By Michael Laiskonis — Creative Director

While it’s back-to-school season for most, class is always in session at ICE. More to the point, cooks are perpetual students for whom the learning never ends, no matter our level of skill or experience. Ideas and inspiration that fill our social media feeds are at our fingertips 24 hours a day, but I still rely on — and often prefer — books and magazines. The autumn publishing season also means a shelf-load of new releases. Below are a few of those just-published books I am looking forward to, as well as one or two that I’m finally catching up on.

Image courtesy of Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream

Hello, My Name Is Ice Cream: The Art and Science of the Scoop
By Dane Cree

Summer may be over, but that doesn’t mean ice cream season is. Dana Cree’s book is a revelation on two fronts — in addition to creative frozen dessert recipes, it was one of the first books of its kind to make accessible the technical approach to ice cream that professionals employ. A well-traveled pastry chef, Dana presents the material much in the same way she approaches high-end plated desserts: serious, but with a playful ease.

BraveTart

BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts
By Stella Parks

When I first started reading Stella’s BraveTart blog several years ago, I knew it would lead to a book. She approaches sweet traditions and preparations not just through the eyes of a cook, but rather an investigative journalist, always digging deeper to tell a story or to better understand the complex chemistry of the pastry kitchen. If baking perfection is built simply on the sum of many well-executed steps, the attention to detail in Stella’s book gives cooks of all skill levels essential building blocks for classic American desserts and beyond. Be sure to check out her work as contributor to Serious Eats.

Megan Giller

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate: America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution: The Origins, the Makers, and the Mind-Blowing Flavors
By Megan Giller

As a cook, I often think about how the discovery of a new ingredient or technique is able to radically redirect one’s career path. Certainly, I never set out to make chocolate, but since we created the Chocolate Lab two years ago, I think about chocolate for most of my waking moments. For Megan Giller, a sartorial moment with a fruity, complex bar made from Madagascar cocoa beans created an obsession that led to a blog, and then this book. While covering the basics of chocolate from origin to processing to tasting, she also takes on the task of documenting the dynamic “craft” chocolate scene in real time. I liked the idea so much, that when asked, I wrote the foreword. I will also join Megan for a discussion and tasting here in NYC next month. Also of interest is a new release from our friends at Dandelion Chocolate in San Francisco, Making Chocolate: From Bean to Bar to S’more.

Bread Wine Chocolate

Bread, Wine, Chocolate: The Slow Loss of Foods We Love
By Simran Sethi

Just as important as acquiring recipes and technique, a deeper understanding of the complex culture of our foodways is also valuable to cooks. Released last year, Simran’s book explores our relationship with nature through the lens of products we might take for granted. Her perspective on chocolate has also led to my favorite podcast of the year, the Slow Melt, which tackles issues big and small, in addition to insightful interviews with the most influential of today’s “craft” chocolate-makers.

Fou de Patisserie

Fou de Patisserie
http://www.foudepatisserie.com/

This time last summer, I had just returned, inspired and energized, from a quick three-day tour of the Paris haute patisserie scene. Few resources capture the trends of the moment better than the French magazine, Fou de Patisserie. Each issue (virtually ad-free) is jam-packed with recipes and ideas from pastry legends and rising stars alike, including Philippe Conticini, Christophe Felder, Cedric Grolet and Cyril Lignac. In addition to publishing, the magazine also runs a shop in Paris — part pop-up, part fancy pastry exhibit — featuring the work of a rotating line-up of pastry chefs. On the topic of pastry magazines, one can’t forget what may be the most exciting resource, So Good, the hefty haute patisserie magazine of international scope.

Modernist Bread

Modernist Bread: The Art and Science
By Nathan Myhrvold, Francisco Migoya

After the release of the mammoth multi-volume set of Modernist Cuisine several years ago, the question on everyone’s mind was: “What will Nathan Myhrvold do next?” To the surprise of many, The Cooking Lab, which is home to Modernist Cuisine, immediately took on the subject of bread – its traditions and pathways toward innovation. Talented pastry chef Francisco Migoya led the effort, which resulted in a new set of books that actually rivals the first in size (and weight). Ahead of its October release, Francisco visited ICE last month to offer a sneak preview of the book, over three years in the making. From what I’ve seen thus far, all I can say is that the project will become a defining resource for bread bakers for years to come.

What are you reading this fall? Let us know in the comments! 

Take your pastry practice to the next level — learn more about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

By Jenny McCoy — Pastry & Baking Arts Chef Instructor

It’s hard to truly determine who ought to be credited for the first brownie. One version of history credits Bertha Palmer, a Chicago businesswoman and socialite, for inspiring the sweet that is about as American as apple pie. On a recent visit to Chicago, I took a walk down one of the brownie’s memory lanes.

