I chatted about her path from the kitchens of ICE to wd~50 to her own bustling downtown restaurant.

Little Tong Noodle Shop

Salted Cucumbers with Bang Bang Sauce and Mint

What inspired you to enroll in culinary school?

The first real inspiration came from my mom. My parents are art dealers, so they had a lot of beautiful paintings. My mom had the idea to create a restaurant where they could hang some of their paintings, mostly renaissance period, and she could sip coffee all day. She had no idea what owning a restaurant entailed, so she hired a chef and opened a restaurant called Café Firenze. One day a French chef walked past the restaurant and he thought the restaurant was decorated in good taste, so he wanted to become the chef. I was home from college for the summer, so I helped translate his French-accented English to my mom in Sichuanese. He went into the kitchen and started cooking these beautiful, classic French dishes like tomato concasse. That was my first inspiration.

Then after I graduated from college, I saw a show called “After Hours with Daniel.” Chef Daniel Boulud would visit different restaurants, talk to the chefs and bring his own ingredients. The first episode of the first season was wd~50 with Chef Wylie Dufresne. I was so wowed by it — the combination of art, science, cooking and food. It seemed so fun to be a chef. You get to sit around, drink, talk about food, taste food.

I did extensive research. Where is wd~50, how do I go there, how do I learn what they do? Then I researched the different culinary schools in New York and I visited three of them. I realized I could get two degrees from ICE — Culinary Arts and Culinary Management, which economically made sense. The other big factor was that at ICE, we would do an externship. So I decided to enroll at ICE. I wrote my first cover letter to wd~50 — I knew I was going there.

Where is wd~50, how do I go there, how do I learn what they do?

Did you use what you learned in ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program to open your own restaurant?

The thing about New York is it’s so crazy. I don’t think you’re ever prepared to open a restaurant — you just do it. But if you’ve never been in the industry, you want to learn from a school that draws the best examples of how to run a business. And that’s what they do at ICE.

Banna Shrimp Mixian

Banna Shrimp Mixian

How did you know it was time to open your own restaurant?

I always wanted to open restaurants. But the opportunity came when a mutual friend introduced me to my business partner, Simon Xi. His background is more finance — very numbers-driven, which is a huge contrast to a chef. But we shared a passion for opening a restaurant that served modernized Chinese cuisine, to bring new memories to New York. We wanted to build upon our memories of Chinatown and Chinese takeout and lo mein.

Little Tong is on the same block as Momofuku Noodle Bar – does that draw comparison?

Sometimes. Food writers either say it’s similar but a different style, or they say “good for her for being so close to this legendary icon.” I worked for Chef David Chang briefly, but we also met when he came to wd~50 from time to time. He’s been very generous and very kind to me. He sent me a text to congratulate me and brought beers over.

Little Tong Noodle Shop

Extra Chili Oil

Tell me about your style of noodles.

They’re called mixian (mee-syan): it literally translates as rice threads. It’s from the Southwest region, a Province called Yunnan, which translates as southern cloud. It’s a very beautiful place, almost like a fantasy world. Not many people have discovered it; people in China only started traveling there in the 1990s. Now it’s popular, because people talk about how beautiful it is.

I was born in the Province next to Yunnan, Szechuan, which is known for spicy cuisine. I didn’t truly discover Yunnan until my research last year — I was there for 3 months — but my passion for mixian developed when I was very young. Mixian is like the foster child of Yunnan cuisine. Everybody knows about mixian in the rest of China. Even restaurants in New York, like in Chinatown or Flushing, serve mixian or “crossing the bridge” noodles. It’s a bowl of rice noodles with 20 plates of different ingredients, and you dump what you want in — kind of like Vietnamese pho. In China they add raw chicken, pork, fish or beef; then some sausage, pickles, lots of vegetables, boiled eggs and tofu. That’s what I grew up eating. You can find this in New York, but there’s not as much raw protein because of health department regulations.

I don’t think food should be something just to show off your technique. It should be wholesome. It should make you smile when you eat it.

What do you add to this traditional dish?

All of the dishes on our menu are inspired by dishes from the region and recreated in our own way. A classic example is the Grandma’s Chicken. It’s our most popular, most written-about dish. I discovered Grandma Chicken at a restaurant that only serves chicken mixian in Lijiang, an old town in Yunnan. We spun that dish around and did something new. We cook the broth for 36 hours. We sear the chicken skin so it’s more dynamic in flavor. We add a lot of aromatics and we also make a black garlic oil with black sesame so it’s toasty and aromatic. We ferment our own fresh chili and cook the chicken in its own fat, which is what they did in Lijiang as well. We use antibiotic-free, cage-free chicken. Then we add a tea egg that’s been steeped in tea and spices, and finish with fresh flowers. If you look at the dish, it’s very spring, it’s very Yunnan. But the flavor is reinvented slightly.

Grandma Chicken

Grandma Chicken Mixian

Do you have any advice for people opening their first restaurant?

