ICE Pastry & Baking Arts alumna Melissa Camacho is among the 14 talented pastry chef-testants set to compete for a sweet victory on Bravo’s Top Chef Just Desserts. We were so thrilled to hear that another former ICE student would be competing on the Emmy- and James Beard Award–winning show! Fellow alum and graduate of the Culinary Arts program Gail Simmons is the host of the show. Competition gets whipped up to another level in the show’s second season, where the contestants will be dealt challenging tasks ranging from concocting delectable fairytale showpieces to edible room décor. Camacho and her fellow contestants will endure pressurized challenges, quick fires and even guest celebrity judges that include the cast of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, renowned Pastry Chef François Payard and even one of the Beastie Boys! We are so excited for Just Dessert’s Aug. 24 premiere! For now, here is a peek of Camacho’s pastry chef credentials: More…

Tonight, Top Chef: Just Desserts will premiere on Bravo. ICE alumni Zac Young, Malika Ameen and Seth Caro will make their TV debut as contestants on the show. The show will be hosted by fellow ICE alum Gail Simmons and will feature appearances by well-known pastry stars such as Sylvia Weinstock, Sherri Yard and Michael Laiskonis. It promises to be a sweet season of watching chefs make cakes, cookies and other sweets.

We spoke with ICE alum Zac Young last week. Today, we take a look at Malika Ameen. Ameen graduated from ICE’s Culinary Arts program in 1997 before making the shift to the world of pastry. Now, she lives in Chicago with her three sons. She works as a pastry consultant and is starting an online cookie business, ByM Desserts. We asked about transition to pastry, her style and her time at ICE.

How did you make the shift to pastry?
My favorite part of the culinary program was the two weeks we spent doing pastry. I enjoyed that so much. I went to do my externship in Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Vong. Shortly after, I went to work with pastry chef Gina DePalma (also an ICE alum) at the Club Room. I just loved it so much and I never looked back. It really turned me on.

Does your culinary training set you apart from other pastry chefs?

I think savory chefs are terrified of pastry and vice versa. Pastry chefs are used to being in their own world. I enjoy both a lot. There are techniques in savory that can be easily used in pastry, which we are starting to see that more and more. My culinary training helps me to keep an open mind in the pastry kitchen. More…

The Top Chef: Just Desserts premiere is only a week away. ICE alumni Zac Young, Malika Ameen and Seth Caro are competing on the show. Alumni Hall of Achievement inductee Gail Simmons will act as host. The show will feature guest appearances by famed pastry professionals Sylvia Weinstock, Sherri Yard and Michael Laiskonis. The promise of watching chefs performing challenges involving wedding cakes, flaming desserts and chocolate showpieces has many people counting down the days till the debut of the Top Chef spinoff on September 15.

Before we binge on what is sure to be a delectable season of television, we indulged our sweet tooth by talking to competitor Zac Young. After graduating the Pastry & Baking Arts program at ICE in 2006, Zac went on to work at Bouchon Bakery and Butter. Now, he is the Executive Pastry Chef at the critically acclaimed Flex Mussels on New York City’s Upper East Side. There, he is responsible for a dessert menu that compliments the almost all seafood menu. To get a taste of what to expect from him on the new show, we asked him about his inspiration, the life of a pastry chef and his memories of his time at ICE.

You have a pretty interesting background. How did you get into baking?
My mom was a vegan, so she never baked. But I loved cookies. So I had to teach myself how to make them and it became an obsession. Before I was working in pastry, I was working in the wig department of the Radio City Rockettes. It definitely had certain creative aspects that translated to pastry. It gives you a feel for aesthetics and a visual sensibility that translates beautifully to plated desserts. More…

Bravo just announced the contestants for the first ever season of Top Chef: Just Desserts. The list includes not one, but THREE ICE alumni! Zac Young (Pastry ’06), Malika Ameen (Culinary ’97) and Seth Caro (Pastry ’04) will all compete on the show. We can’t wait to watch them whip, bake, pipe and decorate their way through the challenges on the new pastry-focused version of Top Chef. The show will be hosted by another ICE alum, Gail Simmons. Check out the bios of the pastry chef-testants:

Zac Young
AGE: 27
HOMETOWN: Portland, Maine — currently resides in New York, NY
PROFESSION: Executive Pastry Chef, Flex Mussels
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: “Upside-Down” Apple Crisp with Crème Fraîche Ice Cream.
While employed in the wig department of the Radio City Rockettes, Zac Young had an epiphany: he would rather be baking cookies than fluffing Santa beards. Born to a vegan mother, Zac never had chocolate mousse, but knew all too well the flavor of a tofu and carob pudding. After graduating with honors from the baking and pastry arts program at The Institute of Culinary Education, Zac went straight to the top, working under Sebastian Rouxel and Richard Capizzi at Bouchon Bakery. In 2006, he was offered a position of Pastry Chef at the New York City hot-spot Butter Restaurant. While there, Zac developed his signature style, using classic French technique, bold flavors, and fun to put a creative twist on American desserts. Always hungry for more, he trained in France with such renowned chefs as Philippe Givre at Valrhona and Philippe Parc at Chocolate Michel Cluizel. In 2009, Zac moved uptown to the bustling bivalve mecca Flex Mussels. His whimsical creations caught the fancy of New York Times’ Restaurant Critic Frank Bruni, causing him to exclaim, “how lucky of us to find room for dessert” in his review of Flex. In his free time, he can be seen making dresses out of chocolate for the opening night of the International Chocolate Show. His mother is proud, even though his desserts are not vegan. More…

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