By Carly DeFilippo, Culinary Arts Student

Beyond mise en place, butchery and learning various techniques to build rich flavor, one of the most fascinating parts of culinary school is, quite simply, discovering new ingredients. It could be something as simple as chervil (a faintly licorice-flavored relative of parsley) or as strange as sweetbreads (a cut of offal derived from an animal’s thymus gland). Every new discovery is just a drop in the endless sea of flavors and ingredients available to the contemporary chef.

They may look like chicken nuggets, but I assure you, they're sweetbreads.

They may look like chicken nuggets, but I assure you, they’re sweetbreads.

Yet of all the unexpected ingredients I’ve discovered as a student, there is none so bizarre—and cool!—as caul fat. A natural, thin membrane that surrounds the internal organs of animals such as cows, sheep and pigs, this spiderweb of fat is most often harvested from pork. In an industry that increasingly celebrates snout-to-tail or “whole hog” cooking, this natural casing for stuffed roasts adds moisture and flavor that will literally melt away while helping your dish keep its shape.

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Chef Chris Gesualdi shows our class how to use caul fat, also known as “crepinette.”

Rabbit is another of the more interesting ingredients we’ve had the chance to work with, a protein that many of my fellow students had never tasted before preparing it in class. From a butchery perspective, rabbit is among the most challenging animals to break down, due to its small frame and tiny bones. That said, once you understand the anatomy of the rabbit, it can help inform your butchery of much larger four-legged animals (which chefs usually buy in smaller cuts, rather than in their entirety). For our most recent preparation, we wrapped a saddle of rabbit (a cut consisting of part of the backbone and both loins) around sautéed mushrooms and used the caul fat to wrap each little package. The fat cooked off beautifully, resulting in a striking golden-brown color while still maintaining moisture.

However, interesting ingredients don’t only come from animals. I’ve always enjoyed when my Dominican friends prepared tostones (a chip-like preparation of under-ripe plantains) for their dinner parties, but had never worked with platanos myself. I learned to carefully fry, flatten and re-fry these mildly sweet cousins of the banana, then topped it off with a delicious mojo sauce of cilantro and garlic.

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Freshly fried tostones in mojo sauce

Yet the real thrill of cooking with these adventurous ingredients goes beyond their novelty. Working with the unfamiliar can help us see new possibilities for preparing the everyday foodstuffs that we take for granted. Whether butter, chicken, potatoes, parsley or other basics we regularly stock in our refrigerators, it’s fun—and, professionally, important— to find ways to revisit these ingredients and take stock of their untapped potential. With just a twist in technique, the ordinary can become as adventurous and exciting as any of the world’s most bizarre ingredients.

So switch out your weekly steak for sweetbreads. Swap out parsley for chervil. Wrap your roasted chicken in caul fat. You never know where the next culinary adventure will take you.

Come see all the exciting kitchen action in person. Call (888) 997-CHEF to arrange a personal tour of ICE.

 

By Michael Laiskonis, ICE Creative Director

As a professional pastry chef, I have a deep relationship with candy. But then don’t we all? Several years ago, I began to ponder the ‘culture’ that surrounds our taste for sweets. What I came to realize is that we relate to sweetness on three different levels: the physiological, the psychological, and the nostalgic.

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With the possible exception of salt, the instinctual desire for sweetness—more than any other taste—is surely hardwired somewhere deep within our DNA. From the moment of birth, we seek our nourishment and comfort in the rich, sweetened form of mother’s milk; it is indeed the only taste we know in our early months. Eventually our sense of taste becomes considerably more complex as our food choices expand, but I find it interesting that, for all humans, the craving for sweet endures.

Just when we might otherwise mature beyond that physiological need, the desire manifests itself in the realm of emotion. As with Proust’s famous madeleine, it is often sweets that become intertwined with memory, emotion and a sense of comfort. Dessert functions as a reward for “eating those vegetables,” a miracle salve for that scraped knee, or even a mischievous child’s stolen secret. The acquisition of penny candy is often a child’s first foray into the world of commerce and finance. With sweetness we begin to associate comfort, pleasure, reward, envy, and guilt.

