By Andrea Strong

In 2013, Dominique Ansel opened a tiny pastry shop in SoHo where he married a croissant and a donut and turned its offspring, the Cronut®, into an overnight Instagram sensation that was heralded by TIME magazine as one of the “25 Best Inventions of 2013.” Since then, Ansel has gone on to create some of the most inspired and viral desserts in the industry, including the Cookie Shot, Frozen S’more, Blossoming Hot Chocolate, Gingerbread Pinecone and Christmas Morning Cereal. His out-of-the-box creations have given him a reputation as a “culinary Van Gogh” (Food & Wine) and “the Willy Wonka of New York” (New York Post).

Dominique Ansel

photo credit Thomas Schauer

What’s the next step for the creator of the most Instagram-worthy pastry on the planet? To quote Ansel, “the creation isn’t killing the creativity.” He’s taking yet another risk and expanding into unchartered territory — the savory kitchen, with a full-service restaurant called 189 by Dominique Ansel set to open this fall in Los Angeles at The Grove. The restaurant name is personal: it is taken from the address of Ansel’s original SoHo shop, located at 189 Spring Street. Coincidentally, his LA restaurant address also happens to be at 189 The Grove Drive. “It was meant to be,” said Ansel. “It reminds us of our home, and now it will be our second home on the West Coast.”

Andrea Strong spoke with Dominique about his move from pastry to savory, the challenges of opening restaurants in new cities and finding inspiration in unexpected places — like nail art.

What inspired you to choose Los Angeles as a location for your first savory restaurant? I’m a tad upset — what about NYC! 

I’ve always loved LA. The food scene is so exciting and so eclectic, and it’s so much a part of the culture there. Each time I visit LA, I find myself going to different neighborhoods, ones that are often out of the way, just to eat. One minute you can be having amazing Korean BBQ, Ethiopian food the next, then al pastor tacos from a truck somewhere late at night. And there’s beautiful fresh produce year-round so I’m excited for that, too. Plus, coming from New York where our Soho shop is quite small and has a tiny kitchen of just about a hundred square feet, it’ll be nice to have so much more space to work with.

How does your pastry background influence your savory cooking?

I actually started working in kitchens on the savory side before turning over to pastry. It’s the science behind pastry that really stuck with me. I love that it requires precision and measuring. You have to be exact. And I think that carries over to all parts of cooking — the level of discipline, precision and planning that goes into all that you do in a kitchen regardless if it’s a pastry or a savory kitchen.

I wonder what you might tell a student about being limited to pastry or savory cooking. In other words, should a pastry student stick to pastry or should they be open to doing savory? Is it best to stay in your niche?

You should never limit yourself. I always tell my team to stay curious and to really push yourself and not be afraid of trying something new. If people always stayed in their niche or stuck to what’s comfortable for them, then creativity wouldn’t be possible.

One of the things I think is most impressive about chefs is their fortitude. You are constantly faced with criticism and I wonder how you stay true to your goals and follow your passion when there are naysayers along the way.

For us, it’s about continuing to create. We have a saying: “Don’t let the creation kill the creativity,” meaning, don’t let one creation stop you from continuing to come up with new ideas and to keep pushing. Even before we opened, there were people who would tell me that a French bakery in New York would never work, and that I should make cupcakes and cheesecakes. I didn’t listen. Every day, we work on developing new ideas, new creations and when I see our guests enjoying what we’ve made, it makes all of it worth it.

You have said that when you cook you try to make an emotional connection with people. Desserts like the Cronut and the Frozen S’more take people to a more simple time. What is it about food that you think really moves people and how do you figure out how to do that so well? 

Food is such a personal thing. You always remember that birthday dinner you had with your family, celebrating special moments with a beautiful cake, spending the holidays around the table with your loved ones — all of these moments that are centered around food. With desserts, there’s a sense of nostalgia there too — roasting marshmallows around the campfire during the summertime, having cookies and milk after school, baking with your mom or grandma when you were a kid. For us, food is a way to create a memory or an emotional connection with people.

Dominique Ansel

You have shops in London and Tokyo. How do you learn about a new culture before you make the leap? What is your process? Do you move there? Eat there for a few days? Talk to friends? 

We took a lot of time in developing Japan and London, both of which were years in the making. Japan is somewhere where I get a lot of inspiration — from the food, from learning about the culture, appreciating the dedication that people have for food and for their craft there. And the talent there is incredible — well-trained chefs who have the skills and the discipline to maintain quality. And with London, there’s quite an international scene when it comes to food and a blend of history and heritage there that’s special. We spent quite some time immersing ourselves in the culture, learning from the locals and about local ingredients and traditions, understanding people’s tastes and how to work with new ingredients we hadn’t worked with before and learning from our partners there who helped guide us along the way.

What are the challenges you’ve faced in expanding overseas or to new markets?

With distance, quality becomes the most important thing — maintaining quality day in and day out. And communication becomes crucial too — having a team that’s on the ground who communicates with one another about what’s happening in the kitchen and in the FOH, and also communicating to our team here in NYC that’s an ocean away.

There’s also a learning curve when it comes to working with local ingredients, because with pastry, the tiniest nuances and changes with moisture levels, fat content, how the flour is aged, etc., can make all the difference. Learning to standardize ingredients and recipes in London and in Tokyo took some time to work out. In the UK, for example, the dairy is richer and thicker, so infusion times go up. The eggs are different, the butter is different, so we took a lot of time working on standardizing recipes to adapt.

Do you have any advice for someone who is trying to make that move to expand to an unfamiliar market?

You have to make yourself familiar first and foremost. If you don’t do the proper due diligence to really understand the culture, local tastes and adapt accordingly, then you shouldn’t be heading into that market.

Let’s talk a bit about inspiration — where do you find yours? Did the Cronut come to you in a dream? 

For me, inspiration can come from anywhere — from traveling, from art and architecture, fashion, even something totally unrelated to food that I see on Instagram, like nail art, for example. Each item that we create has a different story and a different inspiration, so there isn’t a set formula.

