By David Waltuck — Director of Culinary Affairs

Richard Olney’s book “Simple French Food” is one of my favorites. This exploration of “simple” food has a 40-page introduction explaining in detail what the author means by simple — clearly, simplicity can be complicated. The idea of the book — focusing on preparing simple foods very, very well — was made clear to me during a trip to France, years before I opened my restaurant Chanterelle.

plated sea bass

Like many young, aspiring chefs of the time, I was inspired by La Pyramide, the mythic three-Michelin-star restaurant in Vienne, France, and of its formidable chef Fernand Point, who mentored a whole generation of great chefs and is considered the father of nouvelle cuisine. Point had died long before I made my pilgrimage to La Pyramide in the mid 70s. (He died in 1955, the year of my birth. Coincidence?) But the restaurant, still run by his widow, remained a shrine to his legacy. The style and service at La Pyramide would stay with me throughout my career and influence the way I eventually conceived of my own restaurant.

First and foremost, La Pyramide demonstrated the importance of simplicity — with a caveat. Point famously reinvented haute cuisine by focusing on regional dishes, reworking and refining them, and ultimately achieving a seemingly simple perfection: one that was only attainable through much effort. As it turns out, the trick of simplicity is to never let the effort show.

Though considered the height of haute cuisine, La Pyramide was unpretentious in terms of service and style, something I noted in other great restaurants in France. The humility of the restaurant and staff made all of the difference in the experience for the client. This starkly contrasted with many French restaurants in New York in the 70s and 80s, where snobbishness and condescension were a matter of course. Like La Pyramide, my restaurant, Chanterelle, was noted as a place that was welcoming and unpretentious, though quite serious about food and service. This once surprising combination has since become the norm.

Finally, La Pyramide hammered home the value of the kind of expertise that only comes with time. At La Pyramide, everyone from the sommelier to the servers to the chef had been a part of the team for years, so their craft had become second nature. I discovered a profound lesson here: To be really good at anything, you must master technique to the point where you can relax within it. Like an athlete or a dancer, you must become so familiar with the movements of your craft that you’re completely at ease even at moments of great effort. This ease comes with practice and repetition, and in my opinion, relies on simplicity and lack of pretension. When you are confident and comfortable with what you do, there’s less temptation to indulge in showiness or condescension. Your clients will sense that they are in good hands and will want to go with you wherever you take them.

I like to think that the success of Chanterelle was in large part because I embraced the above lessons — humility, expertise through repetition, and the appearance of simplicity. I am sure that some chefs still practice this approach nowadays — though restaurants are going in a million directions, from perfected comfort food to elaborate, modern creations, I’m still a firm believer in stripping away. If something is on a plate, you should be able to give me a reason why. Though substantial efforts may go into each component of a dish, the result should feel simple. Diners can then enjoy the food on its own terms, and though they are on some level aware of the work that went into preparing it, they are not ostentatiously reminded of it.

Ready to get started on your culinary education? Click here to learn about ICE’s Culinary Arts program.

By Stephen Zagor — Dean of Restaurant & Culinary Management 

Picture this: You’re a new sous chef clocking 55 hours a week and bringing in $40,000 per year. Suddenly, as of January 1, 2017, abracadabra! You’ve magically found yourself with an additional $450 per week (approximately $23,000 per year) in your pocket. Holy Wolfgang Puck! Did you just win the lottery? Were you an heir of a distant aunt who just died? As it turns out, you have just benefitted from an amendment to the New York Wage Order that raises the New York exempt level (that is, exempt from overtime) from $35,100 to $42,900. This means that anyone being paid less than $42,900 per year in 2017, whether salaried or hourly, is entitled to overtime pay of time-and-a-half for every hour worked over 40 per week. The new law stands to affect restaurant workers at every level, from dishwashers to sous chefs to managers. Diners can expect to feel the impact too.

restaurant burger

To clarify, this is a New York State regulation. The federal government passed a similar regulation that would have increased the exempt threshold to $47,500. However, at the last second, an enlightened federal judge froze the implementation of that rule. Nevertheless, by 2019, the New York threshold is scheduled to climb to a whopping $58,500 — way ahead of the proposed federal figure. Again, this means that anyone paid less than $58,500 will be eligible for overtime. That is a whopping 67% increase from the 2016 base.

If you are a floor manager or sous chef, don’t run out and put a down payment on a beach-front condo in Costa Rica just yet. Do you think a restaurant owner will pay this increase? Not likely. Instead, what may happen is a reduction in hours, so the overtime burden will decrease or even disappear. Otherwise, if the distance to the new base from current salary is minimal, the base salary will be raised to $42,900 — a nice extra stipend, but probably only enough for a cabana rental in South Florida.

That’s one side. Now let’s look at it from the restaurant’s perspective. First off, it’s likely that most owners haven’t even heard of this new law. Unless they are a member of a trade association and regularly read their bulletins, they’re probably blissfully in the dark. That is, until they are discovered to be noncompliant and fined tons of back penalties and taxes.

Next, if our restaurant owner is paying salaries at the old $35,100 threshold, one option is to increase those salaries to $42,900. That’s a 33% increase. If more than one salaried employee falls into this range, the total increase could be financially unsustainable. The only other option is to reduce hours. Then, the issue becomes: Who will do the work? The answer: wage-earning employees. Either way, this could be a big labor cost burden on the restaurant. Combine this with highly publicized minimum wage increases and the changing tip landscape, and the new labor world will be oppressive.

