By Liz Castner

I was sitting in my Culinary Management class when I received the email telling me about an exciting upcoming CAPS class at ICE – “Ice Cream Innovations with Sam Mason”. Mason is the chef-founder OddFellows Ice Cream Co., a hip and funky ice cream shop in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The moment I read the email, I knew I wanted to attend the class. While I had never been to OddFellows itself, I had been following them on Facebook for months, lusting after posts featuring Mason’s latest edible creation. In short, I knew the CAPS class would be far more complex and exciting than a day’s worth of ordinary ice cream making.

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Chef Sam Mason

As it turns out, I was right. Chef Sam is a truly inspirational and creative guy, a wonderfully quirky mix of Brooklyn hipster, mad scientist and straight-up food genius. He reminds me of a blend between Benedict Cumberbatch and Adam from HBO’s Girls. If I haven’t already given myself away, I definitely developed an ice cream crush over the course of his class, and I’m not alone. Chef Sam is so inspirational that a number of ICE Chef-Instructors, including the “King of Plating” himself—Chef Michael Laiskonis—stuck around to take some notes and observe his novel techniques.

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The line up of flavors (17 in total!)

During our 8-hour ice cream intensive, we made an astonishing number of ice creams. Cornbread, vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, “smash” Neapolitan, extra virgin olive oil, rainbow sherbert (composed of mandarin sorbet, raspberry sorbet, lime sorbet), chorizo caramel, lemon, rocky road, lemon meringue pie, peanut butter and jelly, caramelized onion and last but not least, beet. Yes, you counted correctly; that’s 17 individual ice creams and sorbets. What’s more, all of them were delicious—even Chef Sam’s savory flavors, caramelized onion and chorizo caramel. They were so good, in fact, that I currently have six pints in my freezer right now!

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Chocolate, vanilla and strawberry ice cream frozen with liquid nitrogen to craft “Smash” Neapolitan

I’m a firm believer that you can benefit from any sort of class you take, regardless of whether or not you’re already familiar with the material. But as this was a CAPS class, almost all of the attendees had at least studied pastry or culinary arts at some point, and many are currently professionals in the field. With that said, I am happy to report that I learned a tremendous amount from Chef Sam, including how to blend whole vanilla beans and sugar in the food processor to extract all the flavor, as well as how frozen nitrogen can help preserve the shape of certain ingredients when folded into the ice cream.

We froze chunks of meringue, graham cracker and lemon curd for the lemon meringue pie ice cream and froze globs of jelly into jelly rocks for the peanut butter and jelly ice cream. We even froze the different ice creams themselves, such as chocolate, vanilla and strawberry for our smashed-together Neapolitan. We also got to watch Chef Sam spin different ice creams, such as caramelized onion, using a KitchenAid and liquid nitrogen.

But the learning didn’t stop there—Chef Sam also showed us how to craft components like chorizo-infused milk and oil, key ingredients for chorizo caramels and ice cream. We also discussed fat-washing techniques, which you can use for if you plan on making foie gras ice cream like they do in the shop, or even skirt steak ice cream.

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The whole class!

The sheer amount of knowledge Chef Sam brought to class was staggering, but even more inspiring was his willingness to play around with flavors, proportions and textures for the fun of it. Clearly, the guy is a genius. So, if ever you are thinking about taking a CAPS class, take it from this forever-student – if you feel inspired by the instructor and the topic, regardless of cost, it’s really worth it!

I had the honor last week of conducting an intensive, three-day course on the upper floors at ICE, the latest in a long-running series known as the Center for Advanced Pastry Studies. The program – CAPS, for short – was initiated several years ago by pastry and baking instructor Michelle Tampakis, and the long list of illustrious pastry chefs who have brought their expertise to ICE in the past includes heavy hitters like Olivier Bajard, Laurent Branlard, Stephane Glacier, En-Ming Hsu, Michael Joy, Elisa Strauss, and Stephane Treand.

The CAPS program has become a unique and valuable resource not just for our students, faculty, and alumni, but for the greater community of New York City pastry chefs. As special guest instructors, the invited chefs are able to focus in on their respective specialties – cakes, candies, sugar, chocolate, plated desserts – over the span of some twenty hours of hands-on instruction to a small group of working pastry chefs. Funny thing, Chef Tampakis invited me to create a class nearly a year ago, long before I ever knew that I would join the ICE staff as Creative Director. Though I have taught similar classes elsewhere around the country, it felt great to share my tips and techniques on my new ‘home turf.’

