Street food is a wonderful thing. Street food that serves a good cause (beyond satisfying your craving for falafel) — that’s even better. On Tuesday, April 18th, ICE hosted the 10th annual STREETS Eats benefit for STREETS International, a non-profit organization that provides culinary and hospitality training to disadvantaged youth in Vietnam. Guests had the chance to check out ICE’s new kitchen classrooms while sipping craft cocktails and sampling tasty street food from around the globe — all prepared by notable local chefs and mixologists. Here are a few of the bites from the night’s menu:

  • Floyd Cardoz of Paowalla shared a street food favorite from his native Mumbai: Bombay Bhel Puri, a sweet, salty and tangy dish made with puffed rice and plenty of mix-ins — so light, it hardly feels like you’re eating anything, except your mouth is dancing with flavors.

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    Credit for all photos: Max Flatow Photography – @mflatowphoto

  • Thomas Chen of Tuome — the East Village restaurant with a cult-following in part due to its aptly named pork belly entrée, “pig (out) for two” — kept it classy and delicious with his wagyu beef tartare, served with three-hour yolks and a touch of lemongrass. STREETSEats (162 of 263)
  • Lines formed beside Daniel Holzman’s table — the Meatball Shop chef served miso ramen meatballs, basically combining all the things that feel yummy and comforting in life into bite-sized noshes. STREETSEats (58 of 263)
  • There were double (and triple) samples of the rice crepes with kuma pork Bolognese from King Phojanakong of Kuma Inn.
  • Our own ICE Chef Frank Proto shared an Iberian-inspired finger food of lamb bocadillos with charred green onion and anchovy aioli — the pulled lamb was mouthwatering on its own, and the aioli added a pungent, umami kick: street food at its best. STREETSEats (127 of 263)
  • With her bun bo nam bo – beef noodles with lemongrass — Leah Cohen of Pig & Khao proved just how simple, elegant and highly addictive Vietnamese noodles can be. STREETSEats (113 of 263)
  • All of these delicious bites were accompanied by inventive cocktails, including:
    • The Old Pal Spencer – Virgil Kaine Bourbon, Aperol, Dolin Rough Vermouth, Angostura Bitters and an orange peel garnish – by Rob Mohally of Bua
    • The Chiquito – Tito’s Vodka, Cocchi Americano, fresh lemon juice, lavender honey syrup, Regan’s Orange Bitters and a lavender sprig garnish – by Pete Vasconcellos of The Penrose Bar

ICE President Smilow, a longtime supporter of STREETS, joined in the feast. He noted, “the organization is having an exciting year already, on two fronts: A second training facility and program has successfully opened in Ho Chi Minh City; and STREETS International is one of three finalists for a World Travel and Tourism Award — the winner of which will be announced on April 26th in Bangkok.”

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ICE President Rick Smilow

Thanks to everyone who attended or supported the event — see you for more #STREETSEATS next year!

Hungry for more? Click here to learn more about ICE’s award-winning career programs. 

 

Here’s a question: What inspires students to enroll in ICE’s hospitality management program? Several of our students, past and present, answered that question and turns out there are myriad reasons why students choose to study hospitality management at ICE.

Rommel Gopez

Rommel Gopez, Director of Guest Relations at Hotel Edison

For Rommel Gopez (Hospitality ’14), it was an unquenchable thirst for international travel combined with a love of meeting new people that led him to the hospitality industry. In his words, “I love talking to people from all over the world. I’ll talk to someone from one country and then think, ‘Oh, I should travel there next.’ And when I do travel there, I already have a friend.” After spending years working on international cruise ships, he decided to enroll at ICE. Rommel explained, “I wanted the diploma to go with my work experience. And I learned so much [during my time at ICE]. I learned about hotel industry unions, management skills and the culinary side of hospitality. We also had the chance to get in the kitchen and prepare food. I love cooking, so that was a great experience.”

For Madison Malchiodi (Hospitality ’15), a job at Subway during college sparked her passion for service. As she recalled, “Over time, my job taught me something about myself: I took pride in serving as the shift manager, in taking on the responsibility of opening and closing the store.” This first brush with hospitality led her to ICE — a place where she could “boost [her] knowledge of management and service.”

ryan alexey headshot

Ryan Kim

For Ryan Kim (Hospitality ’16), a native of Seoul, South Korea, ICE’s hospitality management program was the perfect fit for a food lover who preferred to work outside of the kitchen. Ryan explained, “As much as I loved cooking and baking, I knew I wasn’t passionate about spending the rest of my life working as a pastry chef. I was looking for a way to be around food, but realized I would rather manage an establishment than be in the kitchen.”