The Cronut was just one item that we decided to add to our menu. It took more than two months and 10 different recipes until we finally got it right. We change our menu every six to eight weeks, so it was just another new creation.

How do you instill inspiration and motivation in your staff? 

We’re always working on creating something new, and I encourage my team to push themselves to think out of the box, even if that means failing the first few times we try something. I also think that a product is never really complete. There’s always a way that it can be improved, whether it’s figuring out a different way to present or plate it, or a different technique when it comes to the baking process. It can always get better, and we can always get better.

What comes next? Will New York City get a savory restaurant too? (Please say yes!)

We’re taking things slowly and steadily, making sure not to overwhelm the team or open something just for the sake of opening. We put a lot of thought and a lot of time into each place that we open, so it’s never just a cut and paste. We just opened a new shop in Tokyo, and with the LA restaurant coming up in the fall, that’s our focus.

Ready to pursue your passion for food? Take the first step by clicking here to learn more about ICE’s career programs.

By Michael Laiskonis — Creative Director

The act of cooking is, at its heart, a solitary one. Of course, a restaurant kitchen requires coordinated effort and teamwork — many hands executing and assembling tiny parts of a greater whole. Each brief task in isolation, however, is a personal communion of skill and ingredient. Each step of mis en place presents an opportunity to contemplate, and a challenge to refine and better understand what we do.

Dough

My cooking career began at a tiny bakery in the outlying suburbs of Detroit almost 25 years ago. What started as “just a job” quickly became a compulsion: in cooking I found the satisfaction of manual labor and making something from nothing. Before long, I was offered an overnight baking position. At first, I merely worked my way down a checklist of standard items to mix and bake: a trio of basic breads, some viennoisserie and coffee cakes, muffins and cookies, and then the delicate chiffon layers that comprised the buttercream- and fondant-coated birthday and wedding cakes. I worked hard and I got better, and I took on more and more responsibility. Eventually, if the cases were full at 7:00 am when the shop opened, I pretty much had free rein to bake as I pleased during these solo shifts.

I often began each evening just as the bakery locked its front door at 6:00pm, and I rarely left before 8:00am the following morning. It was the first job I’d ever had where I didn’t watch the clock (and, come to think of it, I haven’t had one since). I found a nightly groove, a rhythm fueled by black coffee and a tape deck blaring the likes of Superchunk and Sonic Youth. As a former art student, I instantly recognized the meditative shift into right-brain mode, where intense concentration makes one oblivious to external stimuli and the linear passage of time. My time-sensitive dough, and not the clock, set my schedule, as items cycled in and out of the ovens.

Fresh Baked Bread

Though the bakery was well off the beaten path I filled its shelves and cases with lofty ambition, as if the sign outside bore the names of Parisian pastry temples Poilâne, Fauchon or Lenôtre. I was naïve, for sure, but driven. It felt as if I’d entered a kind of undergraduate phase of pastry study, and an ever-growing library of books became my syllabus. Among them, a multi-volume set of professional French pastry books; it was a good thing I ate virtually all my meals at work; each of those six volumes set me back nearly one hundred dollars — a sizable bite out of my paycheck back then. These books were already outdated to some degree even then, but the classics never die. I methodically worked my way through each, from brioche, fougasse and pain de siegle, to pâte brisée, pâte feuilleté and pâte à choux. I continually refined my baguettes, croissants and genoise. I also took liberties in experimenting with my own creations, many of which ended up not in the front of the shop, but in the dumpster out back. I compensated for my lack of formal training by challenging myself to learn at least one new product each day.

My nights at the bakery resembled the quiet, creative solitude I’d enjoyed while working many hours alone in the dark room in the days before digital photography. Prior to cooking, much of my time was devoted to photography, developing strips of black and white film, manipulating prints in all manner of ways. The mixing, shaping and proofing of dough is not unlike developing a negative, cropping an image and adjusting exposure. Bread goes into a hot oven to fully transform into its full potential, just as a sheet of light-sensitive paper in a bath of chemicals slowly reveals the image burned onto it. I often compare pastry with photography — highly technical to some degree, though what ends up on the plate or within the frame could perhaps be called “art.”

Today, my work in the Chocolate Lab and pastry kitchens at ICE takes on a similar solitary aspect. With several projects on my plate at any given time, my daily prep list follows no linear rhyme or reason. There are fewer deadlines now, but surprisingly, a whole lot of dishes to clean afterward. No longer confined to the schedule and structure of a restaurant kitchen, I now find those quiet hours where I can think one thought through to its completion. And I still enjoy the hours flying by, alone with my mis en place and my own thoughts. But the results nowadays go beyond personal gratification — the fruits of this solitary refinement now feed the minds of hungry students.

Refine your craft in the kitchen classrooms of ICE — click here for more information on our Pastry & Baking Arts programs. 


By Michael Laiskonis—ICE Creative Director

Early last year, as the ICE staff was preparing to move from the school’s longtime home in the Flatiron District of Manhattan to its newly constructed downtown facility, I was immersed in organizing the details for our unique bean-to-bar Chocolate Lab. Considering our new digs in the oldest part of the city, it hit me that perhaps we were bringing chocolate back to the neighborhood—old New Amsterdam. I began to ponder the ghosts of chocolate makers past. Surely there must have been numerous traders, processors and merchants dealing in the popular product at various points in the city’s nearly 400-year history. Little did I realize how difficult the search for answers would prove, yet what I have uncovered thus far has only reinvigorated my quest.

Late 18th Century Map of Manhattan

Late 18th Century Map of Manhattan

I’m a bit of a history buff—with interests in our culinary past, of course, but also the rich history of the vibrant city I’ve called home for over 12 years. I’ve also spent countless hours tracing my family histories back to Eastern Europe, as well as my maternal lines back to England and Holland. My ancestors arrived in the first waves of settlers in the American colonies dating back to the mid-1600s. My meandering research came quite close to home at one point—a Dutch extended cousin turned out to be a prominent businessman in 1650s New Amsterdam, operating a brewery on Beaver Street, the site occupied today by a towering office building in Manhattan’s Financial District. This personal discovery fueled my broader search for chocolate in this colonial outpost—if I could find a distant relative in the neighborhood, surely I would eventually find traces of cocoa as well. But first, I had to step back a bit further to consider the greater story of chocolate’s travels.