Bertha was the wife of Potter Palmer, a wealthy businessman who was very much involved in the development of downtown Chicago. They were introduced by a mutual friend and Potter’s former business partner, Marshall Field (whose department store acquired and popularized Frango chocolate truffles, by the way). As a wedding gift to his bride, Potter gave Bertha an extraordinary gift — The Palmer House hotel. Under the couples’ ownership, largely directly by Bertha, The Palmer House became the epicenter for entertainment amongst socialites in Chicago and well-heeled travelers worldwide. In 1893, for the World’s Fair: Columbian Exposition, an event that would draw influential people from around the globe, Bertha entertained the notion of creating a small confection that has since become beloved all the world over.

Palmer House brownieStorytellers say that for the World’s Fair, Bertha asked The Palmer House pastry chef to create a small cake or confection that could be included in boxed lunches for ladies visiting the fair. The pastry chef developed a thick, dense, fudgy chocolate bar, covered in walnuts and a sweet apricot glaze. It was unlike any other confection and became incredibly popular. Though it still wasn’t called a “brownie,” as similar versions of the dessert later appeared in the Sears Roebuck catalog and in cookbooks by Fannie Farmer and others, its name was given. More than a century later, you can still enjoy a square of warm chocolate goodness topped with ice cream made with the same recipe used in 1893 at The Palmer House. Or, if you can’t make it to Chicago anytime soon, you can create a batch of brownies yourself using the recipe below, adapted from the original.

The Palmer House Brownie
Adapted from the original recipe found here

Ingredients:

14 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
1 pound unsalted butter
12 ounces granulated sugar
4 ounces all-purpose flour
8 whole eggs
12 ounces crushed walnuts
Vanilla extract
Apricot Glaze (recipe below)

Preparation:

  • Preheat oven to 300° F.
  • In a double boiler, melt chocolate with butter.
  • In a medium bowl, mix all dry ingredients except walnuts.
  • Pour chocolate into dry ingredients and mix with a spatula for 4 to 5 minutes.
  • Add eggs and vanilla to chocolate mixture and mix to combine. Pour into a 9”x 12” baking sheet, sprinkle walnuts on top and use your fingers to press walnuts down slightly into mixture.
  • Bake for 30 to 40 minutes. When finished baking, the brownies will have risen about ¼ inch and the edges should be a little crispy. Note: Even when properly baked, brownies will test “gooey” with a toothpick in the center due to the richness of the mixture. Remove brownies from oven and allow brownies to cool for about 30 minutes.
  • While brownies cool, work on your Apricot Glaze (recipe below). Once brownies cool, use a brush to spread a thin layer of the Apricot Glaze on top. Cut into squares and serve (highly recommended with a scoop of ice cream).

Pro Tip: The brownies are easier to cut if you place in the freezer for about 3-4 hours after glazing.

Palmer House brownies

For the Apricot Glaze

Ingredients:

1 cup water
1 cup apricot preserves
1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

Preparation:

  • In a small saucepan over medium heat, mix together water, preserves and unflavored gelatin.
  • Bring to a boil for two minutes. Use hot.

Want to master brownies and more with Chef Jenny? Click here to learn more about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program. 

By Kathryn Gordon and Jeff Yoskowitz

ICE chefs Kathryn Gordon and Jeff Yoskowitz recently visited South Korea with ICE alumnus Heejin Lho, who wanted to share with the chefs the traditional foods and culture of her country. While Chef Jeff found his favorite meal (surprisingly) in a food court and learned how to navigate intensely hot kimchis, Chef Kathryn was impressed by the elegant, edible flowers like gardenia and magnolia. Below is a conversation between Chef Kathryn and Chef Jeff that took place during the latter half of their visit.

Korean Temple Food Center

Korean Temple Food center (Photo credit: Melissa Hope)

Chef Kathryn: Jeff, to start this off, what have you liked best so far?

Chef Jeff: Many things fascinated me this week. I liked making songpyeon — the half-moon shaped rice cakes made with pine needles and dough from sticky and non-glutinous rice [in the Songpyeon Rice Cakes class hosted by the Tteok (Rice Cake) Museum in Seoul]. The dough was counterintuitive in terms of its dryness level. If it was too wet, you couldn’t form the cakes because it stuck to your hands.

Fried Stick Rice Flour Cakes (Photo credit: Melissa Hope)

Chef Kathryn: That rice cake dough was amazing because it was colored by fruits, plants or flowers like strawberry, mugwort and gardenia — but the dough didn’t like me! My right thumb just didn’t “get it” in terms of the shaping for the first 15 minutes. Meanwhile, you were the teacher’s pet!

