By Carly DeFilippo
 

On the path to becoming one of the nation’s authorities on Pastry & Baking Arts, Chef Michelle Tampakis has taken some fascinating and unexpected turns. Born in the Bronx, Tampakis grew up in the New York City suburb of Teaneck, NJ.  She took and interest in the kitchen at a young age, with family as her inspiration.  Says Tampakis, “My dad would cook a lot while I was growing up, and he always encouraged me to get into cooking.”

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TV and movies would have their influence too.  Tampakis would often watch Julia Child on TV, thinking, “She made everything look so scrumptious, like you could smell it through the TV”.  The movie Who Is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe? sealed the deal. “I wanted to be a glamorous pastry chef, just like Jaqueline Bisset!”

 

After high school, she studied Hotel & Restaurant Management at a nearby community college, but was completely drawn to the kitchen.  Her first kitchen job was at the Moonraker Restaurant in New Jersey.  “I had no experience, but told the manager that I was smart and fast. And I loved it.”

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She quickly decided that culinary school was the way to go and attended the Culinary Institute of America from 1980-82, studying culinary arts. “I volunteered for everything, all of the clubs. I loved being involved.”  Culinary school was an integral experience for Tampakis, who feels that “it’s increasingly becoming a requirement to go to culinary school.  It’s just not as easy for those who don’t go [to school] to be successful”.

 

As a student, it was her externship at the Vista Hotel that led her to connections that would shape her future. She could work all of the cooking stations, but was pulling closer to pastry every day, leading to her hire as Assistant Pastry Chef at just 22 years old.

Chocolate-060Her connections from the Vista led to her next big break as Pastry Sous Chef at the glamorous Windows on the World, where she met Executive Pastry Chef Nick Malgieri. When Malgieri left the restaurant to develop a baking instruction program with culinary educator Peter Kump, Tampakis eagerly filled his vacant role. She had stayed in touch with Malgieri – a good thing for all of us, as he later offered her a position at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School as a Pastry & Baking Arts instructor.

 

While teaching at Peter Kump’s – which became the Institute of Culinary Education in 2001 – Michelle has stayed active in her professional pursuits beyond the classroom, participating as both a competitor and judge in pastry and chocolate competitions throughout the US and Europe. She is a regular judge for the annual Pastry Live National Showpiece Championship, and a frequent participant in the New York Chocolate Show, creating the most non-conventional showpieces imaginable, including fashion and costume attire. Among her other accolades, including numerous appearances on Food Network and with Martha Stewart, Michelle’s unique talents in crafting chocolate showpieces led her to being named one of Dessert Professional’s Top Ten Pastry Chefs. Her enthusiasm and passion for all things pastry have helped her develop relationships with some of the world’s greatest pastry chefs, who today, she proudly invites to teach at ICE’s Center for Advanced Pastry Studies (CAPS).

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Then, in 2007, Tampakis was diagnosed with Celiac disease. For a pastry chef to have a medical condition which prevents them from exposure to gluten-based products – most notably, wheat flour – is a challenge to say the least. Fortunately for those with gluten sensitivity, Tampakis overcame this hurdle and has wholly embraced gluten-free baking techniques. Since then, her research has developed many successful recipes, which have become the foundation for Tampakis’ latest venture: a gluten-free bakery. Today, in addition to teaching a full schedule at ICE, Chef Michelle is the founder/owner of Whipped Pastry Boutique, where she proudly employs three ICE grads.

 

By Jackie Ourman

 

As our culinary arts class continues to meet at ICE, we’ve gotten our groove and fallen into a comfortable routine. Mise en place is always first. I love the sound of knives cutting through produce, hitting the boards as we prep. I know there are some people who feel a sense of serenity when they organize and clean. That has never been me—but give me a knife and allow me to chop, dice and slice? Zen…so long as I don’t cut any fingers!

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In addition to knife skills, in our first module, we worked on meat fabrication and preparing stocks. These skills are essential for chefs to learn and provided me with a strong base of knowledge and connection to the food I prepare. For our practical exam, we put many of these skills to work by making a cream of broccoli soup (mine was gluten-free, of course) and medium dice two potatoes. Medium dice may just be the bane of my existence, but I made it through, and was feeling ready for Mod 2.

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In the second section of the culinary arts program, we focused on different cooking methods including sautéing, pan frying, deep frying and braising. After reviewing all of the recipes we were going to make on our pan frying and deep frying days, I was disappointed to see that I would not be able to taste anything. There was a ton of flour, breadcrumbs and even beer-batter (double-gluten!) in almost every preparation. Combine that with a lot of people in the kitchen at the same time and you pretty much have a recipe celiac cross-contamination disaster.

