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

Drinking vinegars, also known as shrubs, have become increasingly popular. Restaurants like Pok Pok NY in Brooklyn are now bottling drinking vinegars and selling them in grocery stores across they country. Even though not everyone knows about shrubs, drinking vinegar for health purposes has been done for a very long time.

Long ago, the Romans and Babylonians were mixing vinegar with water. The word “shrub” is derived from the Arabic word “sharbah,” which translates as “drink.” Even sailors from the 16th-18th centuries drank shrubs to prevent scurvy! Today, they are infused with every flavor one can imagine and lauded for their health benefits, some even claiming weight loss.

spoon-university

Shrub cocktail from the Spoon University event at ICE (credit: Katherine Baker)

Here’s the skinny

Shrubs are made with a combination of fruit, sugar and acid. More traditionally, they are made with equal parts fruit, sugar and vinegar. My preferred ratio is two parts fruit, one part sugar and one part vinegar—I tend to like my shrubs on the fruitier side, so I double the fruit. To make something so simple just slightly more complex, shrubs can be prepared in two ways—hot and cold—and they have infinite flavor combinations.

As for their health benefits, I can’t imagine anything made of four parts, one of which is sugar, to be very healthy. However, drinking vinegar itself has its merits: vinegar helps keep blood sugar levels in check by preventing your body from fully digesting starch. In doing so, your body will have a lower glycemic response to the starch you eat, which may decrease your chances of developing heart disease and diabetes. So, the next time you plan to eat a ton of bread, drink some vinegar first. Drinking vinegar is also considered to be healthful for an assortment of other reasons. But since this isn’t a post about diet (and instead includes recipes for alcoholic drinks), we’ll skip that talk for now.

To make a shrub—the cold way

This method will create a shrub that tastes fresh, light and slightly more acidic because the mixture will not be cooked.

Combine two parts chopped fruit and one part sugar in a large airtight container. Refrigerate the mixture for two days, allowing the fruit to macerate and the juices to release from the fruit. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve, pressing as much liquid from the fruit as possible. Transfer the mixture to a large airtight container and add the vinegar. Refrigerate the mixture for one week before using.

To make a shrub—the hot way

This method is quicker, but will deliver a less fruity flavor and be a bit mellower because the mixture will be cooked.

Simply combine all of the ingredients—two parts chopped fruit, one part sugar and one part vinegar—in a large pot and bring to a boil. Let simmer for three minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool to room temperature. Strain and refrigerate until cold. It can be used immediately.

Flavoring a shrub

When making shrubs, you can use any fruit you’d like. Certain fruits may work better with either the hot or cold method. If you choose a fruit that doesn’t cook well, such as watermelon, consider the cold method. If you choose a fruit that tastes great raw or cooked, such as a pineapple, you can use either method. But if you choose a fruit with a very delicate flavor, such as a pear, consider the hot method to amplify its flavor.

I also love to infuse other flavors into my shrubs. Vanilla beans, cinnamon sticks, peppercorns or any other flavor that infuses easily into a liquid are a great option. Herbs, freshly grated ginger or turmeric root are also knockout alternatives. You should also consider the vinegar you use: distilled, for example, tends to be too acidic. Instead, use cider or rice vinegar for a mellow flavor. And don’t think you need to stick with just those options. White or red wine vinegar, champagne vinegar, even a bit of balsamic vinegar make for special shrub combinations. Lastly, you can use any variation of sugar you prefer—give demerara sugar or raw honey a try.

Flavor recommendations

Hot method

  • Quince + star anise + brown sugar + cider vinegar
  • Bing cherries + vanilla bean + dark brown sugar + cider vinegar

Cold method

  • Strawberries + basil + turbinado sugar + champagne vinegar
  • Grapefruit + fresh bay leaf + granulated sugar + honey + rice wine vinegar

You’ve prepared your shrub…what now?

Once you’ve prepared your shrub, you can serve it as a nonalcoholic spritzer—combine equal parts shrub and seltzer, and add more seltzer or shrub to taste. Or, better yet, you can use the shrub as the base for a cocktail. A good rule of thumb is two ounces of shrub, two ounces of your choice of alcohol and two ounces of seltzer. From there you can doctor your cocktail to taste. Don’t forget to garnish either version with some fresh herbs or slices of fresh fruit.

Here is a peach shrub recipe I recently concocted for a mixology demo performed at ICE for Spoon University. For the demo, I lined my tabletop with over a dozen varieties of fresh herbs from our hydroponic garden at ICE and encouraged guests to concoct their own cocktails by choosing herbs to mix into the drink they wanted to try!

catskill-provisions

(credit: Caitlin Gunther)

Peach Shrub with Catskills Provisions Honey Whiskey

Servings: makes about four cups shrub (enough for 12 or so servings)

For the shrub

Ingredients:

3 large ripe peaches, chopped
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup honey
1 cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup rice wine vinegar
½ teaspoon salt

Instructions:

  • In a large pot, combine all of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for about three minutes.
  • Remove mixture from heat and let stand until cooled to room temperature. Pass mixture through a fine-mesh strainer and chill until cold.

 

For the cocktail

Ingredients:

2 ounces peach shrub
2 ounces Catskills Provisions Honey Whiskey (or any other brand you prefer—but if using a non-honeyed whiskey, you may want to add a teaspoon of honey or simple syrup)
2 ounces seltzer
Lemon wedges
Fresh herbs, such as lavender, thyme, rosemary or basil

Instructions:

  • In a glass filled with ice, combine the shrub and whiskey and stir. Top with the seltzer.
  • Garnish with a wedge of lemon and fresh herbs.

