By Dana Mortell

This spring, ICE was thrilled to invite renowned Chef/Restaurateur Ken Oringer to share his experience and insight with our students. As a James Beard award-winning chef of four celebrated Boston restaurants and one New York location, Oringer has helped shape the national culinary scene, using his passion for travel and exotic cuisines to inform his creativity in the kitchen.

Photo Credit: KenOringer.com

Photo Credit: KenOringer.com

Growing up, Oringer wasn’t surrounded by unique ingredients or international cuisines. But as a kid, he always wanted to hold a knife because he knew he belonged in a restaurant kitchen. Whenever his parents would take him to Chinatown, Ken was always amazed by the cooks stir frying in woks over a high heat flame. His favorite treat at street fairs was lamb on a stick, an exotic foodstuff in his Massachusetts hometown. Observing these different techniques and flavors fostered his curiosity well into his adolescence.

Oringer’s first foray in the business was a position at a family-run Italian deli. There, he learned how mise en place and preparation influenced the end product. Once he reached the ripe age of 15 years, he decided that it was his time to work in a proper restaurant. He went door-to-door asking for work, even if it was unpaid. All Ken wanted was the experience of working in a professional kitchen to enhance his skills, which he continued to do through high school.

Following his parents’ influence, Ken headed off to business school, but still dreamed of being a chef. He nearly flunked out after his first semester at Bryant College, continuing to research food during his spare time. However, the strict curriculum in finance and accounting wound up being a blessing, benefiting the day-to-day operations of his current restaurant group.

After graduating from college, Oringer knew that he didn’t want to sit behind a desk. His business school internships had proved uninspiring, and he knew that his heart was still in the kitchen. Ken enrolled in culinary school with an exceptional sense of focus. He knew exactly what he needed to do to succeed and was always the first student in class and the last one out. Ken also explains that he wasn’t afraid to make mistakes in class, seeing them as an opportunity to learn as much as possible from his chef-instructors.

Ken Oringer - Meet the Culinary Entrepreneurs - ice.edu

Photo Credit: kenoringer.com

Once it was time to choose an externship site, Oringer sought placement at the River Café in Brooklyn with Chef David Burke. It was the 1980s and Burke was fearless. Ken had frontline access to a menu chock-full of exotic items such as duck tongue confit. He recalls wanting to taste everything to make up for lost years, having only tasted sushi or oysters for the first time as an undergrad. As an entry-level cook with no money, River Café gave him the opportunity to experience these new ingredients while learning and working.

After culinary school, Oringer went back to New England and got his first job at Al Forno in Providence, Rhode Island. The restaurant was among the first to start using organic and local ingredients, similar to the Alice Waters philosophy. Over the next few years, Oringer worked his way up to the role of pastry chef and created a menu where all ice cream was made to order.

But Oringer had more on his mind than Italian classics. On one occasion, he remembers visiting an off-the-beaten-path Cambodian restaurant in South Providence. From fresh galangal to fried shallots, he was endlessly intrigued by the use of these new and complex flavors. He gave Al Forno his two weeks’ notice, and headed back to Boston to pursue the next phase of his career.

In Boston, Oringer begged to be hired at Le Marquis de Lafayette, a prominent French restaurant where Jean-Georges was consulting chef, incorporating flavors from Bangkok throughout the menu. He may have been the only American in a kitchen of French-speakers, but Ken was enamored with Jean-Georges’ cooking style. He was working with the best products from around the world, including kilos of black truffles. Eventually, Oringer was promoted to sous chef, mastering the art of survival in one of the country’s most demanding kitchens.

After a stint as the Chef de Cuisine at Silks in the Mandarin Oriental in San Francisco crafting Asian-influenced French cuisine, Oringer returned to Boston to open his first restaurant, Clio, in 1997. This was the point when business school became highly valuable, aiding with the design, financials and business plan for the restaurant. Clio was a rustic space with a casual vibe that served contemporary French and Asian cuisine. From day one, the restaurant was packed; a success owed in large part to the quality of Oringer’s staff. A team of positive and driven individuals, he recalls the team as being particularly respectful and effective communicators.

Clio opened the door to future opportunities for Oringer. In 1998, when he heard the James Beard Foundation nominated him for Best New Chef Northeast, he was shocked—and even more so when he won the award in 2001. With national recognition under his belt, developers and moguls started to approach him with national and international consulting and partnership ideas, but Oringer knew he had to be selective.

Uni, a sashimi bar located in the lounge of Clio, opened in 2002. It was born of Oringer’s travels to Asia, where he was inspired by chefs who spent their entire careers mastering a single style of dish or set of ingredients, especially the individuals who mastered tempura. Impressed by the art of performing and repeating a recipe for years on end, Oringer chose to have Uni specialize in different styles of sashimi, without maki rolls or rice. Oringer’s further travels brought him to Barcelona, where he was seduced by the culture of Spain’s tapas bars. Capturing the culture of social eating, Oringer opened Toro, following by the Italian enoteca, Copa, in 2010.

Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonette at Toro. Photo Credit: seriouseats.com

Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonette at Toro in NYC. Photo Credit: seriouseats.com

Oringer’s most recent project was opening a second location of Toro in New York City on 15th Street and 10th avenue—the same block as Mario Batali’s Del Posto and Tom Colicchio’s Colicchio & Sons. The restaurant opened in 2013 in a 9,000 square foot space with a private dining room, offering house-made charcuterie and 65 items on the menu. Oringer is thrilled to have his business translate to the competitive culture of New York dining, and the restaurant has proved a fantastic success.

Despite all his success, Oringer is an extremely humble individual whose philosophy is one of hard work, creativity and respect in the kitchen, while maintaining an open mind. Having great food isn’t good enough. His staff is taught to treat people well and take on the attitude that no task is too big or too small. That said, Oringer insists that cultivating an environment where the staff wants to stay is key, a task made more manageable by granting requests for personal matters and scheduling fairly. From what we can see, dedication, focus and clear communication—and never giving in to the temptation of ego—have been the main secrets to the success of Ken Oringer.

 

Click here to read more stories of successful food industry entrepreneurs who have visited ICE.

 

By Carly DeFilippo

As the Dean of ICE’s School of Business & Management StudiesSteve Zagor oversees one of the most innovative culinary business programs in the country. He has mentored countless alumni—from Jim Nawn of Agricola Eatery to Jason Soloway of Wallflower, Mark Sy of Vien to Christina Ha of Macaron Parlour. In fact, those four students-turned-entrepreneurs hail from just one of Steve’s graduating classes. Multiply their success by his 10+ years as a teacher (not to mention his lengthy career as a restaurateur and consultant) and you’ll get a ballpark idea of Steve’s undeniable impact on today’s culinary industry.

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Growing up in New York City, Steve’s parents were friends with a number of successful restaurateurs, most notably the owners of historic speakeasy the 21 Club. So after his undergraduate studies at Tulane, it was no surprise to Steve’s friends and family when he chose to pursue a Master’s degree at Cornell’s renowned hotel school, with the intention of one day returning to the New York restaurant scene.

Yet after a three-year stint at Marriott Hotels, which “taught him how to make money” in the business, Steve bypassed New York for a more ambitious project in the American south, opening the 300-seat “New York Café” in Houston, Texas. At the mere age of 26, this first entrepreneurial venture was a home run. Not only was Steve a local hero, but he was also written up as the “hippest lunch spot in Texas” in Rolling Stone. His business expanded to a small restaurant empire, including “the best deli in Texas”, a cafe with singing waiters and a huge off-premises catering service. But in the ninth year of the New York Café’s ten-year lease, Steve’s landlord announced he wanted to build a high-rise on the property.

Steve has even coached the pros—current and former NFL players—on the ins and outs of the restaurant business.

Steve has even coached the pros—current and former NFL players—on the ins and outs of the restaurant business.

Finding the opportunity in this unexpected turn of events—an essential skill he teaches our Culinary Management students—Steve sold his business to pursue work in corporate food & beverage consulting. That is, until he met the “crazy brilliant, genius IQ” Shelley Fireman of The Fireman Group. Steve couldn’t resist Fireman’s offer to oversee management at Midtown’s trendy Trattoria del Arte, boasting 170 employees and an unbeatable celebrity clientele. Steve describes the work as so engaging that he barely cared about the grueling hours.

But after three years at one of New York’s top Italian restaurants, Steve was itching to try his hand at something new and lay his stakes on a restaurant in Greenwich, CT. Yet unlike his “home run” in Houston, the Greenwich restaurant was a challenge from the get-go. Opened during one of the snowiest winters in New England history, the restaurant had too many investors and not enough success to sustain the venture. Today, Steve credits this failure as much as his success in his formation as a teacher. “Your life is how you handle the bad times,” he says, and having instructors who have weathered such failures is of inherent value to any business education.

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Steve returned to consulting and began teaching at New York University. In 2001, he joined the faculty of ICE’s Culinary Management program and was named program director later that year. A charismatic lecturer himself—known for the occasional magic trick and his stand-up comedy style—Steve knew he wanted to diversity our students’ experience. Since then, he regularly taps into his wide network of contacts to invite successful culinary entrepreneurs to speak with our students or integrate field trips into the curriculum, expanding both the diversity of our students’ educational experience and their access to networking opportunities.

