Aaron Babcock, Advanced Sommelier, Sommelier at Quince

Aaron Babcock, AS

Aaron Babcock, Advanced Sommelier, Sommelier at Quince

Starting his restaurant career, at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort, in a small town just south of Pittsburgh, PA. Aaron developed a deep curiosity about wine, being exposed to a large cellar and Wine Spectator award winning list. Having had the honor of working throughout various restaurants on the property he honed his skills in fine dining.

With wine on the mind, California dreaming wasn’t far away. In 2012, he enrolled at the International Culinary Center in Campbell, CA to complete the Intensive Sommelier Program as well the CMS certified exam, at the age of 21. From there he returned to Nemacolin for a year. But California again came calling, this time in the form of a job offer at Manresa, at the time a 2 star Michelin restaurant by Chef David Kinch in Los Gatos, CA. There he worked as a Sommelier with Jim Rollston MS. After recovering from a devastating fire that closed Manresa, Aaron was privileged to be part of the team when Manresa earned their third Michelin star.

After passing the CMS Advanced Exam at the age of 24, he consulted briefly for the wine list at the Inn at Park Winters. Quince in San Francisco was the next stop. At Quince Aaron has been able to help expand the wine program, as well as being able to be part of the transition from 2 to 3 Michelin stars once again. While remaining at Quince Aaron continues to prepare for the Master Sommelier exam and occasionally teaches wine educational classes in the Bay Area. Aaron is the 2018 recipient of ICC’s Outstanding Alumni Award for Outstanding Sommelier.

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Steven Cook, Co-Owner of CookNSolo Restaurants

Steven Cook

Steven Cook, Co-Owner of CookNSolo Restaurants

One of the country’s top restaurateurs and the 2016 James Beard Award winner for “Best International Cookbook” and “Book of the Year” for his and business partner Chef Michael Solomonov’s first cookbook, Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, Steven Cook is the co-owner of CookNSolo Restaurants, home to some of Philadelphia’s most distinctive culinary concepts. His culinary mark began with Zahav, the pioneering modern Israeli restaurant that puts the diverse cuisine of Israel on the map, and extends to Federal Donuts, Abe Fisher, Dizengoff, Goldie, and the philanthropic luncheonette, Rooster Soup Company, which donates 100% of its profits to their non-profit partner, Broad Street Ministry Hospitality Collaborative.  Cook is also co-owner of Dizengoff NYC.  Prior to founding CookNSolo, Cook left his job as an investment banker in New York to return to Philadelphia and pursue a career as a hospitality entrepreneur, graduating from the International Culinary Center (formerly The French Culinary Institute) in 2000. Steven is the 2018 recipient of ICC’s Outstanding Alumni Award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship.

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Chef Anna Bolz, Pastry Chef Per Se

Anna Bolz

Chef Anna Bolz, Pastry Chef Per Se

Anna Bolz is the Pastry Chef at Per Se where she oversees the production of all  the dessert offerings and chocolate production for the restaurant, while ensuring that her team exceeds the guests’ expectations and standards of excellence set by Chef Thomas Keller. Prior to joining the team at Per Se in 2009 , she was a pastry cook at Porterhouse and Jean-Georges restaurants in New York City. Born and raised in small town Iowa, Bolz is deeply rooted in community and the stories behind meals shared by friends and families. She continues to find inspiration in the people, kitchens and stories that surround the staff and guests at Per Se. She holds a degree in music from Luther College and received her pastry and baking certificate from the International Culinary Center in 2007. Anna is the 2018 recipient of ICC’s Outstanding Alumni Award for Excellence in Pastry Arts.

I am honored and humbled to be recognized among the very talented alumni of ICC.  Beyond what this award means to me personally, I think it’s an excellent way to highlight the work that ICC students do after graduation: collaborate with our colleagues, help elevate the standards of those around us and, ultimately, raise the bar for our entire profession.”

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Angie Mar

Chef Angie Mar, graduate of ICC’s Classic Culinary Arts program in 2011, has spent most of her life around the world of food. A native of Seattle, Washington, she comes from a family of food lovers and restaurateurs. Her aunt was the infamous Ruby Chow who pioneered Chinese cuisine in Seattle and these deep rooted ties have given Angie an innate love for bringing people together around a dining table.

