You haven’t lived until you’ve tried a steaming bowl of moules marinières — with ample crusty bread for soaking up every last drop of the garlicky broth. Lucky for you, Chef Sabrina Sexton shared with us her recipe for preparing this classic, French dish. These simple mussels steamed in white wine make the perfect, easy weeknight dinner.

mussels

Moules Marinières
Servings: makes about 4 servings

Ingredients:

64 mussels, scrubbed and de-bearded
16 fluid ounces dry white wine
2 ounces shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 ounce parsley, minced
2 bay leaves
3 thyme sprigs
Ground black pepper, to taste
2 ounces butter

Preparation:

  • Combine the white wine, shallots, garlic, parsley, bay leaves, thyme, black pepper and butter in a large, tall pot. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer and cover. Cook for 5 minutes to infuse the flavors.
  • Uncover the pot, return to boil and add the mussels. Cover and cook until the mussels have opened, stirring once.
  • Serve in bowls and spoon a generous amount of broth into each bowl.

Ready to launch a rewarding career in the culinary arts? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs. 

Tina Ye (Culinary Arts, ’17) is not just our newest student blogger, she’s also one of the 2017 #CulinaryVoice Scholarship Challenge winners. In this post, she shares her path from interaction designer to culinary student at ICE — and how she discovered the superpower of food along the way.

By Tina Ye — Student, School of Culinary Arts

I wasn’t supposed to end up in culinary school. The way I got here was quite by accident. In fact, I started out my adult life very much wanting to be an interaction designer. An interaction designer is someone who makes digital products and services user-friendly. If you looked up directions on your phone today, and it felt as natural as picking your nose, then we did our job right.

I got to be on the path to interaction design because I’ve always been a huge nerd. In the sixth grade, I started building websites for fun, filling them with adolescent treasures like Spice Girls song lyrics, listicles and drawings of Sailor Moon. Eventually, adults picked up on my computer abilities and I was given the opportunity to trade them for money. While my peers toiled away at the local Baskin-Robbins developing asymmetrical bicep syndrome, I made logos at $250 a pop — not a bad rate for a 16-year-old.

culinary student Tina Ye

Food wasn’t really on my mind until college. By then I had gotten it into my head that I wanted to be an artist, but I reassured my mom that I’d be employable by dual-majoring in architecture. Neither turned out to be more than just a degree (I was too naive back then to know that college was for asking questions, not picking a life path), but still, they took up most of my time. To fill the social vacuum that comes from being a closeted dual-major, I turned to cooking with my roommates.

At the time, I was living in a rather unique situation. Four friends and I—one of them my then-boyfriend (now spouse)—decided to move off-campus into a big, creaky colonial house: two stories, a huge eat-in kitchen, and front and back decks for grilling. It was collegiate paradise. My roommates and I felt so adult when we signed that lease. We even had a car that we drove to visit fun and exotic places like…the grocery store!

The five of us were obsessed with grocery shopping—it felt like going to Six Flags. Every Saturday, we would explore the local Costco and load up on cheddar cheese, bacon, orange juice, chicken breast, ground beef, salad, canned beans, bread, bags of onions and potatoes hefty enough to crush a German shepherd, and yes, bulk boxes of Pop-Tarts.

When we got home, we’d drink half the orange juice within minutes, then I’d bust out “The Boston Globe Cookbook,” “101 Fast ‘n Easy Recipes,” or cookingforengineers.com (nerd pride!) and set to work. We made shepherd’s pie, jerk chicken, chili, New England clam chowder, meatloaf, sugar cookies with our own royal frosting, even Caesar dressing from scratch (I’ll never forget that moment my friend Elliot taught me you could eat raw egg). Friends of friends heard about our feasts and “casually” rolled by. My social life bloomed like the rind of a good Camembert. Who needs frat parties? All I needed was a good wooden spoon and the kitchen table of 82 Bristol Road!

Before long, we all graduated and moved on from that first experiment in communal living. But I continued those experiments elsewhere, with other roommates, in other shared apartments. The cooking got ever more ambitious (at one point I attempted to make puff pastry from scratch in 90° heat — poor life decision, turns out). Through it all, I felt a growing sense of comfort, community and pride. I loved having friends over and filling their bellies with food and their heads with conversation. With a stove and a pot, I discovered I could salve a wounded heart, crack open barriers of indifference, create warmth and fill emptiness (even if it was just stomachs). I started to have an inkling that food harbors immense superpowers, and somehow I was able to harness and direct those powers in positive ways.

