By Caitlin Gunther

One of the great things about studying at ICE is the wealth of experience that each instructor brings to the curriculum. Culinary Management instructor Alan Someck is no exception. As general manager of two perpetually packed Long Island restaurants for decades, Alan developed an understanding of what makes a restaurant not only successful but an integral part of the community. Between this role and his years of consulting work, Alan has the kind of expertise that only comes with time and the opportunity to study changing trends in the industry. At ICE, Alan shares his insights with each aspiring restaurant owner or food business entrepreneur who walks into his classroom.

Alan Someck

A native New Yorker with the restaurant industry in his blood (his father owned a seafood restaurant in Brooklyn), Alan didn’t initially gravitate toward the culinary world. It wasn’t until after college when he moved to San Diego that Alan was inspired to join the food industry. With a shared desire for local, fresh produce, Alan and friends began a food co-op—a small operation where members would assemble in someone’s backyard and handpick their weekly produce. The co-op, which doubled as a community center, grew until it eventually relocated to a larger space that was previously a pool and dance hall. It was during this era that Alan learned to tap into local needs and organize ways to meet them.

Though he loved the Golden State, Alan eventually relocated back east, where he took the helm of two popular North Fork restaurants, both called Millie’s Place. Recognizing that the restaurant space had evolved into more than a place to eat, but rather, an extension of people’s homes, Alan infused Millie’s Place with the same sense of community that he helped to create in the San Diego food co-op.

Alan Someck and student

Alan with ICE graduate

Asked about the lessons gleaned from his time running Millie’s Place, Alan says, “Hook into the community. Get involved and create relationships with customers.” This entails everything from getting to know your customers by name to giving back to the community—Alan’s staff used to cook Thanksgiving dinners for seniors in the area. A second lesson is to observe what’s going on in the industry. Alan explains, “Once a week, I would go out to another restaurant. Go to restaurants and food shows and learn from them. Your food should adapt to the current trends.” Alan’s final piece of advice? Choose the right location. More specifically: a location that fits your concept. This and other vital elements involved in launching a food business or restaurant are the kinds of discussions that Alan has with each of his students. Says Alan, “I start with the premise of, ‘What’s the experience you want to create?’ Let’s work backward from that.”

With New York City as a backdrop for his classes, Alan is also able to incorporate local restaurants and entrepreneurs into his curriculum. From a guest lecture by Gabrielle Hamilton, author and chef/owner of the acclaimed East Village restaurant Prune, to a field trip into the bakery of Amy’s Bread, guided by owner and ICE alum Amy Scherber, Alan ensures that his students receive a comprehensive food business education.

Today, Alan continues to advise restaurant startups, franchises and restaurants aiming to solve operational conundrums. An avid cultural observer, especially when it comes to the way people eat, Alan keeps a constant pulse on the evolving food industry. Whether inside of the classroom or out, Alan is inspiring the next generation of food visionaries and helping to make their lofty business dreams a (profitable) reality.

Want to study with Alan and start mapping out your own food business? Click here to learn more about our Culinary Management program.

By Grace Reynolds, Culinary Management Student

As a general rule of thumb, the anticipation of a new experience comes with a heavy dose of expectations. Be it your first trip to a foreign country, a new job or a first date, it’s easy to construct a romanticized notion of “what could be” before even setting foot in the airport, office or restaurant. But how often does reality actually meet our expectations?

Restaurant Consulting Empire State

Personally, I try not to get too excited about new opportunities. My optimistic daydreams have resulted in disappointment on many occasions, some worse than others. So in the days leading up to September 29th (my first day in ICE’s Culinary Management program), I made every effort to keep my expectations in check. Even as ICE alums raved to me about their experience in the program—how it helped them reach their professional goals, changed the way they think, gave them the tools to succeed in the restaurant industry—I tried to stay pragmatic. If this program was really the professional game-changer they suggested, it would still have to prove itself to me first.

Before I continue any further, I should probably tell you a bit about myself, as you’ll be hearing from me frequently over the course of the next seven months. I’ve always wanted to work in the food world. From the time I could spell “reservation,” I’ve been fascinated with restaurants—whether it was eating in them, researching their history or brainstorming new business concepts. But, despite this obvious passion for the food industry, I’ve never wanted to be a chef. So as I entered adulthood, I dismissed my restaurant obsession as an expensive hobby and decided I would become an anthropologist, psychologist or some other sort of “-ologist.”

Restaurant Kitchen-8

It wasn’t until three years ago that I realized a future in food didn’t have to mean a career in the kitchen. I was a senior in college, researching graduate school opportunities, when I stumbled across the NYU Food Studies program. It was love at first Google search: I applied, got in and packed my bags for New York City. But a year into the program, it became clear to me that academia and business acumen are two entirely different beasts. In order to break into the food industry and put the knowledge I was gaining to use, I needed to learn about the business side of food. But how?

