By Caitlin Raux
Before even graduating from high school, Francesca Kolowrat (Culinary Arts/ Management ’17) was already a champion horse jumper with dozens of achievements under her belt, including an individual ranking of 15th in the European Championships in 2015 and 2016. One of the top young riders from the Czech Republic, Francesca could have easily continued on the same path and led a very successful career in the equestrian world. Instead, she decided to explore her passion for food and nutrition at ICE. “I didn’t want to look back on my life and think that the world offered so many opportunities and I didn’t take them,” she said, speaking with a level of maturity and decisiveness that makes you forget she’s just 18 years old.
With a dream of one day opening an Australian-inspired café in her hometown of Prague, she came to ICE to get the necessary culinary skills and business acumen before embarking on a four-year degree at the University of Sydney, where she plans to study Nutrition.
With two weeks remaining in her program, we caught up with Francesca to chat about studying culinary arts in NYC and about taking small steps to achieve big goals.
When did you start with show jumping?
I was about 12 when I started doing it seriously. I proceeded until last summer, just before I moved here.
Did you compete internationally?
There were a lot of international competitions — the national cups. I traveled all around Europe — to Italy, Spain, Hungary, Germany, Austria, Ireland. The European Championship was in Ireland last year. I placed 15th twice in a row — first in Austria, then Ireland.
Why did you decide to come to culinary school?
I needed a career change. I didn’t want to look back on my life and think that the world offered so many opportunities and I didn’t take them. Even though I got to travel with show jumping, I was on the show grounds from morning until night. I didn’t really have time to explore and when there was some free time, I would sleep because I was exhausted from so much exercise.
I wanted to pursue other passions, and I’m very interested in fitness and nutrition. I really wanted to see how the restaurant and hospitality business works so that one day I can combine it with my passion for nutrition — I was accepted to the University of Sydney so I’m going to study nutrition there. This was my gap year, but I didn’t take the year to just travel: I’ve been educating myself in culinary arts and culinary management. That way, when I get a bachelor’s degree, I’ll be ready if I want to form my own business targeting fitness and nutrition. I’m building up these small steps towards my bigger goals.
There are a ton of culinary schools in Europe. Why did you choose to come all the way to NYC?
Because I’ve always loved New York, but I wanted to expand my experience beyond traveling here on holidays, and really get a feel for what it’s like to live in America. When I Googled “best culinary schools,” ICE was the first one to pop up and I said, “This is it.” I stopped my search. I spoke to Ron from Admissions and he told me I could start November 1. I knew it was the right opportunity and if I didn’t take it, I would be upset. It was hard for me to tell my team I was moving. I had people who were relying on me — I had my groomer, who takes care of my horses, and my trainer, who was with me 24/7, and it was difficult to tell them it was finished. But I wanted to try different things and figure out what I was most passionate about.
I knew it was the right opportunity
How was your experience at ICE?
I love the management program and I really like the culinary arts classes. You get to learn about back-of-house and front-of-house. I’m doing my externship now at Ellary’s Greens on Carmine Street in the West Village. It’s owned by Leith Hill and she’s given lectures in the [culinary] management classes about her business. I think that the externship has been the most beneficial part of the [culinary arts] program because you get to experience how it works in a real restaurant, how to deal with people, prepping, being on the line, catering, deliveries. You get to experience how it would be if you worked in the industry. At Ellary’s, they always ask me if I want to try new things, too; for instance, though I’m a culinary arts extern, I’ve been doing pastry work at the restaurant lately, which I discovered I love during the pastry module [at ICE]. Since I’m so into health and nutrition, I love taking the actual recipes and substituting ingredients that are more beneficial for the body. I like getting creative with it. People love sweets, they’re addicted to sugar and they always will be. With me it’s the same. I want to treat my body, but I want to treat it to good things.
What kind of desserts do you like?
I prefer raw desserts made from things like coconut — coconut milk and coconut oil — cashews, or dates.
Next is Sydney! I’ve heard the food culture there is amazing.
Actually, I’m developing my business plan in my Management class and my café is Australian-inspired. Even though I’ve never been to Australia, I’ve learned from social media and what friends have told me about the cafés and breakfast and brunch menus there, and I’ve been so inspired by them: protein slash vegetable-based slash locally sourced products. Avocado toast came from Australia — come on! Even the plating I’ve seen — they use black plates with bright vegetables and it’s almost like a painting.
I also import my chocolate from Australia! It’s called Loving Earth chocolate. Everything natural, there’s no added sugar. They use coconut nectar as a sweetener. I can eat loads of it — literally, like two boxes.
What would you say is your culinary voice?
I want to show people that healthy things can be tasty. When people hear “healthy,” they think of a salad — to be honest, I don’t even like salads. Anything can be tasty, but you don’t always have to add stuff: you don’t have to add sugar to sauces; you don’t have to add roux to sauces to thicken them — you can just blend vegetables and add those instead. I want to give people ideas for changes they can make — even small things — to feel better.
Ready to explore the possibilities of a career in food? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.