Reeya Banerjee, a current ICE student with nearly ten years’ hospitality experience under her belt, chose ICE in order to catapult her career to the next level. “Between the classroom component and the externship requirement, the Institute of Culinary Education has a hands-on practical approach to education that appeals to me.” Another current student, Julie Milack, was drawn to ICE’s flexible schedule options — with morning, afternoon and evening schedules beginning on a rolling basis. According to Julie, “I chose ICE due to its flexible schedule that fit perfectly into mine.” With an intensive program spanning just 12 months, ICE is the best route for professionals looking to make a career change.

Though many paths lead them to ICE, our students share a passion for hospitality and service. From hands-on training with the latest property management systems to field trips into NYC’s premier hotels and resorts, ICE gives them the tools and experience to turn that passion into a career with endless opportunities around the globe.

Ready to launch (or advance) your career in hospitality? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.

By Kelly Newsome — Student, Culinary Arts

I’ve been thinking about getting Julia Child’s face tattooed on my forearm for about two years now. Julia is one of my greatest inspirations. Like me, she was a late bloomer, marrying at 34 and starting her culinary career soon after. Her pure joy and passion for food was evident in everything that she did. She was an authentic voice in a world crowded with phonies, and that’s probably why she became so popular. She got the timing right. After being in the Culinary Arts program at ICE for just over a month, one thing I’ve learned is that timing is everything. It took me 15 years to get to culinary school. It’s something I wanted to do since graduating from college, but more practical voices prevailed and as a result, I forged a career on the periphery of the food world. Ironically, I couldn’t be happier that my path to ICE ended up this way.

Culinary Student Kelly Newsome

At 38, I knew that I would probably be the oldest in my culinary school class. It was a recurring thought, neither negative nor positive, just inescapably following me like the hook of my favorite song. Somehow, I knew that my age would play an important role in this journey. Pre-ICE, I spent nearly a decade working on the business side of the food industry. There were two serious attempts at culinary school and in each case I was talked out of it. You won’t make any money and the hours are terrible, was a common remark on my ambition. I let the doubters win. Yet every step I made in my career was an effort to get closer to the kitchen.

In 2007, after an intense Googling session, I found my first move towards a career in the food world – the NYU master’s in Food Studies program. At the time, I was working a dead-end job and desperate to pursue my passion for food and gastronomy. I applied in secret, fearing that my parents would not understand or support this unorthodox program. When I was accepted and finally told my parents, they surprised me with their overwhelming support. One year into the program I landed my first “food” job with a food science company that made natural food colorings. Not exactly Food & Wine, but it was a start.

It took me three years to finish my degree. My days were spent in the vast and complicated world of food ingredients and corporate food companies while my nights were shared with the brightest minds in food academia. Still, something was missing. Without realizing it, I had snaked myself into a career on the sidelines of food in order to make other people happy. After landing what I thought was my dream job, I realized that the cutthroat corporate food world was not for me and it was time to follow my dream of going to culinary school — so I finally took the leap and enrolled at ICE. My circuitous route led me to wonder how some of my classmates found their way to culinary school.
Kelly_Newsome_1

My classmate Tommy Kim’s road to ICE could not be more different than mine. After 9/11, he decided to join the Marines and served tours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. While deployed, food was a frequent topic of thought and conversation. “I was constantly dreaming about all the wonderful foods I missed while I was away and hungry. You’d be surprised how much we used to talk about food while deployed. It was always about girls and food — but mostly food, haha.”

Tommy’s military experience served as the unexpected catalyst for his own food journey. Time spent fishing and hunting, while based in North Carolina, deepened his appreciation for food and nature. Deterred by the long hours and tireless work of professional cooking after serving six years in the military, Tommy decided to pursue a more lucrative career in medicine. However, just before med school interviews, Tommy’s inner voice took charge and he decided to pursue food.

He explained, “I had realized I was not really following what my heart desired. This was my tipping point. This is when I told myself to find that one thing that I knew that I had to be. That I had to stop being arrogant and stop thinking that I had to be something incredible. To be humble and to only express myself with what I love without care of what anyone thought of it. It was food and nature, it was something I found that brought me true joy.”

Fulfillment was the driving force behind my classmate Liz Bossin’s decision to pursue a career in food. People don’t often associate culinary arts and finance, but Liz discovered that her passion for food, love of hospitality and talent for relationship building could provide her with a unique edge in food and finance. After graduating from Villanova with degrees in both political science and philosophy, Liz worked as a legal assistant at a large firm in NYC. She quickly realized that law was not in her heart. “My job was extremely demanding – I regularly worked 60-80 hour weeks and got absolutely no satisfaction out of it. I quickly realized that if going to law school meant slaving over monotonous documents for the world’s biggest corporations, I wanted no part of it.”

