Alumni Spotlight: Jae Lee, 2016 California Culinary Arts Graduate

After immigrating to America, Jae Lee owned and ran a successful Japanese restaurant. Over time though, he realized the need for a solid culinary education to build on and solidify his knowledge. Read the story of how Jae Lee went from 2016 California Culinary Arts graduate to Sushi Chef and General Manager of Kenji Sushi in San Jose, California.


There are times when you’re so tired from work, but still can’t hate it because you love what you do.” – Jae Lee


ICC: What were the steps and thoughts that lead you to the decision to attend the ICC?

Jae: I was born and raised in Korea, and during my childhood days, I remember always making my own snacks after school. Even with the instant cup noodles, I tried something different by adding seafood and some spices to make a fancy noodle soup and I did this pretty much throughout my childhood days. After I graduated high school, I wanted to go to culinary school in the U.S. but I first had to take ESL classes and learn English. During those days, I worked part-time jobs in the food industry. After I got married, I thought skipping culinary school and owning my own business would be a good idea so I started my own Japanese restaurant. I owned this restaurant for seven years and although is was successful, I wished I knew more than just Japanese or Korean food. I wanted to broaden my knowledge in professional culinary techniques. I had regrets on not going to culinary school, so I sold my business and found ICC.


ICC: Today, you have taken on responsibility in your family’s business—How you get involved with Kenji and what are some of your day-to-day tasks?

Jae: Working as a Sushi Chef and also in general management, I start my mornings off by making sure all staff members are prepared for the day. I check the receipt and quality of all deliveries for the day’s ingredients and I ensure the cleanliness of the restaurant. The task that gives me the most joy is creating a meal with raw fish behind the sushi bar while a customer is in front me watching how I make things. I love seeing the smiling faces of customers and hearing them tell me that they love what I made them.

I work at Kenji because my family owns the restaurant but, my main motivation is the style and the concept that this restaurant pursues. It blends in with my previous Japanese restaurant business and the new things I learned at ICC.


ICC: What advice would you give to someone considering enrolling in culinary school?

You should not hesitate to pursue a culinary education if you love sharing with people the food you’ve made. You learn so much in school! Even after owning my own restaurant business for 7 years, there’s still so much I learned. Coming to ICC was definitely one of the best decision I made throughout my career.


ICC: What were your greatest challenges at school and how were you able to overcome them?

Jae: My greatest challenge at school was attending evening classes while working full time but my passion for learning new things kept me going.


ICC: What is the best industry advice you’ve ever received?

Jae: The best advice I’ve ever received was when one of my professors who said that most important thing about business is the ‘concept of the restaurant’. Because my career goal is to have my own restaurant again, I find this very practical advice.


ICC: Tell us about your current role at Kenji Sushi in San Jose?

Jae: I work as a Sushi Chef at Kenji and also do general management. I start my morning off by making sure all staff is covered, checking all deliveries for today’s ingredients and cleanliness of the restaurant. Creating a meal with raw fish behind the sushi bar, while a customer is in front of you watching how you make things; this is one of my joy of my job. Seeing the smiling faces of customers telling me they love what I made them.


Connect with Jae Lee on Instagram via  @jay_lee_man and @kenji_sushi.

Alumni Profile: Bernice Cheng [2014 Sommelier Graduate]

Learn about 2014 Intensive Sommelier Training graduate Bernice Cheng below as she discusses life after Somm School with ICC. Bernice shares her journey from working as a corporate finance lawyer before switching careers to pursue life as a professional sommelier. Following her ICC California graduation, Bernice founded xBorder Wines where she is now based predominantly in Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The more I study, the less I know. It’s a never ending journey which fascinates me and I know will continue to be a passion that lasts a lifetime.” -Bernice Cheng


bernice2What is xBorder Wines and, as founder, what does your job entail? 

xBorder Wines by its name “Cross Border” captured in the “x” in xBorder is a way to leverage my prior legal and business experiences doing cross-border mergers as well as acquisitions transactions in private practices (and corporations) into the food and wine world. The business operates primarily in Beijing (where I am based), Shanghai and Hong Kong where there is an abundance of wine lovers, wine students and wine companies of all sizes (local and international) who are thirsty to create ideas and deliver cool innovative products and services to the Greater China market.

I do a fair amount of wine events – ranging from working with chefs to showcase wine pairings with regional Chinese and Japanese cuisine; to coordinating trunk shows with wacky themes for designers in HK breaking into the mainland Chinese market; to hosting wine events for law firms at the partner level on fine and rare wines to more introductory wine tastings for associates.  Given my legal background, I also advice some small wine companies on how to break into the Chinese market, and also local individuals/wine companies which are interested in buying chateaus and wineries abroad.