Business Class-001-150dpi

A year later, I’m six classes into the ICE Culinary Management curriculum and I can say with complete confidence that enrolling in this program is the best professional decision I’ve made to date. We’ve already covered topics like entrepreneurial opportunities in food, finding a good location for your business, menu development, food cost percentages and promising food trends—and it’s only been two weeks! The amount of food world talent we’ll be exposed to—lectures by representatives from the highly regarded Union Square Hospitality Group, visits to Michelin-starred restaurants like Daniel, discussions with food startup geniuses like the founder of Chipotle—is mind-boggling. Add to this the caliber and experience of our instructors—restaurateurs Steve Zagor, Andy Pforzheimer and Vin McCann, as well as sommelier Richard Vayda—and the knowledge my classmates and I are sure to gain is staggering.

So was I right to dampen my excitement about the ICE Culinary Management program? In retrospect, no! It has certainly made the rush I feel now all the more intense. Plus, it’s just the beginning, right? There’s still plenty of time to let my imagination run wild, knowing that this program will continue to surpass my expectations and surprise me in the process.

Lecture Opera POS-036-150dpi

I’m not entirely sure what the next seven months will bring (A new job? An entrepreneurial opportunity? A business plan for my own restaurant?), but big changes are afoot—I can feel it. As we’ve already learned from the industry experts we’ve met, the path to success is more than a simple ascent—there’s sure to be hard work and some disappointment along the way. But like any aspiring entrepreneur, I’m ready to learn from these challenges, and the skills I learn in the Culinary Management program are sure to help me navigate every step of my professional journey.

Call 888-995-2433 to schedule a personal tour of ICE and learn more about our Culinary Management program.

 

By Carly DeFIlippomadhuri sharma saffron fix

Among the many emerging opportunities for food entrepreneurs, few sectors have seen as much growth as the cook-at-home meal delivery market. Beyond such omnipresent brands as Blue Apron, a wide range of creative chefs and business owners are launching specialized products that serve the needs and tastes of a niche market. Case in point: ICE Culinary Arts alum Madhuri Sharma, co-founder of Indian-inspired meal kit service Saffron Fix.

What distinguishes Saffron Fix from other cook-at-home kits, and what is your role at the company?
Saffron Fix delivers all the pre-chopped ingredients and pre-measured spices you need to create delicious Indian meals at home. As a co-founder, my responsibilities range from running the day-to-day operations to planning the expansion and direction of the company as a whole.

On a typical day, I might be involved with recipe development, managing the production of the recipe cards and labels, planning next month’s menu or breaking down our orders into an operational workflow. We are also constantly working on marketing approaches, keeping our vendors competitive and planning our future expansion.

Have you always worked in the culinary industry?
Before enrolling at ICE, I worked as a broadcast content producer at a leading ad agency. What attracted me to the program was the flexibility that ICE offered. Attending classes in the evening allowed me to gain more hands-on culinary experience during the day. While in school, I was able to work as a line cook at a restaurant, assist on culinary photo shoots and intern at Food Network. Being able to do those things simultaneously enhanced my education.

saffron fix indian meal kit service

What was your path from graduation to Saffron Fix?
After graduation, I freelanced as a culinary producer and food stylist for a variety of shows and photo shoots. Within six months, I met my current business partner at Saffron Fix, and we began to hone the concept. Just one year after graduating from ICE, we had launched an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign and garnered a fair amount of media attention. Since then, we have grown the business organically and recently started our monthly subscription model.

How did the ICE career services staff support your career transition?
When I walked into the career center at ICE, I knew what I wanted to do: merge my background in media production with my culinary interests and work in food media. They helped me focus on opportunities that would allow me to use my varied skills and connected me with other alumni working in my field of interest.

What are your proudest accomplishments as a career changer?
Looking back, I thought that going to culinary school would be the largest risk I could take, since I had already established myself in a completely different industry. But it was just the stepping-stone to many more exciting risks. Starting a business has been just as challenging as it is has been exhilarating, and I think it took a lot of courage to take that leap. But the first time I heard one of our clients tell us how much they loved our product and how it changed their life, I knew that this was what I was meant to do.

indian food paneer saffron fix cook at home

What advice would you give other aspiring entrepreneurs?
There is no skill you can’t benefit from as an entrepreneur. I have been able to use the knowledge I gained in both my media experience as well as my culinary training. Most people stop themselves from moving forward with a great idea because they feel that they don’t have the skills needed, but you can always build on what you already have. It’s always better to take that leap than to sit back and watch others do it.

Where would you like to see yourself in the future?
I love the startup space—specifically in food tech. I’d like to continue growing Saffron Fix into an international brand, and I would love to foster ideas that bring better food experiences to a wide audience. After all, food and cooking are our way of connecting not only to our soul but also to each other.

Click here to receive free information about ICE’s Culinary Arts program. 

By Grace Reynolds, Culinary Management Student

As a general rule of thumb, the anticipation of a new experience comes with a heavy dose of expectations. Be it your first trip to a foreign country, a new job or a first date, it’s easy to construct a romanticized notion of “what could be” before even setting foot in the airport, office or restaurant. But how often does reality actually meet our expectations?

