By Carly DeFilippo
As a young ICE graduate, Sabrina Sexton launched her career in two innovative kitchens whose exceptional food and casual bistro style would forever change New York City’s downtown dining scene: Chanterelle and Gramercy Tavern. Today, she has returned to ICE as our lead Culinary Arts instructor, training the next generation of game-changing chefs.
While finishing her pre-med program at Johns Hopkins University, Sabrina realized she was more anxious about becoming a doctor than passing her MCATs. Deep down, she knew it was time to trade in her lab coat for, well, another white coat—an ICE chef’s jacket.
As part of her Culinary Arts program at ICE, Sabrina externed at Chanterelle, a groundbreaking fine dining establishment in Manhattan’s then undeveloped downtown. The restaurant’s SoHo kitchen proved to be the perfect training ground for the young cook. Sabrina describes Executive Chef David Waltuck as the kind of leader who was truly happiest behind the stove and exceptionally “thoughtful about the ‘why’ of cooking.” Under Waltuck’s wing, Sabrina learned to carefully consider flavor pairings and the way different techniques would change the expression of flavor in a dish.
After three years at Chanterelle, Sabrina continued her ascent through New York City’s most iconic kitchens at Danny Meyer’s now legendary Gramercy Tavern. Despite her culinary background, Sabrina entered into the world of Gramercy through fellow ICE graduate Claudia Fleming’s pastry kitchen. Like Waltuck, Fleming was a master of flavor, and Sabrina learned to produce expertly plated desserts in a high-volume setting, while still crafting every component from scratch.
While she greatly valued the time spent on Fleming’s pastry team, Sabrina realized she missed the improvisation of savory cooking. Under Executive Chef Tom Colicchio (of Top Chef fame), she worked her way up Gramercy’s line of all-star cooks and, three years later, was thrust into the spotlight as Tavern Chef. Overseeing the restaurant’s namesake no-reservations, casual dining space, Sabrina’s days revolved around a wood-fired stove—the centerpiece of the Tavern’s cooking style—stoking the literal and creative fire of the restaurant’s menu for nearly four years.
Where do you go after working at the likes of Chanterelle or Gramercy Tavern? It’s a challenging question for any chef at the top of her game. At Gramercy, in addition to running the Tavern area, Sabrina had been charged with the curation of the restaurant’s cheese selection and briefly considered becoming an affineur. But she was soon recruited to oversee the culinary operations for ABC Network, including executive dining, green rooms and corporate dining—serving 800-1,000 employees on a daily basis.
At ABC, Sabrina gained instrumental experience in the training, supervision and management of a large, diverse staff. In essence, 65% of her job was teaching, so when she reconnected with ICE faculty at the school’s annual alumni party, it was no surprise that they eagerly responded to her interest in becoming one of the school’s culinary instructors.
The rest is, as they say, history. Fifteen years later, Sabrina is now the lead culinary arts instructor at ICE, yet her tenure has made her anything but complacent. One of her favorite aspects of teaching is the opportunity to constantly experiment and try new things in the kitchen—a quality mirrored in the many students she has mentored, from co-author of Modernist Cuisine Maxime Bilet to James Beard Award-winner Allison Vines-Rushing.
Want to study with Chef Sabrina? Click here to schedule a personal tour of the school.