By Carly DeFilippo, Culinary Arts Student

The first thing you learn in culinary school is that being a chef is far more complex than most people realize. From your white commis cap down to your stiff-toed shoes, everything is designed for safety, efficiency and cleanliness. In fact, sanitation is the first subject you’ll tackle, learning how factors from temperature to humidity, pH to protein content affect the safety of everything we cook. That may sound boring, but once you’ve studied the many ways improperly handled food can lead to illness, it’s pretty fascinating how rarely we all get sick!

Testing out my chef's coat for the first time and a few tools from my knife kit
Testing out my chef’s coat for the first time and a few tools from my knife kit

Beyond worrying about proper heating, refrigeration and cleanliness of the products you’ll serve your guests, you also need to learn how not to harm yourself in the kitchen. As culinary students, our tools are our trade, and we’re dealing on a daily basis with fire and knives.

In fact, it’s only when you receive your knife roll that being a “future chef” starts to sink in. Laser-sharp, these knives are our best friends and worst enemies. Ironically, the sharper the blade, the safer you are cutting up your mise en place or filleting a fish. But even the smallest knives have a big bite—I got my first culinary school cut by nicking my thumb with the tip of a paring knife. 

Medium dice carrots and my first culinary school cut

Medium dice carrots and my first culinary school cut

As our first hands-on knife skills challenge, Chef Michael Garrett taught us to wield our massive 10-inch Wusthof chef’s knives to break down oddly shaped carrots and potatoes into small, perfectly square, half-inch cubes—a process chefs call “medium dice”. It’s a frustrating skill to get the hang of, but as you go through the patient repetition of crafting each little square, there’s a deep sense of satisfaction to the process.

In addition to honing our knife skills, our first days include learning about raw ingredients. First up, herb identification. Have you ever tasted fresh marjoram or chervil? Even as an accomplished home cook, I hadn’t. But the most shocking herb to taste raw might just be oregano—it’s essentially a fuzzy fireball! From there we moved on to cheeses (which might be the most indulgent day in all of culinary school). From fresh ricotta and tangy buffalo mozzarella to creamy French explorateur and funkier chunks of pont-l’évêque or taleggio, we tasted flavors from all over the globe and still had only skimmed the surface of cheese world.

Herb identification

Herb identification

We also dove into oils and vinegars, tasting them on their own and experimenting with various vinaigrettes. We also learned to “emulsify” these concoctions, adding and whipping the oil gradually to create a thicker texture, somewhat similar to that of the salad dressing you buy in stores. Best of all, we learned to make the mother of all emulsions, mayonnaise, from scratch.

Chef Michael Garrett shows us how to make mayonnaise.

Chef Michael Garrett shows us how to make mayonnaise.

From the choice of our ingredients to the precision required for each preparation, our day-to-day work as culinary students is all about learning to be focused and to multi-task. We carefully craft dishes—sometimes in mere moments, sometimes over the span of many hours—that our guests will enjoy for just a few minutes. Everything is a balance of time and precision—do it fast, but do it right— and the line between success and failure is about as thin as it gets.

You would think it would take a very specific kind of person to do this job, but our class couldn’t be more diverse. From former marketing executives to recent high school graduates, medical professionals to fashion photographers—we all have the same passion. True, some of us will end up in restaurants, while others will work in food media, launch their own small businesses, or any number of possible futures. But we’re all here because we love working with our hands and learning to craft the only kind of “art” that humans can fully interact with: food.

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 Chef Scott McMillen, Chef-Instructor, Pastry & Baking Arts

Our culinary and pastry students are faced with a number of challenges on a daily basis. First and foremost, they’re asked to learn recipes and techniques with foreign names and to reinforce that learning after class with homework and library assignments. While striving to produce professional quality work, they must also uphold the highest standard of efficiency and cleanliness. And as their lessons progress, students are expected to do additional fieldwork outside of ICE, which includes trailing (short term stints in commercial kitchens) to plan and prepare for their externships.

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Chef Scott using iPads in class with students

For a program that is relatively short in duration—a mere twelve weeks to nine months of in-class work—this is a rigorous course load. So the last thing our students needed to juggle on top of it is a stack of textbooks. That’s why ICE is proud to provide each of our professional students with their own iPad, preloaded with their course curriculum and textbooks. This technology offers our students and faculty a powerful tool that can help organize notes, record lectures and demonstrations and photograph dishes at every stage of preparation.

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The iPad allows students to keep a living record of their day-to-day work at ICE, providing them the clear advantage of documenting their education in real time. It also helps encourage collaboration in the kitchen, enabling students to share documents and notes instantly—or even to submit homework and assignments to their instructor for instant feedback. Not to mention that sharing the day’s accomplishments with friends and family through apps like Instagram and Twitter helps keep our students motivated and proud.