So who benefits in this equation? For starters, the state — with higher payroll taxes from higher wages plus the penalties from non-compliers. The restaurant owners? Not likely; just another challenge for a business model that is already on the ropes. The guests, then? Definitely not. Who is going to pay for these extra labor costs? You got it: the diner. If you thought burgers were getting expensive last year, get ready for even pricier patties. This change is just one of multiple wage increases occurring in 2017 and 2018. Buckle your seat belts, diners, there is more to come.

Want to take a deeper dive into food business studies? Click here for more information on ICE’s Restaurant & Culinary Management program. 

 

By Caitlin Raux

When our ICE alums grab the headlines, we can’t help but feel like proud parents. From Detroit-style pizza to home-style meatloaf to authentic Welsh cuisine, ICE graduates are using their culinary skills to create better dining experiences across the board. In 2016, ICE graduates and their restaurants were showered with praise — here’s a short list of those who regularly took spots at the top:

  1. Missy Robbins (Culinary ’95): Missy was the chef on everyone’s mind this year. For starters, she was donned Best New Chef – East, at the inaugural Taste Talk Awards. Lilia, the Williamsburg restaurant where Missy is chef/partner, was named one of The New York TimesTop 10 New York Restaurants of 2016, claiming the #2 spot. Lilia’s Cacio e Pepe Fritelle was among the Top 10 New York Dishes of 2016. Her Agnolotti dish topped the list of Time Out New York’s 85 best dishes in NYC 2016. Turning to the 2016 Eater Awards, Lilia won the Reader’s Choice for Restaurant of the Year. The Infatuation listed Lilia as one of New York City’s Best New Restaurants of 2016.
Zoe Nathan and partner Josh Loeb

Zoe Nathan and partner Josh Loeb

  1. Zoe Nathan (Culinary ’01): The west coast restaurateur has received accolades for the restaurants that she co-owns, among them Cassia, which was included in Bon Appetit’s 50 Nominees for America’s Best New Restaurants of 2016. As the BA Staff proclaims, “Given the powerhouse team behind this blockbuster — the same folks who gave L.A. its beloved Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, and Milo & Olive — no one in Santa Monica would be surprised to find that this Southeast Asian restaurant fires on every imaginable cylinder.” Another of Zoe’s restaurants, Rustic Canyon, was listed as one of LA Weekly’s 99 Essential Restaurants. Michael Bauer, writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, also included Rustic Canyon as one of his new L.A. Favorites.
  2. Matt Hyland (Culinary Arts ’05): In a town famous for its pizza, it’s a rare feat to stand out from the pack of pizza makers. Matt and wife Emily have the secret sauce for success, judging by the cult-like following of their New York pizza eateries: Pizza Loves Emily, and its progeny, Emmy Squared. As Andrew Steinhal of The Infatuation succinctly stated, “We love everything about Emily.” Zagat named Emmy Squared’s Le Big Matt pizza (Detroit-style crust and burger ingredient toppings: Fleisher’s beef, American cheese, Sammy sauce, pickles and mizuna lettuce) as one of 25 Essential Dishes to Try in NYC. 2016’s Eater Awards awarded Matt the National Instagram Badge of Honor for Emmy Squared — likely due to their incredibly Instagrammable #ronicups. Matt Hyland - Pizza Loves Emily
  3. Owner Illtyd Barrett (Management ’12) and executive chef Tom Coughlan (Culinary/Management ’12), who were once ICE classmates, have teamed up to bring Welsh cuisine to NYC with Sunken Hundred in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn. They were awarded 3 stars from Eater for their efforts. Food writer Becky Cooper also gave Sunken Hundred a glowing review in The New Yorker. Writes Cooper, “The pub atmosphere and the barrage of My Bloody Valentine and the Clash are incongruous with how quietly thoughtful the food is.”
  4. Ann Redding (Culinary ’02): Uncle Boons, the perpetually packed Thai restaurant where Ann and her husband Matt Danzer are owners and chefs, has been rolling in good press. Eater named their Toasted Coconut Sundae as one of The 20 Perfect Desserts in New York City. According to food writer Ryan Sutton, “If you don’t like this, you are a flawed human being.” As if having one wildly successful (and understatedly cool) restaurant in downtown Manhattan wasn’t enough, Ann and Matt opened a second eatery, Mr. Donahue’s. With just two tables and five counter stools, the restaurant was quickly donned a New York Times Critic’s Pick and included in Pete Wells’ Top 10 New York Restaurants of 2016, coming in right behind ICE alum Missy Robbins’ Lilia at #3. Mr. Donahue’s Roast Beef also landed a spot in the Top 10 New York Dishes of 2016.
Ann Redding and Matt Danzer

Ann Redding and Matt Danzer

Want to join the ranks of these ICE grads? Click here for more information on our career programs.

By Caitlin Raux

There’s a new school of chefs — those who wax on about ingredients and sourcing; who want to elevate or demote the act of dining out; who want to change the way we eat. Ashley Merriman (Culinary Arts ’04), co-chef of Prune, does not belong to that school. She’s a rare breed of chef nowadays, one who’s passionate about the job mostly because she loves the actual work — the sound of the ticket machine; the chopping during prep; the firing up of grills; the rush during service; and the cleaning — lots and lots of cleaning, as anyone in the industry knows. Ashley’s experience “on the line” dates back to high school, but ICE handed her the keys to the world of fine dining in New York, where she’s had the opportunity to work with some of the city’s great chefs.

I caught up with the former Top Chef competitor on a Monday afternoon before the crush of dinner service (yes, even on a Monday, the house at Prune is full). Ashley and I chatted about her love of the job of being a chef.

