Erika Nakamura

Hometown: Tokyo, Japan

Current city: Goldens Bridge, New York

Course of study: Classic Culinary Arts

Graduation year: 2009

One food/beverage you can’t live without? vegetables

Describe your culinary POV in three words: pastured, organic, local

Best food experience of all time? Seeing Vitaly Paley, the chef from Paley’s Place in Portland, do a demo at ICC. He completely opened my mind to what you could do with meat.

What would your last meal consist of? I’d probably sit down and eat a bunch of oysters


When you first entered the International Culinary Center, what was your background in cooking?

My interest goes way back—I was the kid cooking from a high chair, getting screamed at by my grandmother. But I’d never worked in a professional kitchen before coming to school.

Was enrolling at the International Culinary Center a career change?

I was working as a sculptor, teaching a lot, and trying to get seen in the Chelsea gallery scene. It was great, but I started to feel like I’d hit a wall. You can keep pushing and studying and producing, but that doesn’t mean the world is going to open up. And so at some point it seemed to me there was a more solid career in food.

How did ICC compare to your expectations?

Level 1 and Level 2 are extremely rigorous. They hit you with so much information—the French terms, the knife skills, plus all the basic cooking skills. That was a big challenge. But it was also really inspiring. It created a shared experience among the class—let’s all learn with each other and from each other. You want to throw down and show that you can hang with the best.

How did you come to choose butchering as your specialty?

What’s funny is there weren’t any butchers where I grew up in Tokyo—just fish—so I came into the school without a precise sense of that world. Then in Level 1, we learned how to quarter a chicken, and I loved the experience, working the same activity over and over, and nailing it into your body. I literally stopped on the way home that night and picked up three or four more birds, to practice quartering and trussing them.

How did the International Culinary Center help you develop your career after graduation?

Butchering is a little different from other forms of cooking. Studying butchering, you can understand anatomy and how to work with the meat, but you don’t become proficient until you do it over and over and over, 15 hours a day. So I needed to apprentice with a butcher with access to a large volume of meat. ICC connected me with Josh Applestone [at Fleisher’s Meats]. Both my wife and I ended up working there eight months, doing six to eight carcasses in a single week, 800 pounds each. That’s where I got my training wheels.


Can you talk specifically about how your International Culinary Center education has helped you manage your business?

Most obviously, the school opened up my eyes to sustainability. That’s something they pound into you, mostly for economic reasons—don’t throw anything away, not even an onion stem. That ultimate sustainability is at the very core of what we practice in our shop. It’s also easy to talk about how to cook something, which is valuable. The better I can help them cook it, the more likely they are to enjoy the experience.

Ever regret your decision to give up sculpting for butchering?

Never. I still get a creative rush butchering every day. Every time I have a knife in my hand or I’m tying a roast, I try to do it better and better. Butchering is an art that was dying and now it is being brought back to life.


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