The story goes that Columbus encountered cacao in the course of his later voyages at the turn of the 16th century, but was unimpressed or simply unaware of its attraction. At best, he may have traveled back to Europe with a token handful of the beans, which only grow in the tropics. Most historians agree that it was through Hernando Cortes, who conquered the Aztecs in the 1520s, that chocolate would make inroads into European aristocracy, eventually gaining popularity on par with coffee and tea. Throughout much of its history, chocolate was consumed as a beverage in coffeehouses or sold in small coarse-textured blocks (and only upon its arrival in Europe was sugar added). During its first century in Europe, accessibility to chocolate soon spread beyond the noble classes and was enjoyed by a wider audience. The drink thrived in those countries whose empires extended to tropical zones where cacao could be cultivated for the masses back home.

By the time the American Revolution was underway, chocolate had firmly established itself in the colonies. Numerous references and connections to the drink have been attributed to patriot luminaries like Ben Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington. The first colonial chocolate manufacturer was Baker’s, established by 1765 in Dorchester, Massachusetts (the famous brand still exists today). While this may be true in large-scale production, there were many small local producers and bean grinders predating Baker’s throughout the larger cities of Boston, New York and Philadelphia. These craft producers, around 70 total, are the objects of my interest. Unsurprisingly, they have been difficult to trace in great detail. Perhaps because chocolate at this point was still minimally refined, there were likely few who devoted themselves to chocolate full time. Individual grocers and local mills may have handled very small quantities. The dearth of pre-revolution information about chocolate culture in Lower Manhattan didn’t discourage me, but it did lead my search into a different direction.

We assume that chocolate first arrived in America as a European import, but when and where are still unclear. The earliest written accounts of chocolate in the northeastern colonies do not appear until the 1660s, with sporadic references to trade shipments continuing into the 1670-80s. By the time England assumed control of the renamed New York in the 1660s, its cocoa trade was taking shape. Their early colonies in the Caribbean had begun planting cocoa and adding sugar to it. As trade from the Caribbean increased—and by extension, from South and Central America—the colonial port cities became vital links in the supply chain. The port of New York City quickly became an important hub in this network of the cocoa trade—a pivotal discovery in my research. By the early 1700s, shipping documents reflect a significant flow of cocoa beans from the West Indies into New York; while much of the precious cargo was ultimately destined for Europe, local consumption was on the rise, too. Great quantities of cocoa were arriving from the Venezuelan port of Curaçao via a network of Jewish merchants of Spanish descent. This network grew to include dozens of businesses, some of which would eventually branch out into local wholesale and retail chocolate trade. I had finally caught a glimpse of the history I had been hoping to find—the emergence of the cocoa trade in lower Manhattan. What’s more, the city has more contemporary ties to the cocoa trade as well. The New York Cocoa Exchange occupied the narrow flatiron-shaped building at the intersection of Wall, Pearl and Beaver Streets from 1939 to 1979 (the building still bears that name, though its tenants now include a sushi restaurant and condominiums). At present, the offices of Atlantic Cocoa, a major player in the international chocolate trade, are located just a short walk from ICE, adjacent to Battery Park.

Present-Day John and Water Streets

Among the names of early merchants, several clues began to emerge, and with them more details into the chocolate world in colonial New York. While the extent of their processing and manufacturing is not yet clear, I finally began to pin chocolate-related locations to the map. Spanish-born Jacob Louzada was one such early merchant, active through the 1720s; his son Aaron is reported to have processed chocolate as well. I came across the Gomez family, with three generations involved in chocolate—first with trade and later with manufacturing. Moses Gomez was active in trade and chocolate making as early as 1700. By the 1750s, Daniel Gomez advertised the sale of drinking chocolate near “Burling’s Slip”—today, near the foot of John Street and South Street at the East River. More promising is a surviving advertisement from 1780 describing the shop and “chocolate manufactory” of Rebecca Gomez, which carried all manner of imported food goods, including her own superfine “manufactured chocolate, warranted free from any sediments and pure. Great allowance made to those who buy to sell again.” Rebecca’s shop stood at the corner of Nassau Street and Ann Street—a busy intersection of its day and a stone’s throw from the ICE Chocolate Lab. Rebecca’s son-in-law, Abraham Wagg, was a grocer who also dabbled in chocolate. Other 18th century names and locations have surfaced as well, such as Peter Low, who had made chocolate in Manhattan before moving the business across the river to New Jersey, as well as Peter Swigart and his chocolate-making shop on Bayard Street, in what is now the heart of Chinatown.

While it remains difficult to find traces of chocolate in the very earliest days of the Dutch colony, we see that it became a common item on the docks and in the shops of New York in the 1700s. After unearthing the stories of these early entrepreneurs, I am excited to discover what I might find as chocolate making in this neighborhood has evolved, coming into the 19th century and, ultimately, full circle back to our little lab on the third floor of Brookfield Place at ICE!

Further reading for chocolate aficionados:
  • On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao, by Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz
  • Chocolate: History, Culture, and Heritage, by Louis E. Grivetti and Howard-Yana Shapiro

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

By Chef Jenny McCoy

July Fourth-fetti Cake

As the Fourth of July approaches and we eagerly anticipate colorful firework displays and backyard barbecues, why not celebrate with a red, white and blue sprinkle-covered confetti cake? This delicious lemon-almond cake, filled with fresh strawberries and blueberries and layered with cream cheese icing, is sure to be a crowd pleaser.