Liz’s tipping point came when she took a knife skills class at Brooklyn Kitchen in December. A conversation with the kitchen assistant who had recently finished culinary school in Paris resonated with her. Liz knew that she didn’t want the career of a traditional restaurant chef. Rather, she was interested in food styling, working in a test kitchen, writing or owning her own specialty shop. She never considered going to culinary school until hearing the kitchen assistant talk about her career options after exiting culinary school and it didn’t involve working in restaurants. Suddenly, Liz realized that culinary school “made so much sense for launching a fulfilling, long-lasting career guided by her passion.”

Kelly's Julia collection

Inside Kelly’s kitchen: her Julia collection

Don’t be fooled — it isn’t easy to just follow your passion. Most people never get this opportunity. Some never even discover what it is. And when you do find it, you will always have voices telling you why you shouldn’t. Liz, Tommy and I come from vastly different backgrounds. What we share, however, is our inability to ignore our love of food and the unique circumstances that led us to ICE at the same moment in time. So here we are, three passionate foodies who finally got the timing right. To me, “getting the timing right” means doing what you want, on your own terms, when you’re ready. You make the hard choice to change careers or go back to school or move across the country. And then you’re in it and you realize you absolutely could not be doing anything else. I think I’m getting a little bit closer to my Julia tattoo.

Ready to launch your culinary career with ICE? Click here for information on our career programs.

By Caitlin Raux

On a crisp February morning, I met with Rommel Gopez (Hospitality Management ’14) in the lobby of Hotel Edison, where he’s Director of Guest Relations. The first thing I notice about Rommel is his dapper appearance — he’s sporting a navy, three-piece suit and a purple pocket square placed with just a touch of nonchalance. Nestled in the bustling Times Square District, the hotel is buzzing with eager out-of-towners. As he shows me around the art deco lobby, the second thing I notice about Rommel is his way with people: he treats both guests and colleagues with warmth and genuine attention, putting an arm around the doorman when we take a few portraits outside. He’s no doubt a people person — and given his love for international travel, it makes perfect sense that Rommel ended up in the hospitality business. The Hospitality Management alum was generous enough to take time from one of his usual, hectic mornings to chat with me for an ICE blog interview.

Rommel Gopez

You’re originally from Hawaii — did you stay there after high school?

After high school, I joined the military, the US Army, for five years. Then I decided to work on a cruise ship so I could travel for free with work. I did that for a while until I started working in hotels, using my experience from the cruise ships.

It sounds like you have the travel bug.

Yes, I love it. And that’s part of the reason why I love the business itself. I love talking to people from all over the world. I’ll talk to someone from one country and then think, “Oh, I should travel there next.” And when I do travel there, I already have a friend.

What made you decide to come to ICE?

Before I went to ICE, I was already working in the hospitality industry. But I wanted to learn more and have something under my belt to show that I was serious about my profession. I wanted the diploma to go with my work experience. And I learned so much [during my time at ICE]. I learned about hotel industry unions, management skills and the culinary side of hospitality. We also had the chance to get in the kitchen and prepare food. I love cooking, so that was a great experience.

Rommel Gopez

What skills that you learned at ICE do you use in your current role as Director of Guest Relations at Hotel Edison?

I already knew Opera (a premier property management software) when I started at ICE, but ICE gave me the knowledge to teach the system. I’ve often had to train other employees, so this skill has been incredibly useful — not all, but I’d say 90% of hotels use Opera as their PMS. Additionally, the courses on union rules were a great help, professionally, because we have a large number of union employees.

Can you tell me about a-day-in-the-life in your current role?

It’s always busy. I get in at 6:30am in the morning and get out at 5:00 or 6:00pm. The first thing I do when I come in is check on my arrivals and my availability for the day. I check the rate and the occupancy. Then I look at how many VIPs I have and see whether I have enough rooms for my VIPs to be upgraded. I check emails and do my reports. From there, we have meetings and the day continues — I’m in the lobby talking to guests, showing rooms to guests, talking to my team about what’s coming up and any other issues.

What types of things do you report on?

I report on my VIP list, whether I have an executive VIP, honeymooners or birthday VIPs. I flag them all and make sure they have the proper amenities. We make sure that their rooms are ready. We prep everyone, not just my team, but all the other teams at the hotel as well. It’s important that everyone is aware of what’s going on.

