By Michael Laiskonis, ICE Creative Director

Preparations are well underway as ICE staff and students anticipate the move from our 23rd Street facility to Brookfield Place in Lower Manhattan. As construction hums away, the lines set down on paper blueprints are turning into reality, revealing an immersive, state-of-the-art atmosphere for cooking and study. In addition to dedicated rooms for culinary technology, charcuterie, mixology and wine studies, I’m excited to announce that the new facility will contain an artisanal chocolate studio, complete with a full range of “bean to bar” equipment.

13. Finished Bar

The vision for the 550 square ft. studio is to approach chocolate from a holistic perspective. Truly unique in the realm of culinary education, this chocolate studio will provide knowledge and inspiration across a broad spectrum of hands-on applications—for our career students and recreational cooks, as well as for established pastry chefs and professionals seeking to learn the finer points of artisanal chocolate production. An underlying spirit of research and development into the technical science and the mystical art of chocolate will drive the wide array of program offerings.

1. Raw Beans

This past summer, I had the privilege of visiting Cacao Cucina, the facility producing our bean-to-bar equipment. During our visit, ICE’s Chief Marketing Officer, Brian Aronowitz, and I had a chance to test drive these machines over the course of two days. In a field dominated by equipment that serves either small micro-production or large commercial factories, Cacao Cucina provides tools for the “just right” middle ground required at ICE. Preparing batches of roughly 20 to 30 pounds of chocolate will allow us to provide educational opportunities both broad and highly nuanced during each stage of the bean’s transformation. Our processing line will include a roaster, winnower, hammer mill, cocoa butter press and a ball mill refiner.

Roasting beans and winnowed chocolate "nibs"

Roasting beans and winnowed chocolate “nibs”


The process begins with raw, fermented cocoa beans in the roaster, which is a finely-tuned convection oven with a rotating drum that provides an even roast. This important stage of flavor development depends as much on science as it does on experience and taste, as there exists no industry standard for optimal roasting time and temperature across all bean types. Quickly cooled, the roasted beans are then fed into the winnower, which first cracks the bean and then separates and sorts the “nibs” from the papery skin by means of screens, vibration and a vacuum. The nibs then undergo an initial grinding phase in the hammer mill, which pulverizes them into a thick paste, passed through three progressively smaller screens. At this point, though bitter and coarsely textured, we have what is referred to as chocolate “liquor.”

5. Chocolate Liquor

Perhaps the most exciting piece of equipment we will install is the cocoa butter press. When submitted to 75 tons of pressure, the chocolate liquor produces cocoa butter and the resulting “presscake” is further refined into cocoa powder. This additional capability will allow us to make true single origin chocolate, with cocoa butter prepared from the same batch of beans. The final stage of the process takes place in the ball mill—a temperature controlled agitator containing hardened steel balls that acts as a “universal,” which means that reduction in particle size and final flavor development occur simultaneously in the same machine. As the gently heated liquor passes through the ball mill, forced air helps remove undesirable volatile aromas. It is during this refining stage that other ingredients are added: sugar, vanilla, milk powder, cocoa butter, etc. Moreover, two additional quality and safety measures are built into the system: upon extraction of the finished chocolate by vacuum pump, the product passes through both a magnetic trap and a fine sieve before tempering.

Extracted cocoa butter and filtration of chocolate liquor

Extracted cocoa butter and filtration of chocolate liquor

Our lab will be outfitted with a tempering unit and enrobing line from Selmi, as well as molds and other confectionery equipment from Tomric. These tools will help us process our finished chocolate into bars, bonbons and other candies. As the day that we run our very first batch of chocolate quickly approaches, I can’t wait to share the outcome with our students, visitors and other industry professionals. Stay tuned for announcements of the many chocolate-related programs we will offer in the space. Once we are up and running, I encourage everyone to stop by ICE for a glimpse of the process and, of course, to taste our efforts!

Interested in studying with Chef Michael? Click here for his upcoming Advanced Pastry Studies classes at ICE. 

