By Maureen Drum Fagin, Director of Career Services

This fall, ICE hosted the biggest career fair in our 39-year history. Employers from virtually every sector of the food and hospitality industry were on hand, hungry to fill their openings with fresh talent from our kitchens and classrooms. Among the participating employers were industry leaders Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group, Great Performances, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Craft Restaurant Group, Jean Georges’ Spice Market, Thomas Keller Restaurant Group, Union Square Hospitality Group and many more.

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The event is an incredible resource for our students and alumni, but—like any networking event—you get out what you put in. Here are ICE’s top tips for mastering any job fair:

1.  Do your homework. There’s nothing more flattering to an employer than a student who approaches their recruiting table referencing a recent review in the Times or an upcoming restaurant launch mention in Eater. Want to work for Union Square Hospitality Group? If you devoured Danny Meyer’s Setting the Table in one sitting, then make that known—it’s a surefire way to have your résumé rise to the top of the stack.

2. Perfect your résumé. The day of the career fair is not the time to revise your work history. Leave ample time for ICE Career Services staff or an eagle-eyed friend to review and proofread your résumé. On the day of the event, print out more copies than you think you’ll need. Nothing is worse than giving out your last copy…and then spotting your dream employer across the room.

3. Come up with a social strategy. If you’re a bit on the shy side, build confidence by gradually working your way up to your top choice employer. That way, you’ve tested your pitch on a few other companies and have shaken off most of your nervous energy.

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4. Don’t underestimate first impressions. Don’t forget to smile, give a firm handshake and make direct eye contact. Your appearance should be professional and neat. Leave the strong perfume, heavy make-up and showy jewelry at home. These are all distractions to a recruiter—make sure they remember you for your personality and résumé, not your flashy outfit.

5. Follow through. Networking doesn’t end when the fair is over. Review your notes from the event and follow up with the employers that interested you most—that will send a clear signal to the recruiter that you remain eager about the opportunity. Sending a “thank you” email also shows attention to detail and opens a line of communication. And if you were lucky enough to land an interview or trail at the event, be sure to arrive punctually or reschedule well in advance of the meeting.

6. Remember, the industry is smaller than you think. Each connection and conversation you made that day should be viewed as an opportunity, whether it pays off immediately or further down the road.

Looking for more advice on advancing your career? Click here.

 

By Carly DeFilippo

In the realm of culinary careers, food styling has historically gotten a bit of a bad rap. From mashed potatoes standing in for ice cream to marbles boosting the hearty look of a soup, it’s a profession that was once better known for trickery than honest beauty. Thankfully, recent trends in food media are pointing toward the less polished look. Among the media outlets popularizing this more natural approach to food styling? The celebrated source for all things cooking, Food52.

Spaghetti with eggplant and brussels sprouts, styled by ICE students.

Spaghetti with eggplant and brussels sprouts, styled by ICE students.

Yet—however more appealing it may be—this approach to styling isn’t without its challenges. Narrowing your primary tools to good lighting, beautiful props and high quality raw ingredients makes a talented food stylist’s skill—and speed—even more valuable. That’s why ICE was thrilled to offer a food styling workshop with Food52’s own Executive Editor (and ICE Culinary Arts alum!), Kristen Miglore and Freelance Stylist, Kristy Mucci.

A student practices photographing fresh produce; first attempts at still life food styling.

A student practices photographing fresh produce; first attempts at still life food styling.

Tailoring the workshop to a group of current and aspiring culinary professionals, Kristen and Kristy started off with cooking tips for photo shoots, emphasizing that their goal at Food52 is always to make a dish look beautiful, but achievable. The benefit of this home-cooked philosophy? Every dish they style is edible. Here’s how:

  • Start with great ingredients. This is the time to splurge at the greenmarket. Find the most beautiful products you can, as they’re the base on which you’ll build a beautiful plate.
  • Think about how food will change over time. Whether you’re tossing a salad or icing a cake, think about how your ingredients will transform over the course of the cooking process—and how quickly they’ll wilt, melt or dry up while waiting for their close-up.
  • Go easy on the salt. If you’re looking for a golden-brown crust on your steak, salt is your friend. But if you’re sautéing vegetables, wait to season them until after the shot, as the salt will break down their structure as they cook.
  • Give it a spritz. Recapture that freshly-cooked look with a few well-placed drops of olive oil or a light spray of water.
  • The two-part freeze. For objects that melt easily (like ice cream), scoop them into the shape you want, and then put them back in the freezer on a sheet pan. That way, each painstakingly crafted quenelle or spherical scoop will have the longest shelf-life possible. (Added tip: When working under hot artificial lights, professional stylists often sift pellets of dried ice over easily-melted objects.)
  • Don’t be afraid of the mess. Gently place your base components on a plate, then reposition any stray bits and add extra ingredients for texture or color. If you try to individually plate every strand of pasta or salad leaf, your plate will never look natural.
  • Clean without chemicals. Don’t use Windex on perfectly edible plates of food. Clean streaks or fingerprints with cotton balls or q-tips dipped in a solution of white vinegar (or vodka) and water.
A student plates lentils in the "brown foods" challenge.

A student plates lentils in the “brown foods” challenge.