Please tell us about what it took to create xBorder Wines. What was your vision/goal as an entrepreneur? Do you have a website?

I am currently working with web designers to create a new website for xBorder Wines to showcase all that I do. My previous website xBorderfoods was more focused on food than wine and it was more of a blog to be honest. xBorder Wines had been an evolution, I started blogging about my travels then writing about my experiences in cookery schools and the sommelier courses when I first left the corporate world and still finding my path. Through the site, I received so much encouragement along the way which was enlightening and encouraging. As I gained more wine qualifications and did more wine tastings, the word got around and I slowly evolved my business model. I guess the combo of a lawyer who turned into a wine professional was a bit of a novelty so it helped in promoting my services.


What inspired you to enroll in the ICC?

I had always been interested in food. Initially, I thought this certification (Intensive Sommelier Training) would be a good way to round off my experience so that I could offer a more complete service in pairing wines with food. It was only after I enrolled in the course that I realized wine was my destiny! I felt wine studies encapsulated all of my greatest loves; it is also a discipline which continues to change and challenge the equilibrium.


How have the skills you learned at the ICC helped your career?

The Somm diploma I gained at the ICC was integral in helping me get my Intro and Certified Somm qualification with the Court of Master Sommeliers. Getting the Sommelier job title was the first step for me in my wine journey and  it allowed me to meet the entry requirement to attend trade events. My education was key for me to build my contacts and network in the wine world.


What were your greatest challenges at school and how were you able to overcome them?

The biggest challenge was accepting the fact that everyone in the classroom had tasted more wines than I had, and having the courage to say what I believe—I feared my wine experience was shallow compared to everyone else. Over time, I learned to trust that practice tastings and hard work would somehow pay off. I believe in the process!


What advice would you give to an individual who’s possibly looking to pursue an education in wine studies? 

Life is too short, you only live once. You don’t know what you don’t know unless you’ve tried. Even if you don’t make a career out of it, this is a very pleasurable and sociable life skill to have under your belt.


What is the best industry related advice that has been passed along to you? 

This is the best exam advice I had received – You are your own worst enemy, just trust in the process… it will come to you if you give yourself a chance.


For more information on xBorder Wines and Bernice Cheng, visit www.xborderwines.com

Alumni Spotlight: Melissa Carroll, Pastry Arts Class of 2012 [California]

In a new alumni spotlight feature, Professional Pastry Arts graduate Melissa Carroll talks to ICC on life after graduating from ICC California’s Professional Pastry Arts program in 2012. Following her California graduation, Melissa traveled the globe before landing in the pastry kitchen of the South Congress Hotel in Austin, Texas.

To me, ‘Love What You Do’ is an incredibly important phrase that everyone should tell themselves. If you’re not enjoying your career, you’re not enjoying your life. We all have to work to provide a life for ourselves. What’s the point in working a job your hate when you could be doing something you love? ”

– Melissa Carroll


ICC: Tell us a little bit about your day-to-day responsibilities working for the South Congress Hotel in Austin, Texas. 

Melissa: I am a pastry kitchen supervisor at the South Congress Hotel in Austin, Texas. My job entails everything I used to do as a pastry cook plus helping with ordering, inventory, and writing prep sheets for our pastry team of about 12 people. Because I work night shifts, I’m responsible for both plating desserts on the line and pastry production. Within the hotel, there are two restaurants, one event space, one ice cream truck, and one bakeshop/coffee shop that we produce for. 


ICC: How did you first get involved with the hotel? melissa-carroll-7

Melissa: Before moving to Austin about a year and a half ago, I applied for the job from Illinois and later had a phone interview with my Chef, Amanda Rockman. Once I arrived, we met for a formal interview and I was offered the position as a pastry cook.  


ICC: What inspired you to enroll in culinary school? Were there certain steps/ thoughts that lead you to the decision?

Melissa: I’ve loved cooking since I was about 12 years old. I always found myself watching cooking shows and enjoyed making dinner for my family every night. Going to culinary school was always something I knew I’d enjoy.


ICC: How and when did you know you wanted to work in the food industry? What about it was appealing to you?

Melissa: In high school, I had dreams of opening my own cafe one day. One of my favorite parts of cooking is being able to cook for other people. Seeing the look on someone’s face when they’re enjoying your food is very rewarding. After high school, I attended art school for a semester. I then took the following semester off to save up for culinary school. I later went back to art school while working in kitchens to finish up my Associates in Fine Arts.