With millennials, you can’t be hard on them and chastise them. They will just quit. They don’t see value in putting their head down and working. Inspiration is really the thing and a little sense of humor. [Ed. note: a waitress on duty when we visited the restaurant confirmed, “Simone’s hilarious.”] Sometimes you walk into the kitchen and you can sense that everyone is mad at each other — you can feel the passive aggression. How do you turn this passive aggression around? I’ll find myself shouting orders and they’ll delay five seconds in reading them back. Then I realized I need to try to relate to them and say something humorous to bring them out of their own misery. Refresh them. Then let’s get back to work. Sometimes, though, you have to tell them directly what’s the right thing to do. I have no problem being direct.

I think the most difficult part of having a restaurant is managing the people. How do you build a team from strangers? How do you make sure they’re professional? How do you make them do the right thing? How do they carry the spirit of your restaurant and keep the energy up? It’s everyday mentoring. We’ve changed about 12 dishwashers now. It’s crazy how hard it is to find a good dishwasher — someone who consistently shows up to work. That’s a challenge. It’s all about the people and how to get them to produce the same quality every day.

What is your culinary voice?

I used to watch that show “So You Think You Can Dance,” and I always liked when the ballet dancers turned into break dancers and changed the genre. I want my food to be seriously tasty, but also have a hint of elegance, a hint of humor and a hint of surprise. I want to create something more amusing than serious. I don’t think food should be something just to show off your technique. It should be wholesome. It should make you smile when you eat it.

Ready to hone your culinary voice? Get more information on ICE’s career training programs.

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.

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.

By Caitlin Raux

There’s a new school of chefs — those who wax on about ingredients and sourcing; who want to elevate or demote the act of dining out; who want to change the way we eat. Ashley Merriman (Culinary Arts ’04), co-chef of Prune, does not belong to that school. She’s a rare breed of chef nowadays, one who’s passionate about the job mostly because she loves the actual work — the sound of the ticket machine; the chopping during prep; the firing up of grills; the rush during service; and the cleaning — lots and lots of cleaning, as anyone in the industry knows. Ashley’s experience “on the line” dates back to high school, but ICE handed her the keys to the world of fine dining in New York, where she’s had the opportunity to work with some of the city’s great chefs.

I caught up with the former Top Chef competitor on a Monday afternoon before the crush of dinner service (yes, even on a Monday, the house at Prune is full). Ashley and I chatted about her love of the job of being a chef.

Chef Ashley Merriman

credit: Brent Herrig © 2013

Are you from New York?

I’m originally from New Hampshire, but I’ve spent so much time here that I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Was food a big part of your family life growing up?

Not at all. My mom was a single working mom. Consequently, there were lots of nights of: Here’s some hot dogs for dinner. I’m not from a big cooking family. It was more about feeding the family without a lot of time — my mom was working and we played a lot of sports and did extracurricular activities.

I got into the restaurant business because of the work. My mom made us get jobs when we were 12 and it was one of the only after-school jobs that I could get. My older brother mowed lawns. The only other job for kids our age was to wash dishes in restaurants. Once I started, I just liked the work.

Did you know that you wanted to continue working in restaurants?

I remember graduating from high school and I wanted very much to go to culinary school. I graduated in 1994 and I guess it was a very different time in our culinary world. It was not something that my mom had any interest in me doing — she didn’t think it was a viable career option, especially since I had gone to a pretty fancy boarding school. So I cooked throughout college and I cooked after college because it was the only paycheck I knew how to get. It was just the work that I liked the best. I thought for a while that I wanted to be an English teacher and I studied English in college. But I just kept doing restaurant work and I loved it. I love cooking and cleaning.

I think there’s a certain personality type drawn to cooking professionally.

Yes, definitely. At some point I took a career aptitude test and my choices were a cop, an EMT or a chef. In all of them there’s a certain level of stress or adrenaline, but also an altruistic side — of serving or helping people.

I would do this work anywhere, and not just at Prune. I would enjoy this work in small town USA, Kazooky’s Bar + Grill.

So you graduated from a four-year college and then went back to cooking?

I worked in a bookstore for a while, but I just liked restaurant work so much that I decided to go to ICE. That’s when I got serious about cooking professionally. I knew how to cook and I had a pretty lengthy resume but I didn’t know anything about food or fine dining. I just knew how to be a line cook at mom-and-pop restaurants. That’s what brought me to ICE — I knew it would be good to add to my resume and to get my foot in the door in New York.

I imagine you went to ICE to learn the technical skills too…

I didn’t know the next level culinary skills. I only knew what had been put in front of me, which was pretty little considering I worked as a line cook in the same restaurant for nine years before and during high school. I didn’t have a deep bench of experience.

What was your first gig after ICE?