As the class moved through a series of exercises—a still life, a pasta dish, a salad and the ever-challenging category of “brown food”— Kristen and Kristy also shared a few of their theories on what makes (and how to consistently achieve) a great shot:

  • Focus on the food. If your content is all about cooking (or eating, for that matter), then make the food your focus. Don’t be afraid to keep the styling simple or zoom in for a close-up.
  • Shoot raw ingredients and finished dishes separately. As Kristen and Kristy aptly pointed out, there’s a common trend where food stylists use raw ingredients to decorate a shot of a finished dish. Instead, they suggest preparing two separate photographs: a beautiful “before” shot of the raw ingredients and a plated “after” shot to demonstrate the end goal.
  • Explore the negative space. Have you ever eaten something so delicious that you forgot to grab a photo? That’s the idea here. Sometimes crumbs, a leftover streak of sauce or a rumpled napkin tells as much of a story as a perfect-looking plate.
  • Go through the motions. If there are utensils in your shot, think about where you would most naturally place them. (Additional pro tip: Struggling to prop up your fork at a certain angle? Little balls of wax are a perfect non-toxic tool.)
  • Get a safety shot. Does that roasted chicken look pretty good in the pan? Are your pancakes stacked up perfectly pre-syrup? Take the good shot while you have it, and then consider plating your chicken or attempting to get that coveted syrup-pouring shot. If those efforts fail, at least you have that first shot in the bag.
  • Give yourself more than one option. Always have an extra plate, bowl, or utensil or two on hand. Sometimes it takes a few tries to create the perfect shot.
  • Keep your eyes open. Sometimes the best photos aren’t the ones you plan. The more time you spend styling and shooting food, the more you’ll begin to notice the visually stunning moments that are a natural part of the process of cooking.

For more information about food styling and media classes at ICE, click here.  

Kristen and Kristy pose with some of their food styling students.

Kristen and Kristy pose with some of their food styling students.

By Carly DeFilippo

If you like cooking and have access to the internet, chances are you’ve heard of Food52, the brainchild of former New York Times dining writer, Amanda Hesser, and freelance editor/recipe tester, Merrill Stubbs. The two met when Amanda was charged with revising 1,400 recipes for The Essential New York Times Cookbook and over the course of many, many sessions in the kitchen, the pair discovered a mutual dissatisfaction with the state of online cooking resources—which, at that time, focused more on the quantity rather than the quality of recipes.

Amanda shares the story of Food52 with ICE students.

Amanda shares the story of Food52 with ICE students.

The founders had a vision for a website that would provide “everything for your cooking life,” from recipes, to kitchen tools, to servingware and more. Today, after launching with a focus on carefully curated recipes, that vision has been fulfilled, as the site has recently grown to include Provisions, an online lifestyle shop for food enthusiasts.

In the over-saturated world of food blogs and websites, the legions of followers and industry-wide respect that Food52 has garnered is an extraordinary success story. It was, therefore, no surprise that Amanda’s visit to the Institute of Culinary Education was a particular thrill for our students.

Food52's strategy? Get bigger by being better.

Food52′s strategy? Get bigger by being better.

When asked to describe what she believes distinguishes Food52 from other sites, Amanda cited a few specific aspects of their team’s philosophy:

  • A Unique Voice: Amanda believes that what prevents recipe-seekers from feeling loyal to recipe aggregators like Epicurious or All Recipes is the fact that these sites lack a unified perspective or tone. She explains, “[Voice] is what makes people feel they share your sensibility.”
  • A Thoughtful Aesthetic: Just like a beautifully presented plate of food, the understated look of Food52 has far more depth than you could even imagine. Their logo color? Grabbed from a pixelated photo of kale. It doesn’t matter that you didn’t notice—the point is that they’ve thought about it. “When you set a strong voice and aesthetic,” Amanda explained, “it’s like a magnet.”
  • Multiple Levels of Engagement: Only 2% of the Food52 community actually wants to add recipes, but there are many, many more users who want to comment, favorite and share the recipes with their own community. That said, of the 28,000 recipes currently on the site, 98% were provided by the community.
  • Self-Selecting Content: Amanda and Merrill intentionally chose to make the process of adding recipes to the site a commitment, automatically weeding out less-committed cooks from their pool of ad-hoc contributors. To bolster that pool of content, they run specific recipe contests—for example, a contest for burger recipes during grilling season. They’ve also signed on a few of their staff members—including Executive Editor and ICE alum Kristen Miglore—to maintain ongoing columns, like the ever-popular “Genius Recipes” series.
A manifesto for the cooking community of Food52

A manifesto for the cooking community of Food52

Sticking to these principles, Amanda and Merrill have grown one of the most successful food start-ups in the industry. Over time, their staff has grown and business needs have changed, which sometimes means revising the game plan. For example, in the beginning, they never planned to have “featured contributors” from other successful food websites. Yet, over time, they have figured out how to seamlessly celebrate the cookbook launches or other milestones of their community’s favorite DIY celebrities.

In fact, one of Amanda’s most resonant points was that their staff is very keyed in to the voice of the community. From viewing analytics reports to maintaining an unusually high response rate to their audience’s questions and comments, their multi-faceted approach is akin to a master class in Community Engagement 101. The end result is impressive: one of the most civilized web communities on the internet. As Amanda put it, “People [only] misbehave when they feel like there’s no one there [listening].”

Amanda answers students' questions and signs their New York Times cookbooks.

Amanda answers students’ questions and signs their New York Times cookbooks.

Advising those who want to launch their own food start-up, Amanda emphasized that it can be a long and bumpy road. “I have start-up baggage, but I think that baggage is actually good. [Before working at Food52], I made some mistakes without doing a lot of damage.” In short, working for a start-up on someone else’s dime to figure out how the financing and logistics come together might not be a bad idea. And don’t expect to get bought out for millions of dollars like some tech company: “Brands are not born overnight; we were not going for hyper-growth.”

Amanda also had salient advice for other aspiring food writers—namely, that the industry isn’t what it was when she first came onto the scene. “If you’re really interested in food, do something interesting in food,” Amanda says. You don’t need to be a full-time food writer—a role that rarely comes with a sense of financial stability—rather, you can work for a company that furthers your experience and knowledge, helping you to gain credibility.