Eventually, I moved to New York to study Interaction Design at the School of Visual Arts. The rolling snowball of my previous computer-y accomplishments just kept…rolling. I graduated and went from tech startup to tech startup. It all felt very logical, orderly and well-calculated. I had a professional salary even my family could approve of. What could possibly be missing?

I wouldn’t blame my growing restlessness on any one factor. But as I worked on project after project, I began to notice patterns. Tech startups are volatile places to be. The rewards are immense if you succeed, but so are the risks, and every day, teams of dedicated, hard-working people operate in stress-inducing environments of high uncertainty. When people are faced with so many unknowns, one natural tendency is to grasp for certainty. We fall back on assumptions instead of examining facts. We avoid dissent and seek the comfort of those who agree with us. We dig in and harden and stop listening.

I have seen this happen in many tense product meetings and feedback sessions, sometimes to the detriment of the organization’s mission. I began to wonder: in today’s world, where we have no shortage of uncertainty and immense challenges ahead as a society, can we learn to become better listeners, more willing collaborators and more open-minded friends, colleagues and neighbors? I thought back to those moments around the kitchen table, when even a sulking roommate will come out of hiding to check out the soup. Too busy chewing, even the most voracious talker becomes a good listener.

In March of this year, I made a video that posited that we can build bridges with food. I envisioned traveling around the country, learning about the lives of people who are very different from me, and sharing their stories in the form of evocative dishes. I entered the video into ICE’s Find Your Culinary Voice scholarship challenge. To my surprise, people responded with immense enthusiasm, and with the votes of friends and total strangers alike, I was awarded a full scholarship to ICE’s Culinary Arts program. Goodbye, old life of pushing pixels. Hello, new life of…who knows! Anything could happen.

Since beginning culinary school, I’ve been on a whirlwind tour of learning how to think and act like a world-class chef. I considered myself a pretty decent ingredient wrangler before, but now I’m really discovering how to treat these things with finesse and respect. Under the tutelage of chefs Lorrie, Michael and others, my cuts are straighter, my mise en place neater and my heat control more accurate. I am learning not just cooking techniques but also discipline, humility and professionalism. Just as important, I am meeting people from all walks of life in my classmates. (Who knew the hopes set out in my video would so soon be fulfilled?) Though our backgrounds are different, we support one another with tips and stories from our past lives, and cheer each other on through the critiques and exams. If I could convince people to gather around a table before with my slightly overcooked chicken, just think what I can do with these skills and this network after graduating. 

I came to ICE not necessarily to become the next Top Chef, but to answer this question: what is food’s real superpower? And can I harness it to do what I’d always wanted to do as an interaction designer: make a tiny, positive dent in the world? There is much work to be done, but I’m grateful for this chance to train for all the challenges ahead at ICE.

Interested in discovering where a culinary education can take you? Click here to learn more about ICE’s career programs.

 

For 15 years, Kelly Newsome (Culinary Arts ’17) dreamed of going to culinary school. Though her infatuation with food and cooking was sparked during college, various factors (like concerns from family and friends) pushed her off that track and into office jobs. It’s not an uncommon situation, but what set Kelly apart was her tenacity — it drove her to take small steps toward achieving her ultimate goal. First, she enrolled at New York University’s master’s program in food studies and spent three years working full-time while burning the midnight oil between classes and assignments. Then, she landed an attractive marketing position with a food science company, edging ever closer to the kitchen. Finally, at age 38, Kelly decided she couldn’t ignore her true passion any longer, and enrolled in ICE’s Culinary Arts program. “I just realized I’m never going to be happy unless I follow this passion inside me, which is to work in food.”

Why culinary school, instead of diving directly into the kitchen? Kelly explained, “I don’t have the luxury of working my way up in a kitchen at this stage in my life. So going to culinary school will certainly give me confidence when I walk into the kitchen for the first time.”

 

Want to gain kitchen confidence of your own? Click here to learn more about our Culinary Arts career training program.

 

By James Briscione — Director of Culinary Research

The fried chicken sandwich, by law, may only contain bread, chicken, pickles and sauce. Never mind which law that is — the point is this: if you try to put anything more on my sandwich, we are going to have problems. With just four components to build it out, this sandwich is perfect in its simplicity, so each ingredient that goes into it better be perfect, too. Any missteps or half measures are going to stand out big time and completely throw off your chicken sandwich mojo.

Fried Chicken Sandwich Recipe Video - Institute of Culinary Education

Now don’t worry, you have me to take you through it step by step. First, the sandwich components:

  1. The bun: Only a soft potato roll will do. Period.
  2. The pickles: Dill chips are really the way to go (but if you have another preference I won’t fight you on this one).
  3. The chicken: Fried, of course — but also brined.
  4. The sauce: It’s gotta be special.