Angie had the privilege of getting her training in some of New York City’s renowned kitchens, including honing her skills at whole animal butchery and open fire techniques at Andrew Tarlow’s lauded Brooklyn restaurants Reynard, Diner, and Marlow & Sons. She went on to work at The Spotted Pig, where she learned an unparalleled dedication to perfection and a love of simplicity.

In October 2013, Angie took the helm of storied West Village restaurant, The Beatrice Inn. Best known for her love of working with whole animals, live fire and dry aging techniques, she revamped the menu and began to create her signature style.

Under Angie’s guidance and vision, The Beatrice has become one of the most coveted reservations in the city, known for its meat forward menu and show-stopping presentations. She is now the owner and executive chef at The Beatrice Inn, re-opening the doors in September 2016 with a fresh perspective and a celebrated new menu. Her signature dry aging techniques are widely regarded as some of the best in the city, her Duck Flambe is an international hit and her Butcher’s Blocks are a meat lovers dream.

The Beatrice Inn and Angie Mar continue to gain momentum and praise in the food community. Pete Wells awarded the restaurant an impressive 2-star review for the New York Times, calling it “One of the most celebratory restaurants in the city” and “a place to go when you want to celebrate your life as an animal.” Angie was named “Chef of the Year 2016” by Thrillist and most recently, she was chosen as one of Food & Wine’s Best New Chefs for 2017; the only chef from New York selected to receive this honor. She is the 2018 recipient of ICC’s Outstanding Alumni Award for Excellence in Culinary Arts.

Angie Mar on becoming a Chef & attending Culinary School:
Angie Mar on her inspiration for The Beatrice Inn:
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ICC Sommelier Alumna, Minjoo Kim

Alumni Spotlight: Advanced Sommelier, Minjoo Kim

Minjoo Kim, Advanced Sommelier, began her foray into food and wine training to become a chef and received her Culinary Arts Diploma from Le Cordon Bleu in Sydney, Australia. It was during her time as a culinary apprentice that she realized her passion for wine and sought to further her education at the International Culinary Center in New York, enrolling in the Intensive Sommelier Training program. In 2013, after passing the Court of Master Sommeliers Introductory and Certified Sommelier Exams at ICC, she returned to Korea to begin her wine career. Over the years Minjoo has worked as both Manager and Chief Sommelier for Hannam Liquor, retail shop and wine bar, as well as a tasting educator for the International Food and Wine Society, and Judge of the Korea Sommelier Wine Awards and Korean Wine Fair. In 2017 she passed the Court of Master Sommeliers Advanced Sommelier Exam.


What was your first (or most fond) memory of wine to date?

A glass of Vouvray, Huet ‘Le Haut Lieu’ demi-sec.


When did you know that studying wine would be a passion you’d like to pursue professionally?

While I was studying at ICC, the Master Sommeliers inspired me to believe that one day I could possibly do this like them.They were amazing.


Your extensive range of culinary and wine education ranges from a Culinary Art Diploma from Le Cordon Bleu’s Sydney, Australia campus as well as ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training program in 2013 and more. What made you decide to move forward with a wine career over a more traditional culinary path?

I learned that wine could be more than just an alcoholic beverage when I visited Sydney’s fascinating restaurant Sepia—two hats ranked ay that time—to try a pairing menu for study as a culinary apprentice. Before that I wasn’t very fond of alcoholic beverages and simply hated drinking. But that night I was overwhelmed and began noticing that wines could be just more than alcoholic beverage. It was at that moment that I decided to learn about wines. That is what brought me to New York City and ICC right after finishing my 2 and a half year culinary path. I believe that knowing and understanding wine broadens my culinary horizon.


You recently received your AS [Advanced Sommelier] certification. [Congratulations!] What was the most difficult hurdle you faced prior to achieving this status?

I actually didn’t receive my certification the first time I took the Advanced Sommelier exam, despite passing the Theory and Blind Tasting portions. With only have 5 years of experience as a sommelier and having never worked for any formal, fine dining restaurants, I believe it was my minimal service experience that was the biggest reason I didn’t pass the exam. But I can tell you that I definitely learned a lot from that failure. Last year, I retook the Advanced Sommelier exam and passed my second time around!