Chef Ashley Merriman

credit: Brent Herrig © 2013

Are you from New York?

I’m originally from New Hampshire, but I’ve spent so much time here that I can’t imagine living anywhere else.

Was food a big part of your family life growing up?

Not at all. My mom was a single working mom. Consequently, there were lots of nights of: Here’s some hot dogs for dinner. I’m not from a big cooking family. It was more about feeding the family without a lot of time — my mom was working and we played a lot of sports and did extracurricular activities.

I got into the restaurant business because of the work. My mom made us get jobs when we were 12 and it was one of the only after-school jobs that I could get. My older brother mowed lawns. The only other job for kids our age was to wash dishes in restaurants. Once I started, I just liked the work.

Did you know that you wanted to continue working in restaurants?

I remember graduating from high school and I wanted very much to go to culinary school. I graduated in 1994 and I guess it was a very different time in our culinary world. It was not something that my mom had any interest in me doing — she didn’t think it was a viable career option, especially since I had gone to a pretty fancy boarding school. So I cooked throughout college and I cooked after college because it was the only paycheck I knew how to get. It was just the work that I liked the best. I thought for a while that I wanted to be an English teacher and I studied English in college. But I just kept doing restaurant work and I loved it. I love cooking and cleaning.

I think there’s a certain personality type drawn to cooking professionally.

Yes, definitely. At some point I took a career aptitude test and my choices were a cop, an EMT or a chef. In all of them there’s a certain level of stress or adrenaline, but also an altruistic side — of serving or helping people.

I would do this work anywhere, and not just at Prune. I would enjoy this work in small town USA, Kazooky’s Bar + Grill.

So you graduated from a four-year college and then went back to cooking?

I worked in a bookstore for a while, but I just liked restaurant work so much that I decided to go to ICE. That’s when I got serious about cooking professionally. I knew how to cook and I had a pretty lengthy resume but I didn’t know anything about food or fine dining. I just knew how to be a line cook at mom-and-pop restaurants. That’s what brought me to ICE — I knew it would be good to add to my resume and to get my foot in the door in New York.

I imagine you went to ICE to learn the technical skills too…

I didn’t know the next level culinary skills. I only knew what had been put in front of me, which was pretty little considering I worked as a line cook in the same restaurant for nine years before and during high school. I didn’t have a deep bench of experience.

What was your first gig after ICE?

At ICE, my very first teacher in Module 1 was Alex Guarnaschelli. She and I hit it off right away and Alex, being the smart person she is, saw that I already knew how to be a line cook. So she asked me to do my internship with her at Butter, which I did. I ended up staying at Butter for years. Then I worked in Seattle for a few years and came back to New York and worked at Butter again. I helped Alex open The Darby. Then I left and was the chef at The Waverly Inn for years. Now I’m at Prune.

I’m not saying this to flatter you, but Prune happens to be one of my favorite restaurants in New York.

Yes, it’s a good restaurant. I had been a regular there for years. I loved Prune so much. Gabrielle [Hamilton] and I are married (laughs) so I love her so much, too. It feels natural for us to be working together.

It seems like a very positive work environment – which you don’t find in all restaurants.

I think it’s one of Gabrielle’s signatures and something that she’s worked really hard to achieve. It’s why she has incredible staff retention and people really want to stay there. Prune is a feeling and it means a lot to a lot of people, not just the customers, but also the people who have worked there for years. It’s partially because of how the people at Prune are treated.

How has your ICE education prepared you to be chef at Prune?

The most important thing that ICE did for me was to expose me to fine dining – food and dining on a serious level. I already knew a lot about how to be a cook in a restaurant. I remember one of the first assignments at ICE was to write a paper about a chef who influenced you. Everyone else was talking about chefs like Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert and I had no idea who those people were. That’s what ICE exposed me to.

Did you aspire to become part of that fine dining world?

I only ever wanted to be a chef. I really mean this — and I don’t think this is how most people are anymore, though I’m not placing a value on it — I like the work itself much more than I like food. I like the act of coming to work and the ticket machine and the chopping and the lifting and the cleaning and the cooking – the actual act of cooking food. I care about it much more than I care about the ingredient or the product or the, Oh my god, lacto-fermentation. I think that stuff is interesting and valuable and it’s a part of my every day. But I would do this work anywhere, and not just at Prune. I would enjoy this work in small town USA, Kazooky’s Bar + Grill.

It’s more about the physicality and tangible aspects of being a chef.

I do really enjoy the tangible, pragmatic side: bring in the food, break it down, cook it, etc.

That’s rare nowadays.

I think a lot of people forget that every day is cooking and cleaning. I think that in our industry, a lot of people have forgotten about that part of the day, which is remarkable because it’s the biggest part of the day.

You cook every day – where do you look for inspiration?

Honestly, it’s so cheesy, but I’m really inspired by my wife. I think she’s the greatest cook. She doesn’t cook as much in the restaurant anymore, but I’m inspired by what she cooks at home. I’m inspired by our conversations about food. Long before we were married, I loved Gabrielle’s restaurant, before I even loved her. I’ve become a way better cook by working with her.

What does a typical day for you look like?

I’m in the restaurant by 11:30 – 12:00 p.m. I check in with the AM person and the porters and then I start the day. Prune is very small so the chef works the station every single night. There’s no expediting from the pass — you’re at the actual station. I spend the day setting up my station and helping the other cooks set up theirs. Other than that, it’s a pretty typical chef’s day. There’s ordering, receiving, managing, scheduling, actual cooking, running service, shutting down service, cleaning and organizing. Then I write in the log at the end of the night. I usually finish anywhere from 12:30 – 1:00 a.m.