Now, let’s get to the meat of the sandwich: fried chicken. Two important things need to happen: first brine, then fry. Brining — the process of soaking your chicken in a solution of salt and sugar — is an essential step that helps the meat retain moisture and stay juicy throughout the cooking process. Proper frying at home is easier than you might think. For starters, you don’t need as much oil as you think you do. If the chicken has been butterflied or properly pounded out, you’ll need the oil to be no more than an inch and a half deep in the pot.

And what about that special sauce? Mayonnaise on a chicken sandwich is great. Umami mayonnaise on a chicken sandwich will change your life. Umami — known as the fifth taste (after sweet, salty, sour, and bitter) — is what we think of when something is savory and gives food a rich and satisfying taste. Umami is found naturally in tomatoes, Parmesan cheese, mushrooms, soy sauce and meats. For our chicken sandwich sauce, we build layers of umami with roasted shallots, garlic, shrimp paste (optional) and fish sauce. Trust me: once you have this condiment in your arsenal, you’ll find many more uses for it beyond your chicken sandwich. There’s no law for that.

Pro tips:

  1. The umami mayo can be made in batches and keeps for up to two weeks in the refrigerator.
  2. Frying temperature is crucial: 350˚F is your ideal cooking temperature — if things dip below 300˚F, the chicken ends up a bit greasy. The best way to avoid this is to begin with oil hotter than you need it, around 370˚F; that way when the temp drops after adding your chicken, you’ll land right at your ideal cooking temperature.
  3. After cooking, rest the chicken on a rack, not paper towels. The rack will allow oil to drip away and keep the chicken from getting soggy on the bottom.

The Perfect Fried Chicken Sandwich with Umami Mayo
Makes 4 sandwiches

For the Fried Chicken

Brined Chicken

Ingredients:

1 quart water
½ cup kosher salt
¼ cup granulated sugar
4 boneless, skinless chicken breast filets

Preparation:

  • In a large bowl, combine the water, salt and sugar in a bowl and whisk until dissolved.
  • Butterfly each of the chicken breast filets. Add chicken filets to the brine and leave to brine for at least two hours, or let it brine overnight.

Flour Mixture

Ingredients:

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon granulated garlic
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Preparation:

  • Add the flour, salt, granulated garlic, black pepper and cayenne together in a large bowl, and whisk to combine.

Fried Chicken

Ingredients:

Brined Chicken
Flour Mixture
Salt and pepper, to taste
Oil, for frying

Preparation:

  • Remove the chicken from the brine and pat dry. Season each piece lightly with salt and pepper. Dip each chicken breast into the flour mixture and press to coat well on both sides. Remove the floured pieces to a pan and rest briefly before frying.
  • Heat a pot of oil to 370˚F. Add chicken, working in batches of two pieces at a time, and cook until golden brown, about 6-8 minutes. Remove to a rack to rest and season immediately with salt.

For the Sandwiches

Ingredients:

4 potato rolls
Umami Mayonnaise (recipe below)
16 slices dill pickle or more as desired
Fried chicken

Preparation:

  • Split each roll, spread the bun with umami mayonnaise, add pickle slices and top with fried chicken.

For the Umami Mayonnaise

Ingredients:

1 shallot, cut in half, peeled, root removed
1 head garlic, top trimmed, root intact
¼ cup olive oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon shrimp paste, with chiles (optional)
Sriracha hot sauce, to taste
2 egg yolks
1 cup vegetable or canola oil

Preparation:

  • Place the shallot, garlic and olive oil in a small pan and cover with foil. Roast in a 350˚F oven for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and, when cool enough to handle, add the shallot and garlic to a blender, squeezing the roasted garlic cloves from the skin, and reserving the oil from the pan for later.
  • Add the fish sauce, Sriracha, shrimp paste (if using) and egg yolks to the blender and process until smooth. Turn the blender to low and slowly drizzle in the canola oil and reserved olive oil until the mixture has emulsified.
  • Umami mayonnaise can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to two weeks.

To learn how you can study with Chef James, click here.

By Luz Estrella — Student, School of Culinary Arts ‘17

Throughout my experience at the Institute of Culinary Education, I’ve learned so many terms, recipes and methods that it’s hard to keep track of them all. During each module we’ve had a new topic to discuss, and I’ve studied diligently in each. Learning to fabricate protein has been one of my biggest challenges. Each section of protein has its own terms and these terms can vary, based on what animal you’re fabricating. Having to cut open an animal, touch the cold, gooey flesh and separating the different parts was very new to me and, needless to say, very messy, too. I was afraid of cutting myself, or simply doing it wrong.

