By Orlando Soto, Pastry & Baking Arts Student

On our first day of class in Kitchen 501, Chef Gerri Sarnataro shared several indispensable truths about the food industry. One of them really struck me as odd: “There’s always a back door.” Meaning, there’s always more than one way of doing things, especially in cooking. I thought this was ironic, given my initial perception of pastry: we follow recipes to the gram in an effort to deliver consistent results. But of course, Chef Gerri’s words rang true throughout the program, and never more so than in cake decorating.

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Professional cake decorating elevates the common, spongy dessert from ordinary to memorable. It’s an opportunity for the pastry chef to tune directly into the desires and expectations of a client. A cake is a canvas to delight the sense of sight, as much as the sense of taste. Not surprisingly, it’s the details make or break a cake. If you want to create flowers, for example, you aim to make all the petals, leaves and buds look like nature intended. Subtle color gradients and textures bring to life what was once plain, pliable fondant.

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But before you can begin to decorate your cake, you need a plan. A simple scheme for the tiers, colors and the placement or distribution of ornaments is essential. This plan is not only a powerful tool to help keep the decorator on point, but will also provide a preview of sorts, for the client. In the classroom, we presented our cake diagrams and planned the preparation of the decorating elements accordingly.

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With a plan in mind, we proceeded to design our cakes. This was when Chef Gerri’s words echoed through the classroom. Yes, there is the way that we were taught to create a rose, but if you looked around the room, everyone was doing their petals just a bit differently. The diverse results would prove that there’s more than one way to translate an idea into a consistently beautiful product.

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In truth, cake decorating has been most challenging part of our program for me. I can’t sit still for very long, even if I’m working on a beautiful sugar flower. However, the words of Chef Chad stick with me: “I understand, Orlando, but a true Pastry Chef must be able to tackle any project.” As if he were predicting the future, one of my family members was so excited about the cake I was making, she and her fiancé signed me up to make their wedding cake a year from now (no pressure!).

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Several days later, we arrived at the end of our classes. We decorated our cakes and showed them in our final ceremony. As my class heads out to our externships with many skills at hand and lessons in mind, I can see that we have, individually, begun to find our culinary voice. Of course, bearing in thought that “there’s always a back door.”

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Click here to read more stories about Life as a Pastry Student.

By Michael Laiskonis, ICE Creative Director

As a professional pastry chef, I have a deep relationship with candy. But then don’t we all? Several years ago, I began to ponder the ‘culture’ that surrounds our taste for sweets. What I came to realize is that we relate to sweetness on three different levels: the physiological, the psychological, and the nostalgic.

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With the possible exception of salt, the instinctual desire for sweetness—more than any other taste—is surely hardwired somewhere deep within our DNA. From the moment of birth, we seek our nourishment and comfort in the rich, sweetened form of mother’s milk; it is indeed the only taste we know in our early months. Eventually our sense of taste becomes considerably more complex as our food choices expand, but I find it interesting that, for all humans, the craving for sweet endures.

Just when we might otherwise mature beyond that physiological need, the desire manifests itself in the realm of emotion. As with Proust’s famous madeleine, it is often sweets that become intertwined with memory, emotion and a sense of comfort. Dessert functions as a reward for “eating those vegetables,” a miracle salve for that scraped knee, or even a mischievous child’s stolen secret. The acquisition of penny candy is often a child’s first foray into the world of commerce and finance. With sweetness we begin to associate comfort, pleasure, reward, envy, and guilt.

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Personal nostalgia will vary by culture, country, region, or generation; our source material might be a freshly baked pie like Grandma used to make, or it may come in the form of mass produced junk food (I’m convinced that all pastry chefs have, consciously or not, tried to recreate a Snickers bar in some way or another). These associations remain through adulthood.

Playing to this inner child, for a pastry chef, can initiate the creation of something new yet familiar. The context of such nostalgia—especially unexpected in a fine dining environment—heightens such playfulness. The more I explore this notion, the more fascinating I find it and the more I enjoy tapping into those emotions. In other words, the true path to our inner selves may indeed be something as simple as candy.

Though confections are tucked beneath the broad umbrella of pastry arts that includes chocolate, ice cream, cakes, and plated desserts, my own interest in candy has increased along with a better understanding of its underlying science. Through candy-making we can explore the properties of sugars and fats, the behavior of concentrated syrups and crystallization, and numerous complex interactions that influence taste and texture.