Amanda with Dean of Culinary Business Steve Zagor and ICE Instructor Kate Edwards.

Amanda with Dean of Culinary Business Steve Zagor and ICE Instructor Kate Edwards.

Last but not least, Amanda shared a bit of insight that can apply to all ICE students, whether future entrepreneurs, bakers, recipe testers or food media personalities: “We’re not in a business of big wins—it’s about small adjustments. Always be ready to adapt.”

For more lectures and discussions with industry leaders at ICE, click here.

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By Carly DeFilippo

Like many ICE grads, Amy Thielen spent time in New York City’s top restaurant kitchens after graduating from our Culinary Arts program. But after seven years working for such chefs as David Bouley, Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Amy’s Midwestern roots came calling. Today, she is a rising star on the Food Network and a James Beard award-winning cookbook author, exploring her all-American heritage and helping to redefine the field of modern Midwestern cooking.  

What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE?

I was living in Minnesota—in a cabin in the woods—growing a garden, canning and working part-time as a breakfast cook at a diner on the main street of my hometown. ICE seemed like the right fit for a number of reasons. First, it was less expensive that other schools, and I was still paying off my college loans. Second, it was in New York City. Plus, I just liked the feeling of the school.

Where was your externship?

I did my externship at Danube, which was David Bouley’s Austrian restaurant at the time (in the space that is now Brushstroke). I arrived just before they received three stars from the New York Times and, after the externship, was hired to work garde manger. The kitchen was staffed with great chefs and a bunch of cooks from Michelin-starred European restaurants. I learned an incredible amount. It blew my mind, and from then on, I was hooked on fine dining—I worked in the area for seven years after that.

So what was your path from Danube to The New Midwestern Table?

At the end of my year at Danube, I spent time testing recipes for Bouley’s cookbook, East of Paris, in New York Times writer Melissa Clark’s test kitchen. From there, I worked at Bouley and then on the line at db Bistro Moderne. I was promoted to sous chef at Jean Georges Vongerichten’s Chinese restaurant, 66, and then I worked on the opening team for Cru with Chef Shea Gallante, who I’d known from my Bouley days.

When I got pregnant with my son, I continued to work at Cru on research and development, while also working on a potential cookbook. After my son was born, I stepped away from the restaurant kitchens to freelance in magazine test kitchens, which is something I’d done previously between cooking jobs. In particular, I developed a lot of recipes for Country Living.

Midwestern-Table

When my son was a year old, we moved back to our cabin in the woods of northern Minnesota. That’s where I wrote my cookbook proposal for The New Midwestern Table, which was published in 2013. As it was being published, I was approached about producing a TV show, based loosely on my book, with Lidia Bastianich’s production company, Tavola. We shot the sizzle reel, and shortly after, Food Network picked up the show. Two seasons of Heartland Table have since aired on Food Network.

At the moment, I’m working on a second book for Clarkson Potter—a food memoir.

Are there any accomplishments of which you are particularly proud?

My book, The New Midwestern Table, won the 2014 James Beard award for best book on American cooking! I’d won a previous Beard award in 2011 for some journalistic pieces I wrote for the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but taking home the award for my own book really takes the cake. I’m glad that my hard work paid off and that people in the industry are starting to look at the food of the Midwest—past and present—with renewed interest.

Can you describe a typical workday?

Oh! It varies. I take my son to school and then about half of the time, I go to the gym (essential for professional eaters!). Then, lately, I write all day. If I were working on recipes, I would probably cook all day. If it’s summer, I weed the garden and pick vegetables too. It’s funny, but my best writing comes when I’m working in my kitchen, making something. Somehow, it’s like my arms are my brain’s motor; when they turn, it works better.

What might people be surprised to learn about your career?

It looks from the outside like a lot of fun and games—eating and writing all day—but the deadlines are tough! I stay up very late writing a lot of nights, drinking cold coffee.

Where would you like to see yourself in the future?

I love where I’m at right now. I’d like everything to stay exactly the same—but maybe be 20% less busy. I’d like to have more time to do fun things with our son.

By Carly DeFilippo

At ICE, our students come from a variety of different backgrounds and have a broad range of goals. The man or woman standing next to you in class could be a concert pianist, doctor, plumber, florist, marketing executive or stay-at-home mother. Yet among the many fascinating life stories we’ve come across at ICE, alumnus Sharon Folta’s is particularly memorable. After graduating from ICE, she has both pursued a career in healthful cooking as a Personal Chef/Cooking Instructor and authored a memoir, Little Satchmo, describing her experience growing up as the daughter of famed jazz trumpet player Louis Armstrong.

What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE?

I was working in sales for WNEW FM radio as a Account Executive.  I graduated from Iona College with a BA in Communication Arts eight years prior and worked my way up from receptionists to Sales Assistant to Account Executive.

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Photo Credit: New York Times

What was it specifically that attracted you to the program?  

I’ve been passionate about food since my childhood and always enjoyed cooking and entertaining. I always wanted to study cooking professionally, but wasn’t able to go to school full time. When I heard about Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School (the school’s name was changed to ICE in 2001) and started taking recreational classes at the original location on the Upper East Side. A few years later, in 1998, I enrolled in the professional Culinary Arts course that was given on nights and weekends, and 6 years later, I enrolled in ICE’s Professional Culinary Management course that was given on nights and weekends.

Where was your externship?

I did my externship at Jo Jo’s, Jean-George Vongerichten’s first New York City restaurant. I did make some great connections, and it really opened my eyes to the world of fine dining.

What have you been up to since graduating?