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Personal nostalgia will vary by culture, country, region, or generation; our source material might be a freshly baked pie like Grandma used to make, or it may come in the form of mass produced junk food (I’m convinced that all pastry chefs have, consciously or not, tried to recreate a Snickers bar in some way or another). These associations remain through adulthood.

Playing to this inner child, for a pastry chef, can initiate the creation of something new yet familiar. The context of such nostalgia—especially unexpected in a fine dining environment—heightens such playfulness. The more I explore this notion, the more fascinating I find it and the more I enjoy tapping into those emotions. In other words, the true path to our inner selves may indeed be something as simple as candy.

Though confections are tucked beneath the broad umbrella of pastry arts that includes chocolate, ice cream, cakes, and plated desserts, my own interest in candy has increased along with a better understanding of its underlying science. Through candy-making we can explore the properties of sugars and fats, the behavior of concentrated syrups and crystallization, and numerous complex interactions that influence taste and texture.

Passion fruit gummy worm

Passion fruit “gummy worm”

A historical survey of the candy trade reveals that, though there has been much innovation, the sweets crafted in the Middle Ages or in ancient Rome may not have seemed all that unfamiliar to us today. Once the cost of ingredients like sugar and chocolate decreased more than a century ago (in conjunction with technical leaps and bounds made during the Industrial Revolution), candy truly became accessible to all. Most of the brands we recognize today had their roots in this “candy renaissance.”

Though the world of confections includes many different styles, from hard candy to soft caramels and dense nougats to fluffy marshmallows, here are some simple guidelines that I believe will help all cooks—the amateur and pro alike—achieve sweet success:

1. Brush up on your basicsMost candies tend to conform to tried and true formulas, but that shouldn’t prevent us from creating unique versions of the classics. With just a little bit of research, we can easily begin to grasp the physics and chemistry at play, which eventually allows us to experiment with whimsy.

Campari - grapefruit pate de fruit

Campari – grapefruit pate de fruit

Controlling crystallization, for example, is very important. Understanding just when to stir a sugar syrup (or when not to) and when to use inhibitors like acids and glucose will help provide the right end result. Simple knowledge of basic hydrocolloids can help us craft a range of textures like chewy gummies, melt-in-your-mouth pâtes de fruits and ultra-light marshmallows. Navigating the complex flavor-creating mechanisms of caramelization and Maillard reactions help us understand what is happening as our cooked confections transform into something greater than the sum of their parts.

My own recent explorations have resulted in tooth-friendly sugar-free candies for a private client and “savory” confections flavored with vegetable juices, such as carrot. With just a little confidence, patience, and know-how, the sky is the limit!

2. Sweat the small stuff. Even slight changes in formula can lead to both discovery and disaster. Until one is comfortable with making informed adjustments and substitutions, it’s best to pay close attention to recipes. Accuracy in measuring ingredients and temperature are vital, and to this end I recommend starting with a calibrated digital thermometer and a good digital scale.

Virtually all candies require cooking to exact temperatures, and measuring by weight (preferably metric) versus volume will always offer more precision. Beyond simple tools such as a heat-proof rubber spatula and a couple of small Silpats, an advanced candy amateur might also make good use of a mini marble slab, caramel rulers and flexible silicon molds.

petitfours

Petits Fours

3. Cleanliness is king. Organizing your tools, ingredients and workspace is the first step toward successful candy work. Not only will dirty utensils lead to problems like crystallization, but overall clutter in the kitchen can also lead to accidents (molten sugar syrups that reach temperatures as high as 325˚F can result in serious burns). Stay clean, don’t get distracted and avoid walking away from a potentially dangerous pot of boiling sugar!

Below, you’ll find one of my favorite soft caramel recipes, and for those interested in digging a bit deeper into candy science, I’ll be teaching a new class on the subject – Sugar Science: Functions and Applications in Modern Pastry on Wednesday, July 16. I hope to see you there!

Soft Caramel

Yield: one 12cm by 12cm block, or about 50 individual candies

  • 125g glucose syrup
  • 15g invert sugar
  • 3g fine sea salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 210g heavy cream (35% fat)
  • 115g sucrose
  • 30g water
  • 10g cocoa butter (optional)
  1. In a heavy saucepan, combine the cream, glucose, invert sugar, salt and vanilla. Gently heat and reserve.
  2. In a second saucepan, combine the sucrose and water. Cook to a medium dark caramel. Deglaze with the warm cream mixture and continue to cook to 118°C/245°F. Remove from heat and stir in the cocoa butter.
  3. Immediately pour the caramel into a set of bars lined with a Silpat. Cool several hours before cutting and wrapping in cellophane or waxed paper.