By Carly DeFilippo

While many of us grow up with parents, siblings or friends who dabble in cakes and other pastries, how many of us have ever seen chocolate bars, bon bons or gummy candies in the making? Candy historian and artisan Beth Kimmerle is not only one of the most talented confectioners in the contemporary candy game, but she’s also one of the industry’s most knowledgeable consultants. In anticipation of her upcoming workshop (Sept 17-18) at ICE’s Center for Advanced Pastry Studies, we caught up with Beth to discuss her passion and unusual career path.

candy-jewelry-woman-300What inspired your interest in candy?
I grew up in a suburb of Chicago, which was—and still is—a real candy and chocolate mecca. I also lived briefly in L.A., where I became very aware of See’s Candy (a major candy manufacturer, founded in the 1920s). My career in confections began in product development, buying and marketing for a large candy company called Fannie May Candies. With 250 stores, they were the largest candy retailer in the U.S. and their candy making factory was located next to my office. We manufactured classic American candies: caramels, nougat, buttercreams, marshmallow and hard candy. It was there that I learned how to make candy from some of the best in the business.


A collection Beth curated from the Sweets & Snack Show

How did you start learning about candy history?
Back then, candy was sort of a step-sister to baking or chocolate work and not many culinary programs offered lessons in candy making. As I studied and collected vintage recipe books, I became intrigued by the history of confections. Today, I consider myself a confectionery historian, as well as a futurist. I study the past to understand the present. I understand the present to inform the future. And I continually work toward being a confectionery culinarist by honing my culinary and science knowledge.And you also share that knowledge with others, as a consultant.

Yes,in addition to being an author, I spend much of my time as a marketing consultant for companies. That often means developing a recipe or formula for a product, but I also work on branding and marketing plans around chocolate and candy products. I just got back from a packaging show and research trip in Italy and I’m preparing for a 2-week professional course in the science of candy making.

Moreover, I am trained in sensory evaluation and am currently developing a program that will help non-food people understand the science behind taste. In addition, I am working on a candy-themed exhibit that will be featured at the California State Fair. I really enjoy travel, as it allows me to explore factories and sweets from other cultures. In fact, I still feel like Charlie Bucket when I get an invitation to go into a candy or chocolate factory.


Shane’s Confectionery, Philadelphia

What do you see as the greatest candy-related challenges to the industry?
Commercial sweets are continually challenged, most recently with consumers reviewing labels and becoming adverse to chemical sweeteners and sugar. However, that has opened up a world of opportunity for artisanal candies and has the “candy cousin” category of nutritional bars exploding.

It’s amazing to see what has happened to chocolate recently. We seem to hear about a new bean-to-bar or boutique chocolate company every day. Now, more regions than ever are growing great cacao and more consumers are demanding better product and origin information. As a result—much like the recent revolutions in wine and coffee—the entire system of chocolate production and distribution is changing. Sweets are always exciting!

Click here to sign up for Beth’s class and learn more about advanced pastry studies at ICE!



By Casey Feehan

Five decades may have gone by, but Nutella remains as sweet as ever. The beloved chocolate-hazelnut spread celebrates its 50th anniversary this year with a nation-wide, 16-city food truck tour. In light of the tour, ABC News turned to chefs across the nation, including ICE’s own Director of Culinary Development, Chef James Briscione, to develop iconic Nutella desserts that celebrate the local culinary culture of each of the truck’s 16 stops. James chose to reinterpret Bananas Foster, a classic New Orleans dessert invented in the 1950s. It’s difficult to imagine caramelized bananas and rum leaving room for improvement, but a whipped Nutella cream transforms the dish into a celebration-worthy stunner.

Nutella 50th Anniversary - Banana's Foster Tart with Nutella Mousse - James Briscione /

Bananas Foster Tartlet with Nutella Cream

Yield: 4 servings

For the Frangipane:


  • ¼ cup granulated white sugar
  • Pinch salt
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ cup finely ground hazelnuts or almonds
  • 1 fl oz dark rum
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour


  1. Combine the sugar, salt and butter in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.
  2. Add the egg, vanilla and rum; continue mixing until fully incorporated.
  3. Add the ground nuts and flour and fold together until smooth. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Excess frangipane may be stored refrigerated up to 2 weeks.