I relocated to Sarasota, Florida where I have been working as Personal Chef, and I’m a volunteer Chef Instructor with Share Our Strength.  I teach the “Cooking Matters” course which is sponsored by our local Food Bank. On a personal note, over the last 6 years, I have written and published my memoir, Little Satchmo,  which tells my story of what it was like growing up in the shadow of my famous father.

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Briefly describe a day in your current working life.

Today my culinary business, Sharon’s Kitchen, is focused on preparing and delivering healthy meals for people with dietary restrictions. This is an under-served audience and a great business opportunity in serving this market.  I also offer cooking classes that focus on diabetic-friendly and gluten-free meals. I’ve discovered so many great tasting dishes that also are good for you.

Where would you like to see yourself in the future?

I’m at my future. My culinary vision has been realized as a Personal Chef and Chef Instructor. The only thing left to do is to continue to grow my customer base for prepared meals, expand into catering and teach a minimum of ten cooking classes per month.

 

By Liz Castner, Pastry & Baking Arts and Culinary Management Student

Every year, ICE Culinary Management students are exposed to some of the greatest entrepreneurs in the business. These industry leaders generously take time out of their busy schedules to share their stories and offer advice to the next generation of restauranteurs.

Most recently, my class was lucky enough to visit Chef David Bouley’s whimsical TriBeCa restaurant, Bouley Botanical. Filled with window gardens, a gleaming kitchen, film equipment and every type of new culinary gadgetry you can imagine, Bouley Botanical is a culinary fairytale of sorts. Chef Bouley has clearly succeeded in creating a foodie fantasy.

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Chef David Bouley

Bouley Botanical’s success should come as no surprise, as Chef has a long history as an innovator in the restaurant business. He has studied in France under some of the most masterful chefs in the world and is credited with opening Montrachet, which revolutionized New York City Restaurant culture. His success is largely attributable to his attention to detail and devotion to exceptional service. He shared with us the importance he places on a well-crafted tasting menu, as well as investing time in understanding what his guests like to eat. This enables him to provide patrons with the best meal possible, his primary goal as a chef.

While Bouley’s bio for the Meet The Culinary Entrepreneurs event series only mentions it briefly, the chef emphasized the importance of health and wellness as central to his business. Bouley has dedicated his life to learning anything and everything he can about health in different ways. I really admire this aim, because while many chefs are interested in nutrition, most chefs consider dining out as a departure (as opposed to a central part of) their guest’s nutritional needs. Bouley also is essentially a Mother Nature purist. He views it as his responsibility to take the best that nature can offer and make it even more delicious, while maintaining its nutritional content.

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I consider myself fairly well-educated on the subject of health, but the tidbits he shared with us blew my mind. One fact he relayed to us is one that I had heard before, but never stopped to really examine: each plant food provides our body with nutrients, but the way that we prepare that food can diminish the quality of what it has to offer. Garlic, for example, is one of the healthiest foods we can eat, but according to Bouley, most of us are overcooking it, diminishing the positive health impact of eating it in the first place. Similarly, we are all ruining the properties of green tea, which should never be heated to over 150-160 degrees. With the boiling temp of water at 212, we are basically murdering those leaves every time we heat the kettle to a boil and pour over them.

Bouley also shared some facts that I had never heard before. He explained that our plants have changed, and as a result, the gluten that we develop from our wheat has changed as well. While gluten for wheat used to be primarily water-soluble and easy for our body to digest, it is now mainly fat-soluble, making it more difficult for our body to process. This is why gluten has become increasingly difficult for people to digest comfortably, and helps explains why those without a known gluten allergy still feel better when they forgo eating gluten.

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Inside Bouley Botanical

Trained in pastry, Chef Bouley has been working on using alternative plants to make breads and chips. He gave us a chip made out of kuzu – the leaves of a flowering vine given to the United States by the Japanese – topped with a kind of cheese and truffle oil: simply delicious.

Chef Bouley has educated himself not only on how to best consume all of what nature can give us, but has also studied the ways in which science can enhance what nature provides. He drinks only kangen water, which is ionized to a pH value of 9.5. According to Bouley, water with a pH of 9.5 is the optimum water for human consumption because it does all the things that water is really supposed to do for the human body. It detoxifies and washes away toxins we’ve taken in, it hydrates our cells and it provides us with the oxygen and hydrogen molecules our body needs.

Keeping with the health focus, next on the horizon for Chef Bouley is a plan to educate and help the general population get the most out of natural products. He is filming the production of what he calls “Building Blocks: Ingredients in a Living Pantry” to show consumers how to best use food products to make quality, nutritious and efficient meals at home.

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Examples of these building blocks include showing viewers how to roast fresh garlic to the appropriate “blonde caramel” stage and then use that product to make garlic puree and garlic oils, which can be used in a number of applications. Others examples include demos for parsley water, various applications for vanilla and the many ways to use herbs in cooking. The shorts are beautifully filmed in-house at Bouley Botanicals and are hugely inspiring, showing what a master does to get the best of his ingredients. Bouley sees this living pantry as a way of prepping the mise en place for all your meals, of preserving ingredients that can go bad, and most importantly, of providing the highest amount of nutrients and flavor with the most reasonable amount of effort.

Bouley offered some particularly ingenious examples, including using onion puree to thicken a sauce rather than flour or cornstarch. It’s both healthier for you and delivers far more flavor—sheer brilliance. He also recommends drizzling a tomato with a little garlic oil and vanilla oil, and then taking a bite. I haven’t done it yet, but he claims it will be one of the best things we have ever eaten.