The number of steps may seem daunting, and this recipe does take some finesse—but don’t let that stop you! They don’t call me “Chef” for nothing, so here are some of my favorite pro tips for success:

  1. Use some shortening to make the cake a brighter white, which also makes it easier to color. If you prefer butter, you can substitute the shortening with more butter.
  2. Be sure to scrape down the sides of the mixer bowl as you add the ingredients to your cake batter. This will ensure your batter is buttery smooth.
  3. If you want to customize the results, your cake batter can be flavored with a variety of extracts. One of my favorite combinations is vanilla and coconut extracts. Alternatively, if you prefer a plain vanilla cake, replace the almond extract with an additional one teaspoon vanilla extract, for a total of two teaspoons.
  4. I love to use a cardboard cake round to invert my cakes from the pans. It gives them a sturdy surface to fall on, which prevents the cake layers from tearing. Ask your local bakery for a few or cut out some rounds from a cardboard box.
  5. Don’t have a cake turntable? Not to worry! My favorite kitchen hack is to use the plate and wheel from a microwave to layer and frost my cakes.
  6. Instead of worrying about your cake layers sliding around as you frost the top and sides of the cake, try this trick—use a long bamboo skewer to hold everything in place.
  7. A flat, metal bench scraper (more often used for cutting bread dough) makes for amazingly straight sides on your frosted cake. If you don’t have a bench scraper, use a metal icing spatula, like the one featured in the video.
  8. Don’t worry about having a perfectly frosted cake for this recipe. As long as it’s relatively smooth, once it’s covered in sprinkles, it will be a showstopper no matter what!

One last trick: to make sure the cakes don’t stick to the pan, cut parchment paper into a circle to line your round cake pan. Here’s how:

Remember how you used to make paper snowflakes from folded paper in elementary school? Well, that same technique will now serve you well as an adult. If you enjoy baking cakes, that is.

For a round cake pan, simply fold a piece of parchment paper in half three times to make a triangular wedge of paper (kind of like a slice of cake—what a coincidence!). Turn your cake pan upside down and place the tip of the paper wedge directly in the center of the pan. Trim the wider edge of the paper wedge to the length of the radius of the pan, or the very edge of the cake pan. Unfold and voila! A circle of parchment paper to perfectly line the inside of your round cake pan. Check out this video on ICE’s Instagram feed to see how it’s done.

July Fourth-fetti Cake

Makes one three-layer cake

Ingredients

2 sticks (8 ounces) butter, softened

½ cup (4 ounces) shortening

3 cups granulated sugar

3 large eggs

3 large egg whites

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

½ cup milk

½ cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

Red food coloring

Blue food coloring

3-4 tablespoons red, white and blue sprinkles

 

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 350º F. Lightly spray three eight-inch cake pans with nonstick cooking spray and line with parchment paper.
  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, shortening and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, egg whites, almond extract and vanilla extract, and mix until smooth.
  1. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt, and stir together. Add half of the dry ingredients and mix until combined. Add the milk and mix until combined. Add the remaining half of the dry ingredients, followed by the buttermilk and mix until well combined and smooth.
  1. Divide the batter evenly between three bowls and add blue food coloring to one bowl and red food coloring to the second bowl, mixing in and adding coloring in drops as necessary until the desired color is reached. Add sprinkles to the third bowl and stir until evenly combined. Pour the batter into the three prepared cake pans and bake until very light golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 20 to 25 minutes. Let cakes cool in pans for five minutes, then invert onto a cooling rack and let cool to room temperature.

 

Lemon-Almond Simple Syrup

Makes ½ cup

Ingredients

½ cup simple syrup

2 teaspoons almond extract

2 teaspoons lemon extract

 

Preparation

  1. Combine the simple syrup, vanilla extract and lemon extract and refrigerate until ready to use.

 

Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes 6 cups

Ingredients

2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened

2 cups (16 ounces) cream cheese

6 cups powdered sugar, sifted

¼ teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

 

Preparation

  1. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until soft and very smooth. Add the cream cheese and mix until smooth. Slowly add the powdered sugar and salt and mix until fully combined. Add the vanilla extract and whip on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Use immediately or refrigerate in an airtight container for up to five days.

 

To assemble the cake:

Ingredients

1 blue cake layer

1 sprinkle cake layer

1 red cake layer

½ cup Lemon-Almond Simple Syrup (recipe above)

6 cups Cream Cheese Frosting (recipe above)

1 cup blueberries

1 cup sliced strawberries

1 ¼ to 1 ½ cups red, white and blue sprinkles, to decorate

 

Preparation

  1. Slice the tops off the cake layers to create a flat surface. Place the blue cake layer on top of an eight-inch round of cardboard. Use a pastry brush to lightly soak the blue cake layer with the simple syrup. Spread about one cup of the frosting on the blue cake layer and cover with fresh blueberries. Top with the sprinkled white cake layer and repeat by soaking the cake layer with simple syrup and covering with one cup of frosting, and top with the fresh strawberries. Place the red cake layer on top. Frost the tops and sides of the cake with the remaining four cups of frosting. Freeze cake for 20 to 30 minutes.
  1. Place the sprinkles in a large bowl. Hold the cake over a rimmed baking sheet and gently cover the sides and tops of the cake with the sprinkles by pressing them against the frosting and allowing the excess to fall back onto the tray. Serve immediately, or refrigerate for up to two days. If refrigerated before serving, let cake stand at room temperature for one to two hours before serving.

 

Want to learn how to make tasty desserts with our ICE instructors? Get more information about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

 

By Michael Laiskonis, ICE Creative Director and Pastry and Baking Arts Chef Instructor

When I was a full-time chef, there were brief moments of the day in which a profound sense of inner happiness would sweep over me. It’s often these fleeting, seemingly random instants that are most meaningful; they remind those of us in the culinary world why we do what we do.

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As a restaurant chef, one of my favorite moments was watching the arrival of the kitchen staff in the morning before their shift. These cooks look like they rolled right out of bed and onto the train (because, well, that’s what you do). The early arrivers are those who treasure those few minutes of silence, the only time you actually notice the hum of the lowboy coolers or the whine of the exhaust hoods as they’re turned on. They like to have the first pick of their mise en place—everything they need for the day—grabbed in one efficient pass and crammed into a hotel pan to take back to their station. Their timeliness earns them the right to flat sheet pans, a fresh stack of towels, that favorite whisk or ladle. While I only got to witness this daily ritual once or twice a month (when I happened to find myself at work by 6:00 am), I always got quite a kick out of being first in the kitchen to watch it unfold.