For the tartlets:


  • 4 (4-inch) rounds puff pastry
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • Granulated sugar, as needed
  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • ½ cup Nutella


  1. Preheat oven to 375° F
  2. Place the rounds of puff pastry on a parchment paper lined baking sheet. Spread the frangipane on the dough, leaving an approximately ¼ inch border. Bake the tart until the crust is risen around the frangipane and lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool on the pan.
  3. Thinly slice the bananas and tile over the tarts. Spread a thin, even layer of sugar over the tart and brûlée with a torch.
  4. Pour the cream into a chilled bowl and whisk to soft peaks. Place the Nutella in a separate bowl. Whisk half of the whipped cream into the Nutella. Add the remaining cream and fold together until smooth and lightened.
  5. To serve, place the brûléed tart in the center of a plate and top with the Nutella cream.


By Virginia Monaco

ICE Pastry & Baking Arts Chef-Instructor Vicki Wells brings an enormous amount of experience with her into the kitchen. She has worked in some of the country’s finest kitchens, including Sarabeth’s, Hotel Plaza Athenée, Maxim’s, Montrachet, Le Bernardin and Trattoria Dell’Arte. In 2000, she took over the pastry department at two of Bobby Flay’s restaurants—Mesa Grill and Bolo—and later, Bar Americain. Vicki also served as Bobby Flay’s sous chef for all five of his victories on Iron Chef America. After working with Bobby, Vicki held the title of Executive Pastry Chef at Buddakan before eventually joining ICE as a Chef-Instructor.


When Vicki was first starting out in the industry, pastries were French by default. It wasn’t until she had gained some professional experience and started traveling that she became interested in the sweets of other cultures. Being ethnically Italian, Vicki was particularly interested in studying the flavor profiles and techniques used in Italian sweets. Unlike French pastries, Italian desserts tend to be strongly flavored with espresso or gianduja (chocolate-hazelnut paste) and are much more free-form and organic. Her culinary trips to Italy with fellow ICE Chef-Instructor Gerri Sarnataro inspired Vicki to become co-owner and Executive Pastry Chef of L’Arte Della Pasticceria, an Italian-inspired pastry shop in Ramsey, New Jersey.


The transition, however was far from a “cakewalk”. Chef Vicki experienced a steep learning curve as she went from plating elegant restaurant desserts to filling the display cases at a pastry shop. She quickly learned that success in a walk-in style setting such as L’Arte Della Pasticceria requires a much different strategy than at a sit-down restaurant. First, most pastries need to be sold the day they are made or they will quickly lose quality. This means you often need to get inventive and repurpose unsold treats. For example, Chef Vicki often crumbles mocha cookies to form the crust of a cheesecake, a delicious way to use left-over cookies that are starting to harden.


Secondly, Chef Vicki discussed the importance of changing up your pastry display case frequently. She says she is constantly designing new and interesting ways to present her pastries in the display window to entice customers to buy. Lastly, Chef Vicki pointed out that all pastries and food sold at a shop like L’Arte Della Pasticceria must be made available to-go. Consequently, she reworks traditional recipes so that they can either be held in-hand or fit beautifully in small to-go cups.


After her talk, Chef Vicki treated the audience to a flight of small Italian sweets, including torta caprese al limone, chocolate ricciarellis and gianduja cheesecake. All three were both delicious and distinctly flavored. Although these desserts were made using universal pastry techniques, their classic Italian flavors and more rustic presentation made their Mediterranean origins clear.


Chefs Vicki Wells’ path to specializing in Italian pastries is proof that education and innovation never stop in the pastry and baking industry, even for the most skilled veterans. It was a true treat to hear Chef Vicki’s insights and taste her inspired sweets. Without a doubt, she will be wowing our taste buds for years to come!

By Shay Spence

In culinary school, there exists a great divide that all comes down to one crucial distinction: are you savory or sweet?  Here at ICE, students fall into one of these categories, dependent upon whether they choose the culinary or pastry career track.

