By Carly DeFilippo

Over the holiday season, we invited our students to share their latest, greatest creations on Instagram using the hashtag #culinaryvoice. Below are our four finalists! Vote in the comments for your favorite, and the winner will receive a free one-session recreational cooking class at ICE.

holiday fycv contest

From top left:

  • @Megaaalong’s final cake from her Senior Reception. Congratulations Meg!
  • @Jazzybaron whips up a signature Thomas Keller dish: Sautéed black sea bass with a saffron-vanilla sauce, parsnip puree, spinach ball and butter poached mussels.
  • @Jerssica shares the satiny flower bouquet that tops her tiered cake.
  • @Hillwheel takes you behind the scenes of “Cookie Day” at ICE.

Show us your culinary voice! Tag @iceculinary #culinaryvoice on Twitter and Instagram.


By Liz Castner


Julia Child can remember the meal she that changed her life: sole meunière, her first meal in France, and “the most exciting meal of her life.” Before that, she says, she didn’t know that food could be both simple and good, better still because of its simplicity and sheer foodness.

liz and julia

Okay, she didn’t say “foodness.” Foodness is my word, meaning when food tastes like the best version of itself. Julia also talks about this phenomenon when she discusses a good roast chicken, gushing over how chickeny it can be. My cooking philosophy is the same; I love highlighting a particular ingredient, bringing out its best qualities in simple ways, like using herbs in a fruit pie or a little nutmeg to warm up a cookie.


As for myself, I don’t have a clear memory of a perfect, life-changing meal. All I know is that I have grown up loving food. I was “spoiled” growing up by the amazing produce in Southern California, and I love fresh, vibrant fruits and veggies. Beyond that, I love meat, desserts, bread, cheese, wine. My parents also love food. My dad is a skilled and adventurous cook and eater, who will try anything once, and is often responsible for cooking almost everything for our large holiday meals. My mom likes simple foods, with roast chicken being her absolute favorite. She also has a (clearly genetic) sweet tooth, and has encouraged me to bake since I was quite young. They are incredibly supportive, and a clear influence on how my career path has turned out.


My path to becoming a pastry student was not a straightforward one, however. Though I was very interested in going to culinary school as a teenager (and worked out a lot of stress baking all kinds of tasty treats), I found another calling:special education. But after going to college and getting a bachelors in psychology, a stint in a doctoral program, a lot of work experience in special education and an emotionally draining ankle surgery, I found myself looking for a change in my day-to-day life. I wanted to start something fun, fulfilling, energizing, inspiring and new. Basically, I wanted to find my own foodness factor.


While mulling this over one day, I had the thought, “What if I went to culinary school?” Impulsively, and on a level that didn’t really generate words other than “yes,” I thought about it constantly. I did have some misgivings about leaving a budding career in special education and the students I love, but I realized that starting a career in food doesn’t necessarily mean that I can’t work with people with special needs anymore. All it means is that I can’t do that full-time. 


I began baking more, something I had not done much in the various tiny New York City apartments I’ve inhabited over the years. And I began trying new things, even creating my first wedding cake, for a friend’s July nuptials. I began feeling really good. So, even as the Program Director of Daytime Moon Creations, a non-profit organization that provides theater programs to special needs kids, teens, and young adults, I started telling people, “I’m going to culinary school.”


I enrolled in the Pastry & Baking program at ICE, as well as the Culinary Management program, which will start in October. The double diploma was a great fit, because I’d like to have my own bakery one day and know very little about business. In this hypothetical, beautiful little shop, selling some wonderful pastries and coffee, I would love to hire a few workers with special needs, to teach baking and decorating classes, both special needs and not, and to decorate some lovely wedding and occasion cakes.


So now I’m a pastry student, and I am enjoying it so much. It’s flying by, actually, and I almost wish the program would slow down just a little, though I am relishing the jolt of energy it has injected into my life. Time really does fly when you’re having fun. We’re halfway through the second module of the program, and I have started to take some time to reflect on my learning and experiences. This is a program that really values the foodness of our ingredients; when we first started out, we learned extensively about and tasted all of our ingredients, from different kinds of flours to sweeteners to fruits. My favorite ingredient so far is passionfruit—that fruit is pure foodness in and of itself!


I look forward to sharing the incredible joy that fills the pastry program—learning new things, working with your hands, and being proud of what you’ve created. My favorite thing that we’ve made has changed several times:  chocolate mousse, creme brûlée, peanut brittle, cheesecake, bombes of homemade ice cream, sorbet, frozen mousses, eclairs, baguettes, Chelsea buns, focaccia, bagels, gorgeous croissants, pain au chocolat, and doughnuts!