At ICE, my very first teacher in Module 1 was Alex Guarnaschelli. She and I hit it off right away and Alex, being the smart person she is, saw that I already knew how to be a line cook. So she asked me to do my internship with her at Butter, which I did. I ended up staying at Butter for years. Then I worked in Seattle for a few years and came back to New York and worked at Butter again. I helped Alex open The Darby. Then I left and was the chef at The Waverly Inn for years. Now I’m at Prune.

I’m not saying this to flatter you, but Prune happens to be one of my favorite restaurants in New York.

Yes, it’s a good restaurant. I had been a regular there for years. I loved Prune so much. Gabrielle [Hamilton] and I are married (laughs) so I love her so much, too. It feels natural for us to be working together.

It seems like a very positive work environment – which you don’t find in all restaurants.

I think it’s one of Gabrielle’s signatures and something that she’s worked really hard to achieve. It’s why she has incredible staff retention and people really want to stay there. Prune is a feeling and it means a lot to a lot of people, not just the customers, but also the people who have worked there for years. It’s partially because of how the people at Prune are treated.

How has your ICE education prepared you to be chef at Prune?

The most important thing that ICE did for me was to expose me to fine dining – food and dining on a serious level. I already knew a lot about how to be a cook in a restaurant. I remember one of the first assignments at ICE was to write a paper about a chef who influenced you. Everyone else was talking about chefs like Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert and I had no idea who those people were. That’s what ICE exposed me to.

Did you aspire to become part of that fine dining world?

I only ever wanted to be a chef. I really mean this — and I don’t think this is how most people are anymore, though I’m not placing a value on it — I like the work itself much more than I like food. I like the act of coming to work and the ticket machine and the chopping and the lifting and the cleaning and the cooking – the actual act of cooking food. I care about it much more than I care about the ingredient or the product or the, Oh my god, lacto-fermentation. I think that stuff is interesting and valuable and it’s a part of my every day. But I would do this work anywhere, and not just at Prune. I would enjoy this work in small town USA, Kazooky’s Bar + Grill.

It’s more about the physicality and tangible aspects of being a chef.

I do really enjoy the tangible, pragmatic side: bring in the food, break it down, cook it, etc.

That’s rare nowadays.

I think a lot of people forget that every day is cooking and cleaning. I think that in our industry, a lot of people have forgotten about that part of the day, which is remarkable because it’s the biggest part of the day.

You cook every day – where do you look for inspiration?

Honestly, it’s so cheesy, but I’m really inspired by my wife. I think she’s the greatest cook. She doesn’t cook as much in the restaurant anymore, but I’m inspired by what she cooks at home. I’m inspired by our conversations about food. Long before we were married, I loved Gabrielle’s restaurant, before I even loved her. I’ve become a way better cook by working with her.

What does a typical day for you look like?

I’m in the restaurant by 11:30 – 12:00 p.m. I check in with the AM person and the porters and then I start the day. Prune is very small so the chef works the station every single night. There’s no expediting from the pass — you’re at the actual station. I spend the day setting up my station and helping the other cooks set up theirs. Other than that, it’s a pretty typical chef’s day. There’s ordering, receiving, managing, scheduling, actual cooking, running service, shutting down service, cleaning and organizing. Then I write in the log at the end of the night. I usually finish anywhere from 12:30 – 1:00 a.m.

What is your culinary voice?

My culinary voice is about the actual work. You see people with very clear voices and visions. My voice and my vision is about the day-to-day job that we have to do. I think it’s really important. My voice is a factual, objective voice about cooking.

Chef Ashley Merriman

Click here to watch Ashley in ICE’s Find Your Culinary Voice scholarship challenge video

Ready to find your culinary voice? Get more information on ICE’s career programs.

By Brooke Bordelon — Student, Culinary Arts ’17

Chefs are no strangers to the world of charity. In addition to filling hungry patrons’ bellies, superstar chefs use their clout to make the world a better place. Philanthropic organizations that help different groups — from struggling farmers and low-income families to at-risk youth — have flourished, largely due to the support of culinary heavyweights like Eric Ripert, José Andrés and Christina Tosi.

With her organization Emma’s Torch, ICE student Kerry Brodie (Culinary Arts, ’17) hopes to join the ranks of these culinary visionaries in the fight for a better tomorrow. Inspired by the words of the famous American poet and refugee advocate Emma Lazarus, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Kerry’s organization aims to empower refugees in the United States by training them in the culinary arts to gain employment in the culinary industry.

ICE student and Emma's Torch founder Kerry Brodie

ICE student and Emma’s Torch founder Kerry Brodie

I recently chatted with Kerry to discuss her experiences as a culinary student at ICE and as the CEO of Emma’s Torch.

How did you first come up with the vision for Emma’s Torch?

I’ve always been intrigued by the idea that food and cooking are things that make us human. I’m the child of immigrants and most people I know are descendants of immigrants or of refugees. I’ve always wanted to do something that would engage immigrants and refugees in the food world to use this universal experience of cooking, eating and sharing meals to create social change.

How have the skills you’ve learned and connections you’ve made at ICE helped you launch Emma’s Torch?