What has been the most rewarding experience thus far in your wine career?

For the past three years I had been working as both a manager in a retail wine shop and chief sommelier for a wine bar at  the same time and place up until very recently. During this time, it was difficult to balance my roles in both sections. But it provided me with experience and communication skills for both wine retail and service, as well as the opportunity to try many interesting promotions, events and educational classes. It was a lot of fun and I learned a lot!


Your extensive background in wine has landed you as a judge in 2017 for both the Korea Sommelier Wine Awards and the KWC (Korean Wine Fair.) Through these particular experiences and beyond, do you feel that mentorship plays an important role for those looking to develop a career in the field? If so, why?

I think that mentorship is a crucial part of this industry. I see many people who have mentors easily approach their goals and achieve what they are trying to go after. It’s important for those just entering the wine world to have mentors like I did. At the very beginning, I was struggling with no one to discuss matters I encountered like big career path decisions, preparing for competitions and the Advanced Sommelier exam, etc. I still hope I can find someone to seek help and advice from, but I also want to be the someone who can help future sommeliers.


If you weren’t a professional sommelier or chef, what career path would you have gone down?

I’ve always aspired to find beautiful things in my life such as food and wine. My major in University was Fashion, so I’m guessing I would have worked vigorously in any fashion business with a beautiful glass of wine!


For any new individuals looking to make their mark on the world of wine, please share your advice for a flourishing wine career?

Have passion and be full of energy. With that combination, you can make any mark you wish. I learned this from five of the Master Sommeliers I met while taking the program at ICC.


What are your professional goals for the next few years? Any exciting news on the horizon to share?

I definitely want to take the Master Sommelier exam in the next few years and want to do anything I can here to help the wine industry in Korea grow. Without growth in this industry, there is no dream for us Sommeliers.


 

ICC Alumnus David Israelow competing in the Washoku World Challenge

Alumni Spotlight: David Israelow

David Israelow is a market analyst turned chef.  He is a graduate of the International Culinary Center and the Tokyo Sushi academy.  David has cooked and trained in New York City, Colorado, India and Japan.  He recently won the World Washoku Challenge, hosted in Tokyo.  Currently, David is working on food and farm related projects in the Hudson Valley and New York City.  

What motivated you to enroll in the Professional Culinary Arts program after working in financial industry for some time?

When I was working in finance, I got to the point where I was ready to move on, but wasn’t sure in what direction.  I looked around for a new job but didn’t find anything that interested me.  I decided instead to enroll at ICC in the evening program.


What did you enjoy learning the most while enrolled in culinary school?

French technique is the reason I enrolled in culinary school.  I really enjoyed learning the foundations from knife work to sauce making to potatoes, veg, proteins, etc.


Tell us a little bit about your first culinary job after graduating from ICC.

While I was finishing at ICC I started interning at ABC Kitchen and then at En Japanese Brasserie.  After graduating, I had a chance to travel, so I ended up in India for 6 months.  When I returned, I wanted to work in fine dining and spent time trailing and volunteering around NYC before starting at Betony.  I spent about a year there.  It was a very demanding kitchen and environment but I learned a lot.


We know that you served as a volunteer to Chef Hiroko Shimbo’s 5-day Essentials of Japanese Cuisine course at ICC. When did you realize were you inspired by Japanese cuisine and which aspect of the cuisine were you attracted to the most?

I have always been interested in Japanese cuisine.  There aren’t many structured programs to study Japanese technique, so when I saw the opportunity to assist Hiroko’s class as a student I was very excited.  I actually assisted her twice for essentials and once for ramen and gyoza.


How did working at American and French restaurants help your understanding of Japanese cuisine?

Many American restaurants are founded in French systems and techniques that were explicitly codified and widely adopted.  So working in American restaurants its easy to learn a lot of French technique and vocabulary without even realizing it.  This is not necessarily the case with Japanese cuisine.  Often Japanese vocabulary is borrowed to describe American food that has little to no foundation in Japanese technique.

On the other side of the coin, there are some American restaurants with deep knowledge of Japanese cuisine doing really incredible work developing new methods founded in technique and tradition.  But I don’t think it’s very common.


Tell us a little about your experience heading to Japan and enrolling in a Japanese cooking school.