ICE is the only school of its kind to roll out tablet technology to such a wide extent. The process to identify apps and programs that aid our instruction was not without its own challenges, but the benefits have proven to justify the investment. Mostly recently, instructors have been able to add interactive and multimedia elements—such as quick quizzes and slide shows—to presentations that are streamed to overhead Apple TVs in our teaching kitchens or directly onto the students’ own iPads.

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Streaming content from Apple TV

The nature of technology is to evolve. With that in mind, ICE is committed to continuing to find new ways to use technology to enhance students’ learning experience. It is our goal to continue blending modern technological concepts with traditional, hands-on instruction in the culinary setting, making us an innovative leader among culinary institutions.

 

By Sharon Ho, Pastry and Baking Arts Student

When people think about culinary school, they often think of a juicy skirt steak or a delicious bowl of fresh pasta. However, at ICE, the true magic happens in the Pastry and Baking Arts classrooms. Tucked away on the 5th floor, the sweet smell of freshly baked bread, cookies and cake fills your nose the moment you step off the elevator. No—it isn’t a savory soup or a meaty pot roast; it’s the sweet stuff.

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That was my experience when I first set foot in ICE for a tour. I reached the front desk and all I smelled was to-die-for freshly baked bread. Walking past kitchen 501, I couldn’t help but stand there and stare at the dinner rolls that were sitting on the kitchen table. I immediately made up my mind: I would enroll at ICE and eventually open a bakery that smelled exactly like the fifth floor of ICE.

It’s been two weeks since my classes started, and I have learned many of the basics so far. There’s been lessons in sanitation, safety lessons and understanding the uses of different ingredients. I have learned countless things I can create out of sugar, chocolate, milk and fruit puree. Learning that much this quickly can be quite overwhelming at times, but in the long run, it’s worth it. Classes are very hands-on, and Chef Kathryn is both an inspiration and an excellent teacher.

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The first time we actually made something on our own was Lesson 4: Gingersnaps. These cookies are simple, sweet and fragrant. We scooped the gingersnap cookie dough onto sheet pans with an ice cream scoop in order to maintain the size and shape of each cookie. While we were making the cookies, Chef Kathryn made us some hot chocolate. She brewed up two kinds—the American kind, made from cocoa powder and milk, and the European kind, made from actual chocolate and cream. She asked us to taste both and then decide which one we liked better. Of course, one was richer than the other. Can you guess which one was the clear winner?

We also worked on some basic math skills that bakers are required to know, mostly multiplying and dividing. There were some rounding exercises and a few recipe exercises, most of which to figure out how much of a certain ingredient would be necessary if the yield was different from the original recipe. It was definitely quite a bit to take in, but these skills are both useful and essential for bakers.

Pate de fruit

Pâte de fruit

Next came Lesson 5: the apricot pâte de fruit. These are essentially little jelly-gummy hybrid candies that taste like apricot. They are made with lots of sugar and some apricot puree. We made them in bonbon molds, then let them set while Chef Kathryn went over different fruit-related ingredients, such as fruit-based wines, syrups and extracts. She also spoke about jams and jellies. I never knew there were so many types of fruit wine or that so many different extracts could be found in my local supermarket.

So far, it’s been an enjoyable and educational two weeks. The ICE community is incredibly helpful and my classmates are very friendly. It’s nice to know we all have each others’ backs. I can’t wait to start my next class!

 

By Cindi Avila

From growing up in the Caribbean to studying culinary arts at ICE, and now into the “big leagues”, the path Kamal Rose has taken is nothing short of remarkable. This week, he’ll be representing the New York Giants at the Taste of the NFL on February 1st—one of the city’s biggest events leading up to the Super Bowl.

As Kamal prepares for the event, we got the chance to talk with him about his love of food, family and culinary school.

Courtesy of www.nydailynews.com

Courtesy of www.nydailynews.com

Kamal grew up in St. Vincent, where he cooked with his grandmother from a very young age. He tells us it was “sweet breads on Saturdays, a big pot of callaloo soup with taro root dumplings, and on Sunday, dinner was oxtails with rice, peas and fried plantains.” Rose goes on to say: “My grandmother was always baking or making soup and it just clicked.”

It clicked so well that Kamal moved to the United States as a teenager and started externing at Tribeca Grill (the popular restaurant that is part of Drew Nieporent’s Myriad Restaurant Group) through a program at his high school. The restaurant’s management got along so well with the then teenage Rose that they hired him straight out of externship. From there he worked all the stations. He says it was a great opportunity, but he knew he still needed the stronger qualifications that come with classical training.

Kamal came to ICE in 2008, attracted by the the length and flexibility of the program (it still allowed him to keep up with his job at Tribeca Grill), and that it “definitely fine-tuned me, made me a better Chef and made me think about things I never thought about before.”