Over the course of his talk, Chef Bouley clearly communicated some sound advice for those of us pursuing a career in food. First: our careers are ever-evolving, so we should never feel boxed in. There is always room for growth and experimentation, both in the kitchen and beyond. Second: it is very important to learn as much as we can about the ingredients we intend to use, whether in a restaurant kitchen or our own home cooking. Even though I plan to pursue a career in desserts, not generally thought of as the “healthiest” part of a person’s diet, Chef Bouley has inspired me to learn as much as I can about my ingredients in order to deliver the best flavor and value to my guests.

By Marisa LoBianco, Department of Career Services

Do you love cooking and being around food? Spend hours watching cooking shows and reading cookbooks? Daydream about rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty in the kitchen? Then make 2014 the year you pursue a fulfilling, creative future in food.

The beginning of a new year is a great time to take a step back and reevaluate your professional goals. While choosing a creative path or changing careers may seem daunting, it can also lead to a deeper level of satisfaction in your professional life. A career in food means that you never stop learning, from troubleshooting new techniques to experimenting with exotic ingredients. In addition, it offers the opportunity to enjoy the tangible results of your hard work and to share the fruit of that labor with others.

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Whether you’re just getting out of school or have spent significant time in another career, you have already developed transferable skills that will help you succeed in the food world. What’s important is to assess your interests, skills, likes, dislikes—and whether your present job is meeting your needs. Reflect on which working styles, environments and activities leave you feeling fulfilled or frustrated, empowered or exhausted—and use this as a guide for your future decisions.

That doesn’t mean the decision is easy. Like any career path, committing to a culinary career involves some sacrifices. You may have to start at the bottom and work your way up, at times committing evenings, weekends and holidays to your job. Remain reasonable and acknowledge that making small sacrifices now will pay off in the future. For those who are truly passionate and determined, there are endless employment opportunities in the culinary industry to fit your personal interests and working style.

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Volunteering with experienced chefs and externing are great ways to build on the foundations of your culinary training and to learn about the industry. These are experiences we facilitate at ICE, so that you can enter the job market with valuable references and industry contacts. In 2013 alone, we placed 498 externs in 292 establishments across the country. But the most important thing you bring to the table is your attitude and willingness to learn—the top characteristics employers say they look for in our graduates.

From sous chefs to cake artists, food writers to restaurant owners, our students have found success in every corner of the food industry. You too can have an invigorating new lifestyle and share your passion, skills, and creations with the world. It’s possible to say “I love my job!” and mean it.

By Rick Smilow

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ICE President, Rick Smilow

When possible, I make the enjoyable effort to have a meal in the restaurants that ICE alumni have opened as executive chef and/or owner. I don’t have to travel far to do this in metro New York. But in late August, I made some trips to visit alumni spots in Seattle, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC—all in the space of 12 days! That lead to the idea to have a long distance “round table” interview with the three ICE alumni chef/owners: Joncarl Lachman (‘02), Tiffany MacIsaac (’02), and Rachel Yang (’01).

In 2013, Chef Rachel Yang’s Seattle restaurant Joule ranked 9th on Bon Appétit’s “Best New Restaurants” in America list—an honor that was soon followed by a spot (two notches up) on Seattle magazine’s similar shortlist. Yang, along with chef/husband Seif Chirchi, was also acknowledged by Bon Appétit as a pioneer in Korean-American fusion cuisine, which they feature at Joule’s sister restaurant Revel.

Executive Pastry Chef Tiffany MacIsaac’s recipes have been featured in Food & Wine and her restaurant Birch & Barley, which she runs with her husband, Executive Chef Kyle Bailey, has been recognized by top critics as one of Washington, DC’s must-eat destinations. A James Beard Award semi- finalist for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2013, MacIsaac oversees the dessert program for all of Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s eateries which, in addition to Birch & Barley, include: Tallula, Eat- bar, Vermilion, Evening Star Cafe, Columbia Firehouse, Rustico, and Buzz Bakery.

Chef Joncarl Lachman is also no stranger to accolades. His Chicago restaurant Vincent was named one of Chicago magazine’s “Best New Restaurants” in 2011 and his HB Bistro was featured in the prestigious Michelin guidebook. This year Lachman opened his highly anticipated Noord, a “Dutch-American” eatery in Philadelphia, the city where he was raised.

We asked these three impressive graduates to give some perspective and insight as to how they each have blazed a successful trail through what can be a very challenging career path. Here’s what they had to say:

Chef Joncarl

Chef Joncarl Lachman

 

How do the foods and flavors of your childhood fit into your current menu?

Joncarl: I grew up in Southwest Philadelphia surrounded by Italians. When I would go to my friends’ homes, their mothers would be making lasagna and meatballs, etc. I would return home to my own Dutch mother’s boiled cabbage and meat. Needless to say, at the moment, it was not a culinary inspiration. Little did I know I would end up in South Philly again surrounded by Italians, but this time it is me, and not my mother, making Dutch food!

Tiffany: I’m from Hawaii and I find that I tend to gravitate toward fresher, more acid desserts,—often incorporating passion fruit, pineapple and other tropical fruits into my menu.

Rachel: Where I was from and my Korean heritage, definitely influenced the menu at Joule and Revel. That’s what makes our restaurants so unique.

At what point in your life did you know you wanted to become a chef?

Tiffany MacIsaac: When I turned 18 I moved to New York where my first job was as a hostess at Michael’s New York. I had never really experienced food as anything other than a way to fill your stomach. After a few months of working, they invited me in to dine in the restaurant. I fell in love with everything. But the moment I knew I wanted to get into the kitchen was when I tried the beef cheeks. It blew my mind and within a week, I was trailing in their kitchen.

Rachel Yang: It was only after college that I decided to cook. I had an idea of what it is like being a chef and a restaurateur, but never thought that I would be one someday.

Chef Rachel Yang

Chef Rachel Yang

What is the process like to open a second, or third restaurant, versus the first?

