In 1891, Carnegie Hall was founded on the premise “…that this hall will intertwine itself with the history of our country.” (Andrew Carnegie, 1890) 128 years later, aspiring chefs and sommeliers join the list of musical legends like Édith Piaf, Frank Zappa and Benny Goodman who took center stage in the world-renowned theater. For the seventh year running, graduates of ICC’s career programs from June 2018 to May 2019 took to the Carnegie Hall stage to celebrate their hard work and accomplishments at ICC’s Annual Commencement Ceremony held on Sunday, June 2. This also marked the school’s 35th Anniversary since its founding as The French Culinary Institute in 1984.
To say the energy in the grand hall was palpable is an understatement. As graduates marched to the cherished melody of Pomp and Circumstance, families and friends, who travelled far and wide to celebrate this year’s graduates, filled the space with explosions of applause. They were joined by members of the ICC Community—Faculty & Staff, Deans, Chef Instructors and Outstanding Alumni Award winners—all of whom shared in cheers of excitement! ICC President Erik Murnighan—who graduated from the culinary program almost two decades ago—began the ceremony by sharing what he believes to be the true measure of success in our industry. Mr. Murnighan shared that, “doing what you love and achieving your goals are great measures of success, celebrity or not. In fact, the highest regarded celebrities in our industry are those who built a successful career first and garnered celebrity based on their accomplishments.”
He went on to note that success is, “forging a new path, creating something unique and interesting, and making people happy.” While many ICC alumni have gone on to achieve notoriety as celebrity chefs, there are others who have created something important to their communities—whether it’s a restaurant, artisanal ice cream shop or popular wine store—that continue to impact the culinary landscape regardless of whether they are a “household name”. We’re proud to see these alumni achieve success in so many different areas to pave the way for the next generation.
This sentiment certainly rings true for our 2019 Outstanding Alumni Award winners, each of whom demonstrate excellence in their field of study and whose achievements contribute to shaping our culinary and hospitality communities. Leland Clark, Vice President of Student Affairs, presented this years awards to five very deserving recipients—Scott Tacinelli of Don Angie for Excellence in Culinary Arts, Zoë Kanan of Simon and the Whale and The Studio for Excellence in Pastry Arts, Vanessa Da Silva of Ninety Acres for Outstanding Sommelier, Matt Monahan of Other Half Brewing for Excellence in Entrepreneurship and Ben Mims of The Los Angeles Times for Excellence in Media.
Each recipient gave a short acceptance speech where they shared advice for members of the graduating class hoping to follow in their footsteps, like setting personal goals and continuing to be curious. Kanan, who heads up all things sweet and baked at the Freehand Hotel’s establishments, remarked how full circle it was to receive the award that both of her mentor’s— fellow graduates Christina Tosi (Pastry ‘04) and Melissa Weller (Pastry ‘04)—had received years prior. From many years in the industry, Kanan shared the importance of “treating every person that you work beside with compassion and respect, from dishwashers to owners. Kitchen work is teamwork, and support from your team is what will give you an edge.”
Following the presentation of diplomas for Professional Culinary Arts, Pastry Arts, Art of International Bread Baking, Cake Techniques & Design and Intensive Sommelier Training graduates, Chef Aarón Sánchez, Commencement Keynote Speaker, addressed the newly minted alumni with words of wisdom for entering the industry . Chef Aarón, who needed no introduction, is a James Beard Award winning Chef/Owner of Johnny Sanchez in New Orleans, and co-star of FOX’s MasterChef and MasterChef Junior. Beyond the kitchen, his philanthropic work has helped to encourage diversity in the kitchen, specifically through the Aarón Sánchez Scholarship Fund that provides full culinary scholarships and mentorships to ICC.
Before beginning his speech, Chef Aarón stopped to note the diversity of students walking across the stage, including the many women graduating, and shared the joy he felt in seeing this as the son of a female chef. He commended the graduates for making the bold and courageous choice to enter into the culinary industry, stating that “sadly, only 25% of people out there do what they really love to do.”
Chef Aarón expressed the importance of mentoring and remarked, “I encourage you to make a list of all the people that you admire, whether it’s me, any of the chefs on this stage, your instructors. Write a list and engage those chefs.” Make yourself available and offer your services to them. “If they are really good mentors, they will make that call on your behalf,” Chef shared.
Throughout, Chef Aarón shared advice for realizing your potential, not letting fear hold you back, savoring your culinary memories, trusting the process, and becoming a well-rounded chef—encouraging graduates to travel, read the newspaper and find inspiration in other art forms. To end, he reflected on his initial dreams as a chef to own his own restaurant and be the captain of his own ship. But, he attributes his success to continuing to challenge himself and find new sources of inspiration, which has led him to his various career paths today. He left graduates with these closing words: “The future is extremely bright and extremely delicious!”