ICE has been invaluable for connecting me with people in the food world and showing me what it means to be a culinary educator. I’ve learned so much from observing our teachers and talking to people in various departments at ICE about what’s important when it comes to training. The instructors have been very supportive in connecting me with chefs and showing me how to set up a kitchen. They’ve been so generous with their time — going above and beyond to show me that they value my vision and that they want to see it come to fruition.

Has any particular chef’s career been an inspiration to you?

On one hand, renowned chefs like José Andrés are inspirational. There are also so many chefs who we don’t hear as much about who quietly, in their own businesses and hiring practices, make differences in people’s lives. One of those chefs, Mary Cleaver, is on our advisory board. She was one of the first restaurant owners to say that we have to do good for the world through our businesses. What inspires me most though are the people you never hear about — the dishwashers, the prep cooks — who work tirelessly because they want to make a better life for themselves and their families, and believe that working hard to make beautiful experiences for people in restaurants is part of that American dream. 

How do you balance school with your work for Emma’s Torch? 

One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Seuss is, “You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” No matter how overwhelmed I feel sometimes with school and trying to get my business off the ground, I am so in love with the opportunities that both endeavors have given me. As much as I want to catch up on sleep on the weekends, it’s hard because I just want to keep working. Even at my most stressed out moments, I consider myself lucky to be doing what I love.

What has the response been like from students at ICE? 

The response has been powerful and positive. So many of the students in my classes are willing to dedicate what very little free time they have to volunteering with Emma’s Torch. The outpouring of support — both moral support when I’m complaining in the locker room and students volunteering at events — has been humbling.

How do you think your experience at ICE has differed from other students?

I think everybody at ICE has a story. There’s got to be something that drove them to come to ICE and something that they’re aiming for in the long term. What I’m trying to get out of my education is different from someone who wants to work in a restaurant. Another thing that has set my experience apart is that I’ve been focused on how we are being taught, not just on what we are being taught. I’m going to do some teaching and recruit other people to teach culinary classes for Emma’s Torch, so I need to learn the building blocks of a well-rounded culinary curriculum.

How can people get involved with Emma’s Torch?

Very easily! They can email me at Kerry@emmastorch.org, or check out our website, emmastorch.org. We’re always looking for new volunteers and partners. We’re small but we’re flexible and eager to involve more people in our community.

Emma’s Torch will be throwing their launch party on December 18 at Brooklyn FoodWorks from 6-8 p.m. Those in attendance can meet the students and taste appetizers and desserts prepared by the first class of Emma’s Torch. All proceeds from the event will support refugee empowerment programs. To get tickets, visit https://www.eventbrite.com/e/emmas-torch-launch-party-tickets-29203974875.

Ready to launch your culinary arts career? Click here for information on our career programs. 

 

By Caitlin Gunther

Ben Wiley (Pastry Arts ‘06), co-owner of five successful Brooklyn bars, is on the move. Whether he’s scooting to a jiu-jitsu class in Manhattan or popping into one of his bars for a weekly visit, he’s always headed somewhere—that and a passion for the service industry seem to be his calling cards.

ICE Alum Ben Wiley

From his hometown in northern New Jersey, Ben headed west to the University of Illinois to study Japanese. He then traded the Midwest for Yokohama, Japan, where he enrolled in a master’s degree program through Stanford University. It was during this time that Ben developed a love for baking and craft beer. Motivated by a paucity of good, readily available bread, he spent countless hours in his home kitchen trying to create the perfect loaf. When he wasn’t studying or in the kitchen, Ben was a regular barfly and part-time bartender, which served to improve both his language skills and knowledge of good, craft beer. After five years in Japan, Ben returned to New Jersey, at which point, with visions of a small café or bakery in his head, he decided to enroll in the Pastry Arts program at ICE. After completing an externship in one of the hottest kitchens in New York City, Del Posto, he and his brother hatched a back-of-a-napkin plan to open their own business—a neighborhood bar.

Though transitioning from pastry chef to bar owner seems like a leap, the detail- and service-oriented nature of both are a natural fit for Ben. He took a pause from one of his typical, frenetic days to do the ICE alum questionnaire.

ICE graduation year: Pastry Arts ‘06

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Occupation: Co-owner of five bars in Brooklyn: Bar Great Harry, The Owl Farm, Mission Dolores, Glorietta Baldy and Cardiff Giant

Ben Wiley at Mission Dolores

Favorite sandwich spot:

There is a bodega right on the corner of 27th and 8th Avenue, right by FIT. It’s a standard-issue bodega that probably makes the same wraps as every other one in town, but they know me. I get a spinach wrap with chicken, sautéed spinach and some kind of cheese—I always tell them to pick one for me. It’s perfect. It digests well, and I can work right after. It’s six bucks, and it makes me happy. 

Describe a day in the life.