Chef Jeff: I also really liked our Korean Temple Food center cooking class led by the Buddhist monk. It exposed us to new vegetables and cooking methods, like gingko nuts, lotus leaf, perilla leaf, burdock and acorn jelly. We ate acorn jelly three times this week — I had no idea it was so prevalent! It made me want to track down acorn flour in the U.S. and figure out how to remove the bitterness.

So much flavor came from the lotus leaf, which provides an impermeable layer so whatever you cook in it retains its moisture, while deriving some yellow color and flavor. It was also interesting that the blanched and diced lotus root, which provided texture in the rice, is the root from white flowers, not the pink lotus flowers. I also liked learning about the traditions of mixing sticky and non-glutinous rice.

Chef Kathryn: I loved that in Buddhist temples they eat every part of every plant. We ate a salad made from succulents at The Shilla Seoul hotel banquet. We were exposed to foods that we never knew were foods before.

Chef Jeff: The organization and customer service at The Shilla Seoul was really impressive, but so was the customer service at the high-end food markets at the department stores. At the Hyundai Department Store, I counted 12 people in front of the wine area alone, just waiting to assist you with selecting wine. Each area — the fish, the seaweed island or dried roots — had multiple people waiting to help you in your selection and pack it up. I have never seen that level of presentation, care and customer service before.

Chef Kathryn: Heejin carefully selected our menu for the week so we didn’t just taste traditional Korean dishes. What dish did you find the most interesting?

Chef Jeff: I was a little skeptical when she said we were going to a food court for Korean-style shabu shabu, but the dinner at the Shinsegae Department Store was one of my favorite experiences.

Gyeongbokgung Palace

Gyeongbokgung Palace, Seoul (Photo credit: Jeff Yoskowitz)

I loved how they made so many dishes from the one base broth. The same broth that cooked the sliced beef was reduced with mushrooms, scallions, cabbage and other vegetables before more meat was added. The broth then reduced a second time while we ate that course, and subsequently it was either used to cook noodles and assorted greens, or to make a thick porridge-like stew with rice and greens.

Acorn Jelly with Vegetables

Acorn Jelly with Vegetables (Photo credit: Melissa Horn)

Chef Kathryn: I liked being exposed to edible flowers. I always love cooking with flowers, but never tasted gardenias before this week. When we visited the Tea Story teahouse in Seoul, they had so many teas based on plants and flowers that we don’t typically eat or cook with in American or Western European cuisines, like mistletoe, magnolia and lotus.

Chef Jeff: And then there’s the situation of trying to order hot tea with a meal — the restaurants we experienced literally did not have any.

Chef Kathryn: We learned that with Korean cuisine, you don’t always drink tea with a meal, like you might at a Chinese or Japanese restaurant.

Chef Jeff: Yet coffee shops are everywhere and seemingly open at all times. Per capita, there seems to be an extremely high interest in coffee — I counted three coffee places on one city block alone. The availability of coffee is much more noticeable than in New York.

Chef Kathryn: What did you think of the dessert scene in Korea?

Chef Jeff: I was impressed by how aesthetically clean the cakes and tarts look in every pastry window, and not just in high-end shops and stores — even a chain-style bakery. There is nothing “homey” here, unless you count the fruit. And the fruits in general are enormous! We’ve never seen such big peaches, apples, figs and grapes.

We tried grape tarts one afternoon. We also saw a lot of desserts made with green grapes throughout the week that are not popular in the United States including shaved ice and blended drinks.

Chef Kathryn: What about the kimchi? We ate kimchi made with a lot of greens, cabbage and daikon this week, and were introduced to white kimchi, which I had never had before this trip.

tea ceremony

Tea Ceremony (Photo credit: Melissa Hope)

Chef Jeff: I feel more educated generally about kimchi, although I definitely learned I prefer the garlic (non-Buddhist) style.

Chef Kathryn: In terms of heat and the dishes we’ve eaten with gochujang chili paste — in one meal, your eyes were watering at the end!

Chef Jeff: There are some hot foods you put in your mouth and then it spreads slowly. Once the heat from the kimchi spread, it was too late for me to do anything about it. I did gain a better appreciation of all the contrasting flavors, and the range of foods to pair with something hot came more easily with practice than in the beginning of the trip.

Chef Kathryn: What else besides food did you find most interesting this week?

Chef Jeff: As we were driving south through the countryside to Cheolla Province, the sheer mass of vertical apartment building construction was astonishing. They don’t build one building at a time. We would look towards a range of mist covered forested mountains and see clusters of towers going up simultaneously with cranes on top of each building.

Want to explore the pastry arts with Chefs Kathryn and Jeff? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.