Rachel: After a while, you can totally visualize the space and how the flow should work, even looking at the floor plan. You can construct a restaurant from every staff  member’s point of view, whereas in the beginning, you can only see the restaurant from a cook’s point of view.

Joncarl: I have to admit, it almost becomes addicting. I was petrified, when I made the first big step to open my own place. My second restaurant, Vincent, was not an easy experience, largely due to the fact that we brought-in other partners. With Noord, while it was certainly a leap of faith, I had more confidence.

Tiffany: I’d like to say that it gets easier with every opening. But after two restaurants, two bakeries, a doughnut shop and a brewery—I can say that each one presented its own challenges. Every time you do it, you are analyzing how to be better, faster, and smarter. You constantly push yourself to think of new ways to do things. Which certainly keeps you on your toes.

What are some of you “signature” dishes and were you surprised when they became so popular?

Rachel: One of our most popular dishes at Joule is our spicy rice cake. It’s really a great combination of the traditional rice cake dish from Korea and other very non-traditional items. It was my personal favorite when we put it on the menu, but I wasn’t sure how people would perceive it since it’s pretty darn spicy. We haven’t had any complaints that it is too spicy and, surprisingly, it’s been the most popular dish on the menu.

Tiffany: I started doing a cookie plate with kid classics and, four years later, it still hasn’t left the menu. Things like the Hostess cupcake, oatmeal cream pie, and Snickers bars—in a more grown-up version—are very appealing to customers. I knew they would be liked, but I didn’t think they would become such a big thing that they would never leave the menu.

Chef Tiffany MacIsaac

Chef Tiffany MacIsaac

Are there some ideas you thought would be a hit and turned out to be a flop?

Tiffany: I can never seem to get desserts with rice pudding to sell. People tell me all the time how much they love it, but I can’t seem to get them to buy a composed dessert featuring it.

How important—or not—are organic ingredients to your menu?

Rachel: It’s certainly important, but sometimes not the priority. We get organic and/or local ingredients whenever we can, but some ingredients are just really hard to come by or too expensive for us to serve at a decent price point.

Joncarl: I had the opportunity to work under Nora Pouillon, the “queen of organics,” at Restaurant Nora in Washington, DC. While it was a fantastic experience, it certainly affects a restaurant’s price point. We do our best to use locally farmed ingredients. If it is organic, it is a plus, but not a necessity.

Composing a new dish is sometimes simple and other times complex. Do you have a framework or set process when creating a new menu item?

Rachel: Sort of. I often have 2-3 key ingredients that I want to use and try to find an interesting way to connect them. Or I sometimes, I have a dish in mind and see a couple things I can change that would give it our signature stamp. At the end, I look for a “wow” factor in each dish, something that makes it stand out from others.

Tiffany: It’s not like I’ve got a sheet with boxes I check off as I’m developing a dessert. But, if all the components span several textures and temperature and you are able to make sure all the flavors taste distinctly like what they are supposed to, you are at a good starting point. I hate when a dessert doesn’t taste like its core components. Like a green apple sorbet that doesn’t have the right tartness or a ginger marshmallow with no bite. Keeping the balance of salt versus sweet will help the dessert from becoming cloying.

As an estimate, what percentage of your customers are regulars?

Rachel: There are quite a few regulars at both restaurants. Especially at Revel, we have a decent number of customers who come for lunch every week.

Joncarl: I would say 20 percent and growing. I love cultivating regular guests. It is honestly like having friends over to my home for dinner.

Tiffany: That’s interesting. At the restaurants we strive for regulars that come in every couple of weeks. At the bakeries we are trying to make people come in 4-5 times a week. I’d say 25 percent of Buzz bakery customer’s start or end their day here 3- 4 times a week, which is great.

What advice would you give to our culinary students on how to make the most of their first jobs out of school?

Tiffany: Find a chef whose food you are passionately in love with and give them everything you have—they’ll likely give a lot back to you. Don’t ask how much money you’ll make, or how long the day will be. That doesn’t matter at the beginning (or ever for that matter). The money will be low and the days will be long, but you aren’t done learning just because you finished school. Think about the hours as an investment in your future. And never leave your job in under 14 months. It just looks bad on a resume.

Rachel: Especially for the first restaurant job, you really need to put your head down and work. It sounds very boring and passive, but there is a reason why someone is asking you to clean a case of mushrooms or to cut quarts of shallots, brunoise, everyday. It takes time to master simple tasks. As you get used to doing this kind of work and can do it fast, your eyes will simply open up to what else is going on in the kitchen.

Joncarl: Keep your eyes and ears open. You know so much less than you think you do. Volunteer for as many events as possible. Be respectful. Get to know as many people in the industry as possible.

America seems to be experiencing a cocktail craze. Why do you think that is, and is mixology important at your restaurant?

Joncarl: I am incredibly annoyed by trends in general. I think the only other trend that annoyed me more was bacon, bacon, bacon….yawn!

As the restaurant scene continues to grow in your market, it must be more difficult to find—and retain—great staff. What methods do you use to deal with this challenge?

Rachel: The first thing that we want to make sure to do when we hire a cook is to see what the reason is that they want to work at our restaurants. We want to make sure that they have a very strong personal interest in working here. They need to love the food that we cook and be proud of where they are.

Joncarl: We have had the good fortune of keeping employees pretty long term. The type of environment I try to cultivate is very “familial.” When team members are emotionally invested in what we are doing, they tend to stay longer.

Tiffany: It is hard, but as a chef you need to always be looking for good people, then give them opportunities to keep learning and growing.

If you could travel to a foreign country to learn about its cuisine, what country would that be?

