By Casey Feehan

Chefs get their inspiration from many different places, but it was a well-timed fortune cookie that helped ICE alum Zac Young realize that his future was in the kitchen. Since graduating from the Pastry & Baking career program, Zac has gained widespread recognition as a contestant on Top Chef: Just Desserts and has led the pastry team at some of New York’s top restaurants.

What were you doing before you enrolled at ICE? Was there something that sparked your decision to attend culinary school? 

ICE Alumni Interview - Zac Young -

ICE alumni Zac Young.

I was working in the wig department at Radio City Music Hall. I decided that baking cookies would be a fun hobby and found myself becoming obsessed with the balance of creativity and structure involved in baking. Baking can be very precise: there are only so many alterations you can make within a recipe before it fails, and what I found was that I really enjoyed playing with those boundaries. As the Christmas season was winding down, my mother called and said, “You don’t talk about theater anymore: all you talk about are your damn cookies. Go to culinary school.” That night, I ordered chinese food and the message in my fortune cookie said, “Some men dream of fortunes, some men dream of cookies.” The universe was telling me something.

Where was your externship, and where have you worked since graduating? 

I was actually the first extern at Bouchon Bakery, and I burned down the microwave. Since then, I’ve been the Pastry Chef at Butter and Flex Mussels (including the Flex Donuts pop-up shops). I’ve also done development work for a large packaged food company specializing in boxed cake mix and frosting. Now I work for David Burke. Right now, my home base is David Burke Kitchen in SoHo, but we have so many new projects on the horizon – it’s fun to be a part of something that’s expanding.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

I really love the little side projects I get to do, such as making dresses out of chocolate or creating a gingerbread version of the Chrysler Building.

What are the most valuable lessons you’ve learned from your time in the industry?

Show up early, leave late. Pay attention: listen to what your chef tells the other cooks and implement those things in your own work. Don’t complain.

Zac Young - Alumni Interview -

Zac MCs the 2013 Dessert Pro Magazine “Top Ten Pastry Chef” awards at ICE.

Briefly describe a day in your current working life. 

I get to work at David Burke Kitchen in SoHo by 9:00AM and eat whatever is left over from breakfast (though I’m partial to just eating the fruit filling out of a danish). The sous chef and I go over prep lists and production for the day, and I make sure the station is set and ready for war before lunch picks up around 12:30PM. Lunch is tough because guests like to get in and out quickly. At 2:00PM we start bread production for dinner service. We can easily go through 300 mini loaves of bread so I like to lend a hand: I call it our “Bread Party.”

Around 3:00PM we put out amenities for the hotel, which can include chocolates, cookies, cheese, birthday cakes, chocolate-stuffed strawberries and champagne. When 3:30PM rolls around, I chat with the other properties (Townhouse, Fishtail) about specials or upcoming events.

At 5:00PM, I check the service station for dinner service. Pre-meal begins at 5:30PM with the front-of-house staff and we review the night’s specials. Once dinner service starts, I go back to the production kitchen and help with prep for the next day. My sous chef and I start inventory/ordering at 8:00PM, and we go over prep lists for the following morning. If there’s a private party or event at the restaurant (and there always seems to be one), it’s usually around 9:00PM that I put out their desserts, hoping that when 9:30PM comes I’ll get to head home. But most nights it’s closer to 10:30PM.

What might people be surprised to learn about your job?

How much work we do for the savory side of the kitchen: we make pizzas, potato rye crisps, savory flans, etc. I also help wherever help is needed in the kitchen. If that means plating hors d’oeuvres or expediting the line, so be it.

Where would you like to see yourself in 5 years?

This is my dream job, so I’m not really sure what more I could ask for. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see!

To read about a typical day in the life of a restaurant pastry chef, click here.

From running award-winning restaurant kitchens to writing notable cookbooks, ICE alumni continue to win accolades and receive attention for their success. Check out just some of the alumni finding success and making recent headlines.

*Jonathon Stranger (Culinary Arts ’04) of Ludivine in Oklahoma City was nominated by Food & Wine for their People’s Best New Chef award. You can vote for him online.

*Several ICE alumni were among the James Beard Awards semifinalists: Anup Joshi (Culinary Arts ’04) is Chef de Cuisine at Best New Restaurant semifinalist Tertulia. Tiffany MacIsaac (Culinary Arts ’02) of Birch & Barley in Washington, D.C. is up for Outstanding Pastry Chef. And Rachel Yang (Culinary Arts ’01) and Seif Chirchi of Joule in Seattle were named as semifinalists in the Best Chef: Northwest category.