What is your culinary voice?

My culinary voice is about the actual work. You see people with very clear voices and visions. My voice and my vision is about the day-to-day job that we have to do. I think it’s really important. My voice is a factual, objective voice about cooking.

Chef Ashley Merriman

Click here to watch Ashley in ICE’s Find Your Culinary Voice scholarship challenge video

Ready to find your culinary voice? Get more information on ICE’s career programs.

By Stephen Zagor — Dean of Restaurant & Culinary Management Program

“Is New York Too Expensive for Restaurateurs?” read the recent New York Times headline. What’s going on here? Are we about to experience a restaurant Armageddon? To read recent well-written and thoughtful stories in The New York Times and New York Post about the extremely challenging New York business environment for new and existing restaurants, one would think we are on the threshold of a cataclysmic event. Will our lives be mostly composed of delivered meal kits and food courts?

New York City flatiron building

Well, skyrocketing rents are very problematic; the new labor laws and wage and hour policies are challenging; food and ingredient costs are never a bargain; and burdensome laws and regulations targeting food businesses appear in an endless stream. Each of these is a serious issue on its own. Now add doing business in New York City with its unique issues and sprinkle in intense competition from the most restaurants per capita anywhere in the United States. The result makes you wonder why anyone would be in this business. Let’s open a dry cleaning business – it must be easier.

But wait. Is this the whole picture? Maybe there is still one hugely important critical piece missing from the story and it could tilt the balance between feast and famine: Do most owner/operators really know how to run their businesses? To be a popular chef or even a restaurant owner doesn’t necessarily mean someone really knows the “how-tos” of the business of restaurants. After all, in calm or even choppy waters, the restaurant business is challenging but doable. Yet when the economic storms roll in, if you don’t really know the operating side of restaurants, there is no surviving. Read between the lines – all of the forces mentioned above (rents, higher wages, new laws and competition) are forces imposed from outside, tossing operators around like a ship in a storm. What’s missing here is what is going on inside the ship. Does the captain know what he/she is doing?

I was recently shown a space by a woman who is an experienced restaurant GM and budding restaurateur. It was a closed, fully built restaurant on a busy street on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. It could seat 40 guests plus a handful more at the tiny bar. She was in love with the space; it had the bones to become the cute café she had always dreamed of; it looked great and had a low investment and easy conversion; she even lived nearby. Then I saw the rent — it was astronomical. It required strong, seven-figure sales to survive just the landlord. If she had signed, she might have lasted a year. She would have been working for the landlord, not herself. It would have been just the beginning of not knowing how.

As a former owner/operator myself and a long-time consultant and educator, I have had the incredible opportunity to see behind the curtain of some of the most respected and famous chefs and operators in America. I also have an army of students who, after learning the “how-tos,” have gone on to work at major and minor food businesses only to discover that many restaurants survive on magic and luck. Words like recipes (knowing the true production cost of products), retailing (understanding the true purpose of your business), yields (how much is left to serve after trim and cooking), Q Factor (cost of the “free” items like bread basket, ketchup, mustard, etc.), and purchasing strategy (proper buying and receiving procedures) are unknown. I can name numerous celebrity chefs whose business acumen either doesn’t exist or is pushed to the side in the name of creativity. This doesn’t include those who play with the cash, and keep loose systems and accountability so as not to get caught.

restaurant-kitchen-8-copy

This is not to say that the new wage laws, tip rules, rents, etc., aren’t major challenges. They definitely are. One celebrity chef recently noted in The New York Times that the way we operate now will not be the way we operate in the future. Still, it’s amazing the number of operators and chefs I have seen who appear successful but are really marginally profitable or not profitable at all. Some don’t even know how much they make. They are simply marketers hoping that “volume covers all sins.” When the going gets rough, it’s easy to look outside and blame everything else but yourself – especially when you may not know better.

Is proper culinary education helpful? It certainly could be. In the words of a student who came to ICE already the owner of a successful restaurant, “After I graduated, I put to use what I learned and made a lot more money with no more effort.” But maybe more knowledge will definitely help some. It won’t relieve the pains of a bad lease signed too quickly. But managing costs and maximizing revenues all present opportunities for change. It’s just knowing how.

Are NYC restaurants in a challenging time? Definitely. The way we have operated in the past will probably not be the way of the future. Being a great operator will require knowing how to run a successful business.

Want to study restaurant & culinary management at ICE? Click here for more info. 


By Caitlin Gunther

When you speak with Adrienne Cheatham (Culinary Arts ’07), you can hear the tenacity in her voice. As a former sous chef at Le Bernardin and executive chef at Red Rooster, and the subject of a recent NY Times Taste Makers video, Adrienne is mindful of the accomplishments behind her. She’s more concerned, however, with the missions that lie ahead — like leaving her comfort zone (if working 16-hour days seven days a week can be called a “comfort zone”) and branching out on her own. Adrienne balances her time in the kitchen with an activity that calls upon a completely different skill and mindset: dance.

While scoping out locales for a potential forthcoming project, Adrienne took a pause to chat with me for the ICE blog.

ICE Alumnus Adrienne Cheatham

First, congratulations on the Taste Makers piece. What was it like working on that?

They were trying to steer the focus of it to the challenges that a woman faces in the kitchen, and I didn’t support that idea. I didn’t want to be a part of that kind of story. I think that kitchens are the great equalizers — either you can do the job or you can’t. It doesn’t matter if you’re short, tall, your gender, your race, none of that matters in a kitchen. That’s why I was glad they took the focus off of that.