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But, in fact, it was the exact opposite. I brought in my gluten-free flour blend, breadcrumbs, panko and beer. Chef Ted Siegel, our instructor, allowed me to work with those ingredients and even set up a special fry station for me. How awesome is that? Besides being so accommodating, he is an amazing chef and I’m really grateful to have the opportunity to learn the craft from him.

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Hands down, my favorite recipe from that week of classes was the Pan-fried Crab Cakes with Avocado Sauce. Using Aleias gluten-free Italian seasoned breadcrumbs and panko yielded an absolutely delicious crab cake. Chef Ted complimented the end flavor and texture, as did many of my classmates. Here is the recipe. You should definitely try it out!

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By Jackie Ourman

 

The first module in the Culinary Arts program at ICE takes you through all of the basics of vegetable, herb and cheese identification, fabricating meats and seafood, and making stocks. We then moved on to learn the five “mother sauces”; béchamel, velouté, espagnole, hollandaise, and tomato sauce. These five are the basis of all classical sauces and each serves as the head of it’s own family of secondary sauces, which are used in many contemporary cuisines.

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Considering a major ingredient in most of these sauces is a “roux” (a thickening agent made from equal parts fat and wheat flour), this gluten-free culinary student found herself in a bit of a pickle! I could have brought in my own flours to work with, but initially, I wanted to learn how the sauces were supposed to look, feel and function. To achieve this, I decided to work with regular flour, sacrificing one of the most important senses for a cook: taste.

 

There was not a single thing I could taste before presenting my final product to our Chef Instructor to decide how well I executed the recipe. Can you imagine? We are trained to taste everything, to determine how it is seasoned and when it is ready. I was presenting sauces for judgment and approval without any sense of their flavor.

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I had to rely on my general sense of seasoning proportions and ask my fellow students to give me their opinions. For one out of the four sauces I made, another student said I should add more salt. Other than that, I actually didn’t adjust any of them—yet, Chef Sam approved of all of them. Yes! I did it! Although, I still have no idea how they tasted and am not exactly sure how I did relative to my own palette. Isn’t that crazy?

 

Since then, I’ve experimented a bit. I’ve learned some gluten-free flour blends don’t work well for roux, while others, initially, seem like they do not thicken enough, but then thicken a lot more after sitting for a bit. Through trial and error I’ve been able to make some great sauces using gluten-free roux or thickening slurries (made of equal parts of cornstarch or arrowroot and liquid). I even made this delicious gluten-free macaroni and cheese using béchamel as the base and turning it into a mornay sauce.

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My fellow classmates were a tremendous help in terms of understanding how my sauces tasted and compared with the traditional recipes. Through my gluten-free experiments, they have since learned of allergy-friendly substitutions they can use for their future customers. With the prevalence of celiac disease and gluten intolerance on the rise, it’s this kind of collaborative learning that helps us all move forward and become stronger chefs.

 

Jackie Ourman is a current ICE Culinary Arts student, food lover and mom of three managing celiac disease and multiple food allergies. For more of her delicious gluten-free and allergy-friendly recipes, visit her blog, Celiac and Allergy Friendly Epicurean (C.A.F.E). You can also find her on TwitterFacebook, Instagram and Pinterest

ICE Chef Instructor Michelle Tampakis was in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to help build an amazing pastry confection — the world’s largest gluten-free cake! Chef Michelle was diagnosed with celiac disease in 2006 and has been working hard on making delicious gluten-free desserts and baked goods ever since. Not only does she teach in ICE’s career-training division, she is the Director of the Center for Advanced Pastry Studies (CAPS@ICE) and was named a Top Ten Pastry Chef by Dessert Professional last year.

She took her expertise to the capitol to help raise awareness about the need for regulation and standards for gluten-free labeling. The event was organized as part of the first Gluten-Free Labeling Summit as part of the first ever National Celiac Awareness Month. Michael R. Taylor, the first-ever Deputy Commissioner for Foods at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), even made a surprise appearance at the summit and stopped by to see the cake.

To make the mammoth cake, 180 half–sheet pan sized cakes were baked and shipped from the Whole Foods Gluten Free Bakehouse in North Carolina. A whole team of bakers and volunteers gathered in the Embassy Suites hotel to construct the cake. Measuring in at over 11 feet tall and weighing over 2,000 pounds, the cake was bolted together with steel rebar. Over 700 pounds of frosting were used! Fear not, the cake wasn’t wasted — the leftover cake pieces went to a local food bank.