Rommel Gopez

What’s the difference between Director of Guest Relations and a concierge service?

The concierge is someone who offers guests recommendations about the city: the theatre, where to shop, restaurants, maps, and so on. My job is quite a bit different: I’m making sure that our VIPs are satisfied so that they’ll come back. By their second stay, most guests already know me and my team. And we already know what they want and which room they want. We want to make sure that when they get to the hotel, everything is ready for them. Many of the guests email me directly to let me know when they’re coming.

What is the most challenging part of the job?

Trying to get a team together that has the same passion and the same mentality as me. The hospitality industry is hard because it’s all about people and service. You have to have the patience, the passion and the willingness to do the job no matter what. We can’t satisfy everyone, but if you have those qualities and a good attitude too, you’ll be successful.

Are there any surprising parts of your job?

Yes, people think we can give everything for free (laughs), which isn’t the case. But we always do our best to accommodate.

How do you see the industry changing?

It’s changing constantly. We have hotels popping up left and right in New York City. A lot of great hotels are popping up in Brooklyn these days. That’s a lot of positions that need to be filled. The hospitality management program must be booming right now.

Do you see yourself working in hospitality in any other cities?

That’s for when I retire (laughs). No, I think New York is the city for me. If you want to work in a hotel, there’s no place like New York City. The experience you get here is like no other.

Learn how you can launch an exciting, international career in hospitality — click here for more info.


By Caitlin Raux

How does the chef of the world’s best restaurant fight food waste? Massimo Bottura, chef of Osteria Francescana, named #1 restaurant in the world in 2016, will answer this question and more during the Zero Waste Food conference on April 28-29, 2017. Hosted in partnership with The New School, the two-day conference brings together chefs, growers, architects and food entrepreneurs to explore ways we can create more sustainable food networks and eliminate food waste. In anticipation of his keynote address — in which he’ll discuss his own efforts to empower communities to fight food waste — we chatted with Chef Massimo about artistic expression, his passion project, Food for Soul, and what attendees can expect to take away from Zero Waste Food.

MassimoYou’ve said that art is the motivation behind your dishes. How can we incorporate better practices into food production without comprising the idea of prepared dishes as artistic expression?

We have to think about beauty from a different perspective: It cannot stand by itself. The good and the beautiful are two sides of the same coin — they complete each other insofar as beauty without good isn’t beautiful at all, and good needs beauty to convey its message.

It is often said about a person that he or she is “beautiful on the inside.” A brown banana or a bruised fruit still has a huge potential in terms of smell, flavor and texture. The responsibility of the chef and all of us as home cooks is to find that inner beauty in each product and to make the most out of it in each phase of its lifespan. Straight out of the oven, a loaf of bread is good enough to be eaten as is. The day after, it will be perfect to make pappa al pomodoro or bread pudding. After two days, the bread will make perfect breadcrumbs for meatballs, passatelli and cakes. That’s what real beauty is: To make something valuable out of something that might be seen as not having any value at all. As we often say, “Something recovered is something gained.”

Can you share a few ways that you’ve incorporated the Zero Waste Food concept into your restaurant, Osteria Francescana?

At Osteria Francescana, we follow the “nose-to-tail” philosophy. Italian cuisine relies on this golden rule: Everything has to be used. Therefore, the bones and toughest cuts of meat can be recovered for a rich broth. The same goes for vegetable peels, stems and leaves. Our grandmothers have been doing this forever. For Italians, the full use of ingredients is deeply rooted in our history and culture.

Massimo Bottura

Do you think it’s harder to have a sustainable kitchen in a big city like New York, as compared to Modena, a city that’s known for slow food?

The logistics and food systems of big cities are very complicated. Of course, the economy of a small town, small farm or small restaurant is much easier to navigate than a big one. We do feel, however, that it’s possible to create a network where food at risk of being wasted is salvaged to feed those most in need.

Food for Soul is working towards a kind of sustainability that addresses the full usage of every resource available. New York could offer potentially endless opportunities. Though it takes a big initial effort to identify the needs of the local community and the loopholes in the food distribution system, this is the starting point of every project of [my non-profit organization] Food for Soul. The common goal is the fight for social inclusion and food recovery.

What lessons do you hope to impart on Zero Waste Food participants?

If you can dream it, then you can do it. Showing people that we can do this, that anything is possible, could be inspiration for them to act. Action is what it’s all about! Everyone has his or her own role in the fight against food waste because we’re all in this together. What I can do is different from what you can do — my means and my tools as a chef are different than those of a politician, a philanthropist, a scientist or a social activist, but our commitment towards the cause is what unites us.

