By Carly DeFilippo—Student, School of Culinary Arts

For most of my time in culinary school, I’ve been learning time-tested techniques or following a recipe “to a T.” So with the exception of a few lessons in modern plating, the ICE “market basket challenge” was the first time I was asked to truly cook creatively for my Chef Instructor and classmates.

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These Chopped!-style lessons, which culminate in an exam of the same format, have been among my favorite moments in the program. After months of following specific directions, I knew that having a blank canvas with only the specification to use “bacon, scallops and tomatoes” or “half a chicken” would be the ultimate test of what I had really learned.

To understand what I experienced during those lessons, it’s important that you know a little about my cooking skills before I entered the Culinary Arts program. I was an above-average home cook—highly knowledgeable, but with no technical training. Cooking dinner for 15 was a task I had already accomplished on numerous occasions, and experimenting with new ingredients is one of my favorite hobbies. So as I approached the “market basket” lessons, I was actually most anxious that I might feel I had not advanced significantly as a cook during the past several months of culinary school.

A "market basket" trial run: half poussin with roasted potatoes, cauliflower and porcini ragout

A “market basket” trial run: half poussin with roasted potatoes, cauliflower, porcini ragout and pan sauce

However, over the course of our two market basket “practice days” and exam, I realized how dramatically I had underestimated the transformation of both my skills and my confidence over these past few months. From pan sauces to warm vinaigrettes, creamy purées to perfectly cooked proteins, I honestly couldn’t believe how easy it felt to execute these dishes—and how proud I was of the results.

Now, before you call me “cocky,” let me be the first to say that there was still improvement to be had. For example, when I served a delicious and well balanced—but rustic—half poussin, Chef Sabrina Sexton challenged me to elevate my presentation style. So, leaving behind the bistro style that came most naturally to me, I felt motivated to tackle a true fine dining presentation for my final exam. Integrating a rainbow of colors, a balance of sweet and bitter flavors and at least seven different textures on a single plate, my final exam dish felt like an overwhelming success. While plating the many components of my “high end” braised chicken—with roasted and raw beets, sautéed radicchio, squash purée and carrot ribbons—was far more difficult than my bistro-style poussin, the flavors and textures were spot on, and never in a million years would I have imagined that I could have come up with such a dish. With a gentle push from Chef Sabrina, I realized for the first time, the incredible possibilities that could be available to me as a cook.

My "market basket" exam: braised chicken with orange/squash puree, roasted and raw beets, carrot ribbons, stewed radicchio, pan sauce.

My “market basket” exam: braised chicken with orange/squash puree, roasted and raw beets, carrot ribbons, stewed radicchio, pan sauce.

As we move toward graduation—and I plan a three-course appetizer menu to serve 60 guests—I’m all the more grateful for this “market basket” experience. While it taught me about time management, multi-tasking and devising a dish from scratch, it also taught me not to play it too safe. At the end of the day, cooking is the most fun when there’s a little risk involved—or, as some might prefer to call it, when you’re learning something new.

Want to tap into your creative potential? Consider a career in Culinary Arts.

 

 

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

My trajectory from culinary school graduate to my current roles as an ICE Chef Instructor, author and entrepreneur didn’t follow the most conventional route. But luckily in the food industry, that’s okay. The more one gets to know other chefs and food professionals, the more you realize that there are many different paths to success in our field.

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Let me start by telling you a bit about my background: Just after graduating high school, and with no set plans to attend college, I decided (on a complete whim) to apply to culinary school. I did not grow up tugging at my grandmother’s apron strings or licking a spoon of icing while my mom whipped up glorious cakes. Sure, there were some folks in my family that liked to cook, but we were more of a dining out kind of family. Growing up in Chicago, tacos or falafel at local hole-in-the-wall restaurants were far superior to my mother’s meatloaf. The highlight of an occasional white tablecloth affair was sipping a Shirley Temple alongside my mom’s Old-Fashioned. In hindsight, it doesn’t surprise me that I found myself so very at home in restaurant kitchens.