Is it a relevant question anymore: what’s it like to be a woman in a kitchen? Or is that a cliché at this point?

In some ways, it’s cliché because it’s asked so much. At least now people are aware of women in kitchens. And yes, women are still the minority, but you experience the same things that the guys do. Maybe you feel differently about a crass or vulgar joke but that offends some men too. It’s not as much of a gender issue as before when it was novel to see women in the kitchen. Don’t get me wrong — I’ve been the only woman in the kitchen for three to six months at a time. I’ve also been the only black person. But anyone can be the minority. You could be the only blond in the kitchen, but it’s not an issue because everyone’s there to work. It’s a complete meritocracy. You’re judged by whether you did a good job at your station.

When did you realize you wanted to work in restaurants? 

In high school, I told my mom that after graduation I wanted to go to a four-year culinary school and she was so unsupportive. And rightfully so — [having worked in restaurants herself] she had seen a lot of her friends burn out and have nothing to fall back on. She said I could go to a regular four-year school first and then if I still wanted to go to culinary school, I could. She told me, we’re not rich, so if you want to go to culinary school, you’re completely on your own.

So I went to college in Florida. I started majoring in business and finance, and then I switched to journalism and PR during my junior year. Business and finance were cool — those were principles I needed to learn. My mom was pushing me to get a job in finance. She told me to make a lot of money and then cook as a hobby. But I still wanted to go to culinary school, and if I wanted something to fall back on in the same industry, I figured that journalism would be the best option.

Do you do any writing nowadays?

I did the recipe testing and editing of the Avec Eric cookbook with Eric Ripert. Recently, I helped write and test the recipes for The Red Rooster Cookbook by Marcus Samuelsson. I also did the book’s food styling, working with the prop stylist and photographer.

What inspired you to go to culinary school?

It was something I had planned already. I was working for a pastry chef at a resort in Florida, and I thought I wanted to go into pastry. The chef and the sous chef knew I wanted to go to culinary school and they were very supportive. They believed that even if you have been working for a few years, it’s good to back up your credibility with a culinary school education. I figured because I’d worked in pastry for a few years, if I go to culinary school, I’d go to the general program to learn new skills. I thought I’d go back to pastry, but the culinary arts program offered such a different mindset, I ended up liking the freedom and creativity on the savory side.

adrienne_cheatham_alumni_

Is that how you ended up working at Le Bernardin?

I got referred there through a classmate. I’m originally from Chicago and I wanted to do my externship there, so I was holding out for Charlie Trotter’s. I thought, in case it doesn’t work out, I should look for something in New York. One of my classmates was doing her externship at Le Bernardin. She gave me the name of Chef Ripert’s assistant and I stalked her. When I didn’t hear back, I said, “Ok, you and I are about to become best friends.” I showed up at the restaurant to leave another hard copy of my resume. I would email her three times a week and call her four times a week until she finally responded. She owns Ardesia, the wine bar, and the Camlin in Brooklyn now.

Did ICE prepare you to work at Le Bernardin?

I felt comfortable in the kitchen because during all the modules at ICE you’re in a kitchen environment. You learn how to stand out of the way and not be intrusive in someone else’s space when it’s not your kitchen. I had great chef instructors and they had the same temperament and demeanor as the chefs at Le Bernardin.

In the NY Times video, you said, “There’s a point in your career when you have to put yourself out there. I do want to open my own restaurant. I want to develop my own style.” Have you reached a point in your career where you’ve developed your own style?

Yes, I think I have. When I tried to put things on the menu at Le Bernardin, Chef Eric would say, “It’s really good, but the ingredients are a little too humble. We have to elevate the dish a lot more.” So I learned the Le Bernardin style of elevating ingredients, making them more than themselves. Then working for Chef Marcus, a lot of the dishes I put on the menu were too sophisticated because Red Rooster is very casual. So the dishes there were too sophisticated for Red Rooster but too humble for Le Bernardin. Eventually, I started running specials—dishes that I wanted to do, separate from the Red Rooster menu. One day Chef Marcus said to me, “I’m not sure if you’ve had time to focus on your style. I think you’re still in the process of developing your style.” That made me realize that I do have to push myself out there. And I’m not going to do it when someone else says I’m ready. It’s a moment that you decide that you’re ready. There’s always more to learn. You’re always going to be learning from different people, from continuing education classes, magazines, visiting other restaurants. You’re not going to stop learning because you open your own place, but you still have to be confident enough in yourself and what you have to share with people. And you have to want to do it, too. I was perfectly happy working for other people. It’s so safe and comfortable. It’s a guaranteed paycheck and the comfort of knowing what you’re going into every day. But at some point, I had to ask myself: What do I want to convey? What do I want to execute that is my vision every day of the week? Plus, with Chef Marcus, I was working seven days a week, 16 hours a day. If I’m going to kill myself, it’s going to be for me.

What is your culinary voice?

Anybody who works in a kitchen and creates food is a very sense-oriented person. It’s about texture, visuals, flavors, aromas — everything that engages the senses. My voice is a reflection of everything about me: not just what I like to eat, but the kind of person I am. So a dish that I put together is an expression of love, of happiness, of learning. Being from Chicago, having family from Mississippi and a fine dining background, it’s not just those things combined. It’s a reflection of all of my life experiences that have created the person I am, and translating that into the food that I create.

Ready to find your culinary voice? Click here for more information on ICE’s career programs.