Your non-profit organization, Food for Soul, aims to create community kitchens around the world. How do these kitchens differ from regular “soup kitchens”?

I keep constantly repeating that Food for Soul is not a charity project, but a cultural one. The aim behind each “Refettorio”, or community kitchen, is not just to provide a warm meal to those in need. We conceive of nourishment in a more holistic sense: Feed the body and the soul. That’s the reason why we combine the know-how of architects, designers and artists in the design and decoration of the space. We want to create unique environments that express beauty, stimulate through art and facilitate operations through good design. The whole community can be inspired one way or another. Moreover, we want our guests to feel welcomed and included. I still remember the very first nights at Refettorio Ambrosiano in Milan, when people were silently sitting at the table and eating their meals. The guests barely spoke to each other. Just a few weeks later, guests, volunteers and chefs were sharing the same table and the same meal. Everyone knew each other by name.

Every gesture can play a fundamental role in creating a human connection — that’s why we want our volunteers to serve guests directly at the table just like restaurant service. Moreover, every meal has the possibility to reflect both the beauty of the environment and the “inner” beauty of recovered ingredients. It has to be tasty, nutritious and beautiful.

Can we expect to see a Food for Soul kitchen in New York anytime soon?  

We are working hard to make it happen but believe me, it’s harder to open a soup kitchen than a restaurant. At this point, we’re aiming for 2018. We are constantly reminding people that this is not a pop-up initiative but a sustainable model that has to have solid foundation to continue to serve the community for years to come. This is our goal for everywhere we go, and in particular, in New York City. I would hate to let down the city I love most in the world!

Join the conversation: Register here for the Zero Waste Food conference.

For the 2017 #CulinaryVoice Scholarship Challenge, we asked the world: What is your culinary voice? We were overwhelmed by the response: 254 entrants from 201 countries and territories shared their unique, inventive and inspiring culinary voices — and the world responded, with the videos garnering a total of 1,864,696 votes and views to help determine our winners. With full and partial scholarships to attend ICE’s award-winning career programs, 18 lives will change forever. Watch the video below to find out who won the 2017 #CulinaryVoice Scholarship Challenge from ICE.

https://youtu.be/5FnNpjMWGwo

Thanks to everyone who shared their culinary voices, and congratulations to this year’s winners — your passion, creativity and ambition inspired our judges, and we can’t wait to welcome you to ICE!

Find your culinary voice at ICE. Click here to learn more about ICE’s career programs.


By ICE Staff

What would the world look like if we produced no food waste? How would our daily practices be affected? Could we make a significant impact on our communities? Is such a world feasible? The Zero Waste Food conference — a conference presented by ICE and The New School featuring industry leaders and visionaries like Massimo Bottura — will tackle these questions and more.

Zero Waste Food conference

Kicking off right after Earth Day on April 28-29, the two-day conference begins each morning with panel discussions on such topics as sustainable restaurant kitchens and repurposing food waste. Attendees will spend their afternoons putting ideas into action with a host of culinary demonstrations and hands-on cooking sessions taught by ICE chef instructors joined by industry experts. Learn how to butcher a whole hog with Mangalitsa by Møsefund and ICE chef Charles Granquist. Join MISFIT Juicery co-founders Ann and Phil for a primer in concocting delicious and nutritious juices with recovered fruits and vegetables. Or, watch Enrique Olvera, acclaimed chef of Cosme and Pujol, make beer from bread scraps alongside Madeline Holtzman, vice toaster of Toast Ale NYC.

Whether you’re a student, employed in the food industry or simply passionate about food, the conference will equip you with valuable lessons and skills to apply to your daily lives and business practices. Do more than talk about food waste. Get the tools to help solve the problem. Check out the full schedule of classes and panel discussions here, then head here to register for this inspirational and educational conference.

Ready to take the first step toward an exciting career in food and hospitality? Click here for more information on studying at ICE. 

 

What drives you? How do you reach people? When you make your mark on the world, what will it look like? What’s your culinary voice? With the 2017 #CulinaryVoice Scholarship Challenge in full swing, we turned to the judges, ICE’s industry-leading chefs and instructors, and posed them that same question. Here’s a look at their answers.

Culinary Voice ICE Instructors

(Top to bottom, left to right)

Tom Kombiz-Voss, Dean of Hospitality Management: “Inspiring and training each student to reach his or her highest potential in the hospitality industry.”

James Briscione, Director of Culinary Development: “Creative … and never satisfied.”