*Three ICE alumni were among the IACP finalists: Jamie Tiampo (Culinary Management ’06) for his work at EatTV, Maxime Bilet (Culinary Arts ’05) for Modernist Cuisine and Ryan Farr (Culinary Arts ’10) for Whole Beast Butchery.

*Regina Anderson (Culinary Arts ‘05), was declared the winner on a 2012 episode of Food Network’s Chopped.

*Gail Simmons (Culinary Arts ’99) released her book, Talking with my Mouth Full. She filmed a video on how to make her Banoffee Pie for the popular video series My Last Supper at ICE.

*Zach Kutsher’s (Culinary Management ’09) restaurant, Kutsher’s Tribeca, was reviewed in The New York Times. He was also interviewed for the blog Restaurant Girl.

*Pnina Peled (Culinary Arts ’00), Executive Chef of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, was included in a Wall Street Journal article about the evolution of hospital food.

*Kelly Senyei (Culinary Arts ’10), the founder of DICED, is about to release her book, Food Blogging for Dummies in April 2012. The book received early press on Eater.

*Kate McAleer (Pastry & Baking Arts & Culinary Management ’11) launched her new chocolate business, Bixby & Co.

To connect with these ICE alumni and many more, you can connect with Career Services on Facebook or LinkedIn.

Last week, ICE Chef Instructors, students and alumni had the opportunity to participate in the 14th Annual Chocolate Show at Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City. The four-day exhibition is a huge celebration of everything chocolate and draws in pastry chefs and chocolate lovers from across the world.

Since New York City is not just the food capital but also the fashion capital, the event kicked off with a themed fashion show. This year, the show celebrated Broadway and acclaimed pastry chefs were tasked with creating costumes for some of Broadways’ most beloved characters. ICE Chef Instructors Michelle Tampakis and Vicki Wells made a chocolate version of an ensemble inspired by Gypsy Rose Lee from the musical Gypsy. Check out video of the costume in action here! ICE alum and Top Chef: Just Desserts contestant Melissa Camacho worked with Project Runway’s Elisa Jiminez to create a chocolate costume inspired by Wicked. More…

ICE alumni Gail Simmons, Zac Young, Malika Ameen, Seth Caro and Melissa Camacho

The second season of Top Chef: Just Desserts wrapped up last week. It was a great season full of sweet challenges and lots of hard work from all the pastry chef-testants. We thought we’d check in on the ICE alum who have been on the pastry spin-off of Top Chef, Bravo’s Emmy- and James Beard Award–winning show and let you know what they’ve been working on. In addition the many alums who have competed on the show, ICE alum Gail Simmons (Culinary Arts ’99) is a regular on the both Top Chef: Just Desserts  and Top Chef.

In this most recent season, ICE alum Melissa Camacho (Pastry & Baking Arts ’07) was among the 14 talented competitors. On Top Chef: Just Desserts, Melissa put her skills and ICE education to work and won an elimination challenge on the second week of the show by creating a cardamom sponge cake for a multi-tier cake created for a party celebrating the orchestra at the Walt Disney Concert Hall. Unfortunately, she was eliminated on the fourth week in a double elimination week. Nonetheless, we were proud to see her as part of the season. Now, she is back creating treats as a Pastry Chef at ilili, the Mediterranean-inspired restaurant located in New York City. More…

We’re gearing up for what promises to be one of the most exciting events of the culinary calendar for 2011. This year, ICE is working in partnership with to help at their sixth annual International Chefs Congress on October 2 through October 4. The three-day conference is an incredible symposium where more than 80 of the world’s most influential and innovative chefs, pastry chefs, mixologists and sommeliers will present the latest techniques and culinary concepts to their peers.

ICE will be working with an incredible roster of chefs to give chef demonstrations, hands-on savory, pastry and mixology workshops, as well as participating in wine and business seminars and career counseling sessions. The 2011 ICC lineup includes preeminent figures in the food and beverage industry including Grant Achatz (Alinea), Andoni Luis Aduriz (Mugaritz Restaurant), Massimo Bottura (Osteria Francescana), David Burke (David Burke Kitchen), François Chartier, Sang-Hoon Degeimbre (L’Air du Temps), Curtis Duffy (Avenues), Pierre Hermé (Pierre Hermé Paris), Bill Kim (Urbanbelly and Belly Shack), Paul Liebrandt (Corton), Tony Maws (Craigie On Main), Ron Paprocki (Gordon Ramsay at The London), Gilles Verot (Gilles Verot), and Chris Young (Intellectual Ventures). More…

Whether as chefs, cake decorators, specialty food purveyors or caterers, ICE alumni are finding success in a plethora of different avenues in the food world. Check out just some of the alumni finding success and making recent headlines.