Talk about foodness – every single thing we’ve made has really elevated the ingredients to taste like their best. Bread is a prime example. No one wants to eat flour on its own, but when it comes together with water, salt, and yeast in the proper way, we have a life-sustaining, delicious, French delight—the best that flour can be. I’ve only had 35 lessons so far, and can’t believe I’ve already learned to make so many wonderful things. Every day only gets better.

Last week, ICE Chef Instructors, students and alumni had the opportunity to participate in the 14th Annual Chocolate Show at Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City. The four-day exhibition is a huge celebration of everything chocolate and draws in pastry chefs and chocolate lovers from across the world.

Since New York City is not just the food capital but also the fashion capital, the event kicked off with a themed fashion show. This year, the show celebrated Broadway and acclaimed pastry chefs were tasked with creating costumes for some of Broadways’ most beloved characters. ICE Chef Instructors Michelle Tampakis and Vicki Wells made a chocolate version of an ensemble inspired by Gypsy Rose Lee from the musical Gypsy. Check out video of the costume in action here! ICE alum and Top Chef: Just Desserts contestant Melissa Camacho worked with Project Runway’s Elisa Jiminez to create a chocolate costume inspired by Wicked. More…

These elegant, crunchy cookies made with puff pastry are a classic for a reason. We found this simple recipe in the ICE Pastry & Baking Arts curriculum. In class, the cookies are the students’ reward for all the rolling and folding required when making puff pastry, but at home, you can easily use a quality, store-bought puff pastry. If you decide to go that route, once you’ve made the puff pastry assembly is quite simple, just a series of folds and then you slice the dough into cookies. It’s a simple technique that makes beautiful cookies. Using citrus zest or spices, you can flavor the sugar for an extra special touch. For savory snacks, use Parmesan cheese instead.

1 pound puff pastry
12 ounces sugar More…

It’s amazing what can change in a year.

Exactly one year ago today, I began my journey as a pastry student at ICE. I stepped into checkered pants and slip-resistant black kitchen shoes for the first time. I buttoned my white chef coat from collar to bottom and covered my curly hair with a commis hat, having no idea the scope of what I would learn in the nine months of class and three months of externship that were to follow.

The question most students leave ICE with is “What Next?” It’s the natural evolution of going through an educational and vocational program that inevitably leads to a change in the course of your career path. For me, when I started the program, my goal was to use my experience as a way to improve my ability to advise students who were going through the same thing. Of course, I was also looking forward to learning how to make a tasty pastry! Through it all, I promised myself to take my own advice and be open to anything that came my way. As much as I warn students that it happens, I truly can’t believe how much my goals and plans changed. In the past year, I fell in love — with working with my hands to create something that others can enjoy, with the thought of having my own food business and with a boy. All of a sudden, my goals and plans changed.

As a Career Services Advisor, I always believed that what I spoke to students about was much more than just their job — what you choose as a job and career path needs to fit your lifestyle and make sense for your career goals and life goals. Last week at the James Beard Awards, I listened to one of the winners as he quoted the saying, “If you love what you’re doing, you’ll never work a day in your life.” It made me realize again just how much of an impact your job can have on your everyday life. I do love my job. I love to meet chefs, listen to their passion for creating a certain type of food and experience and then have the opportunity to taste their expression. I love going to restaurants and watching how well a service staff works in making sure each guest is refilled, cleared and reset. I love sitting down with students and seeing their eyes light up when they verbalize their dream of opening a bakery, working with a chef they’ve looked up to or discovering that there are so many other options in the industry outside of a kitchen. More…

Growing up in a small suburb in New Jersey, it never occurred to me that I would one day end up in the food industry. Until I was in high school, I can only remember visiting about three restaurants in my life. In high school, it expanded to about six and I had my first opportunity to visit a shop with fancy pastries. And it wasn’t until college that I had the magical opportunity to live and eat in New York. Suddenly, there was food everywhere and a lot of it was really good! The more pastries I tried, the more I wanted to learn about them and be in a kitchen.

Truthfully though, I was always set up for it. I had my first baking class in preschool. For years afterwards, I would bake when I was happy, when I was sad, and when I just wanted something sweet. Most of those years, it was the same few cookie recipes, but one day, something clicked and I started to bake in earnest. That I eventually would leave a career in public relations for a life in pastry was a surprise to no one. Last year, I gave up my weekends for eight months for ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program. Afterwards, I completed my externship at Locanda Verde and was hired there in October.