I went to Japan with no plan, no contacts and no idea what I was doing.  I was lucky to make some amazing contacts and was able to stagiaire in several kitchens, travel widely and eat amazing food.

When I found out about the program offered in English at the Tokyo Sushi Academy, I decided to enroll.  I saw it as an opportunity to round out the experiences I had in kitchens that weren’t always easy to understand or readily translatable.  It was a great curriculum at the TSA with dedicated and skillful instructors, I was able to learn a lot very quickly.


While in Japan, did you acquire any apprenticeships? If so, please share your favorite experience.

In Japan I’ve trained in restaurants in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.  I wouldn’t go as far as to say I had a favorite experience, but preparing osechi ryori (Japanese new year food) in Osaka was certainly a highlight.  On the final day, all of the cooks spent 24 hours straight finishing all of the jubako (boxes holding the new year food).


Would you recommend that chefs should study Japanese cuisine, even if they are not working full-time with the country’s cuisine?

Japanese cuisine is founded in technique and tradition.  Traditional Japanese cuisine, Washoku, has been designated UNESCO intangible cultural heritage.  I think it is certainly worthwhile topic of study for any aspiring cook, chef or food related endeavors.



How has life changed after receiving first prize at the Washoku World Competition? Have there been any exciting, new opportunities popping up?

A lot of very interesting opportunities have begun to unfold following the WWC.  I met some amazing people and expanded my network both in and outside of Japan during the competition.  I look forward to seeing what presents itself.


Aside from the Washoku World Competition, what other goals do you seek to achieve in the upcoming months/years within your career?

I’m currently working on some projects in the Hudson Valley and New York City.  I plan to learn more about farming and to continue my culinary training in Japan.

 

An array of spices

Alumni Spotlight: Kiah Fuller + Carla Lopez, Professional Culinary Arts, 2017

Inspired by the catchphrase of one of their former Chef Instructors, the name “Far Out Catering” captures the idea of achieving the unimaginable. Coming from two completely different backgrounds and with over a decade in age difference between them, Kiah and Carla have taken their culinary education and quickly made real world application.

Incorporating their shared passion for food and common entrepreneurial goals, Kiah and Carla are the successful owners of a Bay Area based catering company that aims to aim to bridge the gap in cultural differences and put forth a menu that is “far out” from what you have seen before.

As the owners of a catering company, what activities are you involved with on a day to day basis?

Kiah + Carla: In one day, we can go from being the head chef to being the accountant, the marketing rep, and even the dishwasher. We work around the clock to create new menus, manage food cost, contact potential clients, and our favorite part, cook for weddings, private parties, and corporate events.


What led you to enroll in culinary school?

Kiah: Just before attending the ICC, I graduated college with a degree in Business Administration. Some people might think, “wow, what a complete career change!” However, obtaining both types of training prepared me to be a business owner.

Carla: Before [the] ICC, I earned a degree in Interior Design and for the last 10 years, worked with newborns as a certified Doula. Although I knew I wanted to work in food industry for long time, it was a hard decision to change my career.


What is the fondest memory of your time at the ICC?

Kiah: On the first day at class, when our Chef Instructor told us get started, I remember everyone running to grab pots and pans for themselves. It was then that I first interacted with Carla who kindly brought back a pot for the both of us. It was at that moment when we initiated a seamless alliance that would eventually develop into a business partnership.

Carla: When my class was assigned to make family meal. I appreciated the fact that my Chef-Instructor gave me the opportunity to share my personal food heritage with the entire campus. I took lead in preparing two Peruvian-style dinners and everybody was receptive to the meals. That positive feedback gave me the courage and confidence to later highlight my culture on my menu for FOC.


The idea of loving what we do means putting endless hours and devotion into one thing that we do very well and never growing tired of it– for us that’s Far Out Catering.”


Follow them on Instagram and Facebook via: @faroutcatering

5 Takeaways from ICC’s Ask The Alumni Demo with Adam Lathan, Co-Founder and Executive Chef of The Gumbo Bros.

Written by: Cathi Profitko 

Adam Lathan, co-founder and Executive Chef of The Gumbo Bros., is a native of the Gulf Coast of Alabama and a graduate of ICC’s Culinary Entrepreneurship program. In 2016, he and his business partner Clay opened their first location in Brooklyn to rave reviews. He recently joined ICC students for an Ask the Alumni event where he shared his experiences and advice on opening your first restaurant …as well as some secrets to making a great Gumbo.