By Carly DeFilippoCulinary Arts Student

Whether you’re a professional cook or just an eager eater, we all have an intense, multi-layered relationship with flavor. There are tastes that remind us of childhood, foods that terrify or intrigue us with their strangeness, and flavors we crave time and time again. But how as chefs do we harness flavor? Where does it come from?

Elio and steak

Of all the significant sources of flavor, the first (and possibly, most important) is the fond. This word, which literally means “the base” in French, refers to the brown bits created when you heat foodstuffs and they stick to the bottom of your pan. While many cooks mistake the fond for an inconvenience best removed with a bit of elbow grease, savvier cooks learn to deglaze the pan and capture that flavor. That’s right—add just a little wine, stock or other liquid to your pan and those brown bits loosen up, forming the flavor-forward base for a delicious sauce.

But the fond is not the only source of flavor. Proteins can be fried, deep fried, grilled, roasted, and prepared in a wide range of different fashions, all that build flavor in their own distinct way.

Take frying for example: the secret here is, as Chef Chris likes to say, “goooolden brown.” In fact, Chef insists there “is no other color in dry-heat cooking.” But anyone who has ever made chicken cutlets knows how hard it is to get even coloring. The simple tip here is basting—using your spoon to toss the hot oil onto the light-colored spots on your crust. Maintaining high heat is also key to keeping that layer of breading nice and crunchy. On the other hand, if you’re game to submerge your protein entirely, deep-frying (again, at a hot, consistent temperature) is perhaps the easiest way to get that even-colored golden brown.

Basting a fried cutlet to achieve the perfect golden brown crust.

Basting a fried cutlet to achieve the perfect golden brown crust.

Another high-heat cooking method that builds flavor? Grilling. We all know and love those little black cross-hatches, that inimitable charred flavor. After just a few minutes on a grill, a thin little piece of chicken paillard becomes a juicy, earthy, healthful meal. If you’re stove-top grilling, it’s likely you’ll also do a little fire-fighting. Keep things hot. Keep your protein lightly oiled, and above all, don’t pour oil directly onto the grill. (Brush or dab it on.) Otherwise, you might as well just incinerate your food in a fire pit.

 

Marinating pork chops before they hit the grill.

Marinating pork chops before they hit the grill

Now with any of these techniques, the magical combination of salt and fat are essential. Salt helps bring out the inherent flavors of your food, so using it during the cooking process—not just at the end for finishing—is essential. Sprinkle a little salt on freshly fried foods, and it melts right into the piping hot crust. Toss some salt on your steak before it hits the grill, and you’re sure to get that satisfying sizzle. (Moreover, contrary to popular opinion, the amount of salt used in restaurants is hardly harmful. It’s processed foods that will do you in.)

Fat helps lubricate your cooking surface (preventing proteins from sticking and burning) and the wide-ranging flavors and smoke-points of butter and oils help shape the form of your final dish. A little canola goes a long way in grilling, helping you get those gorgeous cross-hatches on everything from zucchini to salmon. Finish your pan sauce with butter, and it will thicken right up. Deep-fry your foods in peanut oil and they’ll not only be crispy, but also have an added nutty flavor.

Building flavor with a lobster shell-based stock.

Building flavor with a lobster shell-based stock.

It’s not just heat, salt, and fat that build flavor. Don’t forget the power of infused liquids, like stock. Having the right stock can transform your sauce from mundane to masterful. Veal stock, in particular, is one of the key ingredients that make French pan sauces so delicious. And, as mentioned before, without liquid to free it, your fond would just be stranded little bits of wasted flavor.

Herbs, aromatics, and spices can also elevate a dish from basic to delicious. A crust of parsley, butter, and breadcrumbs boosts the juicy appeal of rack of lamb. A spicy wet rub of chilies and oil brings bold spice to a pork chop. And a dash of crispy sage brings out the best in a roasted sweet potato.

