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.”


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.”


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).


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.

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…

Since 1975, ICE has been training students for successful careers in the culinary world. In those 36 years, ICE has seen incredible talent pass through our kitchens and classrooms who then go on to become leaders in their chosen art. We are continually amazed by the passion and dedication of our students as they set out on new careers in the food industry, and are impressed by where their newly learned skills and hard-work takes them. Now, ICE is proud to announce the launch of the ICE Student Awards Program to publicly recognize our amazing students in the Culinary Arts, Pastry & Baking Arts, Culinary Management and Hospitality Management programs.

In each graduating career training class at ICE, three students will be recognized for their accomplishment with an award given out at their class’ senior reception. The awards are meant to recognize students who have displayed exceptional dedication and commitment to their education. More…

Many students in ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts career-training program are amazed at the skill of ICE Chef Instructor Michelle Tampakis. Chef Michelle was named one of the Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America by Dessert Professional in 2010. She has competed on Food Network Challenge and been a judge in professional pastry competitions. She is the Director of ICE’s Center for Advanced Pastry Studies. She has been quoted in The New York Times, and Reuters as a renowned chocolate expert.

What students may not know is that in addition to all that, Chef Michelle is very active in her community, acting as the Chairman for the annual Greek Festival of Sts. Constantine & Helen Greek Orthodox Cathedral of Brooklyn. For 32 years, the church has created a weeklong outdoor taverna on the block outside the church for the first week of June. More…

Last night, ICE hosted Dessert Professional’s 18th Annual Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America event. The annual awards honor ten amazing pastry chefs for their contribution to the industry. This year the honorees included Antonio Bachour of Quattro at Trump Soho and Solea at W South Beach, Heather Carlucci-Rodriguez of PRINT at the Ink48 Hotel, Tariq Hanna of Sucré, Sylvain Leroy of Paris Gourmet, Francisco Migoya of the Culinary Institute of America, Jerome Landrieu of Barry Callebaut Chocolate Academy, Yoni Morales of Ark Las Vegas Restaurant Corporation, Oscar Ortega of Atelier Ortega, Ron Paprocki of Gordon Ramsay at The London and Jean-Francois Suteau of The Beverly Hills Hotel.

The evening also included an award for Jacquy Pfeiffer, the co-founder and owner of the The French Pastry School in Chicago. Pfeiffer was one of the stars of Kings of Pastry, the acclaimed documentary about the Meilleurs Ouvriers de France competition. More…

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.

As part of ICE’s Center for Advanced Pastry Studies, ICE alum Elisa Strauss returned to ICE this week to teach a class on sculpted cakes. Strauss is the designer at Confetti Cakes, famed for their detailed, beautiful shaped cakes. Since completing ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program, Strauss’s inventive and original cakes have earned her recognition from dozens of magazines and TV shows. Her creations have appeared on the Today show, Sex and the City, The View and Martha. She has also competed several times on Food Network Challenge, including the “Extreme Cake Challenge” where she won the grand prize.

Every student in the class made a handbag cake over a three-day period. Open only to pastry professional, the class is a chance for them to learn new skills to add to their repertoire. Elisa walked them through the fundamentals of making any sculpted cake that is both structural sound and beautiful. In addition to carving their cakes, they also made gumpaste decorations, giving them a chance to personalize their magnificent cakes. Check out the photos! More…

While ICE alum often end up working in some of the world’s top restaurants or using their skills to travel the world, Maria Tampakis is near and dear to our heart. As the daughter of Chef Instructor Michelle Tampakis, Maria has been around ICE since she was very young. After completing the Culinary Arts program, she has since gone on to work in some amazing kitchens and now she is working at Heston Blumenthal’s new venture, Dinner by Heston at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London.

As the Chef de Partie at Dinner by Heston, Maria is working in the kitchen of one of the world’s top chefs. She draws on skills she hasn’t had much chance to use since culinary school such as butchery, but also is learning whole new skills such as sous-vide. Maria said, “I know that the guys on my station are continuously working on always staying ahead of the game. Whether I am downstairs in the prep house, or upstairs in service, I am constantly trying to better myself by working faster, more organized and cleaner. It’s not hard to motivate yourself when you’re always happy where you are.”

Being part of the ICE family and having an award-winning pastry chef as a mother has helped Maria in her own career — “I am very fortunate to have a mother who not only is in the industry, but who always pushed me just a little more when I refused to go any further.” Traveling with her mother to pastry and savory events around the world ever since she as a child, Maria has had the opportunity to meet chefs others only dream of meeting. Even as a teenager, Maria knew she was destined for the food world. In high school, she worked at a local pizzeria, busing tables and only occasionally cooking. Every summer, she worked in hospitality related internship and during winter and summer holidays she traveled to places like Las Vegas, working for Paul Edwards at Chef Rubber. More…

Whether as chefs, cake decorators, specialty food purveyors or caterers, ICE alumni are finding success in a plethora of different avenues in the food world. Check out just some of the alumni finding success and making recent headlines.

*Jennifer Bunce (Pastry ’08) and her business, The Hudson Cakery, were featured in a recent New York Times article about cake bakers in New Jersey.

*Kelly Senyei (Culinary ’10), Content Producer at Gourmet Live, gave her advice on identifying Valentine’s Day chocolates on PIX 11.

*Maria Tampakis (Culinary ’09) could be seen in an article about Heston Blumenthal’s new restaurant, Dinner, in The Observer. (Maria is also the daughter of ICE Chef Instructor Michelle Tampakis.)

*Donna Chernow (Pastry ’10) and her husband Michael Chernow were profiled in Page Six Magazine. Michael is the general manager and co-owner of The Meatball Shop, while Donna created the restaurant’s ice cream sandwich dessert menu.

To connect with these ICE alumni and many more, join ICE’s network on LinkedIn, or follow ICE on Facebook and Twitter.

This weekend, ICE Chef Instructor Michelle Tampakis was invited by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History Foundation to be a judge at their 19th Annual Chocolate Fantasy in Albuquerque.

The event featured 17 contestants in three divisions, Chocolatiers, Restaurant/Caterers and Schools. Each contestant had to present a showpiece, and 300 candy pieces for sampling. The theme of the event was The Pride of the Serengeti, and all showpieces reflected some African motif.

Chef Michelle and her fellow judges, Kerry Vincent of Food Network Challenge, Paul Edward of Chef Rubber and Mary Jo Stojak of the Fine Chocolate Industry Association, carefully examined each of the contestant’s work. They named Darci Rochau, pastry chef from the Hyatt Tamaya Resort & Spa. Chef Michelle was so impressed with her work, that she recommended the winner attend our upcoming chocolate showpiece class with Vincent Pilon in ICE’s Center for Advanced Pastry Studies (CAPS@ICE).

The evening culminated in a gala dinner and silent auction for 800 guests. This fundraiser generated over $90,000 to benefit the Museum Foundation and their work to further the cultural, educational and scientific programs of the museum.

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