Opening a restaurant is both exciting and overwhelming. It means you are creating a business that not only feeds your soul but will pay your bills. A big difference between those who succeed and those who don’t, is how they prepare for and manage the unexpected. How did Adam approach this? Here are some highlights from his discussion.

1. First things first, prepare a business plan.

A business plan is your road-map and will make you focus on all aspects of your business – not just the ones you are best at but more importantly the ones you are not.

2. Be generous with your estimates and set aside contingency to cover the inevitable yet unexpected.  

One area that many people miss is that in addition to construction and other startup costs, you also have operating costs (lease, utilities, insurance) to pay, even before you open. Setting aside sufficient working capital to cover this is critical.

3. You will need help.

Use resources and the network at ICC to assemble a team of advisers that will give you honest feedback and advice. The Gumbo Bros. has been operating successfully for well over a year yet Adam still actively maintains and expands his relationships with advisers and mentors.

4. Work with people you trust.

In addition to your advisers, mentors, and business partners, find a real estate broker and an attorney that care about your business as much as their own. You are tied to your lease for at least 10 years… be ruthless in making sure it is the best you can get. Remember, if you can’t take it with you when you leave, negotiate to have your landlord pay for it.

5. Understand what each member of your build out team – Architect, Engineer, Contractor(s) – is responsible for and hold them accountable.

Having had plenty of experience in general contracting while working for his father, Adam understood a lot more than most going into the build out. He recommends hiring a self-certifying architect to save time on approvals, working a “no change order” clause into your contractor agreements and take LOTS of pictures throughout the ENTIRE process. You don’t want to have to take down an entire wall to find out where a leaky pipe is 6 months after you open.

This discussion on restaurant construction could have gone on forever as Adam is a wealth of knowledge… but we were all getting hungry so Adam made us some Cajun Gumbo (the roux is oil based). And, of course, it was delicious!


Fun fact: Do you know the difference between Cajun and Creole cuisine? Cajun is referred to as country cooking where ingredients harvested from the swamps and bayous are used prominently; Creole cooking is referred to as city cooking as it came out of the diverse kitchens of New Orleans where the ports supplied an abundant array of less local ingredients.

Alumni Spotlight: Ally Nguyen, Italian Culinary Experience, Class of 2016

Ally Nguyen is currently a line cook at the NoMad Restaurant in New York City.  Originally from Seattle, Ally started her career cooking for some of the best restaurants in her hometown.  Her journey brought her to the International Culinary Center and ALMA – The International School of Italian Cuisine, where she graduated top of her class.  She completed her externship at Ristorante Gellius in northern Italy, and treasures the time she spent apprenticing under Chef Alessandro Breda, who taught her a love for the craft and a deep respect for the earth and its products.

Ally was not always working in the culinary world. Previously, Ally was a management consultant specializing in mergers and acquisitions. She also holds a Bachelors degree from the University of Chicago and a Masters degree from Harvard University. One would say that Ally made the right decision to pursue the culinary industry by studying at ICC, as she was just named one of the 2018 Bocuse Ment’or Grant recipients! We caught up with the ICC Italian Culinary Experience alumni to discuss the recent achievement, and much more below.


ICC: As a career-changer with a Bachelors degree from the University of Chicago and a Masters degree from Harvard University, tell us what made you decide to switch from business attire to chef whites?

Ally Nguyen: I worked before as a management consultant, which is a challenging and rewarding career, but the job required 4-5 days of travel every week.  It got to a point where that lifestyle wasn’t working for me and my family so I took some time off to explore other career options.

I have always loved to cook, but I wasn’t sure if the life of a professional cook would be a good fit.  So I gave myself a year to explore different professional kitchens and see if I could handle what was thrown at me.  My first job was at a small French restaurant in Seattle where everything was made in-house.  I loved my job, but I soon realized that my much younger colleagues had many more years of experience. I knew I needed to close the gap as quickly as I could.  So I worked out an arrangement where I could split my time with two of Seattle’s top restaurant groups, which gave me exposure to a wide range of techniques and foodways.

