My name is Michael (aka McKoi) and I recently graduated from the Professional Culinary Arts program at ICC’s campus in California. My background is in the medical field. I am a licensed Physician, and currently am running a facility for people with intellectual disabilities. It’s funny to think back on the fact that, for about eight years, I passed by the ICC campus during my commute and I never imagined I would set foot in it, let alone, take a course.
Originally, I was trying to encourage a friend to pursue his love for making desserts. We visited the campus and talked to the lovely Ginny Cook, ICC’s Managing Associate Director of Admissions. In an unexpected turn of events, I was the one who ended up enrolling! Before starting, I was just an average cook, and on my first day of class the Chef Instructor mentioned that after we complete the course, we would be better than average. From that moment on, I accepted the challenge to learn as much as I could. In retrospect, the learning didn’t only happen during regular classroom hours; there were many things outside of class that contributed to a full and successful experience.
Here are my 7 tips for making the most out of your culinary education:
- “On Time” is late. Be sure to come in early. Coming in early gave me time to prep my work space, a chance to get to know my classmates, and psych myself up for the class ahead of me. The reality is, the kitchen can be stressful. Having prep time allowed me to prepare physically and/or mentally. It gave me the chance to prepare for the “what not’s” and the “what if’s.”
- Read the lecture before class. This one, I totally geeked-out on. I have all sorts of highlights and scribbles on my handouts. Plus, I keep a tiny notebook for things that I learned during class. Reading the lecture beforehand gave me a boost, a sort of upper hand, for the classes tasks. When I came to class well prepared, I had more confidence. It’s not surprising that when I read ahead, I learned more and was able to ask smarter questions. This strategy works particularly well if there’s someone you want to impress in class.
- Attend demos. The school offers many after-class demos, skills workshops and occasional off-campus student outings. During these events, I was able to get an insider’s view of what’s happening in the “real” world. Best of all, I got to learn from other people’s mistakes and/or successes. What’s more, most of these events are free ̶ take advantage of it. One of my favorite demos was led by ICC Dean of Italian Studies, Cesare Casella. It’s not every day that you meet a legend and a rock star in the kitchen.
- Volunteer. Aside from demos, the school is connected with many local organizations who seek student volunteers to assist them with food related events. Getting involved with these organizations provided great opportunities for me to learn and to network. Most notably, I regularly worked with the Second Harvest Food Bank where I had the opportunity to conduct cooking demos for other people. Volunteering with the SHFB was a definite win-win situation; I had the chance to give back to the community, while teaching others helped me retain what I learned in class. The experience also showed me that even as a student, I had learned enough knowledge to share with others.
- Participate in all the culinary competitions you can. It was a privilege to be included in both the annual Culinary Clash, a competition put on by the Intercontinental Hotel Group, and the International Panino competition sponsored by Gambero Rosso of Italy. Although competing was nerve-wracking, joining these competitions showed me my strengths and weaknesses in the kitchen. As cliché as it may sound, knowing those is half the battle.
- Take a recreational or amateur class before enrolling in the Professional Courses. Something unique to my student experience is that I took the Culinary Techniques class (20 session’s total) before going on to the Professional Culinary Arts program (9 months for night class and 6 months for day class). Speaking frankly, there is a lot of money and time involved in the decision to enroll. For people out there who are in doubt and still wrestling with the prospect of building a career in the culinary industry (like I was), I believe taking a short course first is a great way to wet your feet. The moment I started rolling my dough and cutting my mirepoix, I felt alive inside and knew I wanted to take the next step.
- Attend the commencement ceremony in New York. One of the highlights of my whole ICC experience was attending the commencement at Carnegie Hall. It was indeed the cherry on top. It was inspiring to be in a place where music legends have performed and walked those very hallways. During ICC’s ceremony, you get to be the legend! We, the students, are the focus of that day. All eyes are on us. That’s the moment we can savor all the hard work we put in the kitchen. I walked out of Carnegie Hall with a cute bamboo spoon etched with the school’s name, logo, and the date to commemorate it. On top of that, I walked out feeling confident that ICC prepared me for the kitchen career I aim to have, and hopeful that with hard work and perseverance this dream will become a reality. As ICC Dean of Pastry Arts, Emily Luchetti, mentioned during her speech, “Tenacity is frustrating and hard, passion is invigorating and fulfilling… It is with a combination of your passion and your tenacity that you will succeed.” I always thought that passion alone is enough to carry me through the challenges until I heard Chef Emily. Tenacity is indeed a key ingredient. Like making a mayo, you have your main ingredients (your passion) but without an emulsifier (your tenacity) sooner or later it will break. For both incoming students and outgoing graduates, persevere. Don’t give up. Be strong. As we work towards our dreams, let passion abound and tenacity fuel us through.
With my own excellent advice in mind, I move forward with my culinary journey. With my knowledge in healthcare and in the kitchen, I want to combine my interest in healthy lifestyle and preventative medicine. I hope to forge a culinary career where great food is synonymous to healthy and nutritious.