By Caitlin Gunther

On a Tuesday evening in the midst of September Fashion Week in New York City, I meet Thea Habjanic (Pastry Arts ’10) at La Sirena, the buzzy new restaurant in the Meatpacking district of Manhattan where Thea leads the sweet side of the kitchen as executive pastry chef. Given the restaurant’s location and the unseasonably warm weather, it will no doubt be a long night for Thea. Still, she seems poised and unhurried as I have her stand for a handful of portraits in her kitchen attire.

In a professional pastry kitchen, where technical skill is only half the battle, it takes a certain personality type—one that can stay focused on the details through an onslaught of tickets, demands and the occasional snafu—to truly succeed. Thea has the qualities to thrive in the restaurant world—though that wasn’t always her career path. She graduated from NYU with a degree in journalism and worked for several years as an entertainment writer before deciding to enroll in the Pastry & Baking Arts program at ICE.

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As her recent kitchen roles can attest, Thea has the demeanor and the work ethic suited to fast-paced restaurants. Said ICE Creative Director Michael Laiskonis, who hired Thea for her first pastry gig at Le Bernardin, “Last year, I signed on to create the pastry program for the newest Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich restaurant, La Sirena. When it came time to hire a pastry chef for the upscale and busy restaurant, I immediately thought of Thea. Her previous experience in both fine dining and high volume made for a perfect match. She has played a vital role in crafting La Sirena’s desserts, earning critical praise. She runs the hectic pastry kitchen with that positive, can-do attitude that initially impressed me!”

Thea was kind enough to pop out of the pastry kitchen and share with the ICE blog a glimpse into her daily life and her path to ICE.

ICE graduation year/program: Weekend Pastry & Baking Arts, 2010

Current Address: East Harlem, NYC

Occupation: Executive pastry chef at La Sirena

Describe a typical day in your life.

I start every day with an iced latte; whether it’s cold or hot outside, I need my iced latte. I don’t drink drip coffee—it has to be espresso with cold milk. I’m a big yogi and I do yoga six days a week, so that’s usually where I go before work. I typically go to work in the early afternoon. I’ll check in with the staff that have been doing production and see if they have any questions and if we have everything for the day. Then I’ll talk to the executive chef and see what’s in store for the night—if we have any parties and how many covers. After that, I’ll do some production and work on recipe development or specials for the day. We have a pre-shift meeting where the whole FOH and BOH discuss protocol issues or specials for the day. From there, it’s pretty much service all night.

We have more time to set up in pastry—we won’t normally get our first ticket until after 7:00 p.m., so we have time to get our stuff together. You hear the kitchen come alive on the savory side around 5–5:30 p.m. and we catch up eventually. But then, of course, pastry is always the last in the restaurant because we finish much later. I run the line, plate, make sure everyone is sending out all the dishes correctly. I’m very hands-on—I’m not the kind of chef who will leave early and let the cooks handle everything. I like to stay until the end. I still help clean and scrub.

How did ICE prepare you for being a pastry chef at La Sirena?

One of the first things I remember learning at ICE was something that my teacher Nicole Kaplan said: “Nothing about restaurant life is glamorous, so if you’re into a fantasy about this being a prissy job, then you’re going to be disappointed.” She was 100% right.

ICE was awesome. I made great friends and learned so much. If you’ve never worked in a restaurant before or in the culinary field, they give you a foundation for what the life is really like. Because I think people have no clue. It’s hard work, a lot of hustling and long days. It’s a bit of a masochistic job. But people who go to school and end up working in this field have a lot of drive and ambition. They love what they do.

How did you land your first externship at Le Bernardin?

I had been there once as a child—my parents had a wedding anniversary dinner there and I tagged along. When I was looking for externships, I didn’t know if I wanted to work in a bakery or a restaurant, and I thought of that dinner at Le Bernadin. I looked up the pastry chef [Michael Laiskonis] and I found out that he was very well known and respected. At the time, I didn’t realize what a pastry celebrity he was. I wrote him an email, he responded and the rest is history. I went in for a trail and it went well. I think Michael saw something in me that he believed in. He’s been my mentor ever since.

Nothing about restaurant life is glamorous, so if you’re into a fantasy about this being a prissy job, then you’re going to be disappointed.

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What inspired you to go to culinary school?

My dad was a chef. He owned a couple of restaurants on restaurant row on 46th street, so I grew up going there with my mom and I saw the business firsthand. He always encouraged me not to work in restaurants because it’s very hard. But we were always a big cooking family—we cooked dinner every night. Food around the table was always a big deal. Initially, I didn’t think of it as a career. I went to NYU, got a journalism degree and did that for several years. But then a bunch of life changes happened and my ex-boyfriend was always encouraging me to go to pastry school since I used to bake all the time. Then I finally did it. I totally changed careers.

Thoughts on the current culinary landscape?

It’s so vast and broad. I think there’s something for everyone out there. But there’s not a lot out there that hasn’t been done before. People always ask me: what’s your favorite food to make or what’s your specialty? I think that’s a silly question because I don’t have a specialty. I love to make everything. I love to make things that taste good and are beautiful. In pastry, you’re leaving the last impression on a diner in your restaurant. You want them to look at the plate and say “oh my gosh, that’s so pretty.” But in the end, I want the plate to taste better than it looks.

Ready to jump-start your career in pastry arts? Learn more about ICE’s career programs.


By Danielle Page

New York City is home to some of the best eats in the country. If you’re lucky enough to live here, you can get just about any dish your heart desires delivered to your door—at any time, day or night. But when it comes to the parts of the Big Apple that boast the best bites, some areas have more to offer than others. If you find yourself in the Financial District (“FiDi”) around lunchtime, and you’re seeking something other than a typical food chain or overpriced “make your salad” station, you may be in for a tough time.