As a Culinary Arts student for the past five months, I can tell you that the differences between us boil down to a lot more than just sugar and salt. Pastry students are refined. They are meticulously detail-oriented. They are studying a science. We culinary students tend to be a little more…“rough-around the edges.” We deviate from recipes. We like to get creative.


They eased us into pastry with savory pretzels on day one

When Module 4 came around this January and my fellow culinary arts comrades and I were faced with pastry classes, we were all a little bit concerned. A group of savory-loving cooks embarking on a month-long journey of baking and sweets is like unleashing a pack of rabid hyenas on the Westminster Dog Show. Something was bound to go horribly wrong.


Chef Gerri gives a demo on tempering chocolate

Fortunately, we all managed to behave ourselves and actually learn a thing or two. While we all spouted the typical “I’m not the ‘baking’ type” excuse at the beginning, we soon realized that this was a cop-out. To be a well-rounded cook, you must know the fundamentals of pastry. After all, it’s not just sweets that fall under this umbrella; our curriculum included pretzels, bagels, pizza dough, focaccia and a multitude of other savory concoctions that every chef should have in his or her repertoire. Plus, we got to play with chocolate, which is super fun.

While our pastry days were definitely enjoyable, they were not always a “piece of cake.” In fact, whoever came up with the phrase “piece of cake” has obviously never tried to ice a layer cake with a chocolate ganache frosting. I won’t even burden you with a picture of that grand disaster.


Here is my beautiful lemon meringue tartlet, instead.

By the end of the module, our class may have been a little sugared-out, but we certainly felt accomplished. We had experienced how the “other half” lives, ventured outside of our culinary comfort zone and didn’t fail miserably. To me, that is pretty sweet.


By Liz Castner


While the chocolate section of the Pastry & Baking Arts program is certainly a highlight for most students, it was truly transformative for a candy-lover like me. While I love to bake, there’s nothing quite like crafting beautiful, delectable little candies from scratch. However, prior to beginning the chocolate portion of the pastry program, I had yet to spend much time making chocolate candies. Little did I know, my candy-making horizons were about to expand considerably.

My and Amy's chocolate showpiece

Amy and my chocolate showpiece

I have always been a stalwart fan of See’s Candies (a chain in California that makes delicious old fashioned chocolates), but more recently, I’ve been inspired by the modern candy-makers of Brooklyn’s Liddabit Sweets. Liddabit recently published an amazing cookbook that contains truffles, chocolate bars, fruit candies, marshmallows, honeycomb, caramels and toffees; you name it, they’ve got it. And while Liddabit Sweets confections are carried in stores all over Brooklyn, the owners recently opened a store in Manhattan at Chelsea Market.

My salted caramel chocolate bar

My salted caramel chocolate bar

While I continue to be a fan of both See’s Candies and Liddabit Sweets, my 11-day chocolate foray at ICE has expanded my candy horizons considerably. Over that time, I learned key components of chocolate creation that make or break a chocolatier’s success. Number one: chocolate tempering. We used tempered chocolate in every recipe we made, from chocolate clusters to truffles and molded chocolates, to our chocolate showpiece. (All of these pieces have been saved and will be displayed at our graduation ceremony, which will take place December 9th!)

A variety of class chocolates

A variety of class chocolates

Tempered chocolate is chocolate that has been guided through a series of temperature changes and agitations, resulting in a product composed of stable crystals. These allow for the chocolate to set uniformly and provide a satisfying snap when chewed. To temper chocolate, one must first melt chocolate over a bain marie (a double boiler with the chocolate placed in a bowl over a pot of simmering water) up to a certain temperature. Each type of chocolate has a different temperature that it should be heated to – dark is 120 °F, milk is 115 °F, and white is 105-110 °F. The chocolate be stirred the whole time, which aids in the formation of stable crystals.

A classmate's framed chocolates

A classmate’s framed chocolates

After the chocolate is melted, it is removed from heat, stirred vigorously, and (using the seeding method) unmelted chocolate pistoles (small, disc-shaped pieces of high-quality chocolate) are added to the bowl and melted in. The chocolate should then be cooled to 85 °F. This is the typical cooling point for most chocolates, although certain types require higher cooling points. Once the chocolate is brought to the proper temperature, it is considered tempered (though you should test it to make sure), and should remain at that temperature for the entire time you are working with it.