Joncarl: One of my life goals was to see as much of the world as possible, before I got serious about opening my own restaurants. I have been to 35 countries and spent some time living in the UK and Spain. I think my favorite place to experience the food was Singapore, and it would be great to re-visit and do more street stall eating. The next trip is back to Amsterdam, to catch up on the burgeoning modern Dutch cuisine that is happening in neighborhoods like the Jordaan and dePijp.

Tiffany: I’ve always wanted to go to Thailand. My husband and I thought we’d go there for our honeymoon, but we unexpectedly got job offers in DC and instead of honeymooning, we opened a restaurant—the opposite of a honeymoon.

Rachel: Maybe China. It would be great to learn about all regional Chinese cuisine and go beyond typical “Chinese flavor” that we are so used to in America.

What do you do to achieve a better or acceptable “work-life” balance?

Rachel: I have two little boys, three and a half years old and one and a half. They totally keep me going after a long day at work.

Joncarl: I think when you are a chef/owner the restaurant actually is your life—though it is good to take a mental health day every once in a while.

Tiffany: (Laughing) Is that a trick question? We still haven’t figured that one out yet. I guess I’d have to say that marrying the chef helps. Our work is our life, so I guess if we work all the time, then we balance it pretty well!

 

By Liz Castner

 

One of the most important aspects of both the culinary and pastry programs takes place outside the classroom—trailing. Indeed, I learned a tremendous amount about technique and working in professional kitchens through my trailing experience. However, if you had asked me several months ago what “trailing” was, I would have assumed we were talking about hiking. In fact, a friend recently told me that she thought I had been misspelling “trials” when posting about my trailing experience on Facebook. While my spelling was accurate, my friend was not far off in her interpretation of the word.

 

A trail is a combination of a job interview and a trial work shift. Basically, it’s an interview that can last anywhere from 6 to 10 hours. This is how every person cooking in a kitchen gets a job, and how ICE Culinary Arts or Pastry & Baking Arts students get their externships. For an externship, you only have to go on one trail, but as you progress in your career and are applying for more competitive jobs—for example, Sous Chef or Executive Chef—you will likely go on more than one trail at the same restaurant.

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At the time of this posting, I have gone on 5 trails and have happily secured my externship at Colicchio & Sons, a restaurant in Tom Colicchio’s Craft Restaurant Group. Despite having found an externship, I also intend on doing an additional trail in a cake studio, purely because I want to see the magic of cake decorating on a professional level! While trails are primarily places to apply for positions, they can also serve as a window into what it’s like behind-the-scenes for those who are interested. In this sense, trailing is not simply useful for building your resume, but also figuring out the kind of job and working environment you ultimately want.

 

When I first started culinary school, I was 110% sure I’d be pursuing an externship in a bakery when the time came. Bake shop items are tasty and a lot of fun to make. Some shops specialize in wedding and occasion cakes, which are always exciting to craft. Further, they offer a work atmosphere that is often both calming and fun–a great combination in my book! Fortunately, I was able to trail at two truly excellent bakeries: Astor Bake Shop and One Girl Cookies.

 

Astor Bake Shop was a revelation—the small kitchen was not totally closed off from the seating area, so while mixing up pumpkin cheesecake batter, I got to listen to some smooth jazz and totally relax. It was a small kitchen, but a great work environment with some amazing seasonal desserts. Right off the bat, I was tempted to take this externship. I knew it would be comfortable and fun, and that I would learn so much from the wonderful and inspiring Chef, George McKirdy (who, I might add, is so cool that I would gladly hangout with him both on and off the job!).

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Cake of the day at One Girl Cookies

Similarly, the experience at One Girl Cookies was fabulous. ICE alum Dave Crofton and his team were incredibly friendly and welcoming. And the cookies—oh the cookies! They are truly some of the best I’ve ever had. To top it off, I even got to whip up a batch of the newest cookie recipe they have yet to release. I wish I could tell you what’s in it, but I’m keeping it a secret until Chef Dave announces it himself. For now, all I’ll say is that this new cookie is not merely delicious, but also entirely innovative. I love that kind of creativity–bringing together flavors in different ways than the norm, particularly in desserts.

 

So, based on my above descriptions, it would seem that I had two incredible bakeries to choose between for my externship. Yet, while I fully intend to work in a bakery someday, I couldn’t help but think—if I move back to California and look for a job there, what would be the best externship to have on my resume to show that I took advantage of my time here? In New York, there are so many opportunities, and so many chefs that are known not just nationally, but internationally. Thus, while I truly loved my trailing experiences at both Astor Bake Shop and One Girl Cookies, I decided I needed to explore other options. I wanted to explore other avenues, hunt down any chance I could, and pick the absolute best one for me, not just for my resume’s sake, but in order to combine elements of everything I want going forward: a great atmosphere, beautiful, seasonal, and delicious desserts, patient chefs, friendly co-workers, and most importantly, lots to do!

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I trailed at Oceana, Spice Market, and Colicchio & Sons. Either a chef or a representative from these three restaurants was present at the ICE Career Fair here in September, which is how I lined up several trailing opportunities.  My experience at each restaurant taught me something new. My first revelation–which took place at Oceana–was that it is much harder to make a batch of 600 cookies than it is to make a batch of 60. Also it is REALLY HEAVY. Oceana’s kitchen is huge, and there was so much to do. The chef I worked with, Chef Joseph Gabriel, was intimidating at first, but ended up being incredibly patient and nice. It was my very first trail (the bakeries came a little later). To say the least, I felt a little overwhelmed.

 

My next trail was at Spice Market, where I worked with the impressive and incredibly creative Chef Christina Kaelberer. This experience made me realize that I haven’t developed some skills that are crucial in a restaurant setting—namely, being able to quenelle and to be consistent in my output (i.e. make things the same shape and size). I left convinced that I must learn to do these things, STAT.