Luz Estrella

The first protein I ever fabricated was a fish: flounder. As we started, the words of my instructor, David Waltuck, were scrambling through my head. “Be careful,” he warned us. “Always remember, you are in control of your knife. Listen to your knife touching the bones.” It was like nothing I had ever done. It wasn’t a matter of just cutting meat — everything had to be done with caution.

Here are a few things I picked up during the fish fabrication lessons.

  1. Safety first: Use your senses. The first step of fabricating meat, poultry or fish is following food safety regulations. Use your senses — check the fish for aroma, clear eyes, firmness of flesh and bright gills. This is to make sure the fish is fresh.
  2. Round versus flat fish. The first fish I fabricated was a flounder, which is a flat fish, so I used a fillet knife. A fillet knife is flexible and it works wonders when fabricating flat fish. When cutting a flat fish, start by cutting around the head and making a V-shaped notch. Pull the head away from the body while twisting it slightly. Then, slice from head to tail, making sure you don’t cut through backbones. For a round fish, start by laying the fish on a cutting board with the backbone parallel to the work surface and the head on the opposite side of the hand that’s holding your knife. Proceed to make a cut behind the head and gill plates. Then, turn the knife making sure the tip of the knife is pointing toward the tail. Run the blade down the length of the fish, cutting against the backbone.
  3. Removing the skin and pin bones. We also learned how to remove the skin from a fish fillet and it was pretty simple. To remove the skin, lay the fillet parallel to the edge of the cutting board, make a small cut on the tail side and pull the skin away from the flesh with your guiding hand. Then, make sure to remove all pin bones — those needle-thin bones that can be tricky to spot. To remove the pin bones, first run your fingertips over the fillet to locate the bones. Then, use tweezers to gently remove each bone. Chef David taught us the useful trick of using a small hotel pan filled with water to rinse your tweezers each time you pull a bone out. As I mentioned before, using your senses is very important while fabricating fish. You can see the pin bones, but using your sense of touch is fundamental. (Side note: after the fabricating lesson, we gathered all the fish bones and made fish stock.)
  4. How chefs tackle lobster. As part of the fabrication curriculum I also had to fabricate shellfish. As this point, I thought to myself, how bad can it be? Everything seemed to go okay until I had to fabricate a lobster. I had always heard that the best way to kill a lobster was by boiling it alive. However, in this lesson, I was taught not to fear my knife and to kill the lobster with a chef’s knife. To do so, first insert the tip of the knife into the base of the head, pulling the knife all the way down to the shell and splitting the head in half. Then, continue to do the same procedure with the tail. The cutting part wasn’t too hard, but having to deal with a live, moving lobster while you’re trying to cut through it was frightening.

fish fabrication

Overall, it’s been a rewarding experience to learn the terms, techniques and steps to create the meals I grew up eating. Mastering the art of fabricating meat and fish was a challenge for me, but I’m glad I was able to overcome the challenge and now understand this important culinary technique.

Want to take your culinary skills to the next level? Click here to learn about ICE’s career programs.

By Kelly Newsome — Student, School of Culinary Arts

cobb salad

An entire class on salad, seriously? That was the topic of conversation one Tuesday evening in the women’s locker room at ICE. We hemmed and hawed, convinced that there was nothing to learn about salads that we didn’t already know. Salads, at least in the American culinary tradition, have been relegated to the depths of diet food, a punishment rather than a pleasure. But, as I would soon learn, salads can be unabashedly delicious, and the classics are classics for a reason — when executed correctly, they are irresistible. My assignment that Tuesday night was Cobb salad — a classic American recipe that gave me a newfound respect for the humble art of salad creation.

I always thought that Cobb salad was named after the famous baseball player, Ty Cobb. Not true. The Cobb salad was born in the wee hours of a Hollywood, California, morning in 1937 at the Brown Derby restaurant. The owner, Bob Cobb, was ruffling through the kitchen’s refrigerator, pulling out various remnants including lettuce, hard-boiled eggs, cheese, tomatoes, chives and avocado. Smelling bacon being cooked nearby, he grabbed a few slices to add to his dish. Bob tossed the ingredients together and shared the outcome with his friend Sid Grauman (of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre fame). Mr. Grauman was so impressed that he asked for a “Cobb salad” at the restaurant the very next day, and a classic was born. The legend seems familiar to the story of the famous chicken wings of Buffalo. Perhaps the common thread is American ingenuity and resourcefulness on a plate?