Passion fruit gummy worm

Passion fruit “gummy worm”

A historical survey of the candy trade reveals that, though there has been much innovation, the sweets crafted in the Middle Ages or in ancient Rome may not have seemed all that unfamiliar to us today. Once the cost of ingredients like sugar and chocolate decreased more than a century ago (in conjunction with technical leaps and bounds made during the Industrial Revolution), candy truly became accessible to all. Most of the brands we recognize today had their roots in this “candy renaissance.”

Though the world of confections includes many different styles, from hard candy to soft caramels and dense nougats to fluffy marshmallows, here are some simple guidelines that I believe will help all cooks—the amateur and pro alike—achieve sweet success:

1. Brush up on your basicsMost candies tend to conform to tried and true formulas, but that shouldn’t prevent us from creating unique versions of the classics. With just a little bit of research, we can easily begin to grasp the physics and chemistry at play, which eventually allows us to experiment with whimsy.

Campari - grapefruit pate de fruit

Campari – grapefruit pate de fruit

Controlling crystallization, for example, is very important. Understanding just when to stir a sugar syrup (or when not to) and when to use inhibitors like acids and glucose will help provide the right end result. Simple knowledge of basic hydrocolloids can help us craft a range of textures like chewy gummies, melt-in-your-mouth pâtes de fruits and ultra-light marshmallows. Navigating the complex flavor-creating mechanisms of caramelization and Maillard reactions help us understand what is happening as our cooked confections transform into something greater than the sum of their parts.

My own recent explorations have resulted in tooth-friendly sugar-free candies for a private client and “savory” confections flavored with vegetable juices, such as carrot. With just a little confidence, patience, and know-how, the sky is the limit!

2. Sweat the small stuff. Even slight changes in formula can lead to both discovery and disaster. Until one is comfortable with making informed adjustments and substitutions, it’s best to pay close attention to recipes. Accuracy in measuring ingredients and temperature are vital, and to this end I recommend starting with a calibrated digital thermometer and a good digital scale.

Virtually all candies require cooking to exact temperatures, and measuring by weight (preferably metric) versus volume will always offer more precision. Beyond simple tools such as a heat-proof rubber spatula and a couple of small Silpats, an advanced candy amateur might also make good use of a mini marble slab, caramel rulers and flexible silicon molds.

petitfours

Petits Fours

3. Cleanliness is king. Organizing your tools, ingredients and workspace is the first step toward successful candy work. Not only will dirty utensils lead to problems like crystallization, but overall clutter in the kitchen can also lead to accidents (molten sugar syrups that reach temperatures as high as 325˚F can result in serious burns). Stay clean, don’t get distracted and avoid walking away from a potentially dangerous pot of boiling sugar!

Below, you’ll find one of my favorite soft caramel recipes, and for those interested in digging a bit deeper into candy science, I’ll be teaching a new class on the subject – Sugar Science: Functions and Applications in Modern Pastry on Wednesday, July 16. I hope to see you there!

Soft Caramel

Yield: one 12cm by 12cm block, or about 50 individual candies

  • 125g glucose syrup
  • 15g invert sugar
  • 3g fine sea salt
  • 1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
  • 210g heavy cream (35% fat)
  • 115g sucrose
  • 30g water
  • 10g cocoa butter (optional)
  1. In a heavy saucepan, combine the cream, glucose, invert sugar, salt and vanilla. Gently heat and reserve.
  2. In a second saucepan, combine the sucrose and water. Cook to a medium dark caramel. Deglaze with the warm cream mixture and continue to cook to 118°C/245°F. Remove from heat and stir in the cocoa butter.
  3. Immediately pour the caramel into a set of bars lined with a Silpat. Cool several hours before cutting and wrapping in cellophane or waxed paper.

 

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

Jenny McCoy Craft HeadshotAs a restaurant pastry chef, I used to be responsible for the day-to-day operations of my pastry departments. My exclusive focus was on making every facet of my department more efficient, creating a positive environment to work in and on being cost effective – all in addition to creating amazing desserts. There were the fun parts of the job, like developing new menu items and working with my executive chefs to create desserts that paired perfectly with the rest of the menu. And of course, there were the tasks that I absolutely dreaded: writing schedules, taking inventory and calculating the food cost of my menu items.