Early on in my culinary school program, I decided to specialize in pastry, mostly because I liked the idea of baking gorgeous cakes. What I realized later (many, many years later) is that baking ended up being a better fit for me because the nature of the work is a bit more structured. Yes, the pastry arts are highly creative, but if I don’t use the correct ratios of ingredients, my cake won’t rise in the oven. I needed work that would allow me to be creative but with some rules and guidelines. The rules of savory cooking, on the other hand, can be a bit easier to bend—with a little of this and a dash of that.

With that in mind, here are few tips that I have for those just starting out in the industry—to help you decide what roles might best fit your strengths:

1. Choose a Path That Suits Your Learning and Working Style

Not sure what your “style” is yet? Try taking a Kolb’s Learning Style Inventory or a Myers Briggs Personality Test.

I took a hiatus from cooking in my twenties to pursue my bachelor’s degree. In doing so, I spent a lot of time studying leadership and was introduced to these tests. They really helped me understand myself as a student and as an employee. Give them a whirl! If nothing else, it’s always fun to self-reflect.

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2. While In Culinary School, Volunteer, Volunteer, Volunteer!       

Don’t be afraid to dabble in a wide range of professions in the culinary industry. Arrange to bake in your favorite bakery for a week or work as a prep cook in a few kitchens on your days off from school. Volunteer as a chef assistant at local charitable events. Ask your culinary school instructors if they need any help with special projects.

As a student, whenever I had days off from school or a holiday break, I would line up a stage in a new restaurant (pronounced “st-ah-j”—a French word for “internship”). Not only did I collect valuable recipes and cooking techniques at every stage, but I also began to understand the culture of kitchens. I started to notice trends and commonalities from kitchen to kitchen, and I started to feel less nervous when entering a new kitchen. But best of all, I expanded my Rolodex.

3. Immerse Yourself in the Industry     

From day one, subscribe to food magazines, buy cookbooks, read the weekly food section in your local paper and those in major cities. Get to know the “who’s who” of the food industry—and not just the chefs on television. Eat out at respected restaurants as often as you can. (A little tip: the cheapest way to eat at an uber expensive restaurant is to stage for a day. You won’t sit down to a 20-course meal, but you’ll see a lot of food being prepared and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to taste some of it too.) The more you know about what is happening on a national level in the industry, the better equipped you’ll be when interviewing for positions. If you can reference current trends, interesting places you’ve recently dined or articles you’ve just read while talking to a potential employer, I guarantee you’ll set yourself apart from other candidates.

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4. Complete an Externship (or Internship)

At ICE, externships are a mandatory facet of our students’ education. Yes, you learn a ton in class at ICE and many students are eager to jump right into a paid position upon graduation. But even for those students who are anxious to start paying off their culinary school loans, I promise that your externship is one of the most valuable components to your education and future career. It is the only time you will be able to walk into a professional kitchen and make tons of mistakes without being shown out the back door. Of course, you will be held responsible for your work and your chef will have high expectations, but the pressure is completely different when you aren’t being paid. It’s just the nature of the relationship.

5. Go With Your Gut

When choosing a site for an externship, be sure you find a kitchen that feels right. I tell my students to simply go with their gut, but the key is to make sure the chef and your coworkers encourage learning above all. What’s more, I give the same advice when it comes to choosing paid positions later in your career.

One of my shortest stints was at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. I worked there for only six months. After an 18-hour trail (a trail is essentially an unpaid working audition for a cooks’ position), I met with Chef Trotter. It was about 2:00am. I was exhausted and utterly confused about what I had accomplished that day, let alone what he was asking me during my interview. When he offered me a pastry cook position, I accepted. (Duh! What cook in the world wouldn’t want to work for Charlie Trotter?!) But as soon as I got home, I knew I had made a mistake. I couldn’t quite pinpoint why, but half a year later I realized the culture of the kitchen wasn’t a good fit for me. I was used to high end kitchens that were led by much more nurturing chefs, with more camaraderie among the cooks. Charlie Trotter certainly offered an incredible fine-dining service, but he wasn’t nurturing, and there was a level of cutthroat competition among my coworkers that I didn’t care for. I don’t regret my time there—I am now a bit neurotic and have excellent attention to detail, which I exclusively credit to my time at Trotter’s—but it isn’t a kitchen I reflect back upon with many fond memories.