Today, Steve maintains an active consulting practice—as do all ICE management instructors In his long list of clients, he has worked with everyone from Federal Express to Universal Studios, Paul Newman to the Time Warner Center in New York City, and is frequently quoted as an industry expert in the media. This year, Steve and his Culinary Management colleagues have also added a new consulting division to ICE’s roster of services—offering clients the combined expertise of our top-notch faculty, while simultaneously providing students with a first-hand opportunity to work on the next generation of culinary businesses.

Despite all his success, what is perhaps most impressive about Steve is the endless hours he spends mentoring our students and alumni. His sage advice always comes with a side of salty humor, generating an enviable list of witty one-liners that sum up his wealth of wisdom and experience. With his deep connections to the industry and New York as his classroom, it’s safe to say that a day in Steve’s class is unlike any other.

ICE’s Culinary Management Instructors are seasoned industry professionals who are still active in the industry, working on their own projects while teaching classes at ICE. With such a wide range of experience between them, we decided to ask Julia Heyer and Vin McCann to take a closer look at some of the things we keep hearing so much about. Today, they tackle the concept of demand pricing.

Julia Heyer
Bloomberg Media’s Dominic Chu (himself no stranger to restaurants) recently featured Grant Achatz’s new place in Chicago, the quarterly changing Next. It looked at the restaurant’s unique pricing model, which differs from the restaurant industry generally in two ways: (1) a guest pre-pays one set price in full, tax, tip and all included, and (2) the cost of the meal differs at different times. This model takes the concept of good old demand pricing (as experienced in the commodities trading by Achatz’s business partner) and applies it to the restaurant biz.

Basing pricing on demand is a working model when you offer something that the consumer wants. It gets even more effective when you, as the seller, can control supply to ensure the consumer’s willingness to pay premium prices remains strong (DeBeers Diamonds, anyone?). And that is something these guys at Next are smartly doing. Yes, I am sure that changing the restaurant and menu every three months also plays to the wishes, playfulness and curiosity of the chef, but really it is the ultimately savvy way of limiting supply of the experience, constantly reinventing the restaurant and re-stoking the demand for it. Each restaurant is only here for three months — come now before it’s gone! And then, when the next iteration comes to market, people want to come back (ergo drive demand) for that new experience (yup, that new supply). Smartly combined! More…

This week, the National Student Leadership Conference held their first ever Culinary Arts & Careers conference at ICE. For over 20 years, the National Student Leadership Conference (NSLC) has invited a select group of outstanding high school students to participate in its fast-paced, high-level and interactive summer sessions. NSLC provides students with the opportunity to experience life on a college campus; develop essential leadership skills; and explore a future career through exciting simulations, exclusive site visits and interactive meetings with renowned leaders in their chosen field.

Students came from all over the country to work with ICE’s Chef Instructors and learn the ins and outs of the culinary industry in America’s culinary capital — NYC. The students worked closely with ICE Chef Instructor Chris Gesualdi to develop their skills in the kitchen. Learning how to roast chickens, prepare vegetables and a plethora of other techniques. The students had just one week to learn the fundamentals of life in the kitchen. More…

ICE’s Culinary Management Instructors are seasoned industry professionals who are still active in the industry, working on their own projects while teaching classes at ICE. With such a wide range of experience between them, we decided to ask Julia Heyer and Vin McCann to take a closer look at some of the trends and culinary businesses we keep hearing so much about. This week, they discuss the need for a passion for food in the business.

Vin McCann
This week, I ran across an Associated Press article online that touted the passion that drives the tireless entrepreneurial drive that powers growth in our business. Unfortunately, I found it pretty insipid because it fluffed so many food biz/restaurant start up issues that it was more suited to the entertainment industry than food service. I did like a bit about a woman in Cincinnati whose “passion for food” prompted her to start a catering business but found that “working so many nights and weekends was tough on the family,” so she focused more on “marketing partnerships,” blogging, website interactivity and videos. Ain’t that the rub? A significant portion of the restaurant and food service business is so full of “passion” that nobody really wants to live it; they just want to opine on it. The phenomenon has led to a series of satellite bubbles gravitating around the core activity of making and serving food and beverage for profit.

Julia Heyer
That isn’t a case of passion — it’s a case of “not enough passion.” It’s thinking something sounded like a good idea until one encountered the reality of body-pounding, social life–ending realm of day-to-day restaurant operations. She did not have the “bug” as an old boss of mine called it. That virus, where you love the energy, the life a place takes on, the food and drinks being created, the community, taking care of people, and yes, the PASSION of it all around you. Why else would many professionals — chefs, managers and service pros alike — put up with the long hours at non-hedge-fund-level compensation? They have the passion. They have the drive. They want it. THEY have got the BUG. She did not. And that’s okay (hey, I love working ‘regular’ hours these days too). You don’t have to have the passion for this work. I am just not sure why so many believe they do? More…