Restaurant Consulting Empire State

Personally, I try not to get too excited about new opportunities. My optimistic daydreams have resulted in disappointment on many occasions, some worse than others. So in the days leading up to September 29th (my first day in ICE’s Culinary Management program), I made every effort to keep my expectations in check. Even as ICE alums raved to me about their experience in the program—how it helped them reach their professional goals, changed the way they think, gave them the tools to succeed in the restaurant industry—I tried to stay pragmatic. If this program was really the professional game-changer they suggested, it would still have to prove itself to me first.

Before I continue any further, I should probably tell you a bit about myself (seeing as you’ll be hearing from me frequently over the course of the next seven months). I’ve always wanted to work in the food world. From the time I could spell “reservation,” I’ve been fascinated with restaurants—whether it was eating in them, researching their history, or brainstorming new business concepts. But, despite this obvious passion for the food industry, I’ve never wanted to be a chef. So as I entered adulthood, I dismissed my restaurant obsession as an expensive hobby and decided I would become an anthropologist, psychologist or some other sort of “-ologist.”

Restaurant Kitchen-8

It wasn’t until three years ago that I realized a future in food didn’t have to mean a career in the kitchen. I was a senior in college, researching graduate school opportunities, when I stumbled across the NYU Food Studies program. It was love at first Google search; I applied, got in and packed my bags for New York City. But a year into the program, it became clear to me that academia and business acumen are two entirely different beasts. In order to break into the food industry and put the knowledge I was gaining to use, I needed to learn about the business side of food. But how?

Business Class-001-150dpi

A year later, I’m six classes into the ICE Culinary Management curriculum and I can say with complete confidence that enrolling in this program is the best professional decision I’ve made to date. We’ve already covered topics like entrepreneurial opportunities in food, finding a good location for your business, menu development, food cost percentages, and promising food trends—and it’s only been two weeks! The amount of food world talent we’ll be exposed to— lectures by representatives from the highly regarded Union Square Hospitality Group, visits to Michelin-starred restaurants like Daniel, discussions with food start-up geniuses like the founder of Chipotle— is mind-boggling. Add to this the caliber and experience of our instructors—restaurateurs Steve Zagor, Andy Pforzheimer and Vin McCann, as well as sommelier Richard Vayda—and the knowledge my classmates and I are sure to gain is staggering.

So was I right to dampen my excitement about the ICE Culinary Management program? In retrospect, no! Yet it has certainly made the rush I feel now all the more intense. Plus, it’s just the beginning, right? There’s still plenty of time to let my imagination run wild, knowing that this program will continue to surpass my expectations and surprise me in the process.

Lecture Opera POS-036-150dpi

I’m not entirely sure what the next seven months will bring (A new job? An entrepreneurial opportunity? A business plan for my own restaurant?), but big changes are afoot—I can feel it. As we’ve already learned from the industry experts we’ve met, the path to success is more than a simple ascent—there’s sure to be hard work and some disappointment along the way. But like any aspiring entrepreneur, I’m ready to learn from these challenges, and the skills I learn in the Culinary Management program are sure to help me navigate every step of my professional journey.

Call 888-995-2433 to schedule a personal tour of ICE and learn more about our Culinary Management program.

By Dana Mortell

Foie gras. Pâté. Offal. These niche food items may be familiar to us today, but in 1985, these products were unknown to many Americans. That is, until Ariane Daguin launched D’Artagnan, an inspired idea that became one of the largest and most trusted specialty meat distributors in the country. In celebration of the company’s 30th anniversary, we recently invited the visionary founder and CEO to ICE as part of our Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs series.

Photo Credit: Boston.com

Photo Credit: Boston.com

Born in the Gascony region of France to a family with a seven-generation culinary legacy—including a chef father with 2 Michelin stars to his name—it was clear from early on that Ariane had inherited a passion for the food industry. Yet, despite growing up with this impressive gastronomical heritage, her original career ambition was to become a journalist, a dream she pursued by enrolling as an undergraduate at Columbia University.

During her summers off from school, Ariane worked the retail counter at Les Trois Petits Cochons, which was—and still is—one of New York’s finest French pâté producers. When she suggested to the owners that they should sell their products wholesale to the city’s fine food shops, amazingly, they presented her with the opportunity to develop this concept within their existing business.

Meanwhile, at Columbia, Ariane had met George Faison—her future business partner. Joining Ariane and her friends on weekly restaurant outings, George realized they shared one very special passion: French cuisine. Soon enough, he joined Ariane at Les Trois Petits Cochons while he was finishing his MBA. Working together, the two gained invaluable experience in the industry over the next five years. But when the shop’s owners decided that Ariane’s entrepreneurial ideas—in particular, becoming the sole foie gras distributor for a duck farm in the Catskills—were too risky, the pair knew it was time to branch off on their own.

Photo Credit: First We Feast

Photo Credit: First We Feast

The timing couldn’t have been better. At the time, there was no fresh, domestic foie gras available in the country—American chefs were cooking it out of a can. With a specific mission in mind, the two launched D’Artagnan (named after one of the Three Musketeers, a book penned by Alexandre Dumas, with whom Ariane shares her hometown). Draining their savings, the pair leased a truck and a small refrigeration space, and gained an exclusive contract with the Catskills duck farm to sell foie gras. “The first few years were extremely difficult. It was hard to receive cash flow. Banks didn’t want to lend anything since there was no guarantee. At one point, we had $35 in the bank,” said Daguin.