ICC: What were your greatest challenges at school? And how were you able to overcome them?

Melissa: Some of my greatest challenges in culinary school were remembering all of the different types of creams and exact temperatures to cook certain things to. It’s something I still struggle remembering but flash cards were definitely my friends when test time came around.


ICC: If someone were hesitant about pursuing a culinary education, what you say to encourage them?

Melissa: If someone is interested in pursuing an education in the culinary industry I would suggest them to stàge at a restaurant they admire first. Restaurant life isn’t for everyone, but if it’s something that they feel they’d enjoy after stàging for a day or two, I’d say it’s worth it. Being able to cook for people and using your creativity with food as your medium is very fulfilling.


ICC: What is your fondest memory of culinary school? 

One of my favorite assignments at the ICC was coming up with my own seasonal dessert menu for a fictional restaurant concept. My chef instructors then picked two items from the menu and we had to present them. They chose the Gooey Butter Cake with a cranberry orange compote and cinnamon chantilly and a deconstructed “Fig Newton” with fig thyme jam, spiced shortbread, goat cheese anglaise, port wine reduction, and a candied thyme sprig. My favorite event that I was able to attend thanks to the ICC was a dessert tasting and tour at Farallon with Chef Emily Luchetti.

Alumni Spotlight: Avery Ruzicka, Bread Baking Class of 2011

Throughout Avery Ruzicka’s youth, cooking always played a big role. Her professional interest in food emerged from the extensive time she spent abroad during and after high school, leading to her  first restaurant job in college.

Every night we sat down to a home cooked meal and the entire family took part in preparation,” says Ruzicka, a Greensboro, North Carolina native.

Encouraged by her parents to explore and experience other cultures, Ruzicka moved to Spain as a high school sophomore and also spent a year in England before heading to college. Ruzicka attended the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, where she studied political science, international studies, and creative writing. A study abroad trip to France later exposed her to a new world of award-winning cuisine and led her to explore food writing.

I thought if I wanted to get into food writing, I had better learn the ins and outs of a kitchen, so I worked at restaurants while finishing my degree. I loved the intensity, creativity, and collaboration that came from working in a kitchen and decided to focus on food over writing,” says Ruzicka.

Soon after, she enrolled at the French Culinary Institute (now ICC) where she earned The Art of International Bread Baking diploma in six months.


ICC: In what capacity do you work for Manresa Bread? What does your job entail, both in a broad sense as well as day-to-day?

Ruzicka: The exciting part about Manresa Bread is that my day-to-day responsibilities are ever-evolving. If I look at my role every six months, some part of that has changed in an exciting and positive way. It’s always been my goal to keep learning in the culinary world and the added joy of starting my own business has allowed me to do that every day. If you work in food, you get to do a lot of things. If you are really engaged in it, you can learn a new technique or process all the time. I’m no longer just a baker; I’m a business owner on top of that. It really opens up a number of other doors to continue to learn and challenge myself. There are days where I’m in the bakery wearing an apron and getting my hands dirty and other days where I’m at my desk or hitting up our retail locations in Los Gatos and Los Altos.


ICC: Did your ICC education help you land this job? Do you use the skills you learned at the ICC at work?

Ruzicka: The Art of International Bread Baking program at ICC’s New York Campus definitely gave me a good foundation that I was able to build on with time and practice. I left ICC with a core understanding of how bread works. That’s what I look to Manresa restaurant with me and that’s the foundation for Manresa Bread.


avery-2ICC:  What inspired you to enroll in culinary school? Were there certain steps/ thoughts that lead you to the decision?

Ruzicka: I was interested in getting into food writing and so I thought I should get into a kitchen. I loved it so much and immediately decided to pursue cooking, knowing that I could go back to writing if I wanted to.


ICC:  What were your greatest challenges at school? And how were you able to overcome them?

Ruzicka: There were so many opportunities available to us that it was hard to participate in everything between course work, a full-time stage, and the extra programming offered by ICC. Getting to know the instructors and looking to them for guidance and feedback really helped determine where I wanted to focus my time and energy.


ICC: If someone was hesitant to pursue a culinary education, what you say to encourage them?

