By Carly DeFilippo


The process of choosing your future is an equal combination of inspiration and preparation. When it comes to careers in food, a strong sense of inspiration is often what comes first, but without a clear plan—not to mention the resources and information to help create one—it can be tough to feel prepared to make a decision.


You might already have questions or maybe you’re wondering, “What are the right questions?” So, in anticipation of our Find Your Culinary Voice (and Career) panel on September 10 at 6:30pm, we asked our faculty of industry experts to share their insider perspectives.


Is it the right time for me to consider a career in food?

Steve Zagor, Dean of Business & Management says, “The right time to consider a career in food is when you realize your current life is unfulfilling and you can’t stop thinking about food, restaurants or cooking.”


Andrea Tutunjian, Director of Education agrees: “Making the effort as you have to come to ICE means you have a passion and desire for this industry. Timing is a personal consideration, but the [current] shortage of qualified industry professionals makes it more ideal.”

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Linda Simon, Senior Associate Director of Admissions, says it’s about finding value in your day-today experiences. “There’s an old expression…if you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always gotten. If you’re okay with that, then it isn’t the right time [ to make a change]…but if you’re not, then it is time to start considering what drives your “always”.


What is the value of a professional program, versus “working my way up” in the industry?

“A strong culinary school will provide you with connections and perspective that would be much harder to gain on your own,” says ICE President Rick Smilow.


Andrea echoes this sentiment: “You can work your way up through the ranks, but most of us are not a ‘Bill Gates.’ Education provides you with the opportunity to have doors opened that might not be otherwise. It will also give you an edge over others working in the field, and allow you to move up through the ranks more quickly and allow you to earn more money in the long run.”

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Linda agrees: “A culinary career is a much faster track towards a career in food than ‘working your way up.’ In fact, you are always working your way up, but an education not only teaches you the proper skills, but it also creates networking opportunities across a much broader spectrum, than just working in one business or for one chef.”


Graduating from a career program gives you an immediate foundation that would take years to develop through on the job training and personal research”, says Maureen Drum-Fagin, Director of Career Services.  “Plus you join a professional network on day one that opens up opportunities for not only your first job, but also your long-term career goals.”


What kind of career options are available, and how will I earn a living?

“There are too many opportunities to name!” laughs Maureen. “Beyond restaurant chef positions, there are career paths in catering, hotels, corporate/educational/healthcare contact foodservice, gourmet/specialty markets, personal/private chef, research and development work, specialty pastry, food media and marketing, culinary instructor—even food trucks!


For career changers, Steve says, “The skills and insight you learned in your previous life will be put to good use in the restaurant world. Decision making, working with people, seeing the big and small pictures—all these life experiences combine with your newly learned food knowledge. The result can be a smoother pathway to either a fulfilling role in an established business as a creative leader or you can set out as an entrepreneur and develop your own business.


For those with less prior work experience, Linda acknowledges, “Like any other career path, entry level salaries can be low, but [that is] short lived. The good news about this industry is that there are many job opportunities and growth potential is exponential.”

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“Because there is currently a shortage of talent, it’s easier in this field to act a series of faster promotions, which can get you well beyond the low starting rates.” says Rick. “Additionally, there are great employers and employment prospects in other parts of the country where the cost of living is lower. And notably, we see some ICE alumni who, after graduating, choose to pursue fulfilling freelance or part-time culinary work, while maintaining their former careers.”


Is it true that there is a shortage of good restaurant professionals right now?

Steve says, “There is always a shortage of talented trained, motivated staff.”


“ The number of restaurants opening has grown,” adds Maureen, “and there are many more outlets in which cooks can find work, be it corporate dining or specialty food markets. If you are driven and dedicated, there is a position out there for you!”


Rick explains, “One of the reasons [for the shortage] is that so many upper mid-level Sous Chefs and Chefs de Cuisine move on to open their own establishments. Incidentally, that shows that entrepreneurial options are very much viable options in today’s culinary landscape.”


It’s good news for the industry,” argues Andrea, “A shortage of good professionals means that salaries should go up, by the laws of supply and demand.”


Will the skills I have already learned in my current work be of use in my new career?

“One of the great things about transitioning into the food industry from a different career path is the ability to utilize your former skills,” says Linda.” Former artists, health care providers, lawyers, financiers and educators find that all their skills are called upon in the food industry. For example, people may think they are going out for dinner just to enjoy the food, but feeling taken care of is what enhances their dining experience. Prior skills can prepare you to better succeed in doing that.”


Maureen agrees, “Career changers often find that skills sets that they come in with—be it journalism, graphic design, other management backgrounds—are often instrumental in new careers and increase the pace with which they are able to advance in their chosen career track.


Rick adds, “Time and again, we hear stories of how a chef or restaurant owner comes to realize that ICE graduates they have hired have ‘other job skills’ which can contribute to a more efficient and profitable business.”


“Absolutely yes, “ says Andrea. “Any prior work experience that has contributed to your working habits and ethics will go with you anywhere. “


By Carly DeFilippo


Whether we train with them daily in our teaching kitchens or simply enjoy the fruit of their creative labor, it’s safe to say we’re all fans of our in-house Chef-Instructors. But what do we really know about these culinary champions and their experiences before ICE? “Meet the Chefs” is an effort to discover the stories of the experts who keep our education on the cutting edge.