To stay viable, they had to convince the foie gras farmers that they were the right people for the job. Ariane threw everything she had into her work. Knowing that it would be met with hesitation from the public, she invested time in educating clients about the product. And since foie gras was a relatively unfamiliar ingredient for chefs, D’Artagnan kept two days’ inventory on hand, to allow for last-minute orders. This, Ariane knew, would give their clients the freedom to be more daring with the specialty ingredient, testing the waters as they gauged their guests’ reactions.

Ariane and her father. Photo Credit: dartagnan.com

Ariane and her father. Photo Credit: dartagnan.com

In addition, Ariane was taught by her father that a good chef knows how to use the whole animal, so she sought out chefs with a similar perspective. George and Ariane began to develop relationships with these chefs, who provided checks as credit to receive foie gras in the future. Those crucial partnerships allowed the company to get one step ahead.

Ariane’s vision for D’Artagnan also began to re-shape the farming practices of her producers. She wanted to be able to market D’Artagnan’s products as fresh, free-range, and organic, but felt she still needed something to set her foie gras apart. Ariane begged her farmers to raise heritage duck breeds. These would take longer to raise—nine months, as opposed to the traditional five—and it took all of Ariane’s powers of persuasion to convince the farmers that this time-consuming change would be a worthwhile investment. At the same time, Ariane was growing her network at the other end of the food chain, tapping into a new generation of ambitious New York City chefs.

Ariane gets a boost from the industry's top chefs. Photo Credit: Food Arts Magazine

Ariane gets a boost from the industry’s top chefs. Photo Credit: Food Arts Magazine

Her primary customers were young culinary innovators, such as Patrick Clark of Odeon, David Burke, and Daniel Boulud. Growing her inventory to include game birds and other specialized products, Ariane provided chefs with access to a whole new world of high quality products, distinguishing D’Artagnan as a unique resource for this ambitious culinary community.

Today, Ariane is one of the most respected women in the food industry. She works with chefs, restaurateurs and purveyors from across the country—some offering ideas for new product offerings, while others make requests for such rare products as charcuterie, truffles, or mushrooms.

D’Artagnan, in turn, has become one of the most successful specialty food companies in the industry, with 172 employees, 35 trucks and 82 million dollars in revenue. Though she and George parted ways in the early 2000’s, Ariane has since taken D’Artagnan to new heights. The business now has an outpost in Chicago, and is about to open a third location in Houston. But despite her ambitions, Ariane also knows her limits—she may be a master of sourcing, but she has no desire to open her own slaughterhouse. Ariane wisely believes the key to her success is that she knows what she does best, and sticks to it with passion, integrity, and honesty.

For more success stories from the industry’s top entrepreneurs, click here.

 

By Carly DeFilippo

In the ever-growing buffet of possible food careers, sometimes it’s hard to choose what will end up on your plate. Will I be a magazine editor or a restaurant owner? A cookbook author or an entrepreneur? Well, in the case of ICE alum Sara Deseran, she’s having her cake and eating it too. At the mere age of 42, she’s the co-owner of five restaurants, the food editor for San Francisco magazine and a cookbook author—and still, she’s plotting to one day write freelance articles for the New York TimesBecause why shouldn’t you get to do everything you’ve always wanted to do?

Photo Credit: Alex Farnum

Photo Credit: Alex Farnum

What sparked your decision to attend culinary school?
I was working in lowly position in publishing at Weldon Owen, a company that packaged books for Williams-Sonoma. I’d started working there because of my love for food, and my editor suggested I consider culinary school to round out my experience. I chose ICE because I really wanted to go to New York.

Where was your ICE externship and how has it affected your career?
For my ICE externship, I worked at Saveur magazine in the test kitchen, which was a complete thrill. At the time, there was no magazine I loved more. From there, I became the food editor at 7×7 magazine and a short-lived publication called Williams-Sonoma Taste. Today, I work as the food editor at San Francisco magazine and oversee our “Feast” section.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Well, my writing for sure. I currently publish a food think’y column called “Famished” that’s a ton of fun and keeps me on my toes. But I’m ultimately the most proud of Tacolicious, the restaurant that my husband Joe Hargrave and I started about four years ago. Proud is an understatement, actually. We have four locations now, and I pinch myself every day in regards to its success and the wonderful people we get to work with. On top of all that, we just recently published the Tacolicious cookbook with Ten Speed Press!

What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from your time in the industry?
Colman Andrews, the former editor of Saveur and founder of The Daily Meal, once told me to “write about what you know and know more than anyone else.” That way it’s unique to you. In this very competitive and saturated world of food writing, it’s a thought worth holding on to.

tacoliciousbook

Briefly describe a day in your current working life.
I work at the magazine part-time and for Tacolicious part-time. At the magazine, I’m in charge of developing and executing all of our food and drink coverage, which is a lot. For the restaurant, I spend my days on everything from managing our website to marketing, to brainstorming menu ideas for our latest restaurant project—a dumpling-centric, California-Chinese restaurant called Chino that we opened in San Francisco this year.

