By Carly DeFilippo

Meet Chef Jenny McCoy - HeadshotMost chefs are content to have just one prestigious job on their resume. But from Jenny McCoy’s first days in the industry, she’s racked up nothing but all-star experiences, from the celebrated Blackbird and Charlie Trotter’s in her hometown Chicago, to Emeril’s New Orleans dynasty and Tom Colicchio’s NYC Craft empire—all before the age of 32.

Today, Jenny’s focus may have shifted from running multiple professional kitchens to leading hands-on classes for aspiring chefs at ICE, but she’s just as busy as ever—creating an exclusive line of baking mixes for Crate & Barrel, judging Rewrapped on the Food Network and working on a follow-up to her acclaimed cookbook Desserts for Every Season.

In light of these accomplishments, you might assume Jenny was an all-star student, the kid who had her life planned out from the age of five. In actuality, it was Jenny’s own adolescent rebellion and lack of traditional academic ambition that led her to the food industry in the first place. As a high school graduate, Jenny’s only experience in the food industry came from her mother’s short-lived vegetarian bed and breakfast in rural Wisconsin and her aunt’s small catering business, run out of her home. In fact, it was actually Jenny’s total lack of experience with cooking that drew her to the idea of culinary school.

After mere weeks of enrolling in Kendall College’s culinary program, Jenny was already rethinking her decision. She didn’t know much about cooking, but she was really horrible at baking. On a tour of the pastry kitchens, Jenny became enamored with the chocolate sculptures and exquisite cakes. The beauty and structure of pastry was seductive, and—ever ready for a challenge—Jenny switched programs without a second thought.

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While still in school, Jenny secured a spot at a small fine dining restaurant called Gordon’s. Initially, she didn’t grasp her good fortune, but soon realized that she had landed in one of the most influential kitchens in Chicago. “I quickly realized I was working somewhere special,” Jenny explains, “and that I should be selective with everywhere I worked from that point forward.”

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the next two restaurants on Jenny’s roadmap would change the course of her career forever. The first, Blackbird, was only in its second year when she arrived, but had already received considerable praise from the likes of Bon Appetit and the Chicago Tribune. The kitchen consisted of a mere six employees—James Beard award-winning chef Paul Kahn and his happy, hand-picked “dysfunctional family.” Jenny adds, “At Blackbird, I learned a lot about sourcing, about creating food that felt like it had a soul to it.”

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One of Jenny’s plated desserts from A Voce

Yet Jenny knew there was another level of restaurant to be conquered: looking to the pinnacle of Chicago’s restaurant scene, she set her sights on Charlie Trotter’s. This world-famous kitchen couldn’t have been more different than Blackbird. Jenny’s first trail lasted a full 18 hours and set the bar for the rigor to come. Where Blackbird had felt like a family, Charlie Trotter’s was a battlefield. After six months of grueling 85-hour weeks, Jenny gave her notice. “If I had never had the experience at Blackbird, I might have stayed at Trotter’s indefinitely, but I knew that I would learn more in an environment where I felt heard, felt nurtured.” In years since, the decision has proved wise—of all the experiences on her resume, Blackbird remains the one that most impresses Jenny’s fellow chefs.

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Photo Credit: Mandee Johnson

Around the same time, Jenny took a trip to New Orleans and fell in love with the city. Soon enough, she relocated to “The Big Easy”—arriving just two days before Hurricane Katrina. It took five months of waiting and crashing on the couches of various friends, but eventually local restaurants started hiring again. Jenny submitted her resume to all the top local chefs, including Emeril Lagasse.

Starting off at Emeril’s Delmonico, Jenny helped reopen the damaged restaurant and ran the pastry kitchen. Intrigued by Emeril’s other restaurant locations, product development and media efforts, this was also the period in which Jenny first began pursuing projects outside restaurant kitchens. Within a mere two years, Jenny had worked on everything from recipe development for cookbooks, to revamping the pastry program at Emeril’s NOLA, to writing five posts each week for Emeril’s blog.

At this point, Jenny was 28, and though she didn’t want to leave Emeril’s empire, there was still one major city she wanted to conquer: New York. She first opened Marc Forgione’s namesake restaurant as Pastry Chef, but soon pursued another position more suited to the multi-tasking management experience she had gained at Emeril’s. Under ICE alum Missy Robbins, Jenny ran the pastry program for A Voce Madison, while simultaneously developing a new pastry menu for A Voce’s second location in the city’s prestigious Time Warner Center.