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Unlike those who make it to work just in time, whose days begin—and often continue perpetually—under the gun and “in the weeds”, the early cooks appreciate ritual. They make that first pot of kitchen coffee. They take a few precious minutes to sharpen their knives. And they seem to know more—for example, the number of covers for lunch, the fact that the produce company shorted the restaurant a case of oranges (again!) or that so-and-so called in sick. You might say that these are the most responsible cooks, the most paranoid or merely the ones that know they need extra time to get everything done. But most likely, these are the chefs that just live for the job. Despite the long hours and lack of sleep, these guys know that the kitchen is where they belong.

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A treasured time for me was always the repose between lunch and dinner, the block of time after prep and set-up are complete, but before the printer starts to chatter, telling us service has started once again. Some days it might last an hour or two, other days it comes and goes in a few fleeting moments. It may start as soon as the last lunch order is out or as late as 6 pm. Typically, I tried to call the time around 4:30 to 5:30 pm my own. This was usually the only substantial break I allowed myself. If it was a marathon shift, it might merely mark the half-way point of the day.

One of the benefits of working in pastry (besides the relative autonomy) is that you’re afforded a sense of calm before the storm. The cooks on the “other” side of the kitchen seem to have a much tighter deadline. Their show starts the moment the front door opens at 5:15. We pastry chefs, on the other hand, put in most of the work prior to the dinner hour. As such, we are left with a few precious moments (once the first diners of the night are seated) to sit back, relax and refocus before service begins in earnest. This brief pause is our chance to perform the culinary equivalent of tuning up, like the din from the orchestra pit just before the abrupt silence that signals the first note of a concert. This momentary respite allows us to offer to the very first dessert plate—and all those that follow—our fullest attention.

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It was during this lull that I could check my e-mail, return calls, or even do a bit of research and recipe testing. I’d start to assemble my orders for the next day or review schedules and prep lists. Staff meal was squeezed in at some point, and although the rest of the kitchen management retired to the dining room to sit and eat in a more civilized manner, I usually hung out with my own team, often standing, eating and working simultaneously. If it was really busy, I sometimes passed on eating altogether, opting to cook dinner for myself when I got home that night around midnight.

Though there was always something to be done—whether in the office or the kitchen—it was nice to sometimes escape the building altogether, to enjoy a few moments of daylight if the weather was good. When the midtown Manhattan streets were swelling with 9-to-5ers and early bird theater-goers, I was just catching my second wind. But I was never envious of these passersby, their workdays finished. Instead, I knew that dusk—the “magic hour”—signaled something very different for me. For them, it marked the end of their daily routine; for me, it signaled the beginning.

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The end of the night in a pastry kitchen is always a bit unpredictable. Sometimes, service finishes abruptly. Other nights, it’s a slow crawl while waiting for a few lingering tables. Toward the end of my restaurant days, I no longer stayed until the very end, but I never got used to it. I had been the last in the kitchen for so many years—plating and sending out the very last order—that it always felt strange to leave before the entire station was cleared and scrubbed clean.

Leaving early had its perks though. More often then not, it had been a busy day at the restaurant, leaving me little time to eat (save for a couple pieces of bread and some small tastes of the daily dessert’s mise en place). So by this point in the evening, I was hungry, generally for something salty and filling. As soon as I hit 6th Avenue and 52nd Street, the smell of the heady spices from a halal cart would wash over me. But I wouldn’t stop. To me, dinner has always been sacred, regardless of the lateness of the hour. So, almost every night after leaving the restaurant, I quelled my hunger long enough to return home and cook myself a proper dinner.

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I was also faced with the nightly decision: walk home, take the subway, or hail a cab? My mood generally dictated my choice. If something about the night’s events was slightly off, I would take the long quiet walk to cool off and collect my thoughts. If I felt totally exhausted, I would hop into a cab and be home in five or ten minutes, albeit ten bucks lighter. If I was neither hyped nor exhausted (and felt able to handle the inevitable wait for the train), I’d walk down 51st Street to the 6 train. Its a poorly kept secret in New York City that Midtown Manhattan is actually loudest at night. This is the time when garbage trucks roar down the crosstown streets and work crews dig up the avenues, ripping out or extending sections of New York City’s circulatory system. Despite the noise, I always felt a certain sense of solidarity with my fellow train passengers at this hour. More often than not, I would spy the “hat head” of another cook amongst the crowd. Such moments reminded me that this hour wasn’t mine alone—I shared it with thousands of other chefs making the trek home after a long day in the kitchen.

A kind of deep, unspoken social bond exists within a restaurant that often carries over into the outside world. There’s a shared colloquial language that would mystify those who don’t spend their days in the kitchen. That, coupled with the unconventional hours, creates a kind of subculture, one that identifies with going to bed in the wee hours of the morning and rising around noon, a group that hears the word “weekend” and thinks of a solitary Sunday or Monday. As a result, those in the industry tend to socialize with other chefs. If you were to introduce two cooks who’ve never met, chances are they would have something to talk about in thirty seconds. It is during these conversations that instantaneous legends spring from events that happened a mere three or four hours prior: tales of heroism or defeat on the line, the culinary prowess of chef so-and-so, the ingredient or piece of equipment that rescued a dish in distress.

While all of these moments in a chef’s day are precious—from those first few minutes in the kitchen to that last hour swapping stories with coworkers at the end of the night—the best moment comes when your head hits the pillow. When you close your eyes, pull the covers over you, and smile, delighting in the fact that it starts all over again tomorrow. That’s when you know you’re really a chef.

To learn how you can launch a creative, fulfilling career in food, click here.

 

By Carly DeFilippo

 

When Michael Laiskonis got hired for his first job, scooping ice cream in Detroit, he probably never imagined that he would one day be teaching ICE Pastry & Baking students about the complex chemistry of frozen dairy products. In fact, Michael never intended to enter the food industry. Rather, he fell into it by accident, after deciding to abandon formal studies in fine arts and photography for what he describes as an “earn while you learn” approach. And so he entered the business, working the overnight shift at his roommate’s brother’s bakery.