What might people be surprised to learn about your job?
That I’ve never been a restaurant critic. Everyone hears the words “food writer” and they automatically assume I’m a critic. (I’d be a terrible critic because I’m far too critical, honestly. I need to keep those thoughts to myself!) I also don’t enjoy classic fine dining, which can be too uptight for my taste. The final thing that’s surprising is that I’ve never grown tired of my job. Covering San Francisco’s vibrant—and obsessive—food scene is endlessly entertaining.

Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?
I’d like to freelance more—pitch publications like the New York Times (and hopefully have them say yes). That used to be my “before I turn 40” goal. But I’m 42 now—with five restaurants and a magazine to help run—so I’m giving myself another 8 years. I’m a wee bit busy right now.

Passionate about food writing? Learn how a degree in Culinary Arts can help kickstart your career in food media.

By Carly DeFilippo

When it comes to cultural mash-ups, there are few more beloved dishes than the Chinese-American creation, General Tso’s chicken. After testing out a wide range of front of house, back of house, editorial and marketing positions in the culinary industry, entrepreneurial ICE alum Jessica Lin is bringing a new spin on General Tso’s to the hungry public at Queens’ Long Island City flea. Find out more below—and swing by the Flea on Saturdays this summer to taste General Tso’Boy for yourself!

Jessica Lin General Tso'BoyWhat inspired your decision to enroll at ICE?
I needed flexibility to work full time and support myself, while still finding time for the things I wanted to learn. So I enrolled in ICE’s Culinary Arts program on the weekends to gain exposure to the culinary world, while working a full time job at a law firm during the week.

Where was your externship and how did it impact your career?
I did an externship at Jean Georges for more than 4 months. While I was there, I made friends with many cooks who are now chefs at their own restaurants; however, I always saw myself gaining wider breadth of knowledge in the food industry, not just in the back of house. I didn’t intend to become a chef, but felt it was necessary to start my training there to understand the whole story.

What have you been up to since graduation?
I’ve had a wide range of roles in the food industry—from front of house at Maialino, to writing and photographing for Eater, to various jobs for start-up food concepts. Eventually, I went back to my alma mater, Cornell University, for a masters in hospitality management, to learn the business side of the industry. From there, I worked as the marketing manager at The Taco Truck before becoming head of marketing at Luke’s Lobster.

How did General Tso’Boy come about?
My partner and I started dreaming about General Tso’Boy nearly two years ago. Gary wanted to improve the general scope of American Chinese food, something he grew up with as the son of a restaurateur. I’m deeply in love with creating brands and concepts, so we naturally started discussing fun, inventive ways to showcase this cultural mix of food that people love. We wanted to create a concept that was truly American. There’s arguably nothing more American than a sandwich—and nothing more American Chinese than General Tso’s chicken! Before launch, we brainstormed names for the concept, hired a freelance designer to help develop the brand identity and tested different sauce and fried chicken recipes for more than a year.

Are there any accomplishments of which you are particularly proud?
Being able to start a business while both of us are working full time is both challenging and rewarding. We’ve been very lucky to have people supporting us—both in and out of the industry.

gtb

Briefly describe a day in your current working life.
I work 7 days a week. Monday to Friday, I work for Luke’s Lobster handling all the communications and creative—from marketing campaigns to photography for the company. Friday night and Saturday morning, Gary and I prep chicken, make General Tso’s sauce, shred lettuce and load a truck to go to Long Island City. Then, we spend the entire day at LIC Flea selling sandwiches. At the flea, we’re talking to customers to get their feedback, encouraging them to post on social media and really just trying to maximize our 8 weeks at the market. After we finish sales, we head back to the kitchen to scrub things clean. Sunday, we try to take it easy, but it always involves evaluating how we can improve our operations, as well as coming up with creative marketing ideas—like our latest hashtag #tsogood (get it?)!

What might people be surprised to learn about your job?
We love doing what we do, and we’re all smiles. But, of course, it’s much harder than most people think. To us, it’s not just a matter of putting Chinese food in a sandwich. We spent more than a year developing the right sauce and searching for the perfect bread. The bread can’t be too soft or too crunchy. It all has to balance out the sandwich with all the flavors and textures happening in there.

Where would you like to see yourself in the future?
In the near future, we’d like to open a storefront and expand, of course. We also have grand ideas, like creating a 24 hour GTB diner that serves as a test kitchen for new products for quick service shops. There’s also the question of finding a way to bottle and sell our sauces to retail/wholesale or developing a program that gives back to the local community.

How would you describe your “culinary voice”?
We think simplicity is best. We’re not trying to throw “secret ingredients” into our sauce, but we’re using simple techniques to really bring out the flavors of our food. It’s about good ingredients—like a special variety of greenmarket romaine that has less water content, which allows it to stay crisp and taste fresh in the sandwich.