My Shabby-Chic Matcha Green Tea Filled Chocolates

My Shabby-Chic Matcha Green Tea Filled Chocolates

The truffles and the filled, molded chocolates were my favorite candies to make (and the tastiest!). To make molded chocolates, the first step is painting the insides of the chocolate molds with different designs and colors. After painting the inside of the molds, you pour tempered chocolate inside and turn the molds upside down over the bowl, scraping out the excess to insure a thick coating. Once the chocolate sets inside the tempered, painted shell, you can add fillings such as Matcha green tea, salted caramel, and gianduja (hazelnut goodness). The final phase—known as “capping”—requires pouring tempered chocolate over the top of the cooled, filled molds, and scraping off the excess. The chocolate is then chilled for the final time and covered with acetate, creating a smooth bottom. The final product—an artfully crafted and perfectly shaped little morsel—is as beautiful as it is delicious!


Clearly, chocolate making is no small task. However, the end result is so lovely and delectable that it’s entirely worth it. While being a chocolatier is not necessarily my future career path, I love making chocolates, and honestly can’t wait to make more for my friends and family while I’m home in California for Thanksgiving. I’m thinking of creating a Pie Trio – pumpkin pie, apple pie, and pecan pie truffles! I’ll keep you posted on my progress.


By Grace Reynolds


On Tuesday, October 8th, ICE welcomed Guittard Chocolate Company’s Regional Sales Manager, Laura Tornichio-Vidal, and Harney and Sons’ Vice President, Michael Harney, to teach participants the art of a unique pairing: tea and chocolate. While some might deem these two an unlikely couple, an afternoon spent at ICE with Vidal and Harney would convince any skeptic.

chocolate tea box

Selection of six Guittard chocolates, six Harney & Sons teas, and one control chocolate

Tea and chocolate, much like wine and cheese, can complement and enhance each others’ flavors when properly paired. Vidal and Harney lead the crowd through an interactive tasting, which consisted of pairing six different chocolates with six different teas, clearly showcasing the brilliance of the tea-and-chocolate tango.


Vidal came bearing the best the chocolate the world has to offer from internationally renowned chocolatier, Guittard, including chocolate derived from beans grown in Sur del Lago, Madagascar, Ecuador, and Machu Picchu. Harney came equally well-equipped, wielding a multitude of tea varietals from Harney & Sons–one the most highly respected tea blenders across the globe–including whites, greens, blacks, and oolongs.


Guittard Chocolate Company’s Regional Sales Manager, Laura Tornichio-Vidal

The first pairing set the stage for an incredible, taste-budding-opening afternoon. In what proved to be an ingenious match, Harney and Vidal chose to pair a white tea, Bai Mudan, with a Sur del Lago 65% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate (a hybrid of the Criollo and Trinitario cacao beans). The delicate, floral notes of the Bai Mudan married perfectly with the smooth, consistent sweetness of the Sur del Lago. Despite its high cacao content, the Sur del Lago had no bitter aftertaste, as many dark chocolates do. Similarly, the Bai Mudan, as is characteristic of many white teas, lacked the acidic bite of its green tea cousin. The result: a tea-and-chocolate match made in gustatory heaven.


Freshly brewed tea to pair with matching chocolate

As we continued with the tasting, Harney and Vidal drew our attention to the importance of smell to our overall enjoyment of the chocolate-tea experience. Harney pointed out that we are able to smell with far more complexity than we can taste. In other words, while our palate can generally only recognize five different flavors, our noses can detect a wide variety of smells. Further, smells immediately register in the main brain, whereas tastes register in another area of the brain and take longer to process.