The theme for my course centered on contemporary plated desserts, and we jumped right into things on the first day with two pre-desserts – smaller, lighter courses that typically precede more complex sweets. Beginning with a yogurt panna cotta, the students were exposed to hydrocolloids and the bright but intense flavor combination of basil, rhubarb, and fig. Next I sought to rethink a classic pastry preparation – pate à choux – by incorporating a layer of crunchy sablée, elderflower mousseline, and a liquid-center sphere of apricot. I demonstrated each component and presented the final plating just before our lunch break, and in the afternoon I let the students loose to prepare the recipes on their own.

The flavors were amplified on the second day with desserts that introduced combinations both novel and familiar. Spiced parsnip cake (think carrot cake, but earthier) was paired with slow-roasted pineapple and a light goat cheese cream. None of the students had ever worked parsnip into dessert, so I briefly deviated from syllabus to demonstrate its versatility by whipping up parsnip noodles and a freestanding crème brulée set with agar. Apple and cinnamon were next, in the form of oven-baked apple confit and cinnamon caramel parfait, accented by red wine caramel and a thin crunchy crèpe dentelle.

With the third and final day came chocolate. In a dessert inspired by a visit to the cocoa plantations of the Dominican Republic, I paired a dense dark chocolate cremeux with coconut sorbet, lime meringue, and caviar-like pearls of mango. Conventional gianduja – the Italian delicacy combining chocolate and roasted hazelnut – was reimagined with black sesame paste and lightened into a mousse. This second dessert also featured a black sesame sponge cake that is ‘baked’ in a microwave, in addition to crunchy caramelized rice and mandarin sorbet. With some time to spare, I was able to share a few modernist petit fours utilizing peanut butter powder, a citrus fluid gel, and roasted white chocolate.

I love teaching in this kind of format and being able to spend that little extra time on subjects like structure and composition of ingredients, or the methods pastry chefs use to formulate ice creams and sorbets. And because the students themselves are working in their own real-world environments, I like to emphasize how these techniques can easily be applied into any kitchen. And best of all, being immersed in pastry for three days creates an exchange of information and an ongoing dialog that doesn’t end when the class is finished.

I can’t wait for the next CAPS session in November, when Jerome Landrieu from the Barry-Callebaut Chocolate Academy in Chicago will visit ICE to share his unique vision of chocolate.

ICE’s Center for Advanced Pastry Studies, led by Director Michelle Tampakis, is an incredibly unique program that brings the world’s leading pastry chefs to teach multi-day workshop classes for working pastry and baking professionals, taught by visiting chefs and pastry artists from around the world. Courses are two to three days in duration and are limited to 14 students.

Earlier this week, ICE alum Michelle Bommarito traveled from Michigan to teach one of these classes. In addition to frequently being seen on Food Network Challenge, she was named one of the Top Ten Cake Artists for 2011 by Dessert Professional magazine. While visiting, she made ICE’s kitchens her workshop to teachi the professional students a variety of techniques for decorating and sculpting cakes. Over the course of three days, the students made elegant sculpted tiered cakes, a boutique-style shopping bag cake of their own design, and a variety of cupcakes as well. More…

ICE Chef Instructor Michelle Tampakis just returned from the first ever Pastry Live weekend in Atlanta, GA. Pastry chefs from all over the world gathered together to celebrate their art and craft. The three-day conference was packed with appearances from some of the world’s most accomplished pastry chefs in seminars and competitions.