While FiDi has had some recent upgrades to the lunch scene thanks to the eateries that call Brookfield Place home (ICE’s new home too!), finding a FiDi lunch spot can be challenging. However, there are some hidden gems—and who better to point out the diamonds in the rough than the culinary students at ICE, who happen to learn and dine right in the area? We asked a few ICE students for their takes on the best spots to grab lunch in FiDi. Here’s where to eat next time you find yourself starving at noon on the lower west side of Manhattan.

PisilloPisillo Italian Panini

97 Nassau St.

“This place is a secret spot that I always hesitate to tell people about because it’s such a hidden gem. Go for the Pisillo on semolina bread: prosciutto di Parma, porchetta, buffalo mozzarella, roasted peppers, arugula and balsamic dressing, oh my! It’s HUGE, so split it with a friend or save the other half for tomorrow. And heads up: it’s cash only, so hit up that ATM beforehand.”

– Christen Clinkscales, Culinary Arts ‘16

Tipsy ShanghaiTipsy Shanghai

103 Washington St.

“For the best lunch spot in FiDi, Tipsy Shanghai gets my vote! One day I was walking around looking for somewhere to eat, and I saw a sign for dumplings. So I walked into this pub and realized Tipsy Shanghai was tucked up on the second floor. Walking in, it feels like you’re stepping into little Shanghai. From their amazing complimentary soup dumplings to the delicious spring rolls, starters are just the beginning at this sensational hidden gem. Their short ribs are to die for, but the General Tso’s chicken stole the blue ribbon in my book! Great portions for a great price and my favorite for lunchtime eats.”

– Jessica McCain, Culinary Arts ‘16

Bon Chon ChickenBonChon Chicken

104 John St.

“I always get the combo chicken here (which is wings and drumsticks). My favorite flavor is soy garlic. As an appetizer, I like the kimchi pancake trio. It’s a nice place to get together with friends after work for a bite and to catch up. Though it does get a little noisy, the atmosphere is always fun!”

– Janey Chiu, Pastry & Baking Arts, ‘16

ZaitzeffZaitzeff Burgers

72 Nassau St.

“This is a once-in-a-while splurge for me. It’s a little on the pricey side, but oh-so worth it. I get the 1/4 lb. sirloin burger on a pillowy Portuguese muffin with the “normal fixins” and cheddar cheese. Get it medium, because that’s the way burgers are supposed to be consumed. And don’t you dare put any condiments on it! The caramelized onions and juicy burger speak for themselves. The side of fries is massive, so split it with a friend.”

– Christen Clinkscales, Culinary Arts ‘16

InattesoInatteso Pizzabar Casano

28 West St.

“Inatteso was my favorite discovery in the Battery Park/FiDi area. You’d think finding a good pizza place in New York City would be easy, but there are a lot of weak pies out there. Inatteso hits the spot every time. Order the Parma (tomato-ricotta sauce, prosciutto, arugula and aged balsamic) or the Ortolana (mozzarella, tomato sauce, zucchini, sweet peppers, cherry tomatoes, basil pesto and arugula) with a glass (or two!) of their delicious wine for a seriously satisfying meal.”

– Lauren Jessen, Culinary Arts ‘16

Luke's LobsterLuke’s Lobster

26 S. William St.

“This place has my favorite lobster roll and nothing beats that! It is pricier than other options in the area, but you get at least one whole lobster in your roll, if not more. The roll resembles a hotdog bun crossed with white bread, and it’s perfectly toasted and buttered. Simply delicious!”

– Janey Chiu, Pastry & Baking Arts ‘16

Click here to learn more about studying at ICE.

By Caitlin Gunther

One of the great things about studying at ICE is the wealth of experience that each instructor brings to the curriculum. Culinary Management instructor Alan Someck is no exception. As general manager of two perpetually packed Long Island restaurants for decades, Alan developed an understanding of what makes a restaurant not only successful but an integral part of the community. Between this role and his years of consulting work, Alan has the kind of expertise that only comes with time and the opportunity to study changing trends in the industry. At ICE, Alan shares his insights with each aspiring restaurant owner or food business entrepreneur who walks into his classroom.

Alan Someck

A native New Yorker with the restaurant industry in his blood (his father owned a seafood restaurant in Brooklyn), Alan didn’t initially gravitate toward the culinary world. It wasn’t until after college when he moved to San Diego that Alan was inspired to join the food industry. With a shared desire for local, fresh produce, Alan and friends began a food co-op—a small operation where members would assemble in someone’s backyard and handpick their weekly produce. The co-op, which doubled as a community center, grew until it eventually relocated to a larger space that was previously a pool and dance hall. It was during this era that Alan learned to tap into local needs and organize ways to meet them.

Though he loved the Golden State, Alan eventually relocated back east, where he took the helm of two popular North Fork restaurants, both called Millie’s Place. Recognizing that the restaurant space had evolved into more than a place to eat, but rather, an extension of people’s homes, Alan infused Millie’s Place with the same sense of community that he helped to create in the San Diego food co-op.

Alan Someck and student

Alan with ICE graduate

Asked about the lessons gleaned from his time running Millie’s Place, Alan says, “Hook into the community. Get involved and create relationships with customers.” This entails everything from getting to know your customers by name to giving back to the community—Alan’s staff used to cook Thanksgiving dinners for seniors in the area. A second lesson is to observe what’s going on in the industry. Alan explains, “Once a week, I would go out to another restaurant. Go to restaurants and food shows and learn from them. Your food should adapt to the current trends.” Alan’s final piece of advice? Choose the right location. More specifically: a location that fits your concept. This and other vital elements involved in launching a food business or restaurant are the kinds of discussions that Alan has with each of his students. Says Alan, “I start with the premise of, ‘What’s the experience you want to create?’ Let’s work backward from that.”

