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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Rhonda Crosson

Rhonda has worked for and with some of New York’s best bakeries and high profile chefs; from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery and Per Se to Amy’s Bread, Daniel Boulud and Marcus Samuelsson. A former chemist, Rhonda holds a degree in Biological Chemistry from Bates College, as well as diplomas in both Bread Baking and Culinary Arts from the International Culinary Center, where she has also been a bread instructor. Today, Rhonda is Head Baker for all of the MeyersUSA locations including Michelin star restaurant Agern, Great Northern Food Hall in Grand Central Station and more.

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Hugh Mangum

Born to a father from Texas and a mother from the Bronx, Mangum grew up among the diverse food culture of Los Angeles, but always found the best barbecue in his backyard, prepared by his father. Honoring an inheritance he received after the passing of his father, Hugh Mangum graduated from New York’s French Culinary Institute (now ICC) in 2001. In 2011, Mangum took his passion to the next level as Co-Founder and Pit Master for Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque which defines a distinct brand of New York-style barbecue that slots neatly into the fast-casual industry.

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Anna-Christina Cabrales

Classic Culinary Arts and Intensive Sommelier Training, 2012

Anna-Christina had graduated from Classic Culinary Arts in January 2011, and was so “bitten by the food bug” that she returned to her alma mater to tackle wine studies. I recently spoke to my classmate to catch up on old times. “The universe was really speaking to me…after graduation, I was working at a job at Food Network, and didn’t know if I wanted to stay or not, and then the opportunity to work at Blue Hill at Stone Barns presented itself. I jumped at it.”

Unfortunately, the commute was a bit much for her…as were the deer (she developed a fear of injuring one with her car), so when the chance to become an Assistant Somm at Morrell & Company in NYC’s Rockefeller Center arose, she moved on down the career road.

As fate would have it, a week after she started her position, the Head Somm left, and she was put in the position of “sink or swim.” She buckled down, continued to taste, read and learn all she could, so that when the position for Wine Director came up, she felt confident enough to take it over. She credits the program at ICC with providing her with the foundation to be successful, along with another female role model. “I’m very inspired by Roberta Morrell who runs this family’s business. I love seeing more and more women in positions of authority in this industry.” Anna-Christina now finds herself, traveling, finding trends in wine, volunteering and working with ICC students. “I definitely want to give back and pay it forward.” From Assistant Sommelier to Wine Director in three short years.

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Liz Button

Restaurant Management and Classic Culinary Arts, 2007
CEO of Heirloom Hospitality Group in Asheville, NC

Elizabeth Button is a passionate advocate for culinary authenticity and sustainability. Nowhere is this more evident than in her current role at Heirloom Hospitality Group (HHG). This family-owned company that includes her daughter Chef Katie Button, son-in-law Felix Meana and Ted Button, owns and manages Cúrate, a nationally acclaimed Spanish restaurant in Asheville, and its vintage-themed neighbor, Nightbell Restaurant & Lounge. She ran the highly successful Elizabeth Button Catering before attending The French Culinary Institute in 2007.

HHG holds a three-star Green Restaurant certification, is a Living Wage employer, and works closely with area farmers and the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project to promote the use of locally grown meat and produce. In addition, Liz and HHG are leaders in Chefs at Downtown Welcome Table, a program that brings restaurant-quality food to a downtown church, providing nutritious meals to people in need.

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ICC alumnus Polo Dobkin

Polo Dobkin

ICC alumnus Polo Dobkin

Polo Dobkin, co-founder, owner and executive chef at Michelin-starred Meadowsweet, graduated with honors from the International Culinary Center (ICC), then The French Culinary Institute, in 2000. From there, Dobkin’s culinary career led him to some of New York City’s finest restaurants, including Gramercy Tavern, the Screening Room and the Dining Room, where he had the opportunity to work under renowned chefs Tom Colicchio and Mark Spangenthal. Dobkin went on to become executive chef at Dressler in 2006, where he became Brooklyn’s third chef to earn a Michelin star.

In 2014, Dobkin joined the ranks of ICC’s other food entrepreneurs when he co-founded Meadowsweet with his wife, Stephanie Lempert. The pair decided to open their new restaurant at the site of the former Dressler, which closed in 2013 due to lease conflicts. In an interview with The Village Voice, Dobkin described the cuisine at Meadowsweet as “contemporary American food with a Mediterranean current.”

Preferring to let the ingredients speak for themselves, Dobkin emphasizes “execution over elaboration” in his cuisine. Meadowsweet was awarded a Michelin star in both 2015 and 2016. Michelin stars, introduced in the U.S. in 2006, are awarded by the prestigious Michelin Guide and considered the hallmark of fine dining around the world. As of 2016, ICC graduates have earned a total of 104 Michelin Stars (137 including ICC deans).

Dobkin and his restaurants have been featured in a variety of publications, includingArt Culinaire, New York Magazine, Food Arts Magazine, The New Yorker, Travel & Leisureand GQ. His refined cooking style at Dressler also earned a two-star review from The New York Times. In 2006, Dobkin was awarded Food Arts Magazine’s “Emerging Tastemaker Award,” and he was also a semi-finalist for The James Beard Award “Best Chef New York City” in 2008, 2010 and 2011.