Sabrina Sexton, Culinary Arts Program Director: “Inspiring future chefs to better their community.”

Kate Edwards, Restaurant & Culinary Management instructor: “Hello! … And every little thing that matters.”

Michael Laiskonis, Creative Director: “Innovation and inspiration.”

David Waltuck, Director of Culinary Affairs: “Sharing 4+ decades of knowledge and experience.”

Anthony Caporale, Director of Beverage Studies: “The art of the drink.”

Steve Zagor, Dean of Culinary Management: “Mentoring, coaching and educating the next generation of the industry.”

Entries and voting are open! Click here to enter or vote for your favorite video. 


By Caitlin Raux

On a recent Thursday, I had a late morning phone chat with Aaron Fusco (Culinary Arts ’10), sommelier at Daniel. At 31 years old, he’s relatively young to be holding a top rank in the wine program of one of New York City’s most eminent restaurants. Just a couple minutes into our conversation, however, his affable yet polished nature came through. Together with Aaron’s passion for fine dining, it makes sense that he should be managing the expectations of (and schmoozing with) some of the most demanding customers in the industry.

Sommelier Aaron Fusco

Aaron was kind enough to offer us a sneak peak into a day in the life of a sommelier at Daniel, and to answer some hard-hitting wine questions, like whether the best sparklers come from France and if screw-top wines really merit their bad rap.

Was food a big part of your family life growing up?

Somewhat. My grandma was a really good cook and we all really enjoyed dinners at her house, though I wasn’t involved in the cooking very much. It wasn’t until after college, when I had time to focus on other things, that I realized I loved cooking. I just enjoyed it — the productivity and the tactile experience of cooking. I started watching Jacques Pepin programs and it went from there.

What did you do before ICE?

I studied economics at McGill University. Then I took a year in between graduating and starting the program.

That’s quite a change, economics to culinary arts.

I was spending summers working in a law firm, getting a feel for the 9-5 corporate life. That was motivation to do something a bit more fulfilling.

Tell me about your decision to enroll at ICE.

I was doing a lot of cooking at home and I wanted to make a transition into the industry. I considered other schools but I thought it would be crazy to enroll in a two-year program. Then I started looking at ICE and a couple other schools and decided on ICE. The main difference was the externship — I thought the externship was a better way to get good experience.

Were there any instructors or modules at ICE that stood out to you?

Yes. Chef Chris Gesualdi was by far the strongest teacher that I had. He had the real experience in terms of working in the best New York restaurants and was very interested in studying advanced techniques. This was a period when molecular gastronomy was a little more en vogue than it is now. I did a lot of recipe testing and extra-curricular work with Chef Chris, which was great.

Was that your first exposure to modern gastronomy and fine dining?

Absolutely. I was very naïve when I started the program. I didn’t know too much about the New York restaurant scene or the leading chefs outside of the celebrity chefs. Chef Chris helped open my eyes to Alinea and WD~50, which were the big places at the time. He was someone who had been in the industry so long but was still invigorated by what was around him.

How did training as a chef translate into working in wine?

I did my externship at Picholine, which was a two-Michelin star restaurant at the time. I continued to work with the chef after my externship and followed him to a couple of different restaurants. After about 15 months, I decided to make the transition to front of house. From there, it took another two years until I discovered wine and really got into it at Daniel.

What was your first job at Daniel?

I began in July 2012 as a busboy and within a year I was promoted to assistant captain. That’s when I started getting into wine. I was working for just under two years before I became a part-time sommelier.

Going from the kitchen to front of house as a busboy is a substantial change. Did you know you wanted to eventually be a sommelier when you began?

I first worked at Tocqueville — they helped me make the transition from back of house to front of house. I spent 9 months there, getting the hang of things, and then I made my way to Daniel. I had the mindset of I want to work in the best place possible. I figured that the learning curve would be higher.

What’s a day in the life like as a sommelier at Daniel?

I arrive at work at 3pm. I say hi to the management team and let them know I’m there. Then I do a little bit of set up in the dining room. I go downstairs to the wine cellar, say hello to my boss, take a look at the reservations for the evening and make a game plan for service itself. Then we usually have a handful of deliveries to put away — wines that need to be checked in and sorted in the wine cellar. Some evenings, we put some wines aside for private events and do restocking. Then we have lunch, a meeting and service. Service entails speaking with guests, opening bottles and keeping an eye on the tables I’m responsible for. At the end of the evening there’s usually restocking to do in the large cellar and smaller fridges upstairs; I say “smaller,” but there’s still a couple thousand bottles. That’s pretty much it. It’s really focused on service — there’s not as many behind-the-scenes tasks. The majority of work outside of the cellar is interacting with clients.