My wife and I get up around 7:30 a.m. I make her coffee every day. I don’t have to get up early, but I like to. With the dog, I walk her halfway to work, then the dog and I come back. I work from home for about two hours—emailing stuff, ordering beers, working on upcoming events and organizing anniversaries. With five bars you end up having anniversaries all the time. I scoot on my scooter into Manhattan and train jiu-jitsu for an hour. I stop by the bodega, grab my wrap, then I scoot to whichever bar I’m working in that day. I generally pop into each bar once a week. I’ll work for about two hours, then come home to start prepping dinner and walk the dog. When my wife comes home, we’ll have a drink (or not—we take a month off drinking sometimes). Then we hang out, put our feet up and laugh at all the nonsense we’ve gotten up to that day. Or I work out again. We work out a lot.

Mission Dolores Brooklyn

Mission Dolores

What inspired you to go to culinary school?

After I got my master’s degree in Japan, I landed a job as a translator for the Japanese government. They shipped me to Fukui, where I lived for three years doing a “suit-and-tie” desk job. It’s hard to find good bread in Japan. There are amazing French bakeries spotted around the country, but the general level of bread was limited to big, fluffy white bread. I couldn’t find the “healthy” bread that I wanted, so I got into baking. I was making bread in bread machines, then experimenting with 48-hour fermented dough and trying to catch yeast in the air. I bought a ton of books. That’s one thing: if I get into something, I get into it pretty seriously.

After five years in Japan, I came back to the states. I moved into my mom’s apartment in Patterson, NJ, working for a garbage collection company and trying to figure out my life. I realized that I’ve always loved bread, so I Googled and found ICE, located right in New York City. “This could be my ticket to a new life,” I thought. I envisioned opening a small bakery or café one day. So I enrolled. When I graduated, I got an externship at Del Posto when it had just opened.

The key is to treat people well enough that they’re succeeding and happy so that they don’t have to take from you to be happy. I say, “Make the people who work for you win first, and you’ll win later.” 

What got you into the bar business?

After culinary school, I moved in with my brother in Carroll Gardens in Brooklyn. He was working in a job where he was doing well, but not happy and looking to shake things up. The craft beer scene was very small in New York at the time. One night over beers, my brother and I started talking about opening up a bar. I remember sitting in our kitchen, literally mapping things out on the back of envelopes— if we sell 10 beers an hour, open eight hours a day—those types of calculations. We both loved the idea. One night we were out at a crappy little bar at 280 Smith Street (where Bar Great Harry is now), and there was a little old guy at the corner of the bar, wearing a suit. I said to Mike, “What’s a guy like that doing here? He has to be the owner.” When he went out for a cigarette, Mike and I followed him outside. “Is this your bar?” I asked. “We want to buy your bar.” The guy smiled and said, “Really? I want to sell my bar.” Three months later the contract was signed, and we completely renovated the space. That was Bar Great Harry. I bartended every day for weeks and weeks until we could hire more staff.

How did studying pastry arts at ICE prepare you for owning bars?

Culinary school, especially pastry, is all about being prepared. The execution, a monkey could do. It’s how well you prepare and measure everything out, that’s what’s important. That skill set is tremendously important to a small business that’s inventory-based. In a service industry, it’s different, but we have liquid that I sell. Everything has to be calculated—what’s the yield from this keg of beer, how many servings do I get, which size servings, how many do we have to sell. That idea of weighing, measuring, preparation, mise en place—that had a tremendous impact on me and how I manage our business.

Bar at Mission Dolores

Bar at Mission Dolores

Advice for anyone considering getting into the bar business?

It cannot be said enough how important your staff is. In a bar, your staff will make or break you. If you’re successful with one bar, you’re going to open two and three. You can’t be everywhere all the time. As soon as you’re not there all the time, you can have all the checks and balances you want, but people will take from you. The key is to treat people well enough that they’re succeeding and happy so that they don’t have to take from you to be happy. I say, “Make the people who work for you win first, and you’ll win later.” Hire people who you trust deep down. You can train people to make a drink. But when I interview people I think about whether I really trust them and whether they really want to be there.

Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

In five, I’ll still be partners with my brother in the bar business. Maybe we’ll have six or seven bars at that point. I think six and seven will be different from the first five, but not sure what form they will take. Hopefully doing something a bit different from before. We’re also looking for houses up the Hudson River.

Ready to launch your new career? Find out more about ICE’s career programs. 


ICE’s 
Center for Advanced Pastry Studies (CAPS) is excited to announce our upcoming course on September 12-13, Ideas in Food: Gluten-Free Baking Science and Technique, led by Aki Kamozawa and Alex Talbot, chefs and creators of the award-winning blog Ideas in Food. In this new course, Chefs Aki and Alex will share the ingredients that are vital to creating gluten-free desserts, as well as gluten-free bakery and restaurant techniques. Participants will roll up their sleeves and learn to create a handful of tasty desserts, sans gluten. 

In anticipation of this upcoming course, we interviewed Chefs Aki and Alex to get their thoughts on gluten-free baking, plus a sneak peek of what to expect in the classroom.