Michael, teaching a petit four class at ICE's School of Professional Development.

Michael, teaching a petit four class at ICE’s School of Professional Development.

Soon enough, Michael discovered he had a certain talent for pastry and wanted to find a more structured environment to further his skills. He found it in Emily’s, a small kitchen with only four chefs. Starting out as a savory cook, Michael gradually absorbed more and more pastry duties, proving his merit until his boss agreed to make him the full-time pastry chef—the first time he would see his name on a restaurant menu.

 

In 1996, Michael moved to Tribute, starting as a line cook and moving up the ranks until he was again named pastry chef in 1999. The restaurant was at the epicenter of Detroit’s culinary scene, named one of the nation’s best by the New York Times in 2002. In 2003, it became one of only two Detroit restaurants to have garnered a coveted James Beard Award. But by 2004, Michael was looking to test his hand in one of the nation’s culinary capitals, and was referred by a friend to Chef Eric Ripert. After a single 90 minute meeting, Ripert offered Chef Michael the chance to come on as Executive Chef of renowned New York institution, Le Bernadin.

Parsnip brulee and sponge, hazelnut cream, browned milk solids. 2013 "Pastry Pop Chef" at the Star Chefs International Chefs Congress.

Parsnip brulee and sponge, hazelnut cream, browned milk solids. 2013 “Pastry Pop Chef” at the Star Chefs International Chefs Congress.

Making a move to Le Bernadin was no small feat. Michael’s predecessors included one of his idols, François Payard, as well as acclaimed chefs Florian Bellanger, Herve Poussot and Oscar Palacios. But over the next eight years, Michael more than proved his talent, helping the restaurant earn three Michelin stars and four stars from the New York Times. Celebrated for his use of modern techniques to reinvent classic desserts, Michael was also awarded the coveted James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2007.

 

In 2012, Michael joined the Institute of Culinary Education as our first ever Creative Director. “After a successful 20 years in some amazing kitchens,” Michael explains, “I’d earned a lot of opportunities—and I chose to join the team at ICE. I have always admired ICE, and education is the perfect opportunity for me to give back, to inspire the next generation of chefs to enjoy and excel in a career in culinary or pastry arts.” He has already instrumented significant progress in our kitchens, providing pastry students with a more in-depth look at the science of their craft, and teaching a number of both public seminars and advanced pastry classes in our School of Professional Development.

michael blow torch

Looking back on his career, Michael notes that his path was most unusual in that he stayed in nearly every position for more than five years. He recommends that young chefs only move on to a new position if they feel that they have taken everything they possibly could from that position (including what not to do moving forward). In large part, he credits Chef Takashi from Tribute for establishing his belief in never making a lateral or inferior move, in only moving on if it’s a step up. As for how to judge when it’s time to move on, Michael says, “The day you go into work without a pit in your stomach is the day you start looking for a new job.”

 

It’s this sense of curiosity and constant pursuit of furthering his own education that has kept Michael at the forefront of his industry. Outside of the rigorous constraints of a restaurant schedule, teaching has provided Michael with the ability to work on innovative research projects and to pursue his lifelong interest in the arts, film, reading and writing. (To date, he has contributed to publications including GourmetSaveur, The Atlantic and a range of professional pastry journals.) Whether in his public demonstrations, writing or other creative endeavors, it’s clear that Michael has developed a newfound appreciation for teaching. After learning so much from others, he insists, “You don’t keep secrets. You have to share.”

Toasted Almond Ice Cream Float Jenny McCoy

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

Just days into official summer, we’ve already had some sweltering temperatures in NYC, and all I can think about are frozen desserts. Ice cream, gelato, sherbet, soft serve, sorbet…there is an explosion of frozen options available in my neighborhood —from a Häagen-Dazs pint at the corner store and pretzel waffle cones piled with Blue Marble fresh mint ice cream to homemade gelato from old-school Italian sweet shops. The popularity of frozen treats is nothing new in the U.S., and is certainly not specific to New York. We are in the midst of a “frozen renaissance,” so here’s a few scoops of history and science to inform your ice cream adventures this summer.

American Ice Cream History
President George Washington spent about $200 for ice cream in the summer of 1790, according to the records of a shopkeeper in Manhattan. Today, that would be equivalent to about $5,000 in ice cream purchases. President Thomas Jefferson loved ice cream so much that he adapted recipes brought back from France for ice cream, one of which is said to have been an 18-step procedure for something similar to a Baked Alaska. His personal recipe for vanilla ice cream is even in the Library of Congress! Do you think Washington and Jefferson would rise from the grave for a scoop of Chocolate-Chile from NYC’s il Laboratorio del Gelato? I do.

What is the difference between ice cream and gelato?
Speaking of il Laboratorio, on a recent visit to the shop with my ICE pastry students—which involved sampling 16 different flavors of gelato—the topic of the difference between gelato and ice cream came up. Many of us think gelato is just the Italian word for ice cream—and it is, but it’s also much more.

Gelato may have a richer texture than standard ice cream, but that’s actually not because it has richer ingredients. Rather than cream and egg yolks, it’s made with regular old milk. That doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense until you consider what happens to gelato during the churning process. I like to use the reference of a glass of milk versus a bowl of whipped cream. When you blow bubbles in a glass of milk, they pop fairly quickly. However, whipped cream holds its light and fluffy shape for hours at a time. It’s the fat in cream that allows it to hold air, as compared with the lack of fat in milk. In short, when a gelato base is churned, it doesn’t have much air whipped into it. This gives it a very dense texture, which has a richer mouth feel.

Chef Jenny McCoy - Blueberry Almond Cream Tart, Lemon Thyme Ice Cream, Fresh Honeyed Blueberries, Port-poached Blueberry Compote, and Sea Salt

 

American ice cream, on the other hand, is usually made with more cream than milk. Because of the higher fat content, up to 50% of the volume of ice cream consists of air that has been churned into it. (Think about that when you purchase your next scoop of ice cream—50% of what you’re buying is air.) The air whipped into gelato or ice cream is called the overrun. Gelato has almost no overrun and ice cream can have up to 100% overrun.