By Michael Laiskonis — Creative Director

Jean-Louis PalladinAs a young cook honing my skills in the mid-1990s, I fell into a position at Emily’s, a small restaurant in suburban Detroit led by Chef Rick Halberg. With twenty years’ hindsight, I now look back at my time there as an important educational phase of my career — a cook’s equivalent to graduate school. The food culture we see today was only in its infancy then, and our resources were limited to print — this was well before we could scan social media feeds for instant inspiration and ideas from around the world. Emily’s served as a creative incubator for the cooks who worked there. In our downtime, we swapped the latest books and magazines, mining them for techniques and flavors to infuse into the menus we developed. We looked to Europe, of course, but we were also keenly aware of the rumblings here in the U.S. Then, as now, it was an exciting time to be a cook.

Our research materials included dog-eared copies of Art Culinaire (still publishing and quite relevant today), rare issues of the European import Opt Art and the highly influential series of books Charlie Trotter began writing in 1994. One book, however, stood out among the pack: Jean-Louis Palladin’s Cooking with the Seasons, originally published in 1989. By day we cooked French-inspired classics, but at night we studied Jean-Louis’ modern and sophisticated interpretations, documented in sleek photography. Though highly refined techniques and luxury ingredients jumped from every page, the book also served as a love letter to the ethos of “local” and “seasonal” cooking. I recall one dish that we ended up adapting into our repertoire: a deceivingly simple but elegant terrine fashioned from ultra-thin slices of house-cured salmon, spinach and anchovy butter. As my own path was heading toward a concentration in pastry, I also experimented with the book’s dessert recipes, including Palladin’s traditional clafoutis (a staple of his native southwestern region of France) and a raspberry-studded crème brûlée.

Jean-Louis Palladin

Chef Palladin

Though perhaps eclipsed by chefs who came after (and those who became more ‘famous’), Jean-Louis’ influence on American cuisine can’t be overstated. He was often considered a “chef’s chef.” Cooking styles and aesthetics have changed and few are replicating his dishes today, but his legacy lives on with respect to his insistence on local ingredients. One might argue that most French chefs in the U.S. in the 1970s and 1980s relied on imported ingredients. Palladin, upon arriving in 1979, made it his mission to seek out the best of what was here. His flagship restaurant in the storied Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. showcased these products with impeccable technique to honor them. A compatriot in this cause was Gilbert LeCoze, who opened Le Bernardin in New York; rather than ship Dover sole from Europe, LeCoze walked the stalls of Fulton Fish Market and championed fish from this region’s waters, and in the process changed the way American chefs sourced and cooked fish. And by no coincidence, Eric Ripert, the current chef and owner of Le Bernardin, worked under Palladin when he emigrated from France, just prior to being hired by LeCoze.

Michael Laiskonis

Tribute, 1999, with Chef Michael (top left) and guest chefs Susanna Foo, David Burke, Roberto Donna and Jean-Louis Palladin

I was afforded my own personal introduction to Jean-Louis years later in 1999, when he cooked as a guest chef at Tribute (also in Detroit), where I had recently become the pastry chef. Many lasting impressions came of these guest chef dinners over the years, but few memories top observing Palladin’s confident swagger at the stoves, his missives barked in an impossibly deep voice and thick French accent. Sadly, Jean-Louis would pass away two years later at the young age of 55, still very much in his prime. But since then, I occasionally pull his book from the shelf and contemplate the evolution of cuisine — what has changed and what fundamental ideas remain the same. I will also quiz younger cooks from time to time, to test their knowledge on the influencers who came before us — I can count how many cooks I’ve sent to the internet in search of Jean-Louis and his generation of chefs.

Michael Laiskonis dessert

Chef Michael’s take on raspberry crème brûlée

I was offered an opportunity to come, in a sense, full circle within my own Jean-Louis story, and straight into his old kitchen at the Watergate just last month. At the urging of my friend Paul Liebrandt, I accepted an invitation from current Watergate chef Michael Santoro to celebrate Palladin’s legacy and the 50th anniversary of the Watergate Hotel. An exclusive multicourse dinner also featured D.C. chefs Robert Wiedmaier, Brian McBride and Watergate pastry chef, Kieu-Linh Nguyen. The most difficult decision was which dessert to prepare, but after several days’ deliberation, all I needed to do was flip through Cooking with the Seasons and the inspiration became immediately clear. Upon seeing my old friend — that raspberry crème brûlée — I created a dessert that served as a metaphor for my own evolution: a sphere of vanilla mousse hiding a liquid raspberry center, glazed with raspberry and set upon a shortbread base. Inspired by the original, this dessert represented a culmination of skills acquired in twenty years, yet still clean and deceptively simple — in the manner of how Jean-Louis taught us to cook.

It’s your turn to study pastry arts with the masters — click here for more information on ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

Soft serve ice cream is one of the true joys of summer. (On second thought, let’s be honest: we eat it year-round.) To satisfy our endless craving for soft serve, ICE Chef James Briscione shows us how to make three recipes for soft serve — each in under five minutes! As a bonus, two of them just happen to be vegan. Even better, the only kitchen equipment you’ll need is a hand blender and a jar.