Curious what else you can do with an ICE education? Click here for more alumni stories.

By Dana Mortell

This spring, ICE was thrilled to invite renowned Chef/Restaurateur Ken Oringer to share his experience and insight with our students. As a James Beard award-winning chef of four celebrated Boston restaurants and one New York location, Oringer has helped shape the national culinary scene, using his passion for travel and exotic cuisines to inform his creativity in the kitchen.

Photo Credit: KenOringer.com

Photo Credit: KenOringer.com

Growing up, Oringer wasn’t surrounded by unique ingredients or international cuisines. But as a kid, he always wanted to hold a knife because he knew he belonged in a restaurant kitchen. Whenever his parents would take him to Chinatown, Ken was always amazed by the cooks stir frying in woks over a high heat flame. His favorite treat at street fairs was lamb on a stick, an exotic foodstuff in his Massachusetts hometown. Observing these different techniques and flavors fostered his curiosity well into his adolescence.

Oringer’s first foray in the business was a position at a family-run Italian deli. There, he learned how mise en place and preparation influenced the end product. Once he reached the ripe age of 15 years, he decided that it was his time to work in a proper restaurant. He went door-to-door asking for work, even if it was unpaid. All Ken wanted was the experience of working in a professional kitchen to enhance his skills, which he continued to do through high school.

Following his parents’ influence, Ken headed off to business school, but still dreamed of being a chef. He nearly flunked out after his first semester at Bryant College, continuing to research food during his spare time. However, the strict curriculum in finance and accounting wound up being a blessing, benefiting the day-to-day operations of his current restaurant group.

After graduating from college, Oringer knew that he didn’t want to sit behind a desk. His business school internships had proved uninspiring, and he knew that his heart was still in the kitchen. Ken enrolled in culinary school with an exceptional sense of focus. He knew exactly what he needed to do to succeed and was always the first student in class and the last one out. Ken also explains that he wasn’t afraid to make mistakes in class, seeing them as an opportunity to learn as much as possible from his chef-instructors.

Ken Oringer - Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs - ice.edu

Photo Credit: kenoringer.com

Once it was time to choose an externship site, Oringer sought placement at the River Café in Brooklyn with Chef David Burke. It was the 1980s and Burke was fearless. Ken had frontline access to a menu chock-full of exotic items such as duck tongue confit. He recalls wanting to taste everything to make up for lost years, having only tasted sushi or oysters for the first time as an undergrad. As an entry-level cook with no money, River Café gave him the opportunity to experience these new ingredients while learning and working.

After culinary school, Oringer went back to New England and got his first job at Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island. The restaurant was among the first to start using organic and local ingredients, similar to the Alice Waters philosophy. Over the next few years, Oringer worked his way up to the role of pastry chef and created a menu where all ice cream was made to order.

But Oringer had more on his mind than Italian classics. On one occasion, he remembers visiting an off-the-beaten-path Cambodian restaurant in South Providence. From fresh galangal to fried shallots, he was endlessly intrigued by the use of these new and complex flavors. He gave Al Forno his two weeks’ notice, and headed back to Boston to pursue the next phase of his career.

In Boston, Oringer begged to be hired at Le Marquis de Lafayette, a prominent French restaurant where Jean-Georges was consulting chef, incorporating flavors from Bangkok throughout the menu. He may have been the only American in a kitchen of French-speakers, but Ken was enamored with Jean-Georges’ cooking style. He was working with the best products from around the world, including kilos of black truffles. Eventually, Oringer was promoted to sous chef, mastering the art of survival in one of the country’s most demanding kitchens.

After a stint as the Chef de Cuisine at Silks in the Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco crafting Asian-influenced French cuisine, Oringer returned to Boston to open his first restaurant, Clio, in 1997. This was the point when business school became highly valuable, aiding with the design, financials and business plan for the restaurant. Clio was a rustic space with a casual vibe that served contemporary French and Asian cuisine. From day one, the restaurant was packed; a success owed in large part to the quality of Oringer’s staff. A team of positive and driven individuals, he recalls the team as being particularly respectful and effective communicators.

Clio opened the door to future opportunities for Oringer. In 1998, when he heard the James Beard Foundation nominated him for Best New Chef Northeast, he was shocked—and even more so when he won the award in 2001. With national recognition under his belt, developers and moguls started to approach him with national and international consulting and partnership ideas, but Oringer knew he had to be selective.

Uni, a sashimi bar located in the lounge of Clio, opened in 2002. It was born of Oringer’s travels to Asia, where he was inspired by chefs who spent their entire careers mastering a single style of dish or set of ingredients, especially the individuals who mastered tempura. Impressed by the art of performing and repeating a recipe for years on end, Oringer chose to have Uni specialize in different styles of sashimi, without maki rolls or rice. Oringer’s further travels brought him to Barcelona, where he was seduced by the culture of Spain’s tapas bars. Capturing the culture of social eating, Oringer opened Toro, following by the Italian enoteca, Copa, in 2010.

Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonette at Toro. Photo Credit: seriouseats.com

Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonette at Toro in NYC. Photo Credit: seriouseats.com

Oringer’s most recent project was opening a second location of Toro in New York City on 15th Street and 10th avenue—the same block as Mario Batali’s Del Posto and Tom Colicchio’s Colicchio & Sons. The restaurant opened in 2013 in a 9,000 square foot space with a private dining room, offering house-made charcuterie and 65 items on the menu. Oringer is thrilled to have his business translate to the competitive culture of New York dining, and the restaurant has proved a fantastic success.

Despite all his success, Oringer is an extremely humble individual whose philosophy is one of hard work, creativity and respect in the kitchen, while maintaining an open mind. Having great food isn’t good enough. His staff is taught to treat people well and take on the attitude that no task is too big or too small. That said, Oringer insists that cultivating an environment where the staff wants to stay is key, a task made more manageable by granting requests for personal matters and scheduling fairly. From what we can see, dedication, focus and clear communication—and never giving in to the temptation of ego—have been the main secrets to the success of Ken Oringer.

 

Click here to read more stories of successful food industry entrepreneurs who have visited ICE.

By Carly DeFilippo

At ICE, we pride ourselves on the diversity of our community. In any given class, recent high school or college graduates learn knife skills along-side clinical nurses, marketing executives or former investment bankers. When it comes to career changers, we tell our students that all the skills they gained in previous careers will be of huge benefit to them when they enter the industry. As for finding a student who exemplifies that truth, there are few better examples than Culinary Arts graduate John Feingold.

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John Feingold

What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE?

I’ve had several unsatisfying careers over the past 35 years. But I love to cook and eat almost more than anything else, so I decided to put my career where my mouth is. I quit my day job as a senior vice president at a big NYC real estate advisory firm, enrolled in ICE’s weeknight culinary program, and went out and bought a run-down restaurant property in Maine. My plan was to open a place that served food I’d like to eat. I’d been an adventurous home cook all my life, and I had taken lots of recreational courses, including some at ICE. I liked the ICE curriculum and the instructors I’d met, so ICE was an easy choice among several otherwise excellent schools. 

Where was your externship, and where have you worked since graduating?

After excellent trailing experiences in the kitchens at Tocqueville, Jean-Georges’ Nougatine, and Daniel Humm’s The NoMad, I selected Restaurant DANIEL for my externship site. That summer was a phenomenal learning experience, especially since I rotated around the kitchen and worked at every station, with every sous chef and chef de partie. Working side-by-side with Daniel Boulud, himself, was certainly memorable.

Following my externship I spent a month in Paris as stagiare at SPRING, an acclaimed contemporary French restaurant, in the 1st Arrondissement. The kitchen at SPRING had a tiny staff – just six, including myself – so again, I worked every station. Since returning from Paris, I’ve done some private cooking for parties, which has been a lot of fun. The most interesting was offering my services as a private chef to a charity auction and then preparing a knock-out meal for 8 people at the winner’s palatial Park Slope brownstone. 

But, my real work since graduating has been putting together my own restaurant project, a 40-seat place on a remote island in Penobscot Bay, Maine. The island is called Vinalhaven, it has a large summer population, and is one of the largest lobster ports in the country. My restaurant – SALT – was a former restaurant that fell into disrepair. I bought it a couple years ago and have renovated the place, completely gutting and reconstructing the kitchen. We’ll be doing simple, delicious, and beautiful things with locally-sourced seafood, produce, and meats in what I am calling a “contemporary coastal” style, rooted in classic French technique. I now am hiring staff and finalizing the systems, recipes and menu for a Memorial Day 2014 opening. I like to say that anyone can eat out, but not everyone can eat way out—like 20 miles way out, on Vinalhaven.

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A throwback from Feingold’s days as an ICE culinary student.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Lots of things, but here’s one that comes to mind. On the first day of my stage at SPRING, where I showed up jetlagged and bleary-eyed, I spent 8 hours doing prep work in an unfamiliar kitchen. Then, I was put on the line at the aperitif station (appetizers), where I was responsible for plating entrées. Now, this is no hot dog stand – SPRING had a 72 euro, market-driven prix fixe menu, and it gets over 850 reservation requests per day for its 46 seats. It has an open kitchen and my service station was 3 feet away from seated diners watching (and photographing!) every move I made, so I felt the heat. Somehow I performed, and did so every night of my stage. That, to me, was an accomplishment. One night Pierre Gagnaire (if you don’t know him, he’s like the French Thomas Keller), came in for dinner. We went on high alert, but did our jobs and served dinner. Later, he came around and shook each of our hands and said très bon. But I’d be more nervous had ICE Chef Instructor Chris Gesualdi come in for dinner.

What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from your time in the industry?

Watch and listen, do as you’re are told. Have your work checked early and often. Ask questions – know why you are doing what you are doing and what the end result is intended to be. Keep your knives sharp. But, maybe more importantly, my training in the fundamentals provided a base on which to build and learn. At first, I saw cooks in these high-powered restaurant kitchens doing high-end techniques that I wasn’t yet familiar with. But I quickly realized that I couldn’t do those things well – say, take full advantage of water oven cooking or sous vide – without having mastered the basics at ICE.