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6. Take Your Time Climbing the Ladder

Have you noticed that most of America’s most celebrated chefs are not in their 20’s? This isn’t Hollywood or the music industry. It takes time to hone your skills. And that time means years, sometimes even decades. So don’t be impatient and try to chase a higher paycheck or a big title right out of school. You will not be ready for the responsibilities, and you’ll likely suffer for it. Remember: when you graduate from culinary school, you are not a chef. You have graduated from a culinary student to a cook.

I started working in kitchens when I was 18 years old. I didn’t become the pastry chef until seven kitchens later, at age 25. You do the math. Which leads me to my last bit of advice….

7. Follow the Hierarchy of a Kitchen     

Escoffier (if you don’t know who I’m talking about, please refer to Step 3 and look him up) created this amazing thing called the Kitchen Brigade in the late 19th century. He used this hierarchy of a kitchen in hotels to streamline the work and create a more efficient system. It is still widely used today. In large kitchens—like hotels or very high-end restaurants, it exists in nearly the exact way Escoffier designed. But in smaller kitchens, where there aren’t as many staff members, it is used more loosely. If you follow the hierarchy and slowly move up the ranks in the kitchen (without too much leaping over entire positions), you’ll find yourself to be an incredibly well rounded chef. A chef that can lead a team, troubleshoot when things go awry, create new dishes and, most importantly, inspire the next generation of cooks.

Whenever I give this advice to students, they always ask, “So how long will it be until I am the chef, then?” If you have that question yourself, here’s my best answer:

Every cook develops differently. Some advance rather quickly, while others take a slower approach to their career development. Expect to spend at least a couple of years at each “level” of the kitchen hierarchy. For example, be a line cook for three to five years, in one to three kitchens (please do not leave a job in less than a year—it will ruin your resume). Then work towards being a sous chef for three to five years in one or two different locations (and do not leave a management role in less than two years). From there, consider being the chef and running your own kitchen. (By the way, this holds true for both culinary and pastry chefs.)

There will always be exceptions. Some people who enroll in culinary school already have years of kitchen experience or incredible knife skills, while others are completely new to the profession. Other people are just in the right place at the right time. But keep in mind, slow and steady usually wins the race—in any industry. It’s like braising meat, your learning path will take a loooooooong time: sure, you can speed up braised meat with a pressure cooker, but if you do that with your career, you are more likely to explode. Give yourself lots of time to learn new methods and techniques, to make mistakes on someone else’s dime, to explore different cuisines and to mature as a leader. Kitchens aren’t going anywhere anytime soon—and running your own business is a financial decision you don’t want to take on if you don’t have the proper experience—so don’t rush it.

Want to train with Chef Jenny? Click here to learn more about ICE’s School of Pastry & Baking Arts.

By Carly DeFilippo, Culinary Arts Student

In the process of preparing a multi-step dish, there are typically a few points of “no return.” Incorrectly butchering a protein, over-cooking the pasta or curdling the egg in your sauce are all-too-common ways to waste time and valuable products. Yet for all these stiff road blocks in the culinary kitchen, there are many more forgiving mistakes—opportunities to add in ingredients or seasoning you had forgotten, methods to smooth out overly reduced sauces or creative solutions for those improperly butchered proteins.

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While the raw ingredients are often (though not always) less costly in a pastry kitchen, there is far less room for slip-ups. Errors in measurement, adding ingredients in the improper order or even something as simple as forgetting the salt can result in an unusable product. Which is why I was thrilled to learn that I would be studying this tricky art with none other than Chef Sim Cass, a master of detail and all things baked.