cobb salad

A really great Cobb salad is not only a thing of beauty but an absolute pleasure to eat. Each bite brings a symphony of flavors and textures — the crispy bacon meets the creamy blue cheese, the crunchy and fresh salad greens mingle with pungent herbs and luscious chicken, the eggs provide a soft and satisfying backdrop, and the piquant vinaigrette delicately envelops each morsel and acts as an essential bridge that transforms the dish from many things to one. Each component, when perfectly cooked and assembled, offers a culinary experience that is far greater in combination than any one ingredient alone. This is the key to understanding the true beauty of a perfectly composed salad. Like any other dish, it’s all about the balance.

So how does one approach the Cobb salad? According Chef Charles Granquist, my instructor for salad night, “execute each ingredient perfectly, dress each component separately and arrange the salad organically — don’t overthink it.” When the night was through and the salads were delightfully devoured, visions of Cobb salad parties danced in my head: the classics I thought, can’t be beat.

cobb salad

Cobb Salad
Yield: makes about 10 servings

Ingredients:

5 chicken breasts, bone-in
Salt as needed
Ground black pepper as needed
20 slices bacon, cooked
1 pound, 4 ounces Romaine lettuce, washed, dried and torn into pieces
8 fluid ounces red wine vinaigrette (recipe below)
10 ounces tomatoes, medium-dice
10 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
3 avocados, peeled, pitted and cut into medium-dice
5 scallions, bias-cut (at a roughly 45-degree angle), thinly sliced

Preparation:

  • Season chicken breasts with salt and pepper, and roast until internal temperature is 165°F. Cool, remove the breasts from the bone, cut into ½” dice.
  • Cook the bacon slices until crisp. Drain on absorbent paper towels and keep warm.

To assemble the salad:

  • For each serving, toss two ounces romaine with two tablespoons of vinaigrette. Mound on a plate, and top with four ounces chicken, 1¼ ounce diced tomato, one ounce blue cheese, two ounces avocado, ¼ ounce green onions and two bacon strips, crumbled.

Red Wine Vinaigrette
Yield: 8 fluid ounces

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon shallots, minced
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 fluid ounces red wine vinegar
6 fluid ounces canola oil
Salt to taste
Pepper to taste

Preparation:

  • In a small bowl, combine the shallot, mustard and vinegar.
  • Add the canola oil gradually, whisking constantly.
  • Add additional flavorings and adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper. Taste and adjust acid/oil balance.

A few tips from the chef in training:

  1. Make sure that your bacon is crispy! If it isn’t, you’ll lose that essential crunchy bite.
  2. Cook the chicken on the bone if possible — this delivers a more succulent and satisfying result.
  3. Make sure that you dress (don’t overdress) and season each component individually. This is the key to creating a cohesive and balanced dish.
  4. Use a long, oval platter rather than a bowl. This creates a more even spread for serving and presentation.

Ready to pursue your passion for culinary arts? Click here to learn about ICE’s culinary, pastry and hospitality programs. 


By Michael Laiskonis — Creative Director

“If you cook, you are going to get hurt.” The crowd that gathered for a panel discussion on modernist cooking erupted into laughter, but Wylie Dufresne’s observation was gravely accurate. Extreme heat (and cold — working with liquid nitrogen was the object of Wylie’s remark), sharp knives and heavy equipment are some of the perils that cooks must navigate in their daily workplace environment. Add to the mix a dash of occasional chaos and the pressure to produce at breakneck speed, and it’s a wonder more chefs don’t bear hideous deformities.

Chef Sharpening Knives

Young cooks are instantly identified by the rows of scars running up their forearms: the reminders of brief skin-singeing encounters with blazing hot oven racks and pan handles. A cook’s relative experience is easily judged by his or her fingertip’s tolerance to heat (a seemingly heat-proof layer of skin inevitably forms with time). Another telltale sign of a chef is the tough, raised callous at the base of the index finger: the contact point of skin and the carbon steel blade of a chef’s knife. This callous never fully returns to soft, supple flesh, even after years of retirement from daily slicing and chopping. It’s a calling card of sorts, a silent testament to one’s lifelong métier.

While kitchen scars may fade with time, they rarely disappear completely. My first ghastly kitchen injury dates back to my days as a baker. The shop where I worked focused primarily on bread and cakes, but we also did some light takeout fare and off-site catering. During the mid-December holiday season, we were catering one or two small parties every night. One of those afternoons, the chef/owner executed one event while I simultaneously staged a second party at another location. I could easily handle the responsibility of the arrangement, but I was probably still too green of a cook to entrust with the logistical feats these parties presented.