Layers of flavor: ground cumin, paprika, tarragon, mustard

Layers of flavor: ground cumin, paprika, tarragon, mustard

In short, it’s not just about the quality of our food or how well we prepare our mise en place, it’s also about how we “manage our energy” (i.e. the heat), as Chef Michael Garrett likes to say. It’s when we add the salt. Which and how much oil we use. That extra clove of garlic or snip of parsley. All these disparate steps work together to bring out the best in our food, and, as future chefs, we’re learning to use them to our advantage, one dish at a time.

 

By Carly DeFilippo

3 stars in the New York Times. Sous Chef to Thomas Keller. ICE Chef Instructor.

ICE - Meet the Chefs - Chris Gesualdi - Thomas Keller Quote Header

From the Beatles to Lucille Ball, Charlie Chaplin to Oprah Winfrey—some of the greatest success stories come from unlikely candidates who were told they would never “make it.” But if ICE instructor Chef Chris Gesualdi was once an underdog, you’d never know it today.

ICE - Meet the Chefs - Chris Gesualdi

Growing up in Connecticut, Chris’ first encounter with the culinary industry was as a dishwasher—a job he picked up to help pay for his motorcycles. But when the chefs were absent, Chris had to fill in, so by the time he finished high school he had already worked as a cook in two restaurants.

As part of his culinary education at the CIA—where he studied alongside fellow ICE chef instructors Ted Siegel and Mike Handel—Chris externed at several sites. At the first restaurant, the chef told Chris he would “never make it,” a pivotal moment that only motivated the young chef to work even harder.

It was during this period of externships that Chris learned his work ethic (notably, his ability to truly enjoy working 80-hour weeks) made him distinct from other cooks.  Even today, as a chef instructor, Chris balks at the idea of taking long vacations. He’s happiest at the stove—and when he’s not teaching at ICE, he’s typically trailing, doing stages at such acclaimed restaurants as Per Se, wd~50 or Blue Hill. “Nowhere in my life am I comfortable,” he says, “This is what I do for a living—I learn.”

ICE - Meet the Chefs - Chris Gesualdi

After graduating from school, Chris soon landed in New York, working his way into the kitchen of one of the country’s most buzzed about restaurants: La Reserve. Thomas Keller was at the helm of the kitchen, and Chris volunteered to work for free (while sustaining another full-time kitchen job) until Keller gave him a paid post.

For the next seven years, Chris was Keller’s “right hand man” and sous chef, from La Reserve to Rakel and Restaurant Raphael. At times, those back of the house teams were just the two chefs and a dishwasher. When Keller moved west to open the now-renowned French Laundry, Chris had a standing offer. But he knew he wanted to strike out on his own.

“The years I worked at La Reserve, Raphael’s and Rakel were some of the most formidable of my career and Chris was there every day. His commitment, dedication and work ethic were unmatched and continue to be an example today. I am blessed to be able to call him a colleague and friend, and our profession is in a better place because of chefs like Chris who truly understand what it takes to be a chef.” – Thomas Keller

The pinnacle of Chris’ ambitious career came at Montrachet, where he started as sous chef and was made Chef de Cuisine within a mere six months. Eventually named Executive Chef of the restaurant, Chris collaborated with legendary restaurateur Drew Nieporent, earning a 3-star New York Times review from Ruth Reichl—noted as one of the “best reviews” the writer ever penned. At a time when Tribeca had zero restaurant scene, Montrachet was one of the city’s first great downtown restaurants, serving fine-dining fare in a relaxed bistro setting. From the Daily News to the Observer to Zagat, Chris received the highest marks. In GQ magazine, his truffle-crusted salmon was named one of the “10 best dishes in the US”.

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Yet unlike many chefs of his generation, Chris wasn’t looking for the fame and the spotlight of the media. He says the kitchen is his escape from the pressures of life, where cooking in and of itself is the reward. In our age of celebrity chefs, Chris’ perspective is remarkable, an uncompromising dedication to cooking. And it’s that very passion that has transformed a man who has Thomas Keller and Drew Nieporent on speed dial into one of ICE’s most beloved and respected chef instructors.

In Chef Chris’ kitchen, things run with the smooth efficiency of a traditional French brigade system, but discipline alone can’t turn a hodge-podge team of future chefs into a well-oiled machine. Chris takes his students’ performance personally, and it’s that level of investment in each individual that transforms eager students into professional cooks.