 

But after two years of immersing herself in all things Italian dessert, Jenny yearned to return to seasonal American pastry. She found the opportunity—and her creative footing—in the kitchens of Tom Colicchio’s Craft. There, Jenny was offered the creative freedom she craved: shopping the market four days a week, changing the menu whenever she wanted. “I was surrounded by people who were absolutely dedicated to food and ethical sourcing. It was an experience that refined my perspective and style, and it greatly influenced the recipes in my first cookbook, Desserts for Every Season.”

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What do you do when you reach the pinnacle of the restaurant industry at the mere age of 32? For Jenny, her “graceful exit” from restaurant kitchens came in the form of an offer she couldn’t refuse. An investor approached her about becoming the co-founder of a prepackaged foods start-up. The seed money was already in place; all Jenny had to do was develop the recipes. So, taking a calculated risk, Jenny left Craft.

 

Meet Chef Jenny McCoy - Cisse Trading CoThat company, Cissé Trading Co., paved a completely new path for Jenny in the field of product development. The signature baking mixes she developed can now be found in 1,000 stores nationwide and sparked offers for other consulting opportunities—including her line of baking mixes for Crate & Barrel inspired by Jenny’s first cookbook, Desserts for Every Season (a side project she pulled off while still working for Cissé). Combined with her high-end restaurant experience, Jenny’s newfound expertise in product development also rendered her a perfect judge for the Food Network’s new series, Rewrapped.

As if these diverse projects weren’t enough responsibility, Jenny had also begun teaching classes at ICE. Back at A Voce, it had become clear to her that she wasn’t really a “pastry chef” anymore. She was a high-level manager, hiring chefs and training them to execute her vision. So Jenny began teaching in ICE’s recreational department, and soon enough, she joined the faculty of our Pastry & Baking Arts program. “What I love about teaching is meeting new people and seeing the excitement, the glimmer in their eye,” Jenny explains. “It’s that moment when they’re like, ‘Oh my god! I just made a pie! I didn’t ever think I would bake a pie!’ that I absolutely love. It reminds me of when I was back in culinary school and the reason I got into the industry in the first place.”

Meet Chef Jenny McCoy - ICE Kitchens

In truth, Jenny has never truly stopped being that fresh-out-of-high-school pastry student—and that’s what makes her so successful. Endlessly curious, spontaneous and independent, she has grabbed hold of every opportunity that comes her way and inspires her students to do the same. “Early on in my career, someone wisely told me to spend all my money eating out, all my vacations staging, to buy tons of cookbooks and really immerse myself in the food world,” Jenny reflects, “It really has shaped my career—it made me do better.”

Want to study with Chef Jenny? Click here to learn more about ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.

By Carly DeFilippo

As a young ICE graduate, Sabrina Sexton launched her career in two innovative kitchens whose exceptional food and casual bistro style would forever change New York City’s downtown dining scene: Chanterelle and Gramercy Tavern. Today, she has returned to ICE as our lead Culinary Arts instructor, training the next generation of game-changing chefs.

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While finishing her pre-med program at Johns Hopkins University, Sabrina realized she was more anxious about becoming a doctor than passing her MCATs. Deep down, she knew it was time to trade in her lab coat for, well, another white coat—an ICE chef’s jacket.

As part of her Culinary Arts program at ICE, Sabrina externed at Chanterelle, a groundbreaking fine dining establishment in Manhattan’s then undeveloped downtown. The restaurant’s SoHo kitchen proved to be the perfect training ground for the young cook. Sabrina describes Executive Chef David Waltuck as the kind of leader who was truly happiest behind the stove and exceptionally “thoughtful about the ‘why’ of cooking.” Under Waltuck’s wing, Sabrina learned to carefully consider flavor pairings and the way different techniques would change the expression of flavor in a dish.

After three years at Chanterelle, Sabrina continued her ascent through New York City’s most iconic kitchens at Danny Meyer’s now legendary Gramercy Tavern. Despite her culinary background, Sabrina entered into the world of Gramercy through fellow ICE graduate Claudia Fleming’s pastry kitchen. Like Waltuck, Fleming was a master of flavor, and Sabrina learned to produce expertly plated desserts in a high-volume setting, while still crafting every component from scratch.

While she greatly valued the time spent on Fleming’s pastry team, Sabrina realized she missed the improvisation of savory cooking. Under Executive Chef Tom Colicchio (of Top Chef fame), she worked her way up Gramercy’s line of all-star cooks and, three years later, was thrust into the spotlight as Tavern Chef. Overseeing the restaurant’s namesake no-reservations, casual dining space, Sabrina’s days revolved around a wood-fired stove—the centerpiece of the Tavern’s cooking style—stoking the literal and creative fire of the restaurant’s menu for nearly four years.