After a year in three kitchens, I knew the kitchen life was what I wanted.  Similar to my previous career, cooking requires high levels of organization, teamwork, and communication.  I understood that it was often not glamorous, but I loved the intensity of prep, the rush of service, the team camaraderie, and the satisfaction of making your customers happy.

At that point, I was ready for the structured, professional training of culinary school.  I visited a number of schools around the country, but I chose the International Culinary Center in New York because I felt immediately at home.  I was impressed with the facilities and equipment, and I loved how engaged and knowledgeable the chef-instructors were.  Curriculum-wise, I was particularly drawn to the Italian Culinary Experience.  ICC is one of the few culinary schools that offers a four-month externship abroad, and it was important to me to get exposure to a different culture and understand how they approach and think about food.


ICC: You graduated at the top of your class in ICC’s Italian Culinary Experience program. What was your favorite part of the ICC program?

There are so many wonderful moments for me at ICC, so it’s hard to choose a favorite. . .

I loved chef-instructors Chef Guido and Chef Jeff of the Italian program and Stefania, my Italian language instructor.  They are amazing individuals, and they make a great team.  They made class fun and educational, and I’m so grateful to have learned from them.

I also enjoyed all the extra-circular activities available to the students.  In fact, there were so many that it was hard to fit them in.  I assisted with many of the amateur and recreation classes, like the ramen class, the food styling class, and the New York Culinary Experience.  One of the highlights was working with ICC’s Chef Hiroko Shimbo. She’s a master of her craft and a true inspiration. And of course, all the amazing bread!


ICC: What would you say was the most challenging?

The most challenging for me was making the transition from culinary school in NYC to culinary school in Italy, where I had to adjust to a new culture, language, faculty and set of instructors.  Our ICC class of seven people were now part of a class of 40 or so students from all over the world.  It was a bit overwhelming at first, but it was also one of the most enriching and educational times of my life.

ICC: Describe your experience completing your externship at Ristorante Gellius in Northern Italy and apprenticing under Chef Alessandro Breda?

I spent my four-month externship at Restaurant Gellius, a Michelin starred restaurant in Oderzo, an ancient Roman market town north of Venice.  The restaurant is run by Chef Breda, one of the warmest, most gracious people I’ve ever met.  He was a wonderful teacher and mentor, always patient but thorough with his instruction.  Under his tutelage, I became the first non-Italian cook to lead the pasta and risotto station at his restaurant.  He loved telling his customers that their very Italian pasta was being made by a non-Italian cook.  But that just proves how good of a teacher he was — under his coaching and watchful eye, I could cook food that met his high standards.


ICC: You’re currently a line cook at the NoMad Restaurant in NYC. Have there been any personal highlights for you since starting this position?

The NoMad is one of the best teaching kitchens in New York so I was very lucky to work there right out of culinary school.  It’s a large operation with a Michelin-starred kitchen, a bustling bar (that’s the 3rd best in the world!), an impressive private dining kitchen on the rooftop, and a busy room service department.  The NoMad is made up of many moving parts so there are always opportunities to learn and grow.

As a new cook, you usually don’t get many opportunities to cook “your own food,” but one of the special things about the NoMad is that the chefs want you to get to know your ingredients and start thinking about how a recipe comes together early on in your career.

A couple times a year, the NoMad holds a “Cooks’ Battle” where every cook in the restaurant proposes an original recipe for the next season’s menu.  The cooks with the best recipes get paired with a sous chef mentor to develop and test their ideas.  It’s an amazing experience that taught me so much about the restaurant’s style, about my strengths and weaknesses, and about how to think like a chef.  It has helped me develop my own voice and style, and has definitely encouraged me to start thinking about my own recipes in my spare time.


ICC: Tell us what it means to you to be chosen as one of this year’s recipient of the prestigious Bocuse Ment’or grant?

It’s a tremendous honor.  Each year, the Bocuse Ment’or Grant gives young cooks the opportunity to live and work in any city and any restaurant they choose, allowing them the chance to learn new techniques and experience different kitchen cultures and approaches to food and cooking.  Additionally, the organization offers a stipend to cover housing, transportation, and salary, which gives young cooks financial support to further their education without the burden of debt.  That’s invaluable for young cooks who don’t always have the resources to cook abroad.