In the beginning of my career, I started in small departments with one or two pastry cooks who reported to me. But as I gained more experience, my departments became larger and I found myself managing up to a dozen cooks at a time. Eventually, I began directing pastry departments in multiple restaurant locations, which continued to increase the number of pastry cooks I trained.

The further I rose up the ladder professionally, the less and less I found myself making the actual desserts on my menu. I always found it amusing when dinner guests would compliment my desserts as I greeted tables on a Saturday night. Sure, I was the chef who “created” their dessert, but did I really make it? No. My pastry cooks made everything on the menu. I created the concepts, refined the recipes, and then I passed the recipes along to my staff to execute on a daily basis. I showed up to work every day to make sure the products of their efforts were perfect, but I began to find it strange to be a pastry chef who barely baked a thing—even though I was in the kitchen for 60 or more hours a week. It was exhilarating work, but it just wasn’t the work I thought it would be.

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About four years ago, after a very busy holiday season, I had my “ah-ha” moment. I was standing in the kitchen at A Voce in New York City, explaining the details of a new recipe to my sous chef, when I realized: I was no longer a pastry chef. My job was more that of a pastry instructor. This momentary thought didn’t just flit away; instead, it planted a little seed that continued to grow.

There comes a time in everyone’s career when one needs a change. While I felt very satisfied in my work, I began to daydream about ways I could accomplish more—simply adding more desserts to my menu was not going to cut it. I wanted an opportunity to make a larger impact. Working with my team made every day a challenge, but for me that wasn’t enough. They weren’t enough. I wanted to reach an even greater number of aspiring pastry chefs. And in order to do so (without opening a national chain of restaurants), teaching seemed like the perfect outlet. It was what I was spending all of my time doing anyway, right?

Of course, I had to get over my huge fear of leaving the restaurant industry (what would I be if I wasn’t the pastry chef for Tom Colicchio?), so I started teaching recreational baking classes at ICE. By the Spring of 2013, I finally decided to make the transition to becoming a Chef-Instructor in ICE’s professional Pastry and Baking Arts Program.

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Did you know that, as a newly-hired instructor, I had to audit all of the pastry classes in the program? Yes, that is correct; in order to lead my own classes, I had to return to culinary school. For many, especially those like me who graduated from culinary school over ten years ago and had subsequently worked in the field, the idea of returning to the classroom may have seemed silly. Quite the contrary: I can’t remember the last time I had so much fun.

Before I could become an instructor, I needed to be instructed on how to properly teach. Showing a student how to make a perfect pie dough was not going to be enough; I needed to learn how to demonstrate the hands-on steps involved in making the dough while simultaneously explaining the science behind the process – in this instance, the correct ratio of ingredients, the role each ingredient plays, and proper gluten formation. Heck, I even had to define what gluten was (a protein found in flour that is made up of glutenin and gliadin, in case you were wondering). And just like when I entered a restaurant kitchen for the very first time—back when I had no experience whatsoever—my chef-instructor at ICE had to teach me what to do.

Jenny teaches ICE culinary students how to temper chocolate.

Teaching ICE culinary students to temper chocolate.

In a couple of months, I will celebrate my first year anniversary as a chef-instructor. It has been a great year, filled with far more challenges than I ever could have imagined. My friends in the industry sometimes tease me about “going into retirement.” But if this is what retirement is like, I don’t know why anyone refers to it as an “eternal vacation”. Each day that I enter the classroom, I have 16 sets of eyes on me, each of which have different strengths and weaknesses, and different styles of learning the lesson at hand. Talk about pressure! It is no small task to teach 16 students how to make pie dough, but I get to watch those 16 seeds grow into professional chefs, where they will evolve, change and grow in turn.

My chef friends ask me all the time: “Do you miss being in restaurants?” While my time in restaurants was a challenging and meaningful part of my career, my answer is always: “Never.” Not just because my daily course load as a chef-instructor runs from four to eight hours of teaching (a far cry from my usual 12 hours a day), but because I am finally making an impact that satisfies my desire to do more. While I may never head the next great cultural revolution—where I convert everyone into a pastry chef—I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my hard-won years of experience with the next generation of great chefs. Finally, it feels like enough. 

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.

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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. 

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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.

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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!

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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.

Ingredients
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…