The incredible Chef Sim Cass.

The incredible Chef Sim Cass

While we culinary students spend only a portion of our program on baking, our previous training in mise en place and cooking in large quantities provides us the skills necessary to dive straight into the pastry process. In our first few classes, we prepared a wide range of candied and preserved fruits, marzipans and pastry creams. In addition to technique, these were lessons in delayed gratification, as creating the individual components of recipes in large, advance batches is an essential part of the pastry process.

Pears poached in port and my first fruit tart at ICE!

Pears poached in port and the (unbaked) design for my first fruit tart at ICE!

From there we delved into doughs, learning the difference between a pâte brisée (literally “broken dough”) and pâte sucrée (“sweetened dough”), as well as various dough-mixing methods. All of this preparation culminated in the creation of our very own fruit tarts—all the sweeter for the prior days of work we had invested in the production of their individual components.

But of all the techniques we’ve learned so far, the one that fascinates me most is lamination. This process of folding and rolling butter and dough into many, many miniscule layers is, in my opinion, one of the coolest things to ever come out of a pastry kitchen. From croissants to mille feuille, “elephant ears” to flaky quiche crust, the results are nothing if not magical.

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Just like the first time I butchered a chicken, learning to craft laminated dough is a moment I’ll never forget. It’s the kind of technical skill that takes time and repetition to master, a combination of visual and muscle memory that separates professional chefs from home cooks. Though a single mistake could result in a subpar product, the difficulty involved makes the end results all the more prized—and delicious.

To learn more about life as an ICE culinary student, click here

By Girika Mahajan, Pastry & Baking Arts Student

I recently chanced upon the work of artist Kara Walker, titled “A Subtlety Or the Marvelous Sugar Baby”. The mammoth sphinx structure, installed in the old Domino Sugar Refinery in Williamsburg, was 35 feet high and took about four tons of sugar to create. She described it as a “homage to the unpaid and overworked artisans who have refined our sweet tastes from the cane fields to the kitchens of the new world.”

Kara Walker’s - A Subtlety-1

The use of sugar sculptures as a form of creative expression and political dialogue ages back many centuries. Sidney Mintz, in Sweetness and Power, describes the medieval fashioning of sugar, called subtleties. These sugar sculptures depicted political or religious scenes and commonly appeared on the tables of the wealthy. Though there may be little that is “subtle” about them—then as now—sugar sculptures still hold a prized place among the pastry arts, decorating luxurious banquet halls and being featured in culinary competitions.

Today, artistic showpieces consisting of sugar and its derivatives are constructed using a variety of mechanical methods. These methods include—but are not limited to—casting, blowing, pulling, pressing and spinning. And while this post is titled “The Art of Sugar Sculpting,” let me assure you that sugar sculpting is as much a science as it is an art.

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In one of our recent classes with Chef Kathryn Gordon, we were introduced to the basics of casting—the tip of the sugar sculpting iceberg. The idea is pretty simple: cook sugar to the hard crack stage (about 320 degrees Fahrenheit), color it, cast it in silicone molds of desired shapes and assemble the structure together. Yet despite these straightforward instructions, there are plenty of tiny problems that can occur over the course of this transformation.

For starters, sugar has a tendency to crystallize. If your pots and equipment aren’t perfectly cleaned, chances are the sugar will crystallize before you reach the hard crack stage. It is also easy to overcook or burn sugar, and thus it is critical to use accurate and well-calibrated thermometers. Visual cues such as the size and frequency of popping bubbles will also help determine when the sugar is ready, as well as conducting “water tests.”