GlutenF-Free Flour Power

Alex, you met your partner in crime, Aki, while working in the kitchen of Boston restaurant Clio—what was the catalyst for your transition from the kitchen to food media? 

I suppose the catalyst was the creation of our blog Ideas in Food in 2004, though I’m not sure I’d call it a transition. Food, the kitchen and the exploration of delicious things have always been our driving forces. And these days we have Curiosity Doughnuts in the Stockton Market in Stockton, NJ, that keeps us united with the kitchen.

Have you seen any recent shifts in jobs in the food and restaurant world?

The greatest shift is the growth of smaller off-the-beaten-path jobs. When we were at Keyah Grande in 2004, the idea of a restaurant in a mountain setting on a 4,000-acre ranch in the middle of nowhere—Pagosa Springs, Colorado—was crazy. Nowadays, these restaurants and jobs are idolized.

Your most recent cookbook is titled “Gluten-Free Flour Power” and your class here at ICE will focus on gluten-free baking. What ignited this gluten-free flame for you both?

Gluten-Free Flour Power grew out of our consulting business, where chefs needed a support system for their guests. We wanted to make a handbook of delicious gluten-free recipes. What is equally exciting and oft missed is that our recipes work gram-for-gram for both gluten-free and all-purpose flour.

What has been your biggest challenge in the realm of gluten-free baking?

The biggest challenge with gluten-free has been the stigma of “gluten-free.”

Which recipe are you most proud of?

The kouign-amann is pretty special.

What is your main goal for your class here at ICE?

The goal for the class is to break down a few walls and open the door to what is possible in the gluten-free kitchen.

If you had to state your overall food philosophy, whether on eating or producing, what would it be?  

Make it delicious.

Click here to reserve your spot in Chefs Aki and Alex’s course today!

Each year, ICE’s Center for Advanced Pastry Studies offers a variety of single and multiday continuing education pastry courses for working baking and pastry professionals taught by master chefs and critically acclaimed artists from all over the world. At CAPS, you will refine your skills, learn new and innovative techniques, and expand your current repertoire with hands-on classes among peers. What’s more, all CAPS classes are approved for American Culinary Federation certified education hours.

Classes have a limited enrollment and fill quickly. ICE alumni receive 15% off!

By Caitlin Gunther

One of the great things about studying at ICE is the wealth of experience that each instructor brings to the curriculum. Culinary Management instructor Alan Someck is no exception. As general manager of two perpetually packed Long Island restaurants for decades, Alan developed an understanding of what makes a restaurant not only successful but an integral part of the community. Between this role and his years of consulting work, Alan has the kind of expertise that only comes with time and the opportunity to study changing trends in the industry. At ICE, Alan shares his insights with each aspiring restaurant owner or food business entrepreneur who walks into his classroom.

Alan Someck

A native New Yorker with the restaurant industry in his blood (his father owned a seafood restaurant in Brooklyn), Alan didn’t initially gravitate toward the culinary world. It wasn’t until after college when he moved to San Diego that Alan was inspired to join the food industry. With a shared desire for local, fresh produce, Alan and friends began a food co-op—a small operation where members would assemble in someone’s backyard and handpick their weekly produce. The co-op, which doubled as a community center, grew until it eventually relocated to a larger space that was previously a pool and dance hall. It was during this era that Alan learned to tap into local needs and organize ways to meet them.

Though he loved the Golden State, Alan eventually relocated back east, where he took the helm of two popular North Fork restaurants, both called Millie’s Place. Recognizing that the restaurant space had evolved into more than a place to eat, but rather, an extension of people’s homes, Alan infused Millie’s Place with the same sense of community that he helped to create in the San Diego food co-op.

Alan Someck and student

Alan with ICE graduate

Asked about the lessons gleaned from his time running Millie’s Place, Alan says, “Hook into the community. Get involved and create relationships with customers.” This entails everything from getting to know your customers by name to giving back to the community—Alan’s staff used to cook Thanksgiving dinners for seniors in the area. A second lesson is to observe what’s going on in the industry. Alan explains, “Once a week, I would go out to another restaurant. Go to restaurants and food shows and learn from them. Your food should adapt to the current trends.” Alan’s final piece of advice? Choose the right location. More specifically: a location that fits your concept. This and other vital elements involved in launching a food business or restaurant are the kinds of discussions that Alan has with each of his students. Says Alan, “I start with the premise of, ‘What’s the experience you want to create?’ Let’s work backward from that.”

With New York City as a backdrop for his classes, Alan is also able to incorporate local restaurants and entrepreneurs into his curriculum. From a guest lecture by Gabrielle Hamilton, author and chef/owner of the acclaimed East Village restaurant Prune, to a field trip into the bakery of Amy’s Bread, guided by owner and ICE alum Amy Scherber, Alan ensures that his students receive a comprehensive food business education.