A couple years after graduation, Kamal was promoted to Executive Chef at Tribeca Grill. If you have been lucky enough to dine there before, you may have noticed his influence. He says he “puts his own Caribbean spin on the New American cuisine.” The last menu had a pork chop brined with jerk spices and kale callaloo. But for the upcoming Taste of the NFL, Kamal turns to the classics, preparing an Italian wedding soup and New York-style Cheesecake for football fans and celebrities.

Kamal is also cooking up a menu for his future. He says his ideal plan is to have a restaurant or bed and breakfast next to a beach, surrounded by a farm. He would want to bring in his own fish, have livestock on the property and fresh eggs. Whether or not that restaurant is in the US or back in his beloved Caribbean remains to be seen, but we know we’ll be some of the first customers when the doors open!

 

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 Carly DeFilippo

Over the holiday season, we invited our students to share their latest, greatest creations on Instagram using the hashtag #culinaryvoice. Below are our four finalists! Vote in the comments for your favorite, and the winner will receive a free one-session recreational cooking class at ICE.

holiday fycv contest

From top left:

  • @Megaaalong’s final cake from her Senior Reception. Congratulations Meg!
  • @Jazzybaron whips up a signature Thomas Keller dish: Sautéed black sea bass with a saffron-vanilla sauce, parsnip puree, spinach ball and butter poached mussels.
  • @Jerssica shares the satiny flower bouquet that tops her tiered cake.
  • @Hillwheel takes you behind the scenes of “Cookie Day” at ICE.

Show us your culinary voice! Tag @iceculinary #culinaryvoice on Twitter and Instagram.

 

By Carly DeFilippo

One of the common misconceptions about culinary school is that it prepares graduates for one thing: to cook “on the line” in a restaurant. While all our students graduate with the skills they need to succeed in restaurant kitchens, the variety of careers that can spring from culinary education is endless. For students with an artistic eye, one such path is that of a food stylist. Culinary Arts (’09) graduate Dana Bonagura takes us through the paces of her creative culinary career.

danaWhat were you doing before you enrolled at ICE and what attracted you to the program?

I completed my undergraduate degree at George Washington University in 2006, and soon after, I landed a fabulous (but only partially fulfilling) job in Merchandising and Branding here in NYC.

I fell in love with the program at ICE based on the flexibility of the class times, but most importantly the externship. At other culinary schools, the field work required being in a kitchen behind the line. ICE gave me the opportunity to apprentice in any culinary field, anywhere in the world. That kind of creative freedom is what attracted me to this program above all else.

Where was your externship? 

I fulfilled my hours in San Francisco under one of the most talented Food Stylists in the country. It was one of the best experiences of my life, and gave me the necessary tools to feel confident in my new industry.  Because I was not in New York, the connections were limited, but my experience was unparalleled. My connections do stem back to ICE, however. One of my instructors introduced me to the Food Stylist from Gourmet Magazine. That introduction changed my career and opened almost every door I needed to kick start my new profession.

Dana Grad

Dana at her ICE graduation

What have you been up to since graduating?

I have been working as a Food Stylist ever since 2008, when I began culinary school. I started out assisting and have stepped into the role of lead stylist for about a year. I style for both print (cookbooks, magazines, etc) and video (television, online videos, etc).

See more of Dana's work at www.danaatthetable.com

See more of Dana’s work at www.danaatthetable.com

Briefly describe a day in your current working life.

My morning always begins with packing up boxes. In this industry, we basically build a restaurant style kitchen in a photo studio and set the scene of the recipe (i.e. dinner party, holiday, BBQ, etc). I usually describe my day as “cooking Christmas dinner, every day”. My assistant and I cook between 6-10 recipes a day and prepare for camera. I also collaborate with the Art Director, photographer and prop stylist to determine what story we want to portray to the viewer.

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Dana featured in Elle Japan

What might people be surprised to learn about your job?

We cook all of the food and 99% of what we cook is the authentic recipe. Everyone assumes we use glue and fake food in photographs, which is untrue. Perfecting how to best show a dish is an art, and I learn more and more every day. We do, of course, have tricks and methods to stick extra sesame seeds to a hamburger bun or to create condensation on a glass to appear cold.

Did you ever think you’d be doing what you’re doing now?

Five years ago, this was the dream, and now it’s my life. It has been very fulfilling.

Where would you like to see yourself in the future?

I would love to broaden my clients, travel more with work, and grow in my personal style.

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

 

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

My and Amy's chocolate showpiece

Amy and my chocolate showpiece

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

My salted caramel chocolate bar

My salted caramel chocolate bar

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

A variety of class chocolates

A variety of class chocolates

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

A classmate's framed chocolates

A classmate’s framed chocolates

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

My Shabby-Chic Matcha Green Tea Filled Chocolates

My Shabby-Chic Matcha Green Tea Filled Chocolates

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

 

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