Briefly describe a day in your current working life.

For the past several months, I’ve been building a business. That means getting approvals, licenses, refining a business plan, solving equipment problems (like, what’s up with the exhaust fan?), directing contractors, recruiting and vetting staff, and spending what seems like ungodly amounts of money on equipment, supplies, professional services, marketing, etc. But I’ve been having a lot of fun meeting with local farmers and fishermen and researching local and regional vendors/distributors to source the best fish, shellfish, meat, greens, vegetables, and dairy possible. I like to say that I’ll be sourcing my food from the lands and waters of Vinalhaven and North Haven, but I might also have to import some items from Maine.

The best part of my daily routine, of course, is cooking – menu and recipe development, testing, tasting, tweaking. I give myself cooking assignments every single day. My family and friends eat well.

What might people be surprised to learn about your job?

I think people would be surprised to know how hard my so-called job is. Putting together a restaurant is a huge amount of work, and my days and nights are completely full. But what surprises me every day is that I’ve actually taken on this job – quit the corporate rat race and am building a restaurant. It’s a high-wire act, and I have a lot of sleepless nights. But I’ve always been inspired by what Harry Dean Stanton said in the movie Repo Man, “The life of a repo man is always intense.” Like the restaurant business.

Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?

In the kitchen in whites watching a small staff prepare the food I love.

 

By Stephen Zagor

 

Suppose you want to be in the food business – where to start? You can watch all episodes of Restaurant Impossible or Kitchen Nightmares. You can set up a pop-up lemonade stand in front of your home and hope it gets discovered by the New York Times. You can even jump into a part-time job at your favorite bistro and hope it leads to great opportunities. But for those with more serious ambitions, a great entry point is the School of Culinary Management at ICE. Joining an energized class of like-minded individuals can help you gain knowledge and confidence, while refining your career plans.

 

Just two years ago, I said goodbye to a group of graduates that were not only idealistic and energized, but helpful in motivating each other toward success. Today, many have already launched captivating food businesses.

The main room at Agricola

The main room at Agricola

Jim Nawn came to the class as a previous franchisee of Panera Bread. He was never one to work on the hands-on level or day-to-day tasks of a restaurant. Instead, he utilized his interests and the resources he was exposed to at ICE to open Agricola, a farm to table restaurant in Princeton, NJ.

 

It wasn’t an easy task working with an old building in a small town, but Jim relied on some of his ICE teachers as consultants and even employed a classmate as a manager. Today, his restaurant has received an excellent review from the New York Times and continues to be regularly featured in the local press.

A creative, bacon-centric spin on macarons, from Macaron Parlour

A creative, bacon-centric sweet from Macaron Parlour

On the sweet side of things, Christina Ha, from the same Culinary Management class, has become one of NYC’s hottest macaron makers. In fact, she—together with her now husband—is one of the first local innovators to bring the now-omnipresent Parisian trend to NYC.

 

 

A Columbia University journalism grad, Christina started selling her macarons at festivals and street markets. As her growing sales aligned with the knowledge she gained at ICE, the couple made the jump to open the acclaimed Macaron Parlor on St Marks Place. Today, business is thriving and they are close to signing a lease for a second location.

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Two other students in the same class couldn’t wait for graduation to open a business. Previous to their time at ICE, Lauren Feder had a career in marketing and sales for a major national media company and Jason Soloway worked in philanthropy for a large foundation. While still enrolled in the program, they met two local bar owners and the foursome decided to open Mother’s Ruin, a hip bar with great food on Spring Street.

 

 

In the first two years, the business has proved very successful, and Jason—along with his two bar partners—is in construction on the soon to open “Wallflower”, a bar with small French plates on West 12th Street. He also reports that he is always looking for new opportunities and credits his time at ICE with providing much of his basic knowledge and confidence.

The exterior of Vien, opening tomorrow in the West Village.

The on-trend exterior of Vien, opening tomorrow in the West Village.

A fifth noteworthy student from the same Culinary Management class is Mark Sy. Originally from Hong Kong, Mark wanted to open a restaurant based on his familiarity with Asian cuisine, but make it healthy and fast. Mark used many of the contacts that he made at ICE to make this restaurant a reality. Notably, ICE instructors helped him with his menu and service flow, as well as basic business plan development. The result is Vien, a noodle bar to open tomorrow, Sept 10th, in the West Village.

 

Viên is a quick service restaurant that serves healthy and delicious Southeast Asian food. Sustainably designed to resemble a modern Southeast Asian kitchen, the food focused on noodle salads and rice bowls that feature antibiotic-free and pasture-raised meats, as well as other wholesome ingredients. We look forward to the opening and to celebrating Mark’s success in the months (and years) to come!

 

These five students, classmates turned entrepreneurs, are just a handful of the successful graduates who have passed through our classrooms. Their individual ambitions and encouragement of their other classmates are an excellent model for all our students—fostering an exceptional network for Culinary Management classes to come.