Hot Kitchen Boiling Over Flames

I was wrapping up my prep list with that menu’s protein: a Cajun-spiced, blackened chicken affair (this was the early 90s). Proper blackening technique — as I knew it, anyway — would dictate exposing the oiled, spice-rubbed meat to a fierce high heat and only a little added cooking fat. In my haste to get everything finished, I ignored the gradual buildup of oil in my smoking cast iron pan. Worse yet, I violated the cardinal rule of adding food to any pan: always place the item so that it falls away from you. This precaution ensures that, in the event any hot cooking oil splashes, it does so away from you.

As I tossed the last chicken breast onto the fire, my face and eyes were stung with a spray of hot and spicy oil. I dropped back from the stove and somehow managed to feel my way to the three-compartment sink for some temporary relief. I splashed my face with cold water, wiped myself off and glanced at the clock. I was running late and I didn’t have time to assess the situation properly.

I managed to arrive at the catering gig fully prepped and on time, but as I worked my chafing dishes I was filled with self-conscious dread. I thought I’d scarred myself for life, that I’d need a shroud to hide my culinary deformity like some modern-day elephant man — all because of one impatiently flung piece of chicken. As it turns out, the burn on my face was minor and fully healed within a couple of weeks. But it could have been far worse. The lesson learned? Always respect the fire. That scar may have faded, but others have been permanent.

Chopping Onions

Another early mishap of mine persists in the form of a long-term, conspicuous reminder. A year or so after the blackened chicken incident, I was working my way through a very large pile of onions. It was a straightforward task: hack the polar ends off of each one, score through the skin, peel that off, then halve the onion lengthwise and perform a simple, uniform julienne. At ICE, our fledgling cooks are taught to tuck the thumb back and under, using the broad surface of the resulting fist to both secure the food and guide the knife while chopping. Of course I knew that then, too. But in my urgency to finish all those onions in time, I either looked up or the heavy chef’s knife slipped…and into the mountain of sliced onions went the tip of my left thumb.

My reaction was swift. I didn’t want to look closely at the damage, nor did I have much time to fret over it. I rinsed my hand in the nearby sink, slapped on two or three Band-Aids, wrapped it with a length of gauze and secured it all with what must have been a foot or two of electrical tape. And then I went on with my prep.

I certainly didn’t forget about it over the course of the night’s work. I was in a sense of denial. I was uninsured and living check-to-check on my cook’s wage. I didn’t want to bother with any workers’ comp benefit I may have been entitled to, so there was no professional medical attention given to the mangled digit. After a day or so, when I realized I might have made an error in judgment, I still didn’t seek help. I feared getting yelled at by some nurse or intern for not going directly to the emergency room. Instead, I kept it clean and wrapped, and it eventually healed. The contour of my left thumb is no longer rounded, but now sloped off at a sharp angle.

Butchery Fish Butchering

I’ve heard many stories over the years—likely mythical legends by the time they got to me. The fish bone that went in one side of someone’s finger and emerged months later on the other side. The arm broken in multiple places by an industrial mixer. The fingers severed on deli slicers. I’ve had close calls throughout my twenty years battling in the kitchen, but in comparison to many colleagues, I’ve survived mostly unscathed. My worst injuries were the result of total rookie moves.

A young cook might boast over a particularly gnarly burn or gash, eager to display it as a badge of honor. It’s part of the bravado, the mandated sense of fearlessness that pervades the kitchen. As I grow older, I’m not proud of my mistakes. With time, one increasingly feels stupid over the tiniest nicks and scratches, embarrassed for even a split second’s lack of control. So a word of advice to those starting out in the industry: the second you sense you’re playing too close to the edge, slow down. You won’t work faster with a half of a finger, a burnt face or a broken arm.

Want to study with Chef Michael? Click here for more information on ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

By Robert Ramsey — Chef Instructor, School of Culinary Arts

In the early 2000s, I cracked open “The French Laundry Cookbook” for the first time. A young and inexperienced cook, I was working in a hotel kitchen and still only halfway through my culinary school education. I remember the moment with vivid clarity — pouring over the glossy, crisp pages with my fellow line cook, Caleb. The sous chef, who had brought in the cookbook for inspiration, was taken aback that we hadn’t seen it before, let alone heard of the man behind the book, Chef Thomas Keller.