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It’s hard to imagine a chef more inspiring or a teacher better suited to our diverse community of students. His famous tagline—“make it beautiful”—doesn’t just apply to the final plate. Every task—from washing dishes to crafting a sauce—has equal value. You don’t just learn technical skills in Chris’ class; you learn to respect yourself as a cook.

 

Click here to read more about Chef Chris.

 

By Chef Instructor Jenny McCoy, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

Jenny McCoy Craft HeadshotAs a restaurant pastry chef, I used to be responsible for the day-to-day operations of my pastry departments. My exclusive focus was on making every facet of my department more efficient, creating a positive environment to work in and on being cost effective – all in addition to creating amazing desserts. There were the fun parts of the job, like developing new menu items and working with my executive chefs to create desserts that paired perfectly with the rest of the menu. And of course, there were the tasks that I absolutely dreaded: writing schedules, taking inventory and calculating the food cost of my menu items.

In the beginning of my career, I started in small departments with one or two pastry cooks who reported to me. But as I gained more experience, my departments became larger and I found myself managing up to a dozen cooks at a time. Eventually, I began directing pastry departments in multiple restaurant locations, which continued to increase the number of pastry cooks I trained.

The further I rose up the ladder professionally, the less and less I found myself making the actual desserts on my menu. I always found it amusing when dinner guests would compliment my desserts as I greeted tables on a Saturday night. Sure, I was the chef who “created” their dessert, but did I really make it? No. My pastry cooks made everything on the menu. I created the concepts, refined the recipes, and then I passed the recipes along to my staff to execute on a daily basis. I showed up to work every day to make sure the products of their efforts were perfect, but I began to find it strange to be a pastry chef who barely baked a thing—even though I was in the kitchen for 60 or more hours a week. It was exhilarating work, but it just wasn’t the work I thought it would be.

Jenny McCoy Craft Pastry 2

About four years ago, after a very busy holiday season, I had my “ah-ha” moment. I was standing in the kitchen at A Voce in New York City, explaining the details of a new recipe to my sous chef, when I realized: I was no longer a pastry chef. My job was more that of a pastry instructor. This momentary thought didn’t just flit away; instead, it planted a little seed that continued to grow.

There comes a time in everyone’s career when one needs a change. While I felt very satisfied in my work, I began to daydream about ways I could accomplish more—simply adding more desserts to my menu was not going to cut it. I wanted an opportunity to make a larger impact. Working with my team made every day a challenge, but for me that wasn’t enough. They weren’t enough. I wanted to reach an even greater number of aspiring pastry chefs. And in order to do so (without opening a national chain of restaurants), teaching seemed like the perfect outlet. It was what I was spending all of my time doing anyway, right?

Of course, I had to get over my huge fear of leaving the restaurant industry (what would I be if I wasn’t the pastry chef for Tom Colicchio?), so I started teaching recreational baking classes at ICE. By the Spring of 2013, I finally decided to make the transition to becoming a Chef-Instructor in ICE’s professional Pastry and Baking Arts Program.

Jenny McCoy 2 bright CD

Did you know that, as a newly-hired instructor, I had to audit all of the pastry classes in the program? Yes, that is correct; in order to lead my own classes, I had to return to culinary school. For many, especially those like me who graduated from culinary school over ten years ago and had subsequently worked in the field, the idea of returning to the classroom may have seemed silly. Quite the contrary: I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun.

Before I could become an instructor, I needed to be instructed on how to properly teach. Showing a student how to make a perfect pie dough was not going to be enough; I needed to learn how to demonstrate the hands-on steps involved in making the dough while simultaneously explaining the science behind the process – in this instance, the correct ratio of ingredients, the role each ingredient plays, and proper gluten formation. Heck, I even had to define what gluten was (a protein found in flour that is made up of glutenin and gliadin, in case you were wondering). And just like when I entered a restaurant kitchen for the very first time—back when I had no experience whatsoever—my chef-instructor at ICE had to teach me what to do.

Jenny teaches ICE culinary students how to temper chocolate.

Teaching ICE culinary students to temper chocolate.