Harney demonstrated the power of scent with one of the teas he brought—an organic peach black tea. One whiff and images of fresh peaches immediately came to mind, but the taste of peach was far subtler.  Vidal recommended we couple the peach tea with a delicate white chocolate to enhance the flavors. The peach tea not only accented the subtle sweetness of the chocolate, but actually conjured up the sensation of biting into warm, juicy peaches topped with fresh whipped cream–truly a full sensory experience.

raw bean

Raw Cacao Bean, from which chocolate is derived

The two guest speakers also shared some little known facts about tea and chocolate, even for the self-proclaimed aficionados in the room. Ever wonder why tea contains caffeine? According to Harney, caffeine in tea leaves serves as a defense mechanism against bugs. Once a bug bites into a tea leaf, it immediately gets a boost of energy from the caffeine, which encourages the bug to move on.


There is also a misconception that chocolate contains caffeine. According to Vidal, chocolate, and the cacao beans it stems from, are completely caffeine free.  However, if you find yourself a little energized after eating some chocolate, you aren’t imagining things; Vidal explained that chocolate has components that act like caffeine in the brain, hence the common misconception that it contains caffeine.


While it was difficult to reach a group consensus on a favorite tea-and-chocolate-match, an afternoon spent pairing the two certainly convinced us of one thing: this high-powered couple could make a serious splash on the culinary scene.




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.


By Virginia Monaco


Everybody loves chocolate, but what do we actually know about one of the world’s most popular sweets? At a lecture with world-renowned expert Chloe Doutre-Roussel, ICE students, alumni and industry professionals had the chance to refine both their palates and their understanding of contemporary trends in chocolate.

An assortment of the world's best 70% chocolate bars.

An assortment of the world’s best 70% chocolate bars.

To start, Roussel clarified that she was discussing fine chocolate—not candy bars, bon-bons or other treats which contain shockingly little actual chocolate. Until very recently, chocolate was available in white, milk and dark with very little information on the label, but over the last 10 years, the industry has changed dramatically. The first change was that chocolate makers decided to emulate the labels of fine wine, listing the beans’ country of origin and producing single-origin bars with distinct flavor profiles. But even then, very few chocolatiers actually made their own chocolate; rather, then would blending purchased chocolate and re-label it. It was actually in the United States that a movement called “bean-to-bar” was launched, where beans are curated and purchased abroad but roasted, processed, blended and packed by the producers. This movement has since been defined by the production of (usually) single-origin beans, processed delicately in micro-batches by entrepreneurs such as Rogue and Mast Brothers. (Interestingly enough, Rick Mast of Mast Bros is an ICE alum!)

Roussel presents her findings on bean-to-bar producers to ICE students.

Roussel presents her findings on bean-to-bar producers to ICE students.

While the quality of chocolate has increased with this movement, so was the breadth of the market, making the purchase of chocolate bars a confusing task for consumers. The generation of new labels has produced claims including Fair Trade, Organic or Raw. While these labels may hold a specific meaning, they don’t speak to the level of quality of the product. meaning a $10 bar of chocolate might still be poorly made. In fact, Roussel argued that the Fair Trade label may distract conscious consumers from quality, allowing a mediocre product to sell for a higher price—potentially overshadowing exceptional bars produced with well-grown beans that boast no special labeling. To explore this argument, Roussel hosted a blind tasting, helping attendees discern their favorite chocolates, free of the bias of pretty packaging and distracting labeling.

Students and professionals tasted 15 different chocolates in a palate training exercise.

Students and professionals tasted 15 different chocolates in a palate training exercise.

Attendees discussed and tasted 15 chocolates from around the world, all around 70% cocoa, which allows the true chocolate flavor notes to shine. (70% actually means that a bar is 70% cocoa solid and butter, 30% sugar. It does not, however specify the proportion of cocoa solid/butter, allowing producers a significant amount of leeway and variation.) Much like wine, such side-by-side tastings allowed us to discover a world of remarkably nuanced flavors. For example, some chocolates displayed a distinctive smoky taste, while others were bright and floral. Our students left with a new found appreciation for fine chocolate, and I’m sure we’ll all think twice when choosing bars to buy in the future.


By Carly DeFilippo


My first week working at ICE, I was invited to join other new staff members for dinner at Gramercy Tavern. Never having been in this legendary New York restaurant, I was thrilled by the attention to detail and the quality of the dishes I tasted—not least of all, by the dessert. Needless to say, I was impressed to learn that an ICE graduate, Jessica Perkiss was one of the pastry sous chefs at the restaurant, and I’m thrilled to share her story. 