 

At Colicchio & Sons, I watched and helped a well-oiled machine churn out exceptional work. Furthermore, I spent time being taught by nearly every member of the culinary team—each of whom was kind, informative, and excited to have me there. The team also really loves the executive pastry chef, Stephen Collucci, a talented man with an inspiring and friendly demeanor. Everyone was excited about his work, and it was contagious. As at Spice Market, they had me taste most of the desserts, which were beyond words in terms of their deliciousness. There was a lot to do, a lot to see, and a lot to create, but it wasn’t overwhelming—it was beautiful. At the end of the trail, I knew that this was where I wanted to do my externship. Fortunately, they wanted me too; I start in December, and I am completely pumped!

 

Courtesy of: http://newyork.seriouseats.com

Picture courtesy of: http://newyork.seriouseats.com

Before I go, I’d like to leave you with some tips that I took away from these experiences. I have no doubt that you will learn your own lessons, but if you’ve taken the time to read this far, why not pick up a couple of pointers to take with you?

 

Number 1: Come in with a really positive attitude. You want to display the following to your potential employer: I am eager to learn, and I am ready to work long and hard. Chef Dave complimented me on both of these things and even told me that these qualities are even more important to chefs than actual skill level, which will naturally increase with practice.

 

Number 2: Leave your ego at the door. No matter where they went to school, everyone who already works in the bakery or the restaurant in question knows way more than you do. You will learn these skills, but in the meantime, no task is too small.

 

Number 3: Your chef instructors are good sources of information, but you have to ask! After my trail at Spice Market, I went into class and asked my instructor Chef Scott for advice. His answer? “Take a knife skills class, silly! And buy a tub of Crisco to practice quenelling at home, over and over again.”

 

Number 4: This is another piece of wisdom from Chef Scott, prompted by my frustration at failing to recreate an exact replica of a chef’s perfectly executed recipe. Chef Scott said that it’s a myth that someone can just watch and learn, which was quite a relief to hear. In other words: Practice makes perfect. To be your best, practice at home.

 

Number 5: Read the dessert menus ahead of time. Chefs love it when you can show how much you care about being there!

 

Number 6: Try everything, ask questions, and don’t be afraid of failure. Go on as many trails as you can.  It will help you gain not only perspective, but also knowledge of your own needs and interests!

 

Good luck on your trails!

 

By Cindi Avila and Stephen Zagor

 

For the past two weeks, The Institute of Culinary Education has had international students walking its halls. Students from ICE’s Russian campus were in New York City to learn the tricks of the trade from some of ICE’s best culinary management instructors. A year after ICE first opened its doors at its new school in St. Petersburg, Russia, fifteen students from the school traveled more than 4000 miles for the chance to train with instructors such as Stephen Zagor and Vin McCann. Most of the students are in their mid-twenties, and speak both Russian and English fluently.

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Group of Visiting Russian Students with ICE President, Rick Smilow (Left)

The students, most of whom hope to own or manage their own restaurants back in Russia, spent their two-week visit soaking in the sights and sounds of New York City, enjoying trips to Eataly and Blue Smoke, and spending time with ICE staff, students, and instructors.

 

Here’s more about the visit from the Dean of ICE’s School of Business Management, Stephen Zagor:

 

While it’s tempting to envision Russia as a beacon of Eastern European culture, untouched by globalization’s influence, it is a far cry from the reality.  Today, Russian is overrun with shrines to the best America has to offer, including McDonald’s, Burger King, Papa John’s, Subway, and the soon-to-open Shake Shack. Our former rivals can’t wait to absorb American culture, much like Sponge Bob eating a Crabby Patty.

 

Upon noticing Russia’s interest in American food, ICE and SwissAm partnered together to open an Cooking and Culinary Management school in St. Petersburg. The school’s aim is to train Russians in American styles of cooking and culinary management. Over the course of the past two weeks, ICE hosted the first class of Russian students enrolled in our St. Petersburg location during their visit to New York City.

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Russian Students on Field Trip to Restaurant Public in NYC

I had the opportunity to spend some time with the students and their leader, the Director of Food and Beverage studies at ICE St. Petersburg. This group of highly motivated, focused and excited students–none of whom had ever stepped foot on American shores prior to this visit–reminded me of the first time I took my son to Disney World, albeit in a different setting.  Their reaction to the New York food scene was a resounding “WOW!”  They couldn’t get enough of this American culinary fantasy land.

 

The students informed me that Russian restaurants are where American restaurants were twenty or thirty years ago. Smoking is the norm. Dining concepts are largely unfocused and lack nuance; sushi rolls might just as easily contain raisins and chicken as tuna.

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Russian Students Dining at Saxon & Parole

The dark, leafless trees of the past now blossom with new potential for economic growth and restaurant development. As a result, SwissAm, which owns over 70 restaurants in Russia, has a keen interest in training a new fleet of Russian chefs that will breathe life into the culinary scene. If that isn’t enough, they are also developing a behemoth 20,000+ square foot restaurant complex on 8th Avenue and 42nd. So who’s invading who?

 

All I know is this–I learned so much in the short time I spent with our visiting Russian students and their leader that I felt the role of teacher and student was practically reversed.  They are a sharp, dynamic, and impressive group. Their appetite for success is strong–very strong. It reminds me of watching my son grow from a child into a better version of me. Don’t be surprised if we train the Russian to be better versions of us.

 

Maybe if we are lucky, some will end up back here at ICE or in the USA. That would be a win-win situation.  Until that day (hopefully) comes, we here at ICE NYC wish them all the best of luck!