I have so much respect for the Bocuse organization, and I’m so excited about this upcoming experience


ICC: What do you hope to learn/take away from this experience?

In this conversation, you’re probably getting sick of listening to me say the word “learn,” but I think that’s the most important goal for any cook.  Accumulating knowledge and passing it on is the heart of the apprenticeship model.

The time I spent at Ristorante Gellius was some of the most educational time in my culinary life, and there’s nothing that can replace true on-the-job experience.  For my grant restaurant, I hope to receive many humbling lessons, and I hope to get a lot of “ah ha” moments where a technique finally makes sense or a concept suddenly clicks into place.  When I’m in the kitchen, I try to ask as many “why” questions as possible, and I hope to get some of those “why” questions answered during my time on stage.


ICC: Have you selected your stage location for the grant? If so, where and why did you choose this Chef/Restaurant?

I gave Ment’or my top 3 choices, which are L’Astrance in Paris, France, Narisawa in Tokyo, Japan, and Maeemo in Oslo, Norway.  The final destination hasn’t been decided yet, but I’d be thrilled to work at any of these restaurants.


ICC: What advice would you give to other individuals out there potentially looking to change careers and dive into the culinary world?

I’d give the same advice that Chef Guido has always given me because it’s the best advice I’ve ever received:  Follow your heart and whatever choice you make will be the right one, as long as you are willing to learn and put in the hard work.”


ICC: What would be your dream position within the culinary industry? Why?

Funny you ask this question, because I will be starting my dream job in a couple of days.  My last day at the NoMad was on Wednesday, and I’m moving to Eleven Madison Park next week.  EMP was the restaurant that inspired me to move to New York, and it’s the place that I always wanted to work.  I admire Chef Humm’s philosophy on food and hospitality, and it will be a dream come true to work at the flagship restaurant.

  • I’ve been with the Make It Nice group for a year, and I love how good the company is to their people.  I’m so happy stay within the family, and I’m excited to continue learning and contributing to how we make our customers happy.  Because happiness is the end goal, isn’t it?


Ben Lubin, Owner of The Blind Monk

Ben Lubin

Ben Lubin, Owner of The Blind Monk

“Discipline, respect, organization and the ability to master skills are key in the kitchen. If you are a good soldier, you can be a good professional cook…I can’t imagine a career that is better suited for veterans.”

After tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and earning a Master’s Degree from Columbia University, Marines veteran Ben Lubin was looking for two things: a job in International Relations and a really good cup of coffee.

Instead, he discovered a new passion and—tapping his military skills—created a career he loves. Today, he is the owner of a successful wine and tapas bar, The Blind Monk, in his hometown of West Palm Beach, FL, armed with a Sommelier Certification and Grand Dîplôme from International Culinary Center in New York City.

“I finished my tour, started the process of finding a job” and decided to drive across the country during the search. Being out on the road was amazing, “but it can be isolating unless you reach out to people. Every town I visited, my goal was to find a coffee house and from there a great bar or restaurant. You meet and experience what the town is about and you realize that the food, wine, coffee are the connectors.”

After weeks of good eating and interviewing, he got two job offers. As fate would have it, the one he accepted fell through. Rather than leaving him discouraged, he decided to build what he enjoyed on his travels — a friendly, unpretentious neighborhood place where one can experience the pleasure of drinking fine wine and beer.

In 2010, with little experience in the culinary industry, Lubin opened The Blind Monk Wine Bar & Tapas in his Florida hometown. Initially, he focused completely on the beverage program, hiring a sommelier and a cicerone on staff. When he was ready to open the kitchen, he hired a chef consultant. Almost instantly he realized he wanted those skills himself.

“At first, I wanted to stay close, but when I started investigating local options I saw the price of ICC was about the same so I decided I might as well go with the best. Also, the six-month program was key,” referring to the school’s reputation for excellent fast-track (almost boot-camp-like training).

After completing the Professional Culinary Arts program in 2013, Lubin made significant improvements in both the menu and physical space which led them to receive the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence and also be named Best Place for Great Value. Relying once more on his staff to cover, Lubin completed ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training program and earned his Certified Sommelier accreditation in 2013.

Lubin was featured in the April 2015 issue of Arrive (click here) and The NY Post in 2016 (click here).

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