Today, Alan continues to advise restaurant startups, franchises and restaurants aiming to solve operational conundrums. An avid cultural observer, especially when it comes to the way people eat, Alan keeps a constant pulse on the evolving food industry. Whether inside of the classroom or out, Alan is inspiring the next generation of food visionaries and helping to make their lofty business dreams a (profitable) reality.

Want to study with Alan and start mapping out your own food business? Click here to learn more about our Culinary Management program.


By Caitlin Gunther

Picture a culinary school graduate and chances are you imagine a white-toque wearing chef on his or her way into a traditional restaurant setting. Most people wouldn’t think that culinary school could also lead to working in the test kitchen of a food media startup located in Brooklyn’s coolest new creative hub, Industry City. That’s exactly where ICE alum Jiselle Basile (Culinary Arts and Culinary Management ‘14) recently landed—as chef and food stylist for Extra Crispy, Time Inc.’s new breakfast-centric website. Though the Career Services department at ICE set her up with her first food media internship (in the Birmingham-based test kitchen for Cooking Light), Jiselle’s willingness to try something different, leaving both her comfort zone and her hometown of New York City, helped Jiselle land her current gig.

Taking a break from such adventures as making green eggs and ham for grownups, Jiselle hopped out of the test kitchen to complete the ICE alum questionnaire. Unsurprisingly, this ICE alum has strong views on culinary school and where to score the best breakfast sandwich.

Jiselle Basile Extra Crispy

ICE graduation year: May 2014 (Culinary Arts and Culinary Management)

Location: Brooklyn, New York

Occupation: Chef and food stylist for Extra Crispy

Favorite sandwich spot:
I narrowed it down a lot obviously (laughs). One place is Steve’s Pork Store on Bath Avenue in Brooklyn. They make probably the best Italian sandwich I’ve ever had. And for breakfast—because obviously I have an opinion on breakfast—at the bagel shop I grew up with, Bagel Boy in Bay Ridge, they make a power bagel that has sunflower seeds, flaxseed and millet in a whole wheat bagel. I know a lot of people hate whole-wheat bagels, but this one is delicious. I get a sausage, egg and cheese with ketchup on that bagel and it’s a perfect breakfast sandwich.

Describe a typical day in your life.
There’s not a typical day, which keeps it interesting. At Extra Crispy, there’s a startup mentality—within a major company—but it’s still a startup. Most of us take on a lot of different roles so no two days are similar. Usually I’m either researching recipes at my desk; or I can be at a video shoot with a chef; or testing and styling in the kitchen. Tomorrow, I’m going to be making Scotch eggs with an ostrich egg on Facebook live. I have to pick up ostrich eggs at Union Square Market at 8:00 AM, so I’ll start here whenever I get back.

Where do you look for recipe inspiration?
Food & Wine, Lucky Peach, Bon Appetit…I also read a bunch of food blogs. Or if I really like something I eat at a restaurant, I’ll try to recreate it. I research a bunch of recipes and then try to make something that’s my own. My family is also a big inspiration. Everyone in my family cooks, so I grew up trying to learn from them, though that’s mostly Italian food.

How did ICE prepare you for being a chef and food stylist at Extra Crispy?
I am where I am today because of ICE. If it weren’t for [ICE Career Services Advisor] Tessa, I never would have known about the internship with Time Inc. in Alabama. To be completely honest, I didn’t even know this kind of job existed before attending ICE. Both programs definitely prepared me for working as a chef/food stylist. The Culinary Arts program provided me with the necessary technical skills and I gained an understanding of market trends in Culinary Management. The recreational classes were also a great way to build on a particular interest.

Chef Jiselle Basile

What is your culinary voice?
I’m still trying to figure that out. Right now I want to make delicious food that makes people feel good, or that brings back a memory or a specific moment in time. That’s why I like working for Extra Crispy—there’s so much comfort and emotion tied to breakfast.

Wired recently released a video with David Chang of Momofuku and in the video he talked about his success. He said a lot of things I love, but one thing in particular was that he tries to evoke nostalgia in his dishes, but not in an overtly obvious way. So the dish one person is brought back to won’t be the same dish that another person is being brought back to. I’d love to be able to do that but I have a lot more to learn.

What inspired you to go to culinary school?
It was always something I thought I wanted to do. When I graduated from high school, I thought I wanted to go to culinary school but I ended up going to college and getting a communications degree. I didn’t know where I wanted to go from there. At some point I realized that cooking had always followed me—no matter where I was, I was always finding a way to cook. Even in college I took cooking classes when they were offered. Eventually I realized that it was what I wanted to pursue as a career—something I always loved doing.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?
On my way toward starting something that will be my own. I don’t know if that will happen in five years because I need more restaurant experience first. So whether I’m back in kitchens or on the management side of things so I can learn how the FOH works, hopefully I’ll be on my way to owning my own restaurant.