 

Boozy Blueberry Basil Shrub

Servings: makes about four cups shrub (enough for 12 or so servings)

For the shrub

Ingredients:

3 cups blueberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
1 ½ cups apple cider vinegar
½ teaspoon salt
1 bunch basil, leaves torn or roughly chopped

Preparation:

  • In a large pot, combine all of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer and let cook for about three minutes.
  • Remove the mixture from heat, add the torn basil leaves and let stand until cooled to room temperature. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and chill until cold.

 

For the cocktail

Ingredients:

2 ounces blueberry shrub
2 ounces gin, Hendrick’s recommended
2 ounces seltzer
Lime wedges
Fresh basil sprigs

Preparation:

  • In a glass filled with ice, combine the shrub and gin and stir. Top with the seltzer.
  • Garnish with a lime wedge and a sprig of fresh basil.

Want to study pastry arts with Chef Jenny? Click here to get more info about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

 

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

Jenny McCoy Craft HeadshotI distinctly remember the first time I tried to establish a relationship with a pastry chef that I really admired. I was a 17-year-old pastry cook in Chicago at Gordon. It was my first restaurant kitchen position, and I was lucky to be given the advice to spend my days off staging (aka, working for free) for other chefs to gain more experience. I had just eaten at Trio in Evanston where Della Gossett was the pastry chef. Her dessert menu blew me away, and I knew I had to meet her. I called her kitchen and asked if I could spend a week working with her. She agreed.

After a week of making simple recipes and helping with basic prep work, I thought Della and I were two peas in a pod. So about a week after my stage, I decided to call Della, IN THE MIDDLE OF DINNER SERVICE, to ask what her thoughts were about the best flavor pairings to use with pomegranate. Not to mention, it was July, and I was busy making a list of ideas for the fall and winter season. I still cringe at Della’s response: “Ummm…pomegranate is out of season. Why are you calling me right now?”

Of course, I was just a silly pastry cook who forgot that a pastry chef might be a bit too busy to entertain my creative whims. Don’t get me wrong; Della was perfectly civilized in her response—not rude at all—which was quite generous of her. But I quickly learned that bothering a chef in the middle of dinner service is not a professional way to build a friendship with a new mentor. To make matters worse, I wasn’t in any way responsible for creating menu items at Gordon, so what the heck was I doing making a list of dessert ideas anyway? It’s funny how certain memories stick with you, right?

Craft dessert. Photo courtesy of StarChefs.com

Plated dessert by Jenny McCoy. (Photo credit: StarChefs.com)

So how does one go about creating meaningful relationships with mentors? Here are five tips:

Be curious. Start by observing what successful chefs around you are doing differently—maybe it’s a new flavor combination, maybe it’s a new cooking technique or maybe it’s sourcing from an interesting producer—whatever it is, use that as an entry into conversation with that chef. How do you start that conversation? Don’t call them! Instead, write an email and ask if you can stage in their kitchen. Otherwise, you can go to dinner at their restaurant and ask to tour the kitchen afterwards. Tell your server you are a culinary student or a cook and use flattery and compliments to get through the door. Everyone loves being told they are great—especially when the comments you are making show your intelligence and passion.

Keep in touch. Whenever you have a chance to interact with a would-be mentor, send personal thank you notes or emails. Once you have worked with that chef, if you see them mentioned in an article, write to them and tell them how much you enjoyed reading that piece. If you see said chef is cooking for a charitable event, offer to volunteer. If he or she wins an award, send them a card. In many ways, creating a relationship with a future mentor isn’t that much different than making a new friend. Find out what you have in common and build a relationship based on those interests.

Jenny McCoy - Karen Page - Andrew Dornenberg - Rising Star - StarChefs

Accepting an award for “Rising Star Pastry Chef” alongside my mentors Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg (Photo Credit: StarChefs.com)

Remember that any relationship is a two-way street. Two of my greatest mentors are Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg, authors of The Flavor Bible and many, many other brilliant books on food and wine. (If you don’t already have The Flavor Bible and The Vegetarian Flavor Bible, stop reading this post and immediately go to your nearest bookstore!) I first met Karen and Andrew through the pages of their book Culinary Artistry around the same time as my ill-fated call to Della Gossett. Fast-forward about six years and a few pastry jobs later, I was writing for Emeril Lagasse’s blog and published a post about how much I loved their book and recommend it to every new cook. Through the magic of Google Alerts, Karen and Andrew found my post and wrote to me to tell me how happy they were that I loved their book. I was in shock. Here I was reading an email, addressed directly to me, from my two favorite authors.

Eighteen years after I first read Culinary Artistry, I am still friendly with Karen and Andrew. They have helped me throughout my career by giving me glowing references, honest feedback and straightforward advice about my professional development. In return, I have publicly endorsed their books, promoted their work via social media and quite simply told everyone I know about how wonderful they are—as both culinary professionals and personal friends.