First on the menu is Peanut Butter & Jelly — with raspberries and creamy peanut butter, it’s a sweet ‘n’ tasty throwback to your favorite lunchbox staple. Next is Spicy Mango Coconut, a refreshing tropical treat that gets a nice kick from fresh-cut chili. Chef James finishes with a silky Strawberries & Cream soft serve, hit with a touch of lemon zest to give it that extra je ne sais quoi.

Consider your days of ice cream truck chasing over.

You, too, can make ice cream, pastries and more like a pro — click here to learn about ICE’s career programs. 

By Tina Whelski

In today’s highly visual world, pastry chefs can stand out with unique sugar sculptures.

“I notice that people remember me more for my airbrush than my cake,” says Master Pastry Chef Stéphane Tréand, M.O.F. with a laugh. The recipient of the prestigious Meilleur Ouvrier de France, (M.O.F.), which means “best craftsman in France,” can’t wait to share his techniques with students who attend his Sugar Showpieces workshop this September 23-25 at ICE. Tréand believes that anyone can create their own work of art if they put in the time.

Stephane Treand

photo courtesy of thepastryschool.org

“Sugar work is not only for chefs, says Tréand. “It’s for everybody. Hopefully I can fill up the class with artistic amateurs.”

Students will learn airbrushing, casting, pulled ribbon, pulled sugar flowers and much more. Tréand advises beginners to use silicon molds, work with isomalt, wear plastic gloves and use lots of stencils when airbrushing. He’s also noticed a trend in the United States to build showpieces that can stand as tall as seven feet high, but he suggests that newcomers start slow with mini showpieces. And as with any craft, attitude is everything.

Stephane Treand“My philosophy is never give up, share and always want to learn,” says Tréand. “You have to be curious. You can always improve the way you’re doing pastry. Believe me, I’m still learning.”

Tréand discovered sugar showpieces in the 1970s when he saw another chef construct a Singer sewing machine made entirely of sugar.

“I was very impressed by how the cast iron was made of sugar,” said Tréand. “I was like, ‘Wow, how can you do that with sugar?’ I remember thinking that if I do something theatrical, like a showpiece, people will remember that, because it’s visual.”

Since most showpieces in the mid-80s were replicas of existing objects, like the Eiffel Tower, Tréand focused on more abstract shapes to distinguish himself.

Today, Tréand finds inspiration for designs everywhere.

“Driving on the freeway sometimes you see a structure and say, ‘Well, that’s a nice bridge’ and of course the background we have in France is of beautiful churches or art from the last few centuries mixed with European art deco,” says Tréand. “There are many things that we mix. Some chefs even find inspiration in tribal tattoos.”

Tréand warns that sugar sculptures should not get “too weird” though.

“People like to recognize what it is,” says Tréand. “You always need to be careful and do something that people can find themselves in.”

He’s practiced his own advice to great success. Tréand was named one of Dessert Professional’s Ten Best Pastry Chefs in America in 2007 and 2008. In 2009, he coached the bronze-winning USA team (which consisted of three of his former assistants) at the International Pastry Competition in Tokyo. Currently, he’s the executive chef consultant for Occitanial, a pastry shop in Tokyo, and he runs his own school in California, Art of Pastry Academy.

The greatest moment of Tréand’s career, however, remains the day he earned his M.O.F., the highest title anyone can get in an artisan manual trade in France.

“That’s my first moment of pride in my whole life,” says Tréand. ”I got it after three tries. My first final was in 1997. I failed. I failed again in 2000 and finally I got it in 2004. When you get it on the third time, it’s even more important because you know the value of it. Finally you’ve got it, and you know you’ve got it forever.”

Tréand finds that his students feel their own sense of pride when they complete their first showpieces.

“When they do something and realize, ‘Oh my goodness, I did that with my fingers and it’s pretty nice,’ they feel proud,” says Tréand. “They feel happy and that’s all we need, just feeling happy.”

Tréand is grateful he discovered the artistic side of pastry because it gives him the chance to do something new every day.

“I think it’s fun,” says Tréand. “It’s freedom. It’s creation.”

Space is limited — click here to register today for Chef Tréand’s Sugar Showpieces workshop at ICE.

It’s hard to believe that it’s been two years since we launched ICE’s bean-to-bar Chocolate Lab (the first education-focused one of its kind!). We decided to check in with ICE’s Creative Director Michael Laiskonis to find out what he’s been up to. As it turns out: a lot.

Having produced over 120 batches of chocolate with beans sourced from more than 20 countries, the Chocolate Lab has given Chef Michael the chance to tinker with each step of the chocolate-making process and bring out the best qualities in each bean. What’s more, Chef Michael has been meticulously tracking these changes and differences in process and flavor, which he then shares with interested students and colleagues in a number of hands-on classes at ICE.