With New York City as a backdrop for his classes, Alan is also able to incorporate local restaurants and entrepreneurs into his curriculum. From a guest lecture by Gabrielle Hamilton, author and chef/owner of the acclaimed East Village restaurant Prune, to a field trip into the bakery of Amy’s Bread, guided by owner and ICE alum Amy Scherber, Alan ensures that his students receive a comprehensive food business education.

Today, Alan continues to advise restaurant startups, franchises and restaurants aiming to solve operational conundrums. An avid cultural observer, especially when it comes to the way people eat, Alan keeps a constant pulse on the evolving food industry. Whether inside of the classroom or out, Alan is inspiring the next generation of food visionaries and helping to make their lofty business dreams a (profitable) reality.

Want to study with Alan and start mapping out your own food business? Click here to learn more about our Culinary Management program.


By Caitlin Gunther

Where do you see yourself in ten years? That’s the question Chloe Vichot (Culinary Management ’15) heard when she was interviewing for admission to business schools after graduating from high school. Though she didn’t say it aloud, in her head the answer was clear—owning a restaurant. A successful career in finance and an ICE Culinary Management diploma later, the Paris native is on the cusp of realizing that dream in New York City. This fall, she will open the doors to Ancolie, a Greenwich Village grab-and-go eatery, where glass jars will be the eco-friendly packaging of choice. Serving fresh takes on the seasonal, home-cooked meals she grew up eating, Chloe is sharing her culinary voice with downtown Manhattan.

Ancolie_Chloe

In the midst of juggling the roles involved in opening a restaurant, Chloe sat down with us to answer the ICE alum questionnaire.

ICE graduation year: July 2015 (Culinary Management)

Location: New York, New York

Occupation: Founder of Ancolie, a restaurant with a grab-and-go concept that will open in the fall of 2016. It’s going to be in Greenwich Village in the NYU area. I chose this location, rather than midtown, because I wanted to be close to the student life. And people will come in the morning, evening and weekends.

Favorite sandwich spot: Tartinery in Nolita. They have open-faced sandwiches that I love…and there’s also a location in ICE’s building, Brookfield Place.

Describe a day in the life.
My life changes every day—one day I’m cooking for an event, another day I have to deal with the contractors and construction, another day I have to talk to my interior designer and make sure the plans are on track. Other days I have to take care of social media. There’s a lot of multitasking and wearing different hats in a single day. Then I’m also trying to plan ahead for all the things we’ll need once the store opens, which is challenging.

Did the management program at ICE prepare you for making these decisions?
Absolutely! Being with professionals from the industry who have done this for more than 20 years was fantastic. I was able to learn from professionals who have seen a lot of concepts and know the industry trends. I could pitch them my concept and get valuable feedback. And with three professors, I had more than one opinion.

What is your culinary voice?
I took recreational culinary courses, but I never considered myself a chef. I considered myself a businesswoman and someone who wanted to create a new concept, with a goal to touch people through food. Originally, I thought I would have a professional chef at Ancolie, but as the days went by, I realized that I was going to be the chef…it’s been an interesting transition.

My culinary voice comes from what I grew up eating and what my mother and grandmother taught me. I was lucky not to have to worry about what I was eating growing up—because my family was always cautious about picking the right ingredients and in the right proportions. So I’m trying to bring this culture to the U.S.: to enjoy food and find a balance.

Ancolie_Sharing

What or who inspired you to go to culinary school?
I always dreamed of having a restaurant. I started with an amateur cooking course, and at the time I wasn’t even considering quitting my job in finance. The course made me so happy and excited that I realized I wanted to switch from finance to the food world. When I decided to take the Culinary Management program at ICE, I think I had just had a fight with my team at work, and it made me consider what I wanted to do with my life. I was married and going to have children at some point, so if I was working and had kids I wanted to make sure I was doing something I was passionate about, and I knew finance was not that. So I started thinking—could I do something in food, but something more daytime-oriented for when I have a family? I started the ICE program knowing I wanted to do something in food but not sure what. The program helped me confirm that the food business is what I wanted to do and that I could do it by myself.

After graduating from ICE, I worked in a restaurant in front of house for a couple of months. I thought I’d have to gain a couple years’ experience, but then I realized it was time to just to do it. I’d never be totally prepared to open a food business, so I decided to jump in the water and do it.

Thoughts on the current culinary landscape?
I’m very inspired by what’s happening in the current culinary landscape, especially the focus on eating locally and seasonally. Dan Barber is an inspiration – he is trying to reuse things that are typically thrown away.
I think the culinary world needs to take the next step and focus on packaging. Ancolie is going in the right direction by using glass instead of plastic. Every time I talk to a restaurateur, they think I’m crazy and wasting money, but I think more people will start using glass and reusable packaging.

Where do you see yourself in five years?
In five years, I would really love to have a couple of Ancolie stores in the city and an operation that is successful. To me, success means making a difference in the local community and the environment—which is why I’m using glass, so people don’t need to throw away their packaging. Success also means making sure my investors are happy with their investment. And of course, I want happy customers. I feel like I’m finally on track to realizing my dream.

Ancolie_Food

Ready to start your own food business? Check out our Culinary Management program and find your culinary voice.