Chef Michelle was a judge for The National Showpiece Championship. To qualify for the competition, each team leader must have received either a medal or best in show at a major pastry competition, making it truly a competition for the best of the best. Teams were given six hours to prepare their entries. But unlike other competitions, the chefs could only use the resources given to them, leveling the playing field for chefs who may not have access to the same costly supplies and equipment of other chefs. By reducing the financial burden on the chefs, the event was a unique opportunity for amazing pastry chefs to demonstrate their skills and highlight their creativity. More…

Yesterday, Stephane Treand, a world champion pastry artist wrapped up a special class at the Institute of Culinary Education to teach pastry professionals about working with different forms of sugar to create elaborate showpieces. The class worked with both poured sugar and pastillage to create bright, colorful pieces with intricate details. Treand’s specialty involves using an airbrush to create detailed faces on sugar and chocolate. His work with these sweet materials won him the gold medal at the National Pastry Team Championship in 2007 and the World Pastry Championship in 2008. He was awarded the Meilleur Ouvrier de France (M.O.F.) in 2004. He was also named one of the Top Ten Pastry Chefs in 2007 and 2008 by Pastry Art & Design.

From Monday through Wednesday, ICE’s pastry kitchens were Treand’s workshop as he helped professional-level students in a Center for Advanced Pastry Studies (CAPS@ICE) class learn how to make and decorate elaborate chocolate showpieces. More…

Yesterday, pastry professionals from across the New York area wrapped up a three-day class with Stéphane Glacier as part of ICE’s Center for Advanced Pastry Studies (CAPS@ICE). Glacier was named Meilleur Ouvrier de France in 2000 and coached the French team in the World Pastry Team Championship in 2006. He works as a pastry chef and consultant, traveling the world and teaching high-level classes for pastry professionals.

CAPS is a unique program where qualified chefs working in the pastry industry come to ICE to take specialty classes with world-renowned experts such as Glacier. For his ICE class, Glacier covered a wide variety of desserts based on his new book, Tartes, Goûters, Entremets (Tarts, Afternoon Teas, Entremets). He covered macaroons, entremets, petit gateaux, plated desserts, baked cakes, bonbons, chocolate figurines and some garnishes. The class was offered with the support of Felchlin chocolate from Switzerland. Students in the class worked in teams of two, creating a variety of delectable treats. The students will return to their restaurants and shops equipped with new techniques and recipes from one of the world’s best pastry chefs. Check out some of the photos after the jump. More…

Pastry Chef En-Ming Hsu has worked in famed restaurants such as Lespinasse and The Ritz-Carlton Chicago, but she has also distinguished herself with awards such the Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America in 1998 and 2001 and the Gold Medal at the 2001 Coupe du Monde de la Patisserie. In addition to her impressive background, she has travelled the world consulting and teaching pastry arts, helping further perfect her craft, as well the knowledge of other pastry professionals.

As part of ICE’s Center for Advanced Pastry Studies (CAPS @ ICE), Chef En-Ming spent the last three days at ICE teaching a seminar on a range of classic sugar candies. Through the CAPS program, world-class professionals come to ICE to teach exclusive classes on the art and craft of fine pastries. In this particular session, Chef En-Ming covered her techniques for making a plethora of candies. The candies were not only delectable, but also startlingly beautiful. Chef En-Ming worked with the class to make Red Currant–Raspberry Pâte de Fruit, Honeycomb, Almond Pralines, Salted Peanut Nougat, English Toffee and Crystallized Marzipan Cherries with Hand-Pulled Sugar Stems.

Not only did Chef En-Ming teach the students how to make the candies, she discussed unique and original packaging ideas for the holidays. She incorporated fun elements like take-out boxes and mason jars into her presentation that worked well with the beautiful candies she had created. Check out the photos after the jump to see some of her unique display ideas. More…

Alex Espiritu works at the Valrhona École du Grand Chocolat in France. The eminent chocolate manufacturer works closely with experts to come up with innovative techniques for using chocolate. For three days this week, Espiritu shared these techniques with students in ICE’s Center for Advanced Pastry Studies, a unique program of classes for pastry professionals taught by eminent pastry experts and specialists.

Espiritu taught the students how to make a variety of plated chocolate desserts incorporating different elements and flavor pairings, such as a raspberry radish sorbet, jasmine tea ice cream and lemongrass foam. The class worked on pairing chocolate with different flavor profiles, creating innovative and creative desserts such as a Blueberry–Milk Chocolate Tartlette and White Chocolate-Passion Fruit Pavlova as well as classics such as Chocolate Soufflé and Chocolate Ice Cream. Check out these photos of the sophisticated chocolate desserts they made.

Blueberry-Milk Chocolate Tartlettes and Chocolate-Caramel Tartlettes.

Mise en place for plating chocolate desserts.

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