Our Pastry & Baking Arts students have also had the opportunity to swap textbooks for hands-on experience with Chef Michael inside the Chocolate Lab, benefitting from a full understanding of the bean-to-bar process.. Watch below our two-year check in with Chef Michael.

Want to study in the ICE Chocolate Lab with Chef Michael? Click here for more information on ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.


By Michael Laiskonis — Creative Director

“If you cook, you are going to get hurt.” The crowd that gathered for a panel discussion on modernist cooking erupted into laughter, but Wylie Dufresne’s observation was gravely accurate. Extreme heat (and cold — working with liquid nitrogen was the object of Wylie’s remark), sharp knives and heavy equipment are some of the perils that cooks must navigate in their daily workplace environment. Add to the mix a dash of occasional chaos and the pressure to produce at breakneck speed, and it’s a wonder more chefs don’t bear hideous deformities.

Chef Sharpening Knives

Young cooks are instantly identified by the rows of scars running up their forearms: the reminders of brief skin-singeing encounters with blazing hot oven racks and pan handles. A cook’s relative experience is easily judged by his or her fingertip’s tolerance to heat (a seemingly heat-proof layer of skin inevitably forms with time). Another telltale sign of a chef is the tough, raised callous at the base of the index finger: the contact point of skin and the carbon steel blade of a chef’s knife. This callous never fully returns to soft, supple flesh, even after years of retirement from daily slicing and chopping. It’s a calling card of sorts, a silent testament to one’s lifelong métier.

While kitchen scars may fade with time, they rarely disappear completely. My first ghastly kitchen injury dates back to my days as a baker. The shop where I worked focused primarily on bread and cakes, but we also did some light takeout fare and off-site catering. During the mid-December holiday season, we were catering one or two small parties every night. One of those afternoons, the chef/owner executed one event while I simultaneously staged a second party at another location. I could easily handle the responsibility of the arrangement, but I was probably still too green of a cook to entrust with the logistical feats these parties presented.

Hot Kitchen Boiling Over Flames

I was wrapping up my prep list with that menu’s protein: a Cajun-spiced, blackened chicken affair (this was the early 90s). Proper blackening technique — as I knew it, anyway — would dictate exposing the oiled, spice-rubbed meat to a fierce high heat and only a little added cooking fat. In my haste to get everything finished, I ignored the gradual buildup of oil in my smoking cast iron pan. Worse yet, I violated the cardinal rule of adding food to any pan: always place the item so that it falls away from you. This precaution ensures that, in the event any hot cooking oil splashes, it does so away from you.

As I tossed the last chicken breast onto the fire, my face and eyes were stung with a spray of hot and spicy oil. I dropped back from the stove and somehow managed to feel my way to the three-compartment sink for some temporary relief. I splashed my face with cold water, wiped myself off and glanced at the clock. I was running late and I didn’t have time to assess the situation properly.

I managed to arrive at the catering gig fully prepped and on time, but as I worked my chafing dishes I was filled with self-conscious dread. I thought I’d scarred myself for life, that I’d need a shroud to hide my culinary deformity like some modern-day elephant man — all because of one impatiently flung piece of chicken. As it turns out, the burn on my face was minor and fully healed within a couple of weeks. But it could have been far worse. The lesson learned? Always respect the fire. That scar may have faded, but others have been permanent.

Chopping Onions

Another early mishap of mine persists in the form of a long-term, conspicuous reminder. A year or so after the blackened chicken incident, I was working my way through a very large pile of onions. It was a straightforward task: hack the polar ends off of each one, score through the skin, peel that off, then halve the onion lengthwise and perform a simple, uniform julienne. At ICE, our fledgling cooks are taught to tuck the thumb back and under, using the broad surface of the resulting fist to both secure the food and guide the knife while chopping. Of course I knew that then, too. But in my urgency to finish all those onions in time, I either looked up or the heavy chef’s knife slipped…and into the mountain of sliced onions went the tip of my left thumb.

My reaction was swift. I didn’t want to look closely at the damage, nor did I have much time to fret over it. I rinsed my hand in the nearby sink, slapped on two or three Band-Aids, wrapped it with a length of gauze and secured it all with what must have been a foot or two of electrical tape. And then I went on with my prep.

I certainly didn’t forget about it over the course of the night’s work. I was in a sense of denial. I was uninsured and living check-to-check on my cook’s wage. I didn’t want to bother with any workers’ comp benefit I may have been entitled to, so there was no professional medical attention given to the mangled digit. After a day or so, when I realized I might have made an error in judgment, I still didn’t seek help. I feared getting yelled at by some nurse or intern for not going directly to the emergency room. Instead, I kept it clean and wrapped, and it eventually healed. The contour of my left thumb is no longer rounded, but now sloped off at a sharp angle.