Yet despite the economic benefits of selling ice cream, many chefs—like me—prefer gelato. But that doesn’t mean it’s more popular with the masses. Just take a quick look in the ice cream aisle of your grocery store and tell me just how many more types of ice cream you’ll find than flavors of gelato.

Because gelato has less fat than ice cream, the flavors of gelato are typically stronger. When fat coats the tongue, it interferes with your taste buds’ ability to truly taste the flavor of your ice cream. So, as a chef, if I want to add a bold punch of flavor, gelato is a great vehicle. Additionally, gelato is traditionally made with natural ingredients like fresh strawberry puree, whereas strawberry ice cream is often made with a combination of artificial strawberry flavor and real strawberries.

Ice Cream Chef Jenny McCoyWhat about the different styles of American ice cream?
Have you ever looked closely at the label on your favorite ice cream? U.S. law classifies ice creams by their percentage of milk fat content.

Super Premium has the most fat—between 14% and 18% and can have as low as 20% overrun. This is because it is traditionally made with more cream or in the French style of ice cream—custard made with egg yolks. You’re most likely to find this style in small, handmade batches at a local ice cream shop or a high-end restaurant.

Premium usually has 11% to 15% fat and around 60% to 90% overrun. Examples of premium ice cream are the more expensive gourmet or specialty pints found in your grocery store. (By the way, the pint, quart or gallon-sized containers of ice cream are called “hard-packed” ice cream.)

Regular ice cream is much less dense. It has 10% to 11% fat and a lot more air, upwards of 90% to 100% overrun. These are the basic flavors made by larger manufacturers, such as chocolate, vanilla, strawberry and mint chocolate chip.

Economy contains exactly 10% fat, which is the minimum USDA standard, and has 95% to 100% overrun. Anything with less than 10% fat cannot be considered ice cream, without being labeled “light.” Essentially, this is the least expensive variety of ice cream available, and I wouldn’t recommend eating too much of it.

And as for frozen custard, Philly-style and soft serve…?
Frozen custard, sometimes called French-style ice cream, is made of a cooked custard base that incorporates eggs. It is significantly richer than ice creams made without eggs, which is also reflected in its premium price.

Philadelphia-style ice cream is made without eggs, which is the standard or regular ice cream in certain regions of the U.S.

Soft serve is molecularly similar to regular ice cream, but is served at a higher temperature that allows it to be extruded into a soft swirl, and gives is a lighter, softer texture. Soft serve also has a lower fat content but a much higher overrun, which also attributes to its super light and creamy texture. Fun fact: its warmer temperature actually allows your taste buds to taste the ice cream better.Sherbet Sorbet Chef Jenny McCoy

So Where Do Sherbet and Sorbet Come In?
Sorbet is made from water and fruit puree or juice. It contains no milk, cream or eggs, and is one of the oldest forms of frozen desserts known. Records of frozen sorbet-like desserts date back to the ancient Romans and Chinese, where they were made with snow, fresh fruit pulp and sweetened with honey.

Sherbet is not quite ice cream and not quite sorbet. It is made with fruit and water, but also has the addition of dairy—usually milk or buttermilk. This gives it a slightly creamier texture than sorbet, as well as a lighter, pastel color. By law, sherbet must have less than 2% fat in it.

Let’s Not Forget About Frozen Yogurt
With shops found all over the country, frozen yogurt is the U.S.’s extremely popular attempt at making ice cream healthier. However, the marketing is quite misleading. While yogurt is certainly healthier than cream, the sweeteners added to frozen yogurt often cancel out the health benefits. Not to mention that the healthy bacteria found in yogurt is killed when frozen, so there goes those probiotic benefits. One item worth noting is that yogurt has a higher freezing and melting point than milk. So on an extremely hot day, that yogurt will melt very quickly!

Ready to learn more about ice cream science? Enroll in our Pastry & Baking Arts program.

 

By Chef Kathryn Gordon—Co-Chair, Center for Advanced Pastry Studies 

Best known as the host of Food Network’s Sweet Dreams, Gale Gand is the author of eight cookbooks, a partner in the Michelin-starred Tru in Chicago, an artisanal root beer maker and so much more. This spring, on May 16, we’re thrilled to invite this multi-talented entrepreneur to teach a “signature desserts” class at ICE, focused on an ingredient we often take for granted: vanilla.

gale gand pastry chef

What will you be covering in the CAPS class at ICE?
This will be a class all about vanilla—its complexities and uses. We’ll cover the four main varieties of vanilla beans, vanilla paste and vanilla extract, as well as how the plant is grown, dried, brought to market and made into extract—and, of course, how to use it in desserts.

Over the course of your career, you’ve worn so many hats successfully—from writing books to opening restaurants and making artisanal root beer. What’s your favorite thing to do?  
That’s like picking which of my kids is my favorite! I love how I managed to cobble together a living from all of those various things. Each day is different, so I have to know how to juggle. I also get to do a lot of philanthropic work through my cooking, raising funds through food for charities. It all inspires me and seems to be part of the bigger picture of being a chef in this century. Flexible, multiskilled—as long as it involves food, I’m there!

What do you think has been the key to your success?
I have a few theories about that, but I have no way to prove it. But I think it’s a combination of the following:

  1. Always answer emails and return all your phone calls.
  2. Always say “thank you.”
  3. Be brave and honest enough with yourself to pick what you love for work.

My musician father always told me to pick a career for love, not for money. And he was right! Beyond that, I think a lot of it is luck and timing.

You previously opened a Michelin-starred restaurant in England. How did that experience differ from working in the U.S.?

It was a restaurant in a country house hotel in England, so it was breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea and dinner, plus room service and banquets. The 500-year-old estate was originally owned by Lord and Lady Gretton, who owned the Bass Ale Company, so it was kind of like working at Downton Abbey!