Sugar Sculpting 1

In our class, we used isomalt, a sugar derivative, instead of sucrose (what we imagine when we think of “sugar”) for the sculptures. Isomalt, while more expensive than sugar, is readily available in any pastry supply store. It is the preferred choice for professional sugar sculptors because it naturally resists crystallization and is less hygroscopic (does not absorb moisture as readily) than sucrose. It also does not exhibit the typical yellow/caramel color of cooked sucrose which allows it to be colored more easily and accurately. No matter what sugar derivative you choose, it is an essential first step in the sculpting process, one that will dramatically influence your plans to create a visually appealing and structurally stable design.

sugar sculptures

Once we got to work on designing our sugar sculptures, it was exciting to see how a group that started with the same ingredients ended with such a diverse mix of colors, shapes and designs. It was a project that urged us to explore our creative side as pastry cooks, as opposed to following recipes and baking by the book. In a sense, the process was a perfect metaphor for the life of a pastry chef—educating our inner scientists in order to reveal our inner artists.

For more behind-the-scenes posts on life as a pastry student, click here.

By Carly DeFilippo, Culinary Arts Student

When first starting out in culinary school, my classmates and I were all performing the same task. Each station set with a cutting board, chef’s knife, paring knife, boning knife and vegetable peeler. Each student holding an onion to dice, a rack of lamb to French or a pile of potatoes to tourné.

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Eventually, as we moved on to different cooking methods—learning to sauté, braise, grill, roast and fry—we worked in teams of three or four. The real test here was learning to communicate within a group, delegating who would break down which vegetables and proteins; measure out spices, wine or oil; and most importantly, who would make sure nothing overcooked or burned.

Yet now that we’ve moved beyond basic techniques to the regional cuisines of France and Italy, the whole class is working together as one collaborative group. Manning one of three stations—garde manger, entremets or main dishes—my peers and I are no longer responsible for the creation of a single recipe from start to finish.

Making "farfalle" (bow tie pasta) from scratch at the garde manger station.

Making “farfalle” (bow tie pasta) from scratch at the garde manger station.

 

If stationed at garde manger, we’re responsible for breaking down vegetables, crafting handmade pasta and other various cold or preliminary preparations. The entremets team is responsible for hot sides or the supporting elements of main dishes, from sautéing mushrooms or braising artichokes to brewing soups and crafting sauces. The cooks responsible for main dishes are the kingpins of proteins: breaking down flounder, de-veining shrimp and grinding meatballs, then sautéing, frying or roasting as needed.

There's a big difference between veal for three and veal for thirty.

There’s a big difference between veal for three and veal for thirty.

In the beginning, there was concern among the ranks that we would learn less by only preparing one or two components of each dish. Yet, to our surprise, this style of working has far surpassed all our expectations. We’re not just learning to chop, whip, butcher, sauté or bake—we’re learning how to trust (and how much to trust) the members of our kitchen team.

In short, we’re learning the skills it takes to survive and thrive in a restaurant—from how to communicate when we need help and when to lend a hand, to timing our tasks so that we can keep the whole kitchen on schedule. And, in the process, we’re realizing that our technical skills are only 50% of what it takes to be a great cook—and maybe 10% of what it takes to be an extraordinary chef.

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Not to mention, we’re mentally training for the repetition of professional kitchen work. No longer chopping a single onion or frying just three portions of fish, we now cook in bulk. I’ve personally cleaned and cooked enough artichokes, calamari, pasta or soup for a party of thirty. It’s amazing how long it takes to roll and shape farfalle when your end goal is serving a small army!

Beyond scaling up our efficiency, streamlining our communication and refining our technical skills, we’re gaining an appreciation for the battles fought and won each night at a successful restaurant. You start with a motely crew of strangers with different strengths and expectations and train them to work like a seamless team—executing at the highest level, over and over again. The fact that so many excellent restaurants and food businesses exist is a sheer miracle—a miracle that, one day, my classmates and I hope to help create.

It takes many hands and solid communication to prepare a beautiful feast.

It takes many hands and solid communication to prepare a beautiful feast.

Click here to read more about life as an ICE culinary student.

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.