I had wanted to take the Culinary Management program while in completing my pastry studies, but it was unrealistic to believe I could juggle a full-time job and two school programs. So, on April 11, I’m finally gearing up to start the class. More…

I’ve helped over 300 students select their externship in the time that I’ve been at ICE. So, when it came time for me to decide, I thought I had it pretty much covered. I decided to challenge myself in a restaurant where I imagined I would learn speed and be in a place that feels familiar to me given my past front-of-house experience. My decision was a Spanish restaurant on the Upper West Side named Graffit. Aside from loving all things Spanish, I had known Chef Jesus Nunez for some time and was really attracted to his philosophy of combining food and art as well as building a family-like team. So, I informed my advisor of the details, an agreement for my 210-hour externship was put in place, and I was ready to embark on my first professional back-of-house experience.

All I really remember from my first day at Graffit is that I felt hot. As I made my way up to the kitchen in my checkered pants, an unmarked chef coat and my big black kitchen shoes, I was introduced to my new pastry mentor, Rachel, and instantly felt myself start to sweat. I had a sudden flashback of walking into the kitchen at Extra Virgin, seeing the line cooks with beads of sweat rolling down their faces as they worked through our Friday night rush. At that time, I thought I had a pretty good understanding of what it was like to work in a kitchen. Even in my role at ICE, I have visited numerous kitchens and learned about the lifestyle of a cook by reading books like Kitchen Confidential and having countless conversations with chefs. I knew from these experiences, that life in the kitchen was hard and meant long hours. I had stood for hours greeting and seating guests while working front-of-house, but working in a kitchen is just so much more physical than I ever expected — up and down the stairs to the prep area, back and forth to the walk-in, moving in the rhythm of a kitchen that during service is nothing short of organized chaos. Within a week, I learned my first lesson: front-of- house is not back-of-house. More…

Well, it’s done. We’ve decorated our fondant cakes and invited our friends and family to our Senior Reception (check out the photos of all our cakes above). Nine months and 100 lessons later, what have I really learned through taking the Pastry Arts & Baking Arts program at ICE? Back when I wrote my very first post, before I knew how to tare a scale, I couldn’t have even imagined that I’d be able to make flowers out of gumpaste. But I also took away a lot more than just recipes and techniques. I agree wholeheartedly with what I wrote then — I did learn much more than what was included in the curriculum. I think we all did.

I asked some of my classmates what they learned, including what they would do differently knowing what they know now. Here is a look at the unexpected lessons my fellow classmates and I gained during our time as pastry students.

As you can imagine, in a three-night-a-week evening class, most of us held full-time jobs. As a career changer, Ivana was learning a whole new set of skills. She shared, “What a humbling experience it is to start something new after working towards one career for 15 years.” More…

I was never one for flowers. This Valentine’s Day, knowing that I have a strong dislike of the traditional red roses overpopulating deli storefronts and florists on February 14, my boyfriend surprised me with a beautiful bouquet of plum-colored tulips. They were beautiful — they were a surprise, they were gorgeous and they even smelled good. But later in the evening, after leaving pastry class, I said to him, “Next year, if you’re going to get me flowers, I think you should make them out of gumpaste.”

Since I last wrote, that’s what I’ve been doing — making flowers out of gumpaste. At the start of each class, I find myself wondering how we’re going to spend the entire class just making flowers. But four hours later, I realize we have kept ourselves happily busy. The process is as tedious as it is relaxing, and as time-consuming as it is rewarding. What starts as a simple bud, comes to life a little more each day as we add petals, leaves and a final touch of petal dust that adds the perfect amount of color, dimension and magical shimmer. At least, that’s the goal. More…

This is the part of the program where we are designers. Yes, we have had the experience of designing our chocolate showpieces, but individually making fonadant-covered cakes last week was our first experience designing solo. Well, it was actually an inedible foam cake, but it still gave us something to roll our fondant over, creating a clean palate for us to decorate. The only requirement was to include a chocolate rose somewhere on the cake.

If you recall, my introduction to modeling chocolate was certainly a challenge. I struggled with rolling it through a pasta machine to make my chocolate ribbon cake. This time, I used white chocolate, working it in my hands to improve its elasticity. I’m not sure if it had to do with the warmth of my hands or the differences between white and dark chocolate, but this was much more successful than using the pasta machine. Creating the rose petals and leaves out of this material was actually quite fun. I love the process of making parts that will become something bigger and then watching each of the petals comes together to produce a beautiful flower. More…