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Where do you go after working at the likes of Chanterelle or Gramercy Tavern? It’s a challenging question for any chef at the top of her game. At Gramercy, in addition to running the Tavern area, Sabrina had been charged with the curation of the restaurant’s cheese selection and briefly considered becoming an affineur. But she was soon recruited to oversee the culinary operations for ABC Network, including executive dining, green rooms and corporate dining—serving 800-1,000 employees on a daily basis.

At ABC, Sabrina gained instrumental experience in the training, supervision and management of a large, diverse staff. In essence, 65% of her job was teaching, so when she reconnected with ICE faculty at the school’s annual alumni party, it was no surprise that they eagerly responded to her interest in becoming one of the school’s culinary instructors.

The rest is, as they say, history. Fifteen years later, Sabrina is now the lead culinary arts instructor at ICE, yet her tenure has made her anything but complacent. One of her favorite aspects of teaching is the opportunity to constantly experiment and try new things in the kitchen—a quality mirrored in the many students she has mentored, from co-author of Modernist Cuisine Maxime Bilet to James Beard Award-winner Allison Vines-Rushing.

Want to study with Chef Sabrina? Click here to schedule a personal tour of the school.

ICE Student Volunteers with Chef Bill Telepan

Last night, the Institute of Culinary Education celebrated at Rockefeller Center at Citymeals-on-Wheels’ A Taste of Home benefit. The yearly culinary event brings together many of the country’s most acclaimed chefs to celebrate the heritage and legacy of James Beard and food in America.

The event dates back to 1985 when twelve devotees of James Beard came together to celebrate his life and love of cooking, all while giving to Citymeals-on-Wheels. Beard co-founded Citymeals-on-Wheels along with Gael Greene to feed homebound elderly New Yorkers.

With a long history of bringing together the country’s greatest chefs for one amazing evening, the event did not disappoint this year. The roster of chefs included Daniel Boulud, Dominique Ansel, Larry Forgione, Marc Forgione, Bryan Forgione, Nobu Matsuhisa, Bill Telepan, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Tom Colicchio, Scott Conant, Aaron Sanchez, Charlie Palmer, David Burke and Alfred Portale, among many others. More…

ICE Senior Career Services Advisor Amy Quazza and Director of Career Services Maureen Drum Fagin with Outstanding Chef Award Winner José Andrés

As we welcome spring, food lovers and passionate diners everywhere look forward to the annual James Beard Awards. Celebrated close to the anniversary of James Beard’s birthday in May, the awards are given to the best chefs, restaurants and media in the country. ICE founder Peter Kump helped launch the James Beard Foundation and ICE is proud to maintain close ties to the organization and their hard work to promote and celebrate food in America. The Awards are regarded as the most prestigious awards in the culinary industry, often referred to as the “Oscars” of food.

This year, the awards ceremonies and festivities were spread over the entire weekend as the food world gathered in NYC for a celebration of all things culinary. On Friday night, the foundation held their Book, Broadcast & Journalism Awards, hosted by Ted Allen of Food Network’s Chopped and ICE alum Gail Simmons of Bravo’s Top Chef. In fact, Top Chef, took home the award for best Television Show, In Studio or Fixed Location. ICE alums Dominique Andrews and Marie Ostrosky were also nominated for the second year in a row in the Television Special category. More…

Included in the grand traditions of Thanksgiving are parades, football and naps (most importantly, naps), but the most consistent thing about the holidays is that every family does it differently. Just this week, a particularly food-savvy friend and I bonded over the shame we feel for our deep-seeded love of gelatinous canned cranberry sauce and boxed stuffing, both having been served at almost every Thanksgiving meal I can remember. This year, I’m looking forward to something different — nothing but homemade, handcrafted deliciousness at a dinner prepared by the most traditional of country moms. (It’s important to note that this model of domesticity is not my mother, though Mrs. Wheeler can certainly hold her own in a kitchen.)

While I’ll be traveling to the wilds of Wyoming for a home-cooked meal, those of you staying in New York have many more options. Many fine-dining establishments around the city set up prix fixe menus. Pastry Chef Jennifer McCoy of Tom Colicchio’s Craft will be among the many chefs working hard to serve those who are happy to leave the cooking to the pros. Luckily, she also taught a class at ICE on how to make some of her favorite Thanksgiving desserts. Over the four hours we made every dessert that will be gracing the pages of Craft’s Thanksgiving menu this year, including a Comice Pear and Cranberry Crumble that has become my single favorite dessert. While I don’t plan on making every dessert, there was certainly a lot to be learned from Chef McCoy:

* The Weight of it All: When making a pie crust there are a couple of tricks to refining a golden crust. For a perfect pumpkin pie, you have to partially bake the crust before filling it. Use a layer of aluminum foil lined with pie weights to help the crust keep its shape. If you don’t have ceramic pie weights, dry beans work just as well. More…