Go to culinary school. If you are an engaged, hard-working and curious student, your professors will take note. Just like the chefs in restaurants and hotels, your chefs at school want nothing more than to share their expertise—be it through demonstrating techniques in class or sharing advice about succeeding in the culinary industry. In short, don’t treat your professors like paid employees, treat them like they’re your first chefs. After graduating, let them know where you are working and what is happening along the road to your culinary success. They’ll be grateful to hear from you and eager to help. I know that personally, as a chef instructor, I feel it is my duty to aid students in navigating the industry after they graduate, especially in the early stages of their career.

culinary school - chef james briscione - culinary students - culinary class

Don’t be afraid to ask. I don’t know too many chefs who cook glorious meals only to sit alone in their kitchens pigging out. Chefs, by nature, serve others—we want to share. So when interacting with the chefs you admire, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions—perhaps their opinion on a new restaurant or a kitchen you are considering working in or even where they find their inspiration. Seriously, don’t be shy! A chef who is inclined to be a mentor will happily give you a few minutes of their time. However, if they aren’t happy to share, don’t take it personally. Chefs are incredibly busy. You never know what can happen unless you try, so don’t be afraid to engage with them and ask for something! (But, repeat after me: do not call them during dinner service.)

I’d love to hear who your culinary mentors are, how you met them and what makes your relationship meaningful. Share your stories in the comments below!

Want to study with Chef Jenny? Click here to learn about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

 

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

In our must-read cookbooks series, we’ve covered ingredient-focused books, vegetable bibles and the sweetest pastry selections. But there’s one area of the kitchen we’ve not yet touched, and that’s the meat section.

From butchery to charcuterie, simple pan sauces to showstopping roasts, animal proteins are an essential part of culinary education. As chefs become more aware of the quality of ingredients and the impact of their cooking from a sustainability perspective, respect for animal products is all the more important.

The following texts offer much for aspiring chefs and culinary professionals. Some contain advanced techniques that may go above and beyond the talents of home cooks, but they all will help readers gain a greater appreciation of where our food comes from.

meat cookbooks

The Whole Beast: Nose to Tail Eating by Fergus Henderson
Henderson, considered one of London’s most progressive chefs, is dedicated to resurrecting time-honored techniques of meat cookery—using every bit of the animal from end to end—as well as reinterpreting these traditions through a more modern culinary lens. His book features recipes more commonly found at a communal table in the countryside than in a fine-dining restaurant, yet every top chef in America likely references this book on a regular basis.

The River Cottage Meat Book by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall
Many meat cookbooks boast hundreds of photographs and instruction on how to humanely source animals. For home cooks and professionals alike, few meat cookbooks have gained a more cult-like following than this volume in the River Cottage series. Including in-depth information on sustainability, how to select and store meats and numerous fundamental techniques for meat preparation, this is truly an all-purpose tome.

Au Pied de Cochon by Martin Picard
Dubbed the “temple of lard,” the Au Pied de Cochon cookbook is a collection of recipes from one of Montreal’s most innovative restaurants. With an introduction by Anthony Bourdain, this entertaining text is influenced by Chef Martin Picard’s love of large portions, an ever-changing menu and a loud, boisterous dining room. Unfortunately, the book is out of print, but pricey used copies are available online.

In the Charcuterie: The Fatted Calf’s Guide to Making Sausage, Salumi, Pates, Roasts, Confits, and Other Meaty Goods by Taylor Boetticher and Toponia Miller
If you’re ready to take your carnivorous techniques to the next level, charcuterie is an ambitious, but rewarding, culinary tradition to explore. This book will explain multiple approaches to making the most of the full animal, with fully illustrated recipes and professional techniques that are sure to expand your repertoire of techniques.

Terrine by Stephane Reynaud
Recommended to me by a former fine-dining chef turned professional butcher, this book is geared toward the home cook. However, the text has plenty to offer even the most seasoned of professional chefs. Inspired by his upbringing in Ardèche, France, Reynaud’s recipes are sure to add an inspired savory—or sweet—accent to your table.

Take your culinary techniques to the next level with a professional education at ICE.

 

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

This Valentine’s Day, you can do better than chocolate-dipped strawberries. Impress your sweetheart with a foolproof recipe for romance: a heart-shaped pastry that’s easier to make than it looks. At ICE, we’ve teamed up with People magazine to reinvent the palmier—or “elephant ear”—with homemade pink sugar for an extra DIY twist.

Pink Palmiers

Makes about 18 cookies

Ingredients

  • 1 cup sugar
  • Red food coloring
  • 1 sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
  • 1 egg white, lightly beaten

Directions

For the Colored Sugar:

Place one cup of sugar in a bowl and add a few drops of food coloring. Wearing gloves, rub the food coloring into the sugar using your hands. Continue to add food coloring until you have reached the desired intensity of color.

To Assemble the Palmiers:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Place puff pastry on cutting board horizontally.
  2. Brush the entire surface with a thin layer of egg white. Sprinkle with an even layer of sugar. Fold the left and the right sides of the dough inwards so they meet in the center. Press the dough lightly to adhere the two layers together. Repeat this process.
  3. Brush the surface of the dough with egg white again, and sprinkle with sugar. Fold the left column of pastry dough onto the right, like a book. Brush the entire outside surface of the folded dough with egg white and sprinkle with sugar.
  4. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1/4-inch slices. Lay the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving 2- to 3-inches of space in between each cookie. Pinch the bottom and gently spread the top portions of the cookie to create a heart shape. Cover with parchment paper and another baking sheet to ensure the cookies stay flat while baking.
  5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until the cookies are light golden brown. Remove the top baking sheet and parchment paper and cool until just warm, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to completely cool.