*Jennifer Sant’anna Hill (Culinary ’05) and husband Anderson Sant’anna De Lima, co-chefs of 508 Gastrobrewery in SoHo, were featured in The New York Times for their new in-house beer brewing program.

*Hell’s Kitchen ninth season premiered in July and features two ICE alumni as contestants: Elizabeth Bianchi and Krupa Patel, both Culinary ’08 grads.

*Melissa Camacho (Pastry ’07), pastry chef of Ilili restaurant, has been named one of the contestants appearing on the upcoming season of Bravo’s Top Chef Just Desserts.

*Ronald Linares (Culinary ’04), executive chef of Martino’s Cuban Restaurant in Summerfield, NJ, appeared on an episode of Chopped. He has also been chosen to participate in Food Network’s upcoming Wine & Food Festival.

To connect with these ICE alumni and many more, join ICE’s network on LinkedIn, or follow ICE on Facebook and Twitter

ICE Pastry & Baking Arts alumna Melissa Camacho is among the 14 talented pastry chef-testants set to compete for a sweet victory on Bravo’s Top Chef Just Desserts. We were so thrilled to hear that another former ICE student would be competing on the Emmy- and James Beard Award–winning show! Fellow alum and graduate of the Culinary Arts program Gail Simmons is the host of the show. Competition gets whipped up to another level in the show’s second season, where the contestants will be dealt challenging tasks ranging from concocting delectable fairytale showpieces to edible room décor. Camacho and her fellow contestants will endure pressurized challenges, quick fires and even guest celebrity judges that include the cast of Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, renowned Pastry Chef François Payard and even one of the Beastie Boys! We are so excited for Just Dessert’s Aug. 24 premiere! For now, here is a peek of Camacho’s pastry chef credentials: More…

Every year, the James Beard Foundation celebrates summer with a party in the Hamptons. The annual celebration features champagne, wine from Wölffer Estate Vineyard, Stella Artois beers and culinary offerings from a group of over 30 talented top chefs.

This year three ICE alumni were on a select list of chefs preparing food for the event. Missy Robbins (Culinary ’95) of A Voce prepared Italian-Style Lobster Rolls with Fennel and Sea Salt Potato Chips and Matt Weingarten (Culinary ’96) of Inside Park at St. Bart’s also prepared a lobster dish — Barnegat Light Lobster with Lemon Ricotta and Micro-Sorrel. On the pastry side, Zac Young (Pastry ’06) of Flex Mussels and Top Chef: Just Desserts prepared Lemon Meringue Pie with Disco Blueberries. More…

On Sunday, ICE alum and star of Top Chef: Just Desserts, Zac Young came to ICE to guide students through a tasting of a variety of Guittard chocolates and demonstrate some desserts designed to highlight the flavor profiles of different chocolates.

The Guittard family has manufactured chocolate in the San Francisco valley for more than 140 years. Guittard Chocolate’s high-end E. Guittard line includes a variety of blended and single-origin chocolates made from beans from select locations. The students were able to taste 12 different chocolates, ranging from a 38% Hawaiian milk chocolate to a 91% bittersweet blended chocolate. The tasting included single-origins from Hawaii, Peru, Madagascar, Trinidad, Venezuela and more. Zac said that as a pastry chef, he loved working with these single-origin chocolates because they have a flavor profile of their own and can they can be used to make desserts that go a step beyond the base flavors of chocolate and begin to highlight the fruit and flora notes chocolate can have. More…

This weekend, ICE Chef Instructors, students and alumni participated in the 13th Annual Chocolate Show at Metropolitan Pavilion in NYC. The show is “the world’s largest event dedicated to chocolate!” The four-day exhibition of everything chocolate draws in pastry chefs and chocolate enthusiasts from across the world.

The event kicks off with chocolate fashion show every year. ICE alum Zac Young, fresh off his stint on Top Chef: Just Desserts, participated in the fashion show and worked with designer Nicole Romano to construct a dress made entirely of balls of chocolate for the kick-off event. Young returned later in the weekend to give gave a demonstration in the Culinary Theater, showing the audience how to make Chocolate Pie “On Its Side,” one of the most popular dishes on the menu at his restaurant, Flex Mussels. More…

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