Butchery Fish Butchering

I’ve heard many stories over the years—likely mythical legends by the time they got to me. The fish bone that went in one side of someone’s finger and emerged months later on the other side. The arm broken in multiple places by an industrial mixer. The fingers severed on deli slicers. I’ve had close calls throughout my twenty years battling in the kitchen, but in comparison to many colleagues, I’ve survived mostly unscathed. My worst injuries were the result of total rookie moves.

A young cook might boast over a particularly gnarly burn or gash, eager to display it as a badge of honor. It’s part of the bravado, the mandated sense of fearlessness that pervades the kitchen. As I grow older, I’m not proud of my mistakes. With time, one increasingly feels stupid over the tiniest nicks and scratches, embarrassed for even a split second’s lack of control. So a word of advice to those starting out in the industry: the second you sense you’re playing too close to the edge, slow down. You won’t work faster with a half of a finger, a burnt face or a broken arm.

Want to study with Chef Michael? Click here for more information on ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

 

Chef Kathryn Gordon, chef instructor in ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program, has been named one of Dessert Professional Magazine’s 2017 Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America and inducted into their prestigious Hall of Fame. We’re ecstatic, we’re proud and we’re breaking out the bubbly — and serving it with Chef Kathryn’s elegant and celebratory pomelo and cantaloupe calissons. For those of you who haven’t heard of calissons, they’re a traditional almond candy that can be found in sweets shops throughout Provence, France. Chef Kathryn adds her personal, summery touch by sprucing them up with pomelo confit, candied cantaloupe and marbleized orange blossom glaze. And, of course, served alongside a chilled flute of champagne with a couple spoons of fresh, bright cantaloupe granita.

celebratory summer cocktail

Chef Kathryn’s Celebratory Summer Cocktail

Pomelo and Cantaloupe Calissons
Yield: Makes 40 (1-inch dome) calissons

Ingredients:

1900 grams blanched almond flour
100 grams powdered sugar
1 gram fine sea salt
60 grams pomelo confit (recipe below), drained well
60 grams candied cantaloupe (recipe below), drained well

Preparation:

  • Place the almond flour, powdered sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse 30 times, stopping and scraping the sides of the bowl every five pulses to ensure ingredients are mixing smoothly.
  • Add ¼ of the pomelo confit and pulse. When a dough starts to form, hand knead in the remaining pomelo confit and candied cantaloupe. Press mixture into 1” flexipan molds. Let air dry for two days. Unmold and place on a glazing rack.
  • Glaze with orange blossom glaze and air dry.

Pomelo Confit

Ingredients:

Peel of 1 pomelo and cold water to cover
Pinch of salt
200 grams granulated sugar
150 grams water
25 grams glucose syrup

Preparation:

  • Cut the pomelo peel (with pith) into ¼-inch dice. Place the peels in a small non-reactive saucepan (stainless steel or tin). Add salt and enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat and blanch for five minutes. Pour the mixture through a chinois and rinse in cold water. Repeat the blanching process four more times, without adding additional salt.
  • Stir together sugar and 150 grams water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat. Once the mixture is boiling, add glucose syrup and blanched pomelo peels. Turn the heat down to low and let simmer for 20 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. Chill and reserve syrup for cocktail.

Candied Cantaloupe

Ingredients:

200 grams granulated sugar
50 grams orange juice, freshly squeezed
Flesh of 1 medium orange-fleshed cantaloupe (about 1200 grams), cut into ½-inch dice

Preparation:

  • Stir together sugar and orange juice in a saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Add diced cantaloupe. Turn off heat and let cool for one hour. Reserve syrup and extra fruit for granita.

Marbleized Orange Blossom Glaze

Ingredients:

20 grams orange blossom water
15 grams water
200 grams powdered sugar
Pink, egg yellow and orange gel food coloring

Preparation:

  • Stir orange blossom water and water into powdered sugar. Divide into three bowls, and stir in pink, egg yellow and orange colors, respectively. Place each color in a disposable pastry piping bag. Cut a small hole in each and place those three pastry bags in a fourth pastry bag. Cut a hole at the bottom, straight across. Squeeze out the glaze, and swirl over the calissons on the glazing rack. Let set one hour before removing with a small offset spatula.

Canteloupe Granita

Ingredients:

Reserved syrup and fruit from candied canteloupe

Preparation:

  • Puree in food processor. Place in shallow pan in freezer. Break up crystals around pan perimeter every half an hour until frozen and slushy. Keep frozen until time to serve cocktails.

Celebratory Summer Cocktail

Preparation:

  • Fill chilled champagne glasses to one-third with reserved pomelo syrup. Spoon in cantaloupe granite until halfway filled. Top with champagne or sparkling wine. Serve with pomelo and grapefruit calisson.