Pro Tips:

  1. Be sure to buy all-butter frozen puff pastry. It may be a bit more expensive, but it’s well worth the flavor and light, flaky texture.
  2. Frozen puff pastry thaws quickly, so remove it from the freezer about 10 minutes before you are ready to assemble the cookies. Folding it while still cold makes it easier to handle.
  3. Brushing egg white over your dough ensures the sugar stays in place during folding.
  4. Spice things up by adding ground cinnamon or a vanilla bean to your pink sugar.
  5. Transfer your cookies to a cooling rack while they are still a bit warm. If you let them cool entirely, the caramelized sugar will cause the cookies to stick to the paper.
  6. This is a great make-ahead cookie recipe. Simply assemble the cookies, slice, shape and freeze. They can go directly from the freezer into the oven when you are ready to bake.

Ready to take your pastry skills to the next level? Click here for free information about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

 

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

Did you know that each year more than 24,000 cookbooks are published worldwide? Our unyielding appetite for new recipes and cooking techniques has made compiling a single “must-read” book list a daunting task for even the most well-read chef. So instead, I’m sharing a few short lists of game-changing texts—from food science tomes to classic pastry cookbooks—that have broadened my horizons as a culinary professional. First up, let’s take a closer look at the core ingredients so many of us take for granted, from cheese to chocolate.ingredient cookbooks

Cheese: A Connoisseur’s Guide to the World’s Best by Max McCalman
Cheese is more than a delicious snack. Imperative to any chef’s working knowledge of food, cheese can be used in a wide range of recipes. This tome—written by ICE’s resident cheese expert—will help you discover hundreds of cheese varieties to refine your palate and whet your appetite.

The True History of Chocolate by Sophie D. Coe and Michael D. Coe
There has been no shortage of chocolate research at ICE with the opening of our very own bean-to-bar lab in 2015. Part botany, part archeology and part culinary history, this book explores the origins of chocolate some 4,000 years ago. Once you get to know chocolate’s journey through time, you’ll appreciate it even more.

Salted: A Manifesto on the World’s Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes by Mark Bitterman
If there’s one fact all chefs know to be true, it’s that you can’t coax flavor from even the best ingredients without a little salt. Authored by Mark Bitterman, owner of The Meadow gourmet shop, Salted begins with humankind’s first taste and travels through modern day to discuss both the industrialization of salt and the growing popularity of specialty salts. The book’s recipes feature over 80 varieties of salt—and the reference guide exposes you to 150 types in total.

Fat: An Appreciation of a Misunderstood Ingredient, with Recipes by Jennifer McLagan and Leigh Beisch
While alternative health experts are helping to break down fat’s bad rap, it’s clear that this ingredient suffers from an unfortunate reputation. Read this book, and you’ll gain an understanding of why fat isn’t necessarily bad for you, and why it’s essential to great cooking and baking. With recipes, personal stories from the author and extensive information on how to render, flavor, use and store animal fats, Fat should be a staple on the bookshelf of all chefs and bakers alike.

For more of our favorite cookbooks for aspiring chefs, click here.

jenny mccoy pastry chef
By Jenny McCoy—Chef Instructor, School of Pastry & Baking Arts

Hello, my name is Jenny. I am a former executive pastry chef turned pastry chef instructor. Some might say I’m still in recovery.

I began my career in Chicago, working my way up through the kitchens of Gordon’s, Blackbird and Charlie Trotter’s—true icons in the city’s culinary history. My time in these restaurants—like many culinary school graduates—was my first real introduction to the “yes, chef” culture of kitchens.

The “yes, chef” mentality stems from chefs who worked their way up in grueling environments, once called kitchen brigades. These environments were built for efficiency and excellence: a clear hierarchy, where everyone knew their place. The culture of these kitchens tended towards a sort of masochistic martyrdom where the longer you worked, the better chef you were. Chefs at the best restaurants were expected to put work before everything in their personal lives—including sickness and even sanity—to maintain the restaurant’s prestige.

Now it may sound tough to come of age in this kitchen culture, but it wasn’t so bad. I would liken the “yes, chef” culture to a full-immersion language program: it’s only when communication is a question of survival that we become fluent. Being the new kid at a restaurant full of experienced cooks forced me to be a quick study, and within a couple of years’ time, I became a pretty good cook myself. I was motivated to move up from the bottom of the totem pole, and a large part of my success was learning to live the “yes, chef” ethos.professional kitchen chef brigadeHow does this culture play out minute to minute? In short, “yes, chef” is the reply for every command you are given in a kitchen. It doesn’t matter how you think things need to be done. If you had a question, the time to ask was before your shift, because now there’s a lady at table seven who is waiting on a perfectly medium rare steak. In truth, for the complex choreography of a restaurant kitchen to operate without a hitch, you need a dictator. Chef means chief in French, and in the kitchen, the chef is the boss—period.

A typical conversation in the kitchen:

Chef: “You should use your serrated knife to chop bars of chocolate.”
You: “Yes, chef.” (Translation: “Thanks for the helpful tip.”)

Chef: “Separate 200 eggs and make sure you don’t get any yolk in the whites.”
You: “Yes, chef.” (Translation: “I’ve made this before, I know not to get the yolk in the whites.”)

Chef: “Why did you add the butter to the dough now? I told you to add it last.”
You: “Yes, chef.” (Translation: “Yesterday you told me to add the butter first, so now I’m totally confused.”)

Chef: “Stop feeding the sourdough starter. I did it already.”
You: “Yes, chef.” (Translation: “Actually chef, you started to feed it then got a call and walked away. So I thought I’d feed it because you forgot.”)