Jessica, hard at work at Gramercy Tavern

Jessica, hard at work at Gramercy Tavern

What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE?


Before I enrolled at ICE, I received my Bachelor’s Degree from Boston University in Communication and worked in fundraising and development for a non-profit organization in Boston. It took me about a year to realize that a desk job wasn’t for me.


I quit the non-profit and worked a few jobs for a while. I met a woman who made dessert sauces – hot fudge, salted caramel, etc. – and ended up working for her for a summer, selling her sauces at farmers’ markets and doing tastings in specialty food stores. At one of the markets, I met the Pastry Chef of Sonsie, who is also an ICE alum. We chatted every time we would see each other at the market, and I picked her brain about working in a kitchen. Her job seemed fun, challenging and exciting. She inspired me to start baking and experimenting at home. After that summer, I knew that I wanted to do something in the food industry.


I moved to Philadelphia, worked the counter at a bakery, and enrolled in some cooking classes at a local restaurant school. Less than a year later, I decided to jump in — to go to culinary school in New York and give this new career a real shot.


What was it specifically that attracted you to pastry?


Pastry is this wonderful conglomeration of creativity and organization. There’s a specific type of person who makes a good pastry chef. I love working with my hands and making people happy. And really, who can frown when faced with a cookie or some ice cream?

Jessica, preparing chocolates at Gramercy Tavern

Hand-crafting chocolates at Gramercy Tavern


Where was your externship? And where did you work between graduation and now?


I did my externship at Park Avenue (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) under Chef Richard Leach. It was my first experience working in a real kitchen. I then accepted a position as a pastry cook on the opening team at Maialino, where I met Gramercy Tavern’s pastry chef Nancy Olson. I ended up at Gramercy a year later, worked as a pastry cook for a year and a half and have been the pastry sous chef for a little over a year.


Briefly describe a day in your (working) life.


I don’t really have typical days anymore. I get to the restaurant around 7AM and check in with the team. If my cooks have a lot to do, sometimes I’ll give them a hand. I usually do some chocolate work for petits fours and anything extra that pops up. I manage quality control, payroll and ordering for the pastry kitchen. (I share those responsibilities with the other pastry sous chef). I spend a little bit of time with the cook working lunch service. Once 2PM hits, the kitchen can get pretty crowded. I try to find a project that doesn’t take up a lot of space. I also head up the cheese program with another sous chef, so a few times a week I portion cheese, have cheese tastings or update menus and information to educate the staff.


Hard at work in Gramercy Tavern's pastry kitchen

Unmolding chocolates in Gramercy Tavern’s pastry kitchen

What might people be surprised to learn about your job?

It’s a lot more about organizing a team and delegating responsibility than cooking at this point. Also, my ability to be thinking of 17 different things at once has improved ten-fold.


When you were a student, did you ever think you’d be doing what you’re doing now?


Never. When I was in culinary school, I thought I’d be working at a bakery and finalizing a business plan to open my own shop. I never imagined myself working in a restaurant. But when you find a teacher and mentor as brilliant and gracious as Nancy Olson, you just kind of go with it. She has taught me (and probably 100 other cooks) how to be a better cook, manager and overall human being.


Where would you like to be in five years?


In five years, I would love to own a little shop or be on my way to owning my own place. I want something small and manageable. I’ve seen what a career in the restaurant industry in New York can do to your life and your body. I’d really like to find myself in a position where I can have a family and still be able to maintain a career.

In ten years, I’d like to imagine that I’ll wake up, take my kids to school, walk to my shop in the late morning, do some paperwork, help some guests, meet with my baker and store manager, go to a yoga class, pick up my kids from school, make dinner and spend time with my family. That’s the dream.


Want to know more about pastry at Gramercy Tavern? Join Jessica’s boss, Chef Nancy Olson at ICE on Wednesday, June 5th, as she presents the noteworthy desserts of this legendary restaurant.