Thoughts on the current culinary landscape?
The whole foodie culture thing is having an impact. People are either talking about things more than ever or social media is having an impact and brought to life how much people talk about it. People are more aware of their food; I’ve seen restaurants focusing more on where their food is coming from and I guess it’s in part because people are so much more concerned about the surrounding issues. It’s also interesting how owners and chefs now look at how social media affects their restaurants. Nowadays a lot of people, before they set foot in your restaurant, will see if you have an Instagram and check out what your food looks like, which has a huge impact on whether someone will eat in your restaurant.

Click here to discover how you too can earn a double diploma from ICE in Culinary Management and Culinary Arts or Pastry Arts.


By Caitlin Gunther

Where do you see yourself in ten years? That’s the question Chloe Vichot (Culinary Management ’15) heard when she was interviewing for admission to business schools after graduating from high school. Though she didn’t say it aloud, in her head the answer was clear—owning a restaurant. A successful career in finance and an ICE Culinary Management diploma later, the Paris native is on the cusp of realizing that dream in New York City. This fall, she will open the doors to Ancolie, a Greenwich Village grab-and-go eatery, where glass jars will be the eco-friendly packaging of choice. Serving fresh takes on the seasonal, home-cooked meals she grew up eating, Chloe is sharing her culinary voice with downtown Manhattan.

Ancolie_Chloe

In the midst of juggling the roles involved in opening a restaurant, Chloe sat down with us to answer the ICE alum questionnaire.

ICE graduation year: July 2015 (Culinary Management)

Location: New York, New York

Occupation: Founder of Ancolie, a restaurant with a grab-and-go concept that will open in the fall of 2016. It’s going to be in Greenwich Village in the NYU area. I chose this location, rather than midtown, because I wanted to be close to the student life. And people will come in the morning, evening and weekends.

Favorite sandwich spot: Tartinery in Nolita. They have open-faced sandwiches that I love…and there’s also a location in ICE’s building, Brookfield Place.

Describe a day in the life.
My life changes every day—one day I’m cooking for an event, another day I have to deal with the contractors and construction, another day I have to talk to my interior designer and make sure the plans are on track. Other days I have to take care of social media. There’s a lot of multitasking and wearing different hats in a single day. Then I’m also trying to plan ahead for all the things we’ll need once the store opens, which is challenging.

Did the management program at ICE prepare you for making these decisions?
Absolutely! Being with professionals from the industry who have done this for more than 20 years was fantastic. I was able to learn from professionals who have seen a lot of concepts and know the industry trends. I could pitch them my concept and get valuable feedback. And with three professors, I had more than one opinion.

What is your culinary voice?
I took recreational culinary courses, but I never considered myself a chef. I considered myself a businesswoman and someone who wanted to create a new concept, with a goal to touch people through food. Originally, I thought I would have a professional chef at Ancolie, but as the days went by, I realized that I was going to be the chef…it’s been an interesting transition.

My culinary voice comes from what I grew up eating and what my mother and grandmother taught me. I was lucky not to have to worry about what I was eating growing up—because my family was always cautious about picking the right ingredients and in the right proportions. So I’m trying to bring this culture to the U.S.: to enjoy food and find a balance.

Ancolie_Sharing

What or who inspired you to go to culinary school?
I always dreamed of having a restaurant. I started with an amateur cooking course, and at the time I wasn’t even considering quitting my job in finance. The course made me so happy and excited that I realized I wanted to switch from finance to the food world. When I decided to take the Culinary Management program at ICE, I think I had just had a fight with my team at work, and it made me consider what I wanted to do with my life. I was married and going to have children at some point, so if I was working and had kids I wanted to make sure I was doing something I was passionate about, and I knew finance was not that. So I started thinking—could I do something in food, but something more daytime-oriented for when I have a family? I started the ICE program knowing I wanted to do something in food but not sure what. The program helped me confirm that the food business is what I wanted to do and that I could do it by myself.

After graduating from ICE, I worked in a restaurant in front of house for a couple of months. I thought I’d have to gain a couple years’ experience, but then I realized it was time to just to do it. I’d never be totally prepared to open a food business, so I decided to jump in the water and do it.

Thoughts on the current culinary landscape?
I’m very inspired by what’s happening in the current culinary landscape, especially the focus on eating locally and seasonally. Dan Barber is an inspiration – he is trying to reuse things that are typically thrown away.
I think the culinary world needs to take the next step and focus on packaging. Ancolie is going in the right direction by using glass instead of plastic. Every time I talk to a restaurateur, they think I’m crazy and wasting money, but I think more people will start using glass and reusable packaging.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years, I would really love to have a couple of Ancolie stores in the city and an operation that is successful. To me, success means making a difference in the local community and the environment—which is why I’m using glass, so people don’t need to throw away their packaging. Success also means making sure my investors are happy with their investment. And of course, I want happy customers. I feel like I’m finally on track to realizing my dream.

Ancolie_Food

Ready to start your own food business? Check out our Culinary Management program and find your culinary voice.