That is…until recently. Today, we’re witnessing a rapid cultural shift in professional kitchens. Entry-level cooks are demanding better hours and pay. Culinary students are graduating with kitchen and food business skills. Cooks are no longer interested in being just another pair of hands. They not only want to voice their opinions, but they also insist they be heard.ICE Creative-74As a former executive pastry chef, I’m not sure what to make of this shift. In the industry, many of us are asking: “Why can’t we find any decent cooks? Why won’t these cooks just be quiet and do the work? Why don’t they understand how amazing this restaurant is? Don’t they get it? I spent 10 years slaving away to get where I am. I learned from the best of the best, and all my experience is what makes me the pastry chef I am today. It came at the price of time and dedication, no matter what the sacrifices may have been. Aren’t they listening?”

In large part, the growing popularity of culinary school is part of this change. Over the last two decades, the cooks entering the field have been increasingly educated and eager to express their own creativity. So are we witnessing a planned rebellion of entry-level cooks against executive chefs that were raised in the “yes, chef” kitchen culture? Not exactly.

The majority of cooks currently entering the industry were born between 1980-1995, making them part of the millennial generation. They have extraordinary technical skills and multitask like machines—walking, talking, listening and texting simultaneously. They are not accustomed to the old school, “put your head down” way of working. They are focused on themselves first. And you know what? We can learn something from them. In the classrooms at ICE, I certainly have. It’s been a challenging but meaningful endeavor. I’ve learned to listen more and command a bit less.Culinary School Chef and StudentWhen I started out in kitchens, I remember I didn’t like being underpaid. I didn’t enjoy being told my thoughts and opinions didn’t matter. I didn’t want to work 12+ hours a day. But I did it because I felt like I didn’t have a choice, and I loved the work so much that I was willing to make sacrifices. So when the current generation says they won’t accept being underpaid, working long hours and feeling underappreciated every day, I get it. That “me first” mentality has its perks, but something has got to give. So who has to change? The employees or the employers?

My take on this culture divide is that the people who benefit most from changing are the chefs. Now, I’m not suggesting that chefs let their cooks run willy-nilly or let them talk back during dinner service. But I am suggesting that we all let go of the “yes, chef” culture. The best kitchens have always been a team effort, and it’s high time they became more collaborative—and that includes encouraging the creativity of every cook, even the one who just started last week.

No matter what you’re trying to accomplish—whether preparing a perfectly timed nine-course tasting menu or looking for a set of lost keys—there’s nothing like a fresh set of eyes on a situation. So if we let the before-service conversation evolve to include, “have you considered this, chef?” we all reap the benefits. In short, can we chefs stop thinking of ourselves as dictators and instead become coaches? From food trucks to tipping to composting, the industry is already changing in ways beyond our control. It’s time that chefs give cooks a moment to look up from their cutting boards and a chance to cut their teeth in a kitchen that welcomes open conversation.

Click here to learn more about the culture of restaurant kitchens. Then visit ICE.edu for free information about launching your culinary career.


By Jenny McCoy—Co-Chair, Center for Advanced Pastry Studies

Working your way up the professional ladder in the kitchen is a wonderful experience, filled with constant exposure to new cooking techniques, methods of organizational management and learning how to work with a team to execute the day’s work. It’s the type of work that never gets old, at least not for me.

Life as a Culinary Student - Graduation - Preparation

Once I reached the top of the kitchen hierarchy, I noticed an enormous shift in my focus. While I enjoyed the creative freedom of creating new dishes for the menu and I thoroughly enjoyed teaching my staff new ways to hone their skills, I found my learning curve dropped dramatically. No longer did I have a chef to teach me—I needed to be the chef that taught everyone else. In short, the excitement of my daily work reduced—a lot—and I had to find a way to rekindle the fire.

It’s a funny thing, really. For any driven professional, the end goal always seems to be to get to the top as quickly as possible, believing that is the secret to fulfillment and happiness. And it can be. But there is also something to be said for taking one’s time.

After a few months as a newly-minted executive pastry chef, I started to feel I had used up my bag of tricks and realized that I needed to get some new ones. I began choosing my vacation destinations based on where I could spend a day or two working in kitchens with pastry chefs I admired. I attended pastry conferences and participated in advanced hands-on classes for professionals. During the period when I worked in New Orleans, I organized a monthly gathering of pastry chefs where we’d swap stories and recipes.

Sugar Advanced Workshop Pastry

A recent advanced sugar workshop at ICE

Through this continued education, I got out of the kitchen and gained new perspective. I networked with other chefs who were masters of their craft. I learned new techniques to incorporate into my baking repertoire and teach my staff. But most importantly, I felt rejuvenated and happier about my new senior role in the kitchen. In short, continuing education wasn’t a luxury: it was an essential part of my success as a professional chef. Without it, I would have likely burned out.

Today, at ICE, I am the co-chair of CAPS (The Center for Advanced Pastry Studies), along with Pastry Chef Kathryn Gordon. It’s the crème de la crème in continuing pastry education. Not only do I get to participate in 10 to 12 professional pastry courses each year with various masters of cake design, laminate doughs, sugar work, etc., but I also get to help organize these events and network with chefs whom I greatly admire.

It is fascinating work, and it has expanded my knowledge far beyond my imagination. I’ve had the opportunity to learn new techniques like cake painting, which I never considered attempting before. It always seemed too difficult—even for a professional pastry chef! The CAPS classes at ICE are designed to benefit both working pastry chefs and recent graduates of pastry arts programs. All you need is a fundamental understanding of baking and pastry. From there, it’s your individual skills that determine how far you can stretch the limits of any particular technique.