Working in England is different from the U.S., including the language, which you would think would be the same. I had to write an American to British dictionary while I was over there to help our team. For example, in the U.K. they still use French terms like mange tout for snow peas and aubergine for eggplant. And the flour and dairy are totally different but great. It was a wonderful and interesting experience, and I returned to the U.S. a much more polite person after three years there.

What words of advice do you have for culinary professionals who are just starting out?
I always give the same advice: always wear comfortable shoes.

Click here to register for Gale Gand’s all-vanilla signature desserts course at ICE.

 

For 27 years, the U.S. Pastry Competition, hosted by Paris Gourmet, has provided opportunities for experienced professionals and up-and-coming pastry chefs to display the best of their talents. As the most prestigious pastry competition in the country, the event has long been an incredible opportunity for networking and career advancement.

This year, a team of three ICE pastry students—Pooja Jhunjhunwala, Marcela Torres and Anne Roche—entered the competition’s Junior Pastry Challenge. Mentored by ICE Chefs Kathryn Gordon and Michael Laiskonis, the students were charged with submitting a plated dessert, petits fours and a showpiece inspired by the theme “Magic and Illusions.”

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For many students, competition may not have crossed their mind as a way to advance their careers. “We went from zero to 60 in one day,” says Marcela. “For example, when we started training for the competition, we hadn’t yet studied chocolate in class—and we built a full chocolate showpiece!”

Pooja added that working with ICE Creative Director Michael Laiskonis was a highlight of the process: “Spending multiple days training with [James Beard Award winning] Chef Michael Laiskonis on plated desserts and petits fours was like…A Beautiful Mind, but for pastry!” As an international student, the competition also represented a unique opportunity for Pooja to reach a career milestone in the United States.

“Doing the competition definitely reinforced the fact that I made the right decision by coming to pastry school. If we won second place—that means we’re really doing something right,” adds Marcela.

To learn more about ICE’s award-winning pastry program, click here.

 

By Carly DeFilipposarahchaminade headshot

It used to be that once you entered the workforce, you stayed with the same company for 30-40 years, and then you retired. But for the generation entering the workforce today, exploring a wide range of career options is far more attractive than staying on one set path from the start.

The ability to develop more than one skill set or area of expertise over the course of her career was what attracted Chef Sarah Chaminade to the culinary industry. From commercial bakeries and catering to high-end hotel dining, there are few environments where Sarah hasn’t tested her pastry chops.

“Depending on your personality or the place you are at in your life, the culinary industry offers a lot of options,” explains Sarah. “With a degree in pastry, I could do food styling, writing or just focus on an area of specialty production like cakes or artisanal chocolate. It was really up to me to push myself to succeed wherever my passion landed.”

That passion for cooking and baking was clear to Sarah from a very young age. Growing up, she watched countless PBS cooking shows and—to the chagrin of her brothers—would even watch the Cuisinart instructional VHS cassette tape on repeat. As soon as she got her driver’s license, Sarah sought jobs in professional culinary kitchens, and by her senior year of high school, she knew that culinary school was the choice for her.

Baking and Pastry School

Intrigued by both the artistic elements and the precise science of baking, Sarah pursued a pastry degree at the Culinary Institute of America. After graduation, she found work in nearby New Paltz, where she was valued as much for her former experience in the culinary side of the kitchen as she was for her formal pastry training. “I always tell students that even as a pastry cook it’s great to have a working knowledge of basic culinary skills. The ability to jump in anywhere in the kitchen makes you much more of an asset during a busy shift.”

Eventually, Sarah relocated to Connecticut, working in a commissary pastry kitchen that created baked goods for retail, off-site catering and wholesale production. There she discovered a unique passion for the holiday season—the busiest time of year in any chef’s schedule. “I liked the planning that went into the holidays,” Sarah explained. “Everything needs to be perfectly organized for mass production, and my interest in that kind of planning meant that I quickly advanced from a pastry cook to a pastry sous chef.”

Sarah also found that she enjoyed the camaraderie of working events. “In catering, you’re often working long hours, and you have to look out for each other to survive. If the project at hand is to produce 1,000 petits gateaux, then everyone better pitch in to pull it across the finish line.”

Though she enjoyed working in these high-volume environments, Sarah was eager to test her skills in a restaurant environment. She got her chance in Stamford, CT, as the opening pastry chef for the Saltwater Grill. It was the first time Sarah had worked the opening of a restaurant, and when the New York Times came to call, the review prominently featured—and complimented—Sarah’s plated desserts.

Sarah Chaminade Pastry School Instructor

After a few years at Saltwater Grill, Sarah relocated to Long Island, taking a position as the executive pastry chef at the four-star Garden City Hotel. Her former high-volume production and planning skills came into play, overseeing the production of pastries and desserts for two restaurants and in-room dining, as well as banquet events ranging from 12 to 500 guests. “Of all the challenges in my career, I really enjoyed my time at the Garden City Hotel,” says Sarah. “It gave me the opportunity to utilize all the skills I had learned over the years—from pastry and bread baking, to plated desserts, petit fours and wedding cakes—I got to do it all at one company.”

After more than 16 years in the industry, Sarah had earned her stripes in more types of kitchens than the average chef sees in their lifetime, and teaching began to appeal to her as a new challenge. “I knew that at ICE I would be surrounded by instructors from a wide range of backgrounds, enabling me to stretch my skills further, and I could share my diverse experience with the next generation of chefs.”

As an instructor, Sarah’s focus goes beyond perfect piping or pastry dough: “I feel very strongly that it’s my job to prepare students for the realities of a culinary career. There are strict time constraints, and you have to go in with a professional attitude. I also try to teach students to pay attention to what’s going on beyond their station. That was the secret to my success—keeping my eyes open and always trying to absorb all the other skills and recipes executed by other members of the kitchen crew.”

Chef Sarah reminds her students that every task is ripe with opportunity: “Every kitchen needs someone to scoop ice cream. Maybe it doesn’t seem like you need professional training to do that, but if you can do it perfectly—and quickly—people will notice. And that’s the beginning of your reputation. Everything you do is an opportunity to prove that you’re the right person for the job.”

Hone your pastry chops with Chef Sarah at ICE. Click here to receive free program information.