Chef Robert Ramsey

Chef Robert Ramsey

Why has this seemingly mundane moment stuck like glue to my otherwise mediocre memory? Because it was truly pivotal in my culinary career. Up to this point, I was cooking because I was having fun, but my career path was rather aimless. I didn’t have goals, wasn’t making strides to advance my skills and was putting minimal effort into my culinary education. But then “The French Laundry Cookbook” came along and showed me what food could be: refined, inspired, creative, elegant, restrained yet exceedingly complex and simply exquisite! This was the moment when I woke up — my eyes opened to the world of cuisine. I began developing my goals and narrowed my focus on working in fine dining. I started collecting cookbooks from the hottest restaurants at the time — Alinea, Momofuku, Noma, Eleven Madison Park — reading them cover to cover, imprinting the images deeply into my brain. I made it my new mission to train in the kitchens of one of these restaurants. Young and cocky, I sent resume after resume, sure that one of them would hire me.

Young Chef Robert – discovering his career path (and a very large oyster mushroom)

Months later and with no offers on the table, I saw an article about a collaborative dinner with the team at the then lesser-known Blackberry Farm in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains. Everything from the food to the space to the natural surroundings looked incredible. Unfamiliar with the restaurant, I did some research and discovered that this exclusive meal was hosted by a working farm, inn and restaurant with close ties to Thomas Keller — the proprietor had trained with him. The on-site restaurant called “The Barn” had just opened and was proving itself on par with the best restaurants in the country. Offering five- and nine-course tasting menus with ingredients sourced from the surrounding farmstead, it had an interesting twist that appealed to a budding young chef like myself. Plus, they did regular collaborations with leading chefs from around the world. It would be like working at all of the top fine dining establishments — only they would come to you. I sent my resume right away.

One week later and still no response, I called, emailed and sent my resume again. Two weeks later… still nothing. But I didn’t give up. I called human resources to confirm that they received my application. “Did you forward it to the chef?” I inquired. They assured me that they had, but one month later, I still hadn’t heard from them. Unwilling to admit defeat, I called again, but this time directly to the restaurant front desk. I asked to speak with the chef and, shockingly, they put him on! Nervously, I stumbled through my case and was offered a three-day stage on the spot. My persistence had paid off. I was headed to Tennessee.

Blackberry Farm

Blackberry Farm

After completing my stage, I ended up working at Blackberry Farm for two years. I did collaborative dinners with Daniel Boulud (my first weekend on the job!), Alain Ducasse, Tien Ho, Barbara Lynch, Judy Rodgers, Francois Payard, Michael Schwartz, Steven Satterfield and many, many more. I harvested fresh produce from the garden. I learned to make farmstead products — preserves and pickles, aged charcuterie, even cheese produced from the sheep on the farm. I was exposed to new skills, techniques, ideas, chefs and ingredients, and, most importantly, I excelled. I quickly worked my way through every station. When the chef and executive sous chef traveled to New York City to cook at the James Beard House, they left me in charge of The Barn — I got to run the show!

As much as I learned during my time at Blackberry Farm, in the end I realized that I wasn’t in love. I found the pace of fine dining to be too slow for my tastes, the diners too fussy, the service too precious, the costs too astronomical and the expectations too inflated. I cherished my experience and had no regrets, but a career in crafting tasting menus was not for me. I had to see what else was out there.

I moved to New York, the food capital of the country, to explore the endless possibilities available in the food industry. Soon enough, I was working for James Beard Award-nominated chef Anna Klinger, and rose to the rank of chef de cuisine at her restaurant Bar Corvo. Anna’s restaurants (she also owns Al Di La and Lincoln Station) had the kind of casual and convivial environment I connected with, but maintained an emphasis on exceptional, authentic and honest food. While I felt I was cooking some of the best food of my life at the time, I began to see my role as chef morphing into that of a teacher. As my career progressed, I found a love for sharing my knowledge of food and cuisine. As a chef running a restaurant, I realized how much I cherished those teaching moments on the job — watching someone master an emulsion for the first time or slice into a perfectly rosy grilled pork chop. When I was offered a teaching position in the culinary arts program at ICE, I jumped on the opportunity. Finally, I had discovered a way to combine my two passions: cooking and teaching.

My experience shows that with all of the confidence and determination in the world, you can still be wrong about which path is the best fit for you. But there is only one way to find out if you are destined to be the next Thomas Keller or not, and that is to commit to trying. My philosophy in life is to figure out what you want and then go after it. Sometimes, you will be wrong and that’s okay. It’s a cycle, and hopefully, you’ll never run out of things you want, and you’ll never run out of the drive to go after them.