Cacao Prieto CAPS

A CAPS chocolate class led by ICE alum Roger Rodriguez of Cacao Prieto

Working at a culinary school obviously has other added benefits— all of my colleagues are excellent teachers! I recently spent 10 consecutive days training with Chef Sim Cass, the director of the professional bread baking program at ICE. In just over a week, I came away with dozens of new tricks and professional tips for bread baking—tips that only someone with over 20 years of bread baking experience could teach me.

In short, the desire—and the need—to learn never goes away for a chef, no matter where you are in your career. This isn’t an easy industry—it requires long hours, intensely demanding work environments and endless creativity. Finding inspiration is essential for professional success, and cookbooks and videos can offer some help. But there’s nothing more fulfilling than spending a day with a group of your peers and training under a highly accomplished master of his or her trade.

Sign up for an upcoming CAPS class or attend one of our regularly scheduled demonstrations and lectures at ICE to continue your culinary education.


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

I am constantly asking my students at ICE, “What role does this ingredient play in the recipe we are making?” In the case of butter—an ingredient most cooks take for granted—there are many answers. Most students immediately respond that butter adds flavor and richness to a recipe, which is correct. But did you know that butter could also be considered a leavening agent? (Think about puff pastry!) Let’s take a closer look at what—beyond flavor—butter is adding to all the fabulous baked goods ICE students are making in our classrooms.

President Butter Baking

Butter in Batters

Cake, muffin and other similar batters get mixed in one of two ways: the creaming method or the all-in-one method.

The creaming method calls for beating room temperature butter and sugar together until it is light and fluffy. This mixing method creates air pockets in the butter and increases the volume of the batter. When eggs are incorporated, they add a significant amount of liquid to the batter and these air pockets fill with egg. As the ingredients are mixed, an emulsion of fat and water is created. This emulsion is essential for creating stability in the dough. It allows for steam and carbon dioxide to be trapped in the batter as it is bakes, which causes your cake to rise. The butter also helps to create a light and tender texture in cake batter.

In the all-in-one method, liquid butter and other liquid ingredients are mixed with dry ingredients in a single step. In this case, the butter is not whipped, but it serves to aerate the cake batter as the fat in the butter helps retain the gases released (steam and carbon dioxide) during baking. The liquefied butter also aids in creating a cake that is particularly moist.

Pie Crusts, Flaky Pastry and Biscuits

In biscuits, pie and pastry dough, butter is rubbed or cut into the flour. This causes the particles of flour to be coated in fat molecules, preventing excess liquid (like water or eggs) from absorbing into the flour, which creates an overdevelopment of gluten. Have you ever heard of overworked pie dough being tough? That’s from the overdevelopment of gluten. The butter in the dough helps to create the light, flaky texture desired in these pastries. As the dough is baked, the butter melts and creates steam, trapping it in the dough and creating air pockets. Once the dough has cooled, these air pockets become delicate layers of flaky dough.

Butter Croissants Dough

Viennoiserie

By this point, you’ve realized that butter adds more than flavor—it develops texture. When making croissants, butter and dough are folded into hundreds of individual layers. As a croissant bakes, the butter melts and the water content in the butter turns into steam. It’s that steam being trapped by the gluten in the dough that creates the delicate, flaky layers in a perfect croissant.

The fat in butter can also extend the shelf life of your baked goods. Consider a baguette and a loaf of brioche. The baguette contains absolutely no fat, so it goes stale and becomes dry within a day. Brioche, on the other hand, is loaded with butter and, in turn, will stay moist and soft for several days.

Choosing Your Butter

Now that we know what butter does, how does one choose the best butter for the task at hand? There are multiple factors to consider, but the most important is butterfat content.

Butter is nothing more than an emulsion of butterfat, water and 1% or so of milk fat solids. In the United States, there is a minimum federal standard of 80% butterfat content needed to label and sell a product as butter. Your average supermarket brands will go no further, squeaking in at 80% butterfat. Butter labeled “European-style” generally has more butterfat, upwards of 83%. And artisanal butters—usually made by very small, local dairy farms—will produce butter with even higher amounts of butterfat, sometimes between 85% and 86%.

One might immediately think the butter with the highest butterfat content is probably the best. It certainly is the most expensive! But that’s not always the case. Sure, if you’re spreading butter on a slice of freshly baked bread, go for the extra rich 86% butter. It’s going to taste delicious. But for baking, your best bet is to use butter in the middle range of butterfat content.

Brioche Before Baking President Butter

 

Butter on the lower end of the spectrum (with the minimum 80% of butterfat) typically produces baked goods that are acceptable but not outstanding. Just a few extra percentage points of butterfat content can make a world of difference in flavor and texture. On the other hand, butter with a very high butterfat percentage tends to cause cakes and bread to rise less and pastries to be less light and flaky.

At ICE, our butter of choice is President. This European-style butter is made in Normandy—the crème de la crème of dairy-producing regions in France—has about 83% butterfat. It provides richness, but offers enough versatility for use across a wide range of baking techniques. Beyond butterfat, what makes President butter even better than other European-style brands is the addition of natural lactic ferments to the butter before churning. This provides a subtle, tangy quality that enhances the butter’s natural flavor.

When you’re considering your next baking endeavor, don’t skimp on the butter. It’s easy to overlook the ingredients we use most often, but they are the most worthy of special consideration. Just like flour, salt, milk or sugar, choosing a phenomenal butter transforms your pastries from merely good into something truly special.