Now for a few wine and industry questions: It seems like the wine industry is changing in that people are having more fun with wine — taking it less seriously. What are your thoughts?

I totally support the idea of wine drinking becoming more casual. I enjoy wines that have a cerebral element to them, but that’s not to say that every glass of wine you drink should be analyzed to death. It’s a visceral and emotional experience, and if you want to dive deeper that can be fun and compelling. But at its surface, wine should just be enjoyed.

What’s your process for learning wines?

When I started, Raj Vaidya, the gentleman who runs Daniel’s wine program, encouraged me to take an autodidactic approach to wine. He told me, Anything you don’t know, go home and look up, and if you still don’t understand, then come ask me. If you do research on your own, it sinks into your brain a lot more than when you’re told something. So that’s what I did. The tasting side is taken care of at work. We have a policy that when we open a bottle, we pour a half-ounce for ourselves, to analyze the wine and make sure it’s in good condition for the guest. In a given night, I taste upward of 30 wines. Then I have a large stack of books and do a lot of reading.

You’re on a date and want to impress someone — what region and year is your go-to?

It really depends on a person’s taste. It’s hard to have an overarching standard. Still, I’d say Champagne is the best way to impress somebody. There are few people who dislike Champagne. I’d recommend getting away from the Roederer, the Krug and the Moët and find a nice grower-producer of Champagne. Then you can talk about how you’re drinking a wine made by a producer family in a small town.

What about a funky sparkling wine from a lesser-known region?

Those are fun, but not always the most refined. I tend toward something refined, smooth and approachable. I’m less interested in rustic wines with sharper edges.

So you’re saying that Champagne makes the best sparkling wine?

Hands-down, absolutely (laughs.) Well, I would say the most complex. If you’re looking for complexity and wines driven by terroir, then Champagne is the answer.

What about screw-tops? Are those always inferior wines? 

I don’t have a ton of experience with screw tops. But you’re placing wine in a 100% anaerobic environment, which overtime could put “reductive taints,” as they call them, into the wine by not allowing for any passage of oxygen into the bottle like a cork would allow. I think for aging wines, it’s not a good thing. But for young, fresh wines, there’s nothing wrong with screw top. Plus, you can get to the wine easier.

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By Caitlin Raux

There’s a new school of chefs — those who wax on about ingredients and sourcing; who want to elevate or demote the act of dining out; who want to change the way we eat. Ashley Merriman (Culinary Arts ’04), co-chef of Prune, does not belong to that school. She’s a rare breed of chef nowadays, one who’s passionate about the job mostly because she loves the actual work — the sound of the ticket machine; the chopping during prep; the firing up of grills; the rush during service; and the cleaning — lots and lots of cleaning, as anyone in the industry knows. Ashley’s experience “on the line” dates back to high school, but ICE handed her the keys to the world of fine dining in New York, where she’s had the opportunity to work with some of the city’s great chefs.

I caught up with the former Top Chef competitor on a Monday afternoon before the crush of dinner service (yes, even on a Monday, the house at Prune is full). Ashley and I chatted about her love of the job of being a chef.

Chef Ashley Merriman

credit: Brent Herrig © 2013

Are you from New York?

I’m originally from New Hampshire, but I’ve spent so much time here that I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Was food a big part of your family life growing up?

Not at all. My mom was a single working mom. Consequently, there were lots of nights of: Here’s some hot dogs for dinner. I’m not from a big cooking family. It was more about feeding the family without a lot of time — my mom was working and we played a lot of sports and did extracurricular activities.

I got into the restaurant business because of the work. My mom made us get jobs when we were 12 and it was one of the only after-school jobs that I could get. My older brother mowed lawns. The only other job for kids our age was to wash dishes in restaurants. Once I started, I just liked the work.

Did you know that you wanted to continue working in restaurants?

I remember graduating from high school and I wanted very much to go to culinary school. I graduated in 1994 and I guess it was a very different time in our culinary world. It was not something that my mom had any interest in me doing — she didn’t think it was a viable career option, especially since I had gone to a pretty fancy boarding school. So I cooked throughout college and I cooked after college because it was the only paycheck I knew how to get. It was just the work that I liked the best. I thought for a while that I wanted to be an English teacher and I studied English in college. But I just kept doing restaurant work and I loved it. I love cooking and cleaning.

I think there’s a certain personality type drawn to cooking professionally.

Yes, definitely. At some point I took a career aptitude test and my choices were a cop, an EMT or a chef. In all of them there’s a certain level of stress or adrenaline, but also an altruistic side — of serving or helping people.