Want to train in the kitchen with Chef Robert? Click here to learn about ICE’s award-winning Culinary Arts program.

 

If you want to cook like a pro, it’s essential to master the fundamentals. That’s why ICE culinary students start their training by learning the proper techniques for basic cuts: from slicing and dicing to a julienne and chiffonade.

In a new video from ICE + Wüsthof, Chef James Briscione, ICE’s Director of Culinary Research and two-time Chopped champion, demonstrates the proper technique for three basic cuts: the slice, the dice and the julienne, just as he does with ICE culinary students. They look simple, but don’t skip these essential skills — mastering these cuts will make you a better, more efficient chef, as you use them again and again for mise en place and more.

Three tips from Chef James:

  1. Slice: The key to slicing is smooth, long cuts. Let the knife glide through the item you are cutting with a smooth sliding motion, rather than just pushing the knife through.

  2. Dice: Dicing should give you perfect cubes. It’s all about consistency — to get the right shape, every cut must be the same 1/2 inch wide, 1/2 inch long, 1/2 inch tall. Use a ruler when you first start to help improve your consistency.

  3. Julienne: Julienne will reveal all of the flaws in your cutting technique. Make sure that your knife moves straight up and down, meaning it should form a perfect 90˚ angle with your board when it makes contact. But also be aware of how the knife lines up. You want to make sure that the knife tip and handle are in a perfect line, not with the tip of the knife leaning to the left or right of the handle. In other words, the knife should also form a 90˚ angle with the edge of the table.

Think culinary arts is your calling? Click here to learn about ICE’s career programs.

By David Waltuck — Director of Culinary Affairs

Richard Olney’s book “Simple French Food” is one of my favorites. This exploration of “simple” food has a 40-page introduction explaining in detail what the author means by simple — clearly, simplicity can be complicated. The idea of the book — focusing on preparing simple foods very, very well — was made clear to me during a trip to France, years before I opened my restaurant Chanterelle.

plated sea bass

Like many young, aspiring chefs of the time, I was inspired by La Pyramide, the mythic three-Michelin-star restaurant in Vienne, France, and of its formidable chef Fernand Point, who mentored a whole generation of great chefs and is considered the father of nouvelle cuisine. Point had died long before I made my pilgrimage to La Pyramide in the mid 70s. (He died in 1955, the year of my birth. Coincidence?) But the restaurant, still run by his widow, remained a shrine to his legacy. The style and service at La Pyramide would stay with me throughout my career and influence the way I eventually conceived of my own restaurant.

First and foremost, La Pyramide demonstrated the importance of simplicity — with a caveat. Point famously reinvented haute cuisine by focusing on regional dishes, reworking and refining them, and ultimately achieving a seemingly simple perfection: one that was only attainable through much effort. As it turns out, the trick of simplicity is to never let the effort show.

Though considered the height of haute cuisine, La Pyramide was unpretentious in terms of service and style, something I noted in other great restaurants in France. The humility of the restaurant and staff made all of the difference in the experience for the client. This starkly contrasted with many French restaurants in New York in the 70s and 80s, where snobbishness and condescension were a matter of course. Like La Pyramide, my restaurant, Chanterelle, was noted as a place that was welcoming and unpretentious, though quite serious about food and service. This once surprising combination has since become the norm.

Finally, La Pyramide hammered home the value of the kind of expertise that only comes with time. At La Pyramide, everyone from the sommelier to the servers to the chef had been a part of the team for years, so their craft had become second nature. I discovered a profound lesson here: To be really good at anything, you must master technique to the point where you can relax within it. Like an athlete or a dancer, you must become so familiar with the movements of your craft that you’re completely at ease even at moments of great effort. This ease comes with practice and repetition, and in my opinion, relies on simplicity and lack of pretension. When you are confident and comfortable with what you do, there’s less temptation to indulge in showiness or condescension. Your clients will sense that they are in good hands and will want to go with you wherever you take them.

I like to think that the success of Chanterelle was in large part because I embraced the above lessons — humility, expertise through repetition, and the appearance of simplicity. I am sure that some chefs still practice this approach nowadays — though restaurants are going in a million directions, from perfected comfort food to elaborate, modern creations, I’m still a firm believer in stripping away. If something is on a plate, you should be able to give me a reason why. Though substantial efforts may go into each component of a dish, the result should feel simple. Diners can then enjoy the food on its own terms, and though they are on some level aware of the work that went into preparing it, they are not ostentatiously reminded of it.

Ready to get started on your culinary education? Click here to learn about ICE’s Culinary Arts program.