Ready to master pastry production with Chef Jenny? Click here to learn more about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

 

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

In the culinary industry, there’s more than one road to success. While many culinary students dream of working for the Food Network, some of the most celebrated and respected chefs in the industry don’t have names or faces that you’ll regularly see on TV. In fact, most chefs go to work with a drive to be creative, to have an outlet to make food every day and to share their passion with others—not to become famous. If you’re a current ICE student, it’s wise for you to learn the names of some of these unsung heroes—the restaurant chefs who push our industry forward each and every day.

Below are five restaurant pastry chefs who have garnered significant recognition in their hometowns and across the country. Most of them have won an award or two, and some may even have had their 15 minutes of fame. But you won’t find their faces on your television screen five times a week because they are tirelessly creating extraordinary pastries in their kitchens—sometimes setting trends and always setting the standard. Whether they’re longstanding favorites or relatively new to the industry, all of them have become incredibly successful by following their own personal values and professional principles.

Pastry Chef Bill Corbett Strawberries, ricotta mousee, lemon cake, celery by Bill Corbett. Photo credit: @el_cuchillo

Strawberries, ricotta mousse, lemon cake, celery by Bill Corbett. Photo credit: @el_cuchillo

Bill Corbett—The Absinthe Group, San Francisco
Bill has well over a decade of experience, and has been the executive pastry chef for the The Absinthe Group for a handful of years. He’s a perfect example of how someone can start from the very bottom of the food industry and work their way up to the very top.

Originally from Canada, Bill’s first food job was as a dishwasher in Waterloo. After a few years in Florida working as a kitchen manager, Bill relocated to New York where he trained with some of the country’s most beloved pastry chefs at restaurants like WD~50, Dona and Anthos. Then he made his way to the West Coast, working for Michael Mina and a number of San Francisco’s critically acclaimed restaurants, including Arlequin Cafe, Boxing Room, Coi and Comstock Saloon.

Bill’s style is best described as balanced. His experience spans from avant-garde kitchens to rustic, farm-to-table establishments. His expertise pulls from all of his experiences, making his desserts interesting and unexpected, yet still approachable.

Exterior of Wilma Jean. Photo credit: Kelly

Exterior of Willa Jean. Photo credit: @kellyfields

Kelly Fields—Besh Restaurant Group, New Orleans
Miss Kelly—as she’s called down south—grew up in the low country of South Carolina and has made her name as the executive pastry chef for Besh Restaurant Group in New Orleans.

Kelly’s career began in Charleston, where she focused on classic southern specialties and learned about regional ingredients. Upon moving to New Orleans, she found her way in the kitchen of the beloved Chef Susan Spicer’s restaurant, Bayona. It was there that Kelly decided on pastry as a career path and, in an effort to expand her knowledge of classic techniques, enrolled at Johnson & Wales in Charleston.

Kelly then began traveling—spending time in kitchens from San Francisco to New Zealand. But her love for New Orleans called her back, where she landed the position as executive pastry chef under John Besh at Restaurant August. Kelly did so well in the role that she ultimately grew to oversee the pastry departments in John Besh’s eight restaurants.

In her latest project, Kelly is collaborating with fellow Besh Group pastry chef, Lisa White. Willa Jean, a southern bakery and café named after Kelly’s grandmother, is slated to open mid-August in New Orleans’ Central Business District.

Pastry Chef Colleen Grapes

Chocolate panna cotta, passion fruit caramel and lavender candied hazelnuts by Colleen Grapes. Photo credit: @colleeng71

Colleen Grapes—Oceana, New York City
With a name like Grapes, you’re pretty much fated to work in food. Reigning as the executive pastry chef at New York City’s Oceana, Colleen’s seasonal menu is a favorite among the fine dining set.

Colleen has been baking for many, many years. Originally from New Jersey, her career has flourished at such New York City restaurants as The Red Cat, The Harrison, Irving Mill, Ono and Dressler.

What’s more, Colleen’s career path includes more formal training than many of her peers. She studied at Johnson & Wales University, where she received both a Bachelor of Science in food service management and an associate degree in Baking and Pastry Arts. She also trained at Valrhona School of Chocolate in France. Drawing from her exhaustive education, Colleen is a master of technique—her mousse is always silky smooth, her ice creams are never icy and her shortbreads crumble delicately in your mouth. When I want a dessert that will always satisfy, I go wherever Colleen is baking.

Raspberry Anisette Brioche Roll. Photo credit @miette1965

Raspberry anisette brioche roll by Kristen Murray. Photo credit @miette1965

Kristen Murray—Måurice, Portland, OR
Kristen is chef/owner of MÅURICE, a “modern pastry luncheonette” that has received such acclaim as “Destination of the Year” (Portland Monthly Magazine) and “Top 10 Best New Restaurants in America” (Bon Appetit).

Growing up, Kristen was charmed by the beautiful fruits, herbs and vegetables in her great aunt’s Southern California vegetable garden. Her earliest baking experience was picking fresh fruit alongside her grandmother and said aunt—from raspberries to persimmons, figs and kumquats—just moments before baking.

Throughout her career, Kristin has traveled extensively, working in kitchens from San Francisco to New York City, Boston and France before eventually finding her way back in the west. Today, as a pastry entrepreneur, her work draws from the diverse flavors and cultures she encountered along the way.

MÅURICE was truly an entrepreneurial dream come true—funded by $40K in donations from a Kickstarter campaign. The award-winning menu features light lunch options with a bakery bent, like quiche, sandwiches and tartines. But the sweets are the real knockouts: breakfast pastries, plated desserts and small bites inspired by the regional produce of Portland.