I would do this work anywhere, and not just at Prune. I would enjoy this work in small town USA, Kazooky’s Bar + Grill.

So you graduated from a four-year college and then went back to cooking?

I worked in a bookstore for a while, but I just liked restaurant work so much that I decided to go to ICE. That’s when I got serious about cooking professionally. I knew how to cook and I had a pretty lengthy resume but I didn’t know anything about food or fine dining. I just knew how to be a line cook at mom-and-pop restaurants. That’s what brought me to ICE — I knew it would be good to add to my resume and to get my foot in the door in New York.

I imagine you went to ICE to learn the technical skills too…

I didn’t know the next level culinary skills. I only knew what had been put in front of me, which was pretty little considering I worked as a line cook in the same restaurant for nine years before and during high school. I didn’t have a deep bench of experience.

What was your first gig after ICE?

At ICE, my very first teacher in Module 1 was Alex Guarnaschelli. She and I hit it off right away and Alex, being the smart person she is, saw that I already knew how to be a line cook. So she asked me to do my internship with her at Butter, which I did. I ended up staying at Butter for years. Then I worked in Seattle for a few years and came back to New York and worked at Butter again. I helped Alex open The Darby. Then I left and was the chef at The Waverly Inn for years. Now I’m at Prune.

I’m not saying this to flatter you, but Prune happens to be one of my favorite restaurants in New York.

Yes, it’s a good restaurant. I had been a regular there for years. I loved Prune so much. Gabrielle [Hamilton] and I are married (laughs) so I love her so much, too. It feels natural for us to be working together.

It seems like a very positive work environment – which you don’t find in all restaurants.

I think it’s one of Gabrielle’s signatures and something that she’s worked really hard to achieve. It’s why she has incredible staff retention and people really want to stay there. Prune is a feeling and it means a lot to a lot of people, not just the customers, but also the people who have worked there for years. It’s partially because of how the people at Prune are treated.

How has your ICE education prepared you to be chef at Prune?

The most important thing that ICE did for me was to expose me to fine dining – food and dining on a serious level. I already knew a lot about how to be a cook in a restaurant. I remember one of the first assignments at ICE was to write a paper about a chef who influenced you. Everyone else was talking about chefs like Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert and I had no idea who those people were. That’s what ICE exposed me to.

Did you aspire to become part of that fine dining world?

I only ever wanted to be a chef. I really mean this — and I don’t think this is how most people are anymore, though I’m not placing a value on it — I like the work itself much more than I like food. I like the act of coming to work and the ticket machine and the chopping and the lifting and the cleaning and the cooking – the actual act of cooking food. I care about it much more than I care about the ingredient or the product or the, Oh my god, lacto-fermentation. I think that stuff is interesting and valuable and it’s a part of my every day. But I would do this work anywhere, and not just at Prune. I would enjoy this work in small town USA, Kazooky’s Bar + Grill.

It’s more about the physicality and tangible aspects of being a chef.

I do really enjoy the tangible, pragmatic side: bring in the food, break it down, cook it, etc.

That’s rare nowadays.

I think a lot of people forget that every day is cooking and cleaning. I think that in our industry, a lot of people have forgotten about that part of the day, which is remarkable because it’s the biggest part of the day.

You cook every day – where do you look for inspiration?

Honestly, it’s so cheesy, but I’m really inspired by my wife. I think she’s the greatest cook. She doesn’t cook as much in the restaurant anymore, but I’m inspired by what she cooks at home. I’m inspired by our conversations about food. Long before we were married, I loved Gabrielle’s restaurant, before I even loved her. I’ve become a way better cook by working with her.

What does a typical day for you look like?

I’m in the restaurant by 11:30 – 12:00 p.m. I check in with the AM person and the porters and then I start the day. Prune is very small so the chef works the station every single night. There’s no expediting from the pass — you’re at the actual station. I spend the day setting up my station and helping the other cooks set up theirs. Other than that, it’s a pretty typical chef’s day. There’s ordering, receiving, managing, scheduling, actual cooking, running service, shutting down service, cleaning and organizing. Then I write in the log at the end of the night. I usually finish anywhere from 12:30 – 1:00 a.m.

What is your culinary voice?

My culinary voice is about the actual work. You see people with very clear voices and visions. My voice and my vision is about the day-to-day job that we have to do. I think it’s really important. My voice is a factual, objective voice about cooking.

Chef Ashley Merriman

Click here to watch Ashley in ICE’s Find Your Culinary Voice scholarship challenge video

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