Known to his colleagues as “the Encyclopedia”, Ted Siegel’s 40-plus years in the food industry have included stints in renowned New York institutions, two- and three-star Michelin properties and such famed American restaurants as Chez Panisse. His persistence, love of cooking and baking, and his hunger for learning have made him an exceptional chef and culinary educator.


Born to a Polish/Russian father and a mother with Austrian and Spanish roots, culinary diversity is in Siegel’s blood, a quality that was only reinforced by his childhood on New York’s Lower East Side. His own family boasted a number of great cooks, most notably his father, uncle, and grandmother. As for his first food memory, Siegel recalls walking into New York institution Russ and Daughters, reveling in the sights and smells of their smoked and cured fish, salads, and prepared appetizers.


The allure of food led to his first job in the industry at 15, as a delivery boy at Dover Delicatessen.  (Though allure might be too strong of a word – he hated the job.) What he really wanted to do was hang out in the deli’s kitchen. Still, it was a welcome diversion from high school; he hated that too. What the young Siegel really wanted was to spend his time on either food or hockey. Having played hockey since age six, becoming a pro goalie was his only career aspiration aside from cooking.


After high school, Siegel went to college at a small school in New Hampshire, selected mostly for its vicinity to Canadian hockey. He worked in a kitchen part-time as he studied political science and economics, but after three years, he decided to move on from traditional education. Food was becoming the priority.


After a turn living in the barbecue mecca of Memphis, TN, where he learned the region’s signature techniques for grilling and smoking various meats, he returned to NYC for his first position as a line cook at Serendipity. Three years under the mentorship of owner Calvin Holt introduced him to the grind and pace of serious cooking on the line.  “I was cooking French omelets in one hand while mixing hot chocolate in the other.  I made lots of mistakes – but they kept me for my persistence.  It’s where I first learned my skills.”


At his next position on the line at Elephant & Castle, he was given a copy of “The Saucier’s Apprentice,” the famed Raymond Sokolov title on sauces. He cooked his way cover to cover, fostering a deep love of sauces and French technique, which continued on to his next positions at Terrace in the Sky and The Box Tree.


After ten years experience in kitchens, school seemed to call again, with culinary arts being a better choice than poli-sci.  He graduated from the CIA in 1982, externing in Houston, TX at the Meridian Hotel, under the guidance of classically trained chef José Gutierrez.  By the time he graduated, he had twelve offers waiting for him around the country, including one at the New Orleans landmark Commander’s Palace. He would have been working under then-rising chef Emeril Lagasse, but turned it down, opting for the local, sustainable kitchen of the famous Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in San Francisco.


Three years at Chez Panisse led him to his first role as Chef, at the Grant House in San Pedro, CA.  Building from his experience in the kitchen of Alice Waters, the menu of entirely house-made elements got him rave reviews, including one from Gourmet magazine.  Yet the Los Angeles culture didn’t agree with Siegel. The next five years took him through different positions back in the Bay Area and throughout Europe, including spots in two and three Michelin star-rated establishments.


Over the course of his career, Seigel’s expertise prompted favorable reviews in Gourmet Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, California Magazine, Gault & Millau Guide, The New York Times, Zagat’s Restaurant Survey, Time Out Magazine, and The Village Voice. In 2001, Siegel decided to bring his experience to the teaching kitchens at ICE.


Siegel advises all students to travel the world and learn about food beyond the school environment, but he believes in the unique value of culinary school for those serious about the industry.  “Prior experience in kitchens will enhance the value of culinary school, but a culinary education compensates for the knowledge you can’t get on the job. It enables you to start your career at a higher level.”


As proud as we are to have Ted Siegel as Chef-Instructor for our Culinary Arts program, the most important reviews come from his students. When asked about their favorite parts of their ICE education, our graduates have often responded “Chef Ted of course.”

  • “Chef Ted’s years of experience were evident. He always explained things clearly and provided real life experience to help support the lessons. The basic skills taught were crucial.”
  •  “[Chef Ted is] a fantastic, understanding chef with extreme knowledge and comfort when approached with any questions.”
  • “I was extremely pleased with Chef Ted’s abundant knowledge and high expectations for his students. I now have a strong foundation of basic French technique.”
  • “Chef Ted had a great balance of being strict and very kind with us. He wants everyone to understand exactly what’s going on.”
  • “Very professional – gave positive guidance and encouragement – made it clear that he’s always available for his students.”

This week, a very special group of students is wrapping up lessons at the Institute of Culinary Education — our annual School Food group. This marks our seventh year collaborating with the NYC Department of Education and their Executive Chef, Jorge Collazo.

The mission of the Office of School Food is to provide safe, attractive, appetizing, nutritionally sound meals in a timely manner to the students of New York City. School Food serves over 180,000 breakfasts to students daily, free of charge, and over 860,000 total meals each day. Each year, approximately 60 cooks come to ICE for hands-on cooking in a workshop-type atmosphere. The cooking classes cover essential techniques, giving the cooks the culinary grounding to cook advanced and healthful dishes when they prepare meals for the students they help feed. More…

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