Ruzicka: Spend time to self-reflect on pursing a culinary career. It is a quickly changing career choice. From an income point of view, the rewards are not going to be astronomical but it is incredibly gratifying if it is something you are passionate about. The culinary field is a creative and exciting career choice. It will ask a lot of you and you really need to love it. There are so many options within the culinary field that keeping an open mind and committing to trying different roles from line cook to something in research and development can be beneficial to finding the niche that’s right for you. Be imaginative – if you can dream about a role in the culinary world, you can create it.


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

Ruzicka: The joy of learning how to make bread was pretty magical for me. Going in every morning and baking off loaves was always so exciting to me. I have a lot of memories of waking up early to bake – even the smell of the baking bread in the kitchen. That has stayed with me for years!


ICC: What is the best industry related advice you’ve ever received? 

Ruzicka: Be actively engaged and present in your work every day and hold yourself to the highest standard, regardless of any standard someone else is putting in front of you.


For more information on Manresa Bread, please visit: http://www.manresabread.com/ 

Alumni Spotlight: Rodrigo Schweitzer, Class of 2011

For our first ICC Alumni Spotlight of 2017, we caught up with Professional Culinary Arts alum chef Rodrigo Schweitzer. Explaining why he felt attending the International Culinary Center in New York was the right choice to pursue his culinary dreams, the Brazil based chef elaborates on ICC’s full immersion program. Learning the fundamental techniques and skills for success in only 6 months, an international student such as Rodrigo has the potential to save thousands of dollars in living expenses and tuition when making their culinary school decision.

The main reason why I chose ICC was because of the full immersion program. So, in my research, I knew that a student here could graduate in 6 months but being taught what they teach in other schools in 2 years. They taught me to be a prepared cook.”

Following up on life after culinary school graduation, Schweizer earned his spot as the winner of Hell’s Kitchen Brasil (Season 3), taking home the 100,000 gold bar prize. Becoming known as the ‘Fit Chef’ while on the show for sharing his weight loss story, Chef Schweitzer helps individuals reach their goals of losing weight through healthy eating habits. With the momentum of the Hell’s Kitchen win still strong, he shares plans to open an elevated pizzeria in Brazil with ‘nontraditional’ toppings.

Watch the full interview to learn about the chef’s new endeavor and more!

 

Click HERE for more information about how you can #LoveWhatYouDo at ICC as an international student.

Alumni Spotlight: William Roberts, Class of 2006

William is the Executive Chef at Dio Deka, an elevated Greek Tavern in Los Gatos, CA. Tonight’s special? California Sea Bass with ouzo, tomato, olives and capers.
William is the Executive Chef at Dio Deka, an elevated Greek Tavern in Los Gatos, CA. Tonight’s special? California Sea Bass with ouzo, tomato, olives and capers.

Highlighting our talented alumni from the Professional Culinary Arts program, ICC catches up with chef William Roberts from the class of 2006 to reflect back on 10 years in the culinary industry. As Executive Chef of Dio Deka in Los Gatos, California, Roberts leads the only Greek restaurant in the U.S. to be a Michelin Star Recipient and Michelin Star rated.

After graduating from the French Culinary Institute in New York, Chef William Roberts worked under various Michelin-starred chefs in New York City and Woodside (Queens) before heading west to San Francisco to join Michael Mina’s team in relaunching a flagship restaurant in San Francisco. While at Dio Deka, Roberts shares his passion for fine cuisine with guests and actively shows you can #LoveWhatYouDo throughout your career.

ICC: What made you choose to pursue a career in the culinary industry? 

Roberts: “The culinary industry chose me as much as I chose it. What started off as an interesting job grew into an obsession. I worked in restaurants for 5 years before I attended the FCI (ICC). Once I realized that this could be my career I looked to solidify my skills and resume. What has always drawn me to cooking was the transformation of raw ingredients from the earth into something delicious. The idea of creating pleasure and nourishment for a completed stranger is unique to the hospitality industry.”executive-chef-william-roberts-of-dio-deka-los-gatos-ca

ICC: What was the best advice you’ve ever received while in culinary school?

Roberts: “The best advice I ever received was to have relentless determination. Very few people are naturals at anything, for most of us it takes hard work, repetition, and putting in time. The biggest thing that I notice about the younger generations of cooks is that the majority of them doesn’t want to put the time in required to progress and develop into the next generation of chefs.”

ICC: What was your favorite memory attending ICC’s California campus?

Roberts: The FCI ( ICC) was a great experience for me. The network that they create stays with you for your entire career. The quality of the chef-instructors was very high and for the student with no previous experience it does prepare you for an entry level position in a kitchen.

A lasting memory of my time at the ICC is meeting my wife and building friendships that will last a life time.”