“Be humble. No matter how good you think you already are, treat every single day at school like there is a vast encyclopedia of things to learn.”
Hometown: New York
Course of study: Classic Culinary Arts
Graduation year: 2002
One food you can’t live without? Nuts
Describe your culinary POV in three words: Food is love.
Best meal of all time? Prepared by Chef Jitendra at the Taj Lake Palace in Udaipur, India
What would your last meal consist of? Some sushi, a duck magret and confit, Chinese food from Shun Lee, appetizing from Russ & Daughters, and good French bread and butter
Current job: Chef/president of The Competent Cook; author of Notes on Cooking and The Competent Cook, food stylist, culinary instructor, and food personality on AOL’s KitchenDaily.com
What was your culinary background before you attended the International Culinary Center?
I was not in the culinary world. I was working in banking, doing corporate communications for investment banks. But I was a very good home cook, who grew up in a cooking family where everything was always from scratch and homemade.
Was being a chef something you aspired to be?
No, I had never considered it. I was always expected to be a professional something else—a lawyer, a doctor or a banker.
When did you decide to change careers?
I was happy doing what I was doing in the corporate would, but I didn’t have a passion for it. A friend told me that I should go to culinary school and get trained, because if I was so good already, I could be really good with professional training. I took it as a personal challenge. I understood that if I fumbled, I still could recover. It was a chance worth taking.
Did you consider going to another school?
No. None. My reasons were twofold. I was newly married and I wasn’t going to travel anywhere other than where I lived. The International Culinary Center had the finest faculty, and I believe very deeply in the French philosophy of cooking. Their program was unbeatable.
What was your biggest challenge?
I was the worst person at turning vegetables! I was so bad at it when I first started school. I was a great cook, but I could not do this at first. So, I just went home and turned potatoes and carrots until they were perfect.
When did you start your catering company?
When I started ICC in November of 2002, I bought the name Gotham Caterers from New York state for $20, then I bought the domain for $100 and I built a website. I was selling cookie baskets for the holidays, just to have the company out there. By the time I graduated, my catering company was up and running a little bit.
What were your plans after graduation?
I thought I could either be a restaurant chef or a caterer, that’s what I thought my options were when I started culinary school. Restaurant work is nine out of ten times a failure and it’s grueling, seven days a week. I didn’t want one day down the road to be fifty percent committed to owning a restaurant and fifty percent committed to being a mother. I knew if I had a catering business, I would have the flexibility I needed and still be able to pursue my passion as a career.
Did you use career services at the International Culinary Center?
Yes! I went into the Career Services offices the day I graduated looking for freelance work. That afternoon, a position for assisting Michel Nischan for an event came up. I went to assist him to prep for the event but he wasn’t there because Oprah’s team unexpectedly showed up to film him at the last minute. He was on the phone with me for 90 seconds telling me what to prep. I had so many questions but there was no time even to ask. I just said to myself, “you have your training from school, and you’ll just do what you think is right.” It was daunting, but I got it done. The next day Michel was there for the actual event, and he said: “Everything is exactly the way I wanted it.” He ended up hiring me as his stylist for TV appearances, demos and ultimately as the culinary producer of his show. He even took me to India to help him with some press events before the opening of his restaurant in Mumbai. All this from one happenstance visit to Career Services! That visit literally launched my food styling career.
What advice do you have for students?
Be humble. No matter how good you think you already are, treat every single day at school like there is a vast encyclopedia of things to learn. All those little things and nuances that you can pick up from the chef-instructors are what will make you a better chef.