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John Lasater

Lasater is Nashville’s hottest new restaurateur—literally. His Hattie B’s has changed the way hot chicken is viewed in the South. Named one of the “10 Best Chicken Wings in America” by Maxim, the young chef has built Hattie B’s from the ground up, opening two restaurants in three years, and has no plans of slowing down.

A native of Tennessee, John graduated from the French Culinary Institute in New York and worked at Capitol Grille in the Hermitage Hotel, Flyte World Dining & Wine and Porter Road Butcher in Nashville before joining the team at Hattie B’s Hot Chicken in 2012. Upon his arrival, he created the Hattie B’s hot blend they use today, along with designing their signature side dishes.

Lasater is Nashville’s hottest new restauranteur—literally. His Hattie B’s has changed the way hot chicken is viewed in the South. Named one of the “10 Best Chicken Wings in America” by Maxim, the young chef has built Hattie B’s from the ground up, opening two restaurants in three years, and has no plans of slowing down.

John is in charge of all areas of operations—from hiring, training, scheduling and overseeing the kitchen. In Spring 2014, John was named an Eater “Young Gun” nominee, and was featured in Forbes’s “30 under 30 for Food & Wine” in 2015.

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Andrew Zimmerman

Andrew Zimmerman, executive chef at Michelin-starred Sepia in Chicago, graduated first in his class from the International Culinary Center (ICC), then The French Culinary Institute, in 2000. With dreams of becoming a professional musician, Zimmerman spent much of his 20s working in restaurants to support his musical career. He soon realized, however, that he loved working in kitchens more than performing at clubs and began pursuing a career as a professional chef.

After graduating from ICC’s Professional Culinary Arts program, Zimmerman moved to Chicago, where he met restaurateur Terry Alexander. Alexander was so impressed by Zimmerman’s skills that he hired him as executive chef at MOD and opening chef for Del Toro. In 2008, Zimmerman met Sepia owner Emmanuel Nony, who offered him the executive chef position the following year. Sepia was awarded a Michelin star in 2011, a rating which it has maintained each year since. Michelin stars were introduced in the U.S. in 2006 by the prestigious Michelin Guide, and are considered the hallmark of fine dining around the world. As of 2016, ICC graduates have earned a total of 104 Michelin Stars (137 including ICC deans).

Zimmerman was a James Beard Foundation Award finalist for “Best Chef: Great Lakes” from 2012–2015, and was chosen as StarChefs’ 2011 “Rising Star Chef.” He was also nominated for the Jean Banchet Awards’ “Chef of the Year” title in 2011, 2012 and 2013, and won “Restaurant of the Year” for Sepia in 2012. Known for his dedication to community involvement, Zimmerman won Plate magazine’s “Humanitarian of the Year” award in 2012 and was invited by the State Department Chief of Protocol to join the American Chef Corps, which uses food as a diplomatic tool for bringing people together and transcending cultural boundaries.

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James Christopher Tracy

Courses of study: Culinary Arts 1999

Current occupation: Winemaker/Partner at Channing Daughters Vineyards in the Hamptons, New York

James Christopher Tracy is a winemaker and partner at Channing Daughters. He was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area. Christopher attended schools on both the East and West coasts, and after earning a BA in Performing Arts/Philosophy, he moved to NYC to pursue theater training. After several years of writing “undercover” restaurant reviews in NYC, Christopher attended The French Culinary Institute (now called International Culinary Center). He graduated first in his class and received a Grand Diplome in 1999. Christopher worked as the Pastry Sous Chef at March Restaurant and then as Executive Sous Chef of Robbins Wolfe Eventeurs. While working as a chef, Christopher earned his Sommelier Certificate from the Sommelier Society of America as well as the Higher Certificate from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust. He was awarded the Diploma from the Wine & Spirits Education Trust (WSET), which entitles him to the D.W.S. distinction. He also holds a CWE (Certified Wine Educator) certification from the Society of Wine Educators.

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Ed McFarland

Though New York City native Ed McFarland didn’t eat a lobster until he was 17, growing up in a family that was passionate about gardening and good food fostered his love of all things home-grown and delicious.

Ed’s humble beginnings in Staten Island pizzeria kitchens were soon overshadowed as he moved on to work in some of New York’s most esteemed restaurants. He graduated from the International Culinary Center in 1995 and quickly began learning from some of New York’s best, including Sotha Kuhn at Le Cirque and Dave Pasternak at Picholine. As he began to master cooking techniques, he became drawn to the delicateness and simplicity of seafood and eventually settled down at West Village mainstay Pearl Oyster Bar, where he worked as sous chef for six years and deepened his knowledge of New England cuisine and Northeastern seafood culture.

In 2007, Ed’s long-awaited dream became a reality. Ed’s Lobster Bar is the culmination of his years of study and apprenticeship combined with his family food experiences and dedication to garden-fresh produce. Using his own home-grown vegetables and herbs in the summer months and drawing from his Italian heritage for specials like lobster meatballs, Ed has created a truly unique spin on New England food.

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