You, too, can study pastry & baking arts alongside Chef Kathryn — click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.

The Center for Advanced Pastry Studies (CAPS) at ICE is designed for current industry professionals looking to expand their skill sets. These single- and multi-day continuing education workshops are taught by master chefs and critically acclaimed artists from around the globe. 

ICE is excited to welcome back Karen Portaleo to teach the upcoming CAPS course Carved Cake: Ballerina Pig on June 2. Karen is a celebrated cake and chocolate artist who creates fantastical cakes at Highland Bakery in Atlanta, Georgia. She has appeared on numerous television shows including Food Network’s Cake Challenge and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern, and her work has appeared in various publications like Cake Central Magazine and National Geographic. Karen’s client list includes Sir Elton John, Usher, Jane Lynch, T-Pain, Demi Moore, AMC’s The Walking Dead, CNN and The W Hotel.

ballerina pig

photos courtesy of http://www.karenportaleo.com/

In anticipation of Karen’s class, we chatted with her about her work in the pastry world and what she has in store for students in her cake carving class at ICE.

You’ve worked as a jewelry designer, a clay sculptor and a set designer — what inspired you to enter the world of cake?

Originally, it was desperation that motivated me to begin working with cake. I was recently separated and a newly single mom. The prop and set design company I had run for 17 years was suffering from the effects of a bad economy and shrunken budgets. A friend opened a bakery and I decided to ask if I could decorate and sell cookies there. This would give me the flexibility to stay home with my young daughter. Initially they said no, but persistence paid off. Soon I was frosting cupcakes, then cakes and it all took off from there. I call it my accidental career. But it just goes to show: opportunity can show up in very unexpected places.

What would you say is your signature style when it comes to designing a cake?

I would say my style is whimsical and very sculptural. I rarely make tiered cakes anymore — I’ve paid those dues already! My work is often described as “dark,” but that’s not my general aesthetic. I think my work falls into the category of cakes that don’t look like cakes.

If you’re given “carte blanche” to create a cake, where do you look for inspiration?

Usually I’ve had an idea rolling around in my head and am just waiting for a paying customer. There’s not always a rational explanation for the inspiration. For example, I woke up a few weeks ago and thought it might be fun to make a Humpty Dumpty cake. While I wait for an event, I get to dream up all the details and structure to make the piece exactly as I want it to be.

Tell us about the most challenging project you’ve worked on recently

I recently travelled to Palm Beach to create a very large cake for a client. As is sometimes the case, I can’t disclose the name of the client or details about the cake. However, I can say that it involved 40 full sheets of cake, 120 pounds of buttercream, 110 pounds of fondant and 64 pounds of modeling chocolate. There were a number of challenges with this cake. For one, the structure was very complex. Also, when creating a huge cake, you still have to bear in mind that it has to fit through doorways and into a van. This often means that the cake is made in big sections and then assembled onsite. Every large event involves a bit of chaos in the hours immediately preceding it, so showing up with large cakes that need to be assembled can be stressful for everyone. That’s why a lot of planning goes into the structure, as it must all fit together well and quickly. Not to mention, the cake needs to be fresh, moist and delicious, so this usually means a few sleepless nights of mad stacking, carving and fondant work. Delivery is always a tense time and this cake, in all its pieces, had to be carried quite a distance over walkways, stairs and ramps. But one of the most challenging things about this cake is that for all the planning and hard work, I can’t share any pictures! Still, it was pretty fabulous.

Karen Portaleo

Karen with one of her whimsical creations

What would you say are the most important skills for your craft?

I think the skills I rely on most heavily come from my background in art. I went to art school and have had many previous careers in the visual arts. My grandfather was a pastry chef and I grew up in bakeries, but I have no specific culinary training. My reputation springs more from the visual aspect of the cake than the cake itself. That being said, I’m extremely demanding about flavor and quality. I encourage my students, especially those who are in culinary school, to spend some time in art classes as well. Understanding how to successfully sculpt a three-dimensional object, as well as a solid understanding of color theory, are a few really valuable skills in today’s cake world.

What new techniques can students expect to learn from your upcoming course at ICE?

In my course, students will learn to create a structure for a seemingly gravity-defying cake. They will also learn to make and sculpt with modeling chocolate, how to create “clothing” with fondant, painting on chocolate, painting on fondant and creating small details that add a higher level of visual interest to a cake. I encourage my students to get creative with the design of their piece. I will be teaching the skills, but I like my students to create their own design using their own vision. I believe that this encourages a higher level of learning and creativity, as students need to do a bit of problem solving on their own. I’m a firm believer that taking risks and figuring out how to execute certain details is an excellent way to really learn on a deeper level.

Because CAPS classes require individual attention to each student’s project, class sizes are limited — click here to reserve your spot today.