In a couple of months, I will celebrate my first year anniversary as a chef-instructor. It has been a great year, filled with far more challenges than I ever could have imagined. My friends in the industry sometimes tease me about “going into retirement.” But if this is what retirement is like, I don’t know why anyone refers to it as an “eternal vacation”. Each day that I enter the classroom, I have 16 sets of eyes on me, each of which have different strengths and weaknesses, and different styles of learning the lesson at hand. Talk about pressure! It is no small task to teach 16 students how to make pie dough, but I get to watch those 16 seeds grow into professional chefs, where they will evolve, change and grow in turn.

My chef friends ask me all the time: “Do you miss being in restaurants?” While my time in restaurants was a challenging and meaningful part of my career, my answer is always: “Never.” Not just because my daily course load as a chef-instructor runs from four to eight hours of teaching (a far cry from my usual 12 hours a day), but because I am finally making an impact that satisfies my desire to do more. While I may never head the next great cultural revolution—where I convert everyone into a pastry chef—I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my hard-won years of experience with the next generation of great chefs. Finally, it feels like enough. 

 

By Carly DeFilippo, ICE Culinary Arts student

When it comes to skills that separate home cooks from professional chefs, there’s perhaps nothing that draws the line more clearly than butchery. Sure, the average home cook doesn’t have very good knife skills (the #1 chef essential), but they can still manage to dice an onion, even if they’re not using proper technique. But home cooks typically don’t even attempt butchery. They barely think about it. And if it weren’t for the fact that many of them need to carve a cooked turkey on Thanksgiving, the concept of breaking down a whole animal might never even cross their minds.

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ICE instructor Ted Seigel teaches students to debone a leg of lamb.

Butchery is a perfect storm of technique and skill. It isn’t something you can intuitively figure out, rather it takes instruction and repetition before you start instinctually understanding where flesh naturally separates from bone and sinew, where the cuts we recognize on the plate are hiding within a giant hunk of raw product.

Fish Fabrication-005

The least intimidating form of “fabrication” (as butchery is known in the culinary world) is probably fish. Sure, they’re slippery, but just in terms of sheer size and complexity, a fish is pretty approachable. That said, fish can be quite expensive, so any missteps in breaking down their flaky flesh are immediately apparent to both you and your chef-instructor. Our class tested our skills on flat fish (which have both eyes on the same side of their head, like flounder) and round fish (which have eyes on either side of their head, like snapper, mackerel or bass).

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We also tried our hand at shellfish fabrication, from shucking oysters and cracking open clams to cleaning shrimp and breaking down live lobsters. From a sheer physical standpoint, shucking is a pretty empowering skill, though you need the right tools to do it safely. And while breaking down lobsters may strike some cooks as inhumane, Chef Mike taught us the fastest way to dispatch these tasty creatures, pain-free.

My classmates roast veal bones in preparation for stock.

My classmates roast veal bones in preparation for stock.

After fish, we moved on to America’s most popular meat: chicken. We learned how to truss a whole bird for even cooking, as well as how to quarter a bird and use the remaining carcass for stock. We also learned the anatomy of four-legged creatures through a lesson on rabbit butchery. From there, we learn to break down beef loin into noisettes, chateaubriands, medallions and other traditional steakhouse cuts. We also tenderized veal escalope (cutlets for pan frying) and roasted bones for that ever-important restaurant staple: veal stock.

Rack of lamb chops

Rack of lamb chops

But of all the challenging butchery tasks, breaking down a leg and rack of lamb were easily the most daunting. Lamb is, admittedly, my favorite meat, but removing all the leg bones while keeping the flesh intact was much more complicated than the reverse process of removing protein from bones. And while a lamb chop may seem like an everyday cut of meat, cleaning the unassuming bone “handle” attached to each chop is perhaps the most tedious, time-consuming butchery task of all. Let’s just say I now understand why—at least from a labor perspective—lamb is on the pricier end of proteins on a restaurant menu.

Despite all the challenges thrown our way by fabrication, I think it might end up being one of my favorite parts of culinary school. In a digital world where hands-on activities are disappearing in droves, it’s incredible to learn what goes into the production of the everyday products we take for granted. And on a more superficial level, I feel like I’d be a pretty amazing asset on one of those lost-in-the-wilderness reality shows. No one votes a butcher off the island.

 

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!