Greg Mosko pastry. Photo credit: StarChefs.com

Smoked chocolate mousse with avocado and jerk pineapple by Greg Mosko. Photo credit: StarChefs.com

Greg Mosko—Park Hyatt Hotel, Chicago
Greg is one of those pastry chefs who started out with the intention of becoming a savory chef, and you can still see traces of this sweet and savory balance in his creative desserts.

A Chicago native, Greg studied culinary arts at Kendall College. His post-graduation externship introduced him to pastry, which persuaded him to continue his education at The French Pastry School. From there, he started his career at the acclaimed restaurants Zealous and North Pond. Then, like many chefs, he decided to test the waters on the West Coast, working his way through wine country at Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery, The French Laundry and at Cavallo Point Resort in Sausalito. But after just a couple of years, his hometown called him back.

Greg returned to North Pond as the pastry chef, baking beautiful desserts under Chef Bruce Sherman for the next six years. His craft focuses on seasonal produce and simple, elegant sweets. He also enjoys incorporating unconventional ingredients, as in his smoked chocolate mousse with avocado and jerk pineapple.

Greg recently relocated to the Park Hyatt Chicago, where he dazzles an ever-growing audience with his desserts. There, he oversees a complex operation of room service, banquets and the dessert menu at NoMI, the hotel’s main dining room.

Ready to kick-start your future in pastry? Click here to learn more about ICE’s career training program in Pastry & Baking Arts.

 

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

For chefs, the notion of shopping locally is a romantic one: Glorious, sun-filled mornings, strolling through the farmers’ market with a warm latte and freshly fried apple cider doughnut in hand. Stopping for a quick chat with your favorite farmers. Carrying the day’s bounty back to your restaurant in a little red wagon. This is every chef’s dream morning, but that’s not how it really goes down.

Jenny McCoy Eat Local

Seasonal and local sourcing is not for control freaks; it’s for those who know the only thing you can rely on is change. That leisurely morning at the market? The reality is more like this: Calling the farmers you usually source from a few days in advance and placing your order for market pickup. Crossing your fingers in the coming days, hoping there isn’t too much or too little rain, which may prevent your produce from arriving in tip-top shape. On the day of pick-up, you pray your farmers aren’t delayed (trucks break down, employees get sick, etc.).

This experience rarely goes off without a hitch. Odds are, your beautiful, handpicked mâche might not even make it to the market. If you leave with 100% of the produce you expected to source, it’s like winning the lottery. But that’s when your skills as a chef truly come into play, because when you have a menu devoted to seasonal and local produce, you actively plan for improvisation. If snap peas lack their snap, you can substitute long beans. If the peaches are overripe, you substitute plums for your tart—or buy the peaches on the cheap and make sorbet.

Jenny McCoy peach dessert

What’s more, unless you live in California, your local, seasonal menu will run into some seriously limited options. Think about how much grows on the East Coast in December—you learn to get really creative with the rosemary, apples and potatoes that were harvested in November.

So if seasonal cooking is so challenging, why do we do it? Is a raspberry grown in Chile in November that bad? It always arrives on time and it always looks and tastes exactly the same. But the downside to that raspberry is the guilt of not knowing how the farmers that harvested those raspberries were treated or paid. It means thinking about all the fuel consumed by the plane that overnighted those raspberries, plus the wasteful packaging needed to get them to my doorstep. Yet, let me make myself clear—those socially conscious factors are terrible things, but I don’t lose sleep over them. What I do lose sleep over is that my raspberry scones won’t be nearly as delicious if I don’t use raspberries grown a few hours away. Because the reality is, most produce grown, distributed and sold locally is harvested at its peak ripeness, and tastes a whole lot better.

Chef Jenny McCoy Strawberry Shortcake

So how exactly do chefs pull off a truly local and seasonal menu? The first time I worked at a restaurant that had a “new menu every night” was at Charlie Trotter’s in Chicago. Something on the menu changed everyday. But was the menu rewritten daily from scratch? No way! As cooks, we would have lost our minds.

In my experience—though I can’t speak for every restaurant and chef in the country—having a local, seasonal menu means that a component or two on a couple of dishes will regularly change. In other words, it’s a manageable change. And this change is dictated by the markets’ availability.

Remember that example of the snap peas and long beans? A quick swap of a veggie on a fish dish and voila: it’s a new menu today. Or keep the side dishes for the pork chop, but switch to a lamb chop. Presto—I’ve done it again! Seems a little sneaky, huh? But it’s not. That’s how it really works. The beauty of minor changes and tweaks every day means that over the course of a season, your menu will gradually morph into something completely different. If you have a chance to look through a chef’s ever-changing menus, it’s a fun snapshot of how his or her mind operates. It’s a study in the various flavor combinations that a particular chef might love.

Chef Jenny McCoy plated blueberry dessert

So do restaurants that promote seasonal, local menus really change everyday? Probably not. And do chefs exclusively source their ingredients locally? Most often, no (can you even wrap your head around never using lemons in New York City?). But does this mean all these restaurants and chefs are just pulling the wool over our eyes? Absolutely not! Instead, they are making the most inventive food they can, with the best ingredients available to them. The combination is magnificent and demonstrates how far our food industry has come in its appreciation of what ends up on your plate.

Want to take classes with Chef Jenny at ICE? Click here to learn more about our Pastry & Baking Arts program.