Harris plating

How To Get The Most Out Of Your Time In Pastry School At ICC

By: Harris Inskeep, Professional Pastry Arts ’19

My name is Harris Inskeep and I am a recent graduate of the Professional Pastry Arts Program at ICC. Before I joined the pastry program at ICC, I was a kindergarten teacher in New York. Although I loved my job, I was starting to feel like there was something else out there for me and that there was no better time than now to explore my passion for baking. Until I had started the program, baking had just been something I did for fun at home. I would make birthday cakes for friends or whip up cookies whenever I had the chance. Really, I was just an amateur baker that had learned what I knew from watching my mom and aunt in the kitchen.

Leaving my fulfilling job was not easy to do, but I knew that if I didn’t take this chance now, when would I? So in August of 2018, instead of setting up my classroom for 30 little ones to come into, I was setting up my mise en place in the pastry kitchens at ICC and beginning what would soon become the most rewarding chance on life I’d taken yet!

About to start the Professional Pastry Arts Program at ICC? Here are 4 things I wish I’d known when I was starting the program.

The six months that I spent in the kitchens at ICC for the Professional Pastry Arts program were some of the most fun, educational, and invigorating months of my life. From the very first day I walked into the building to my last, I learned so many essential skills from my various chef instructors and classmates; and although the amount of new techniques, habits and experiences through my time in school were invaluable, there are a few things I wish I had known before I started to make my time even more impactful. ICC prides itself on offering students a fully comprehensive educational journey. It is a school that graduates true professionals and prepares its students to be successful wherever they go after school. Not only does ICC accomplish this by offering a 600-hour jam-packed hands-on curriculum as well as extremely talented and experienced chef instructors it goes above and beyond by offering a number of out-of-kitchen  opportunities.

If you’re ready to begin your pastry education at ICC, my first piece of advice is this: Don’t miss any opportunity to observe a demo, attend a field trip, get extra practice in a workshop, or volunteer. Next, make sure you take it upon yourself to practice at home, if possible, You may be there to learn all about the world of pastry or how to decorate the most beautiful cake, but don’t underestimate the power of getting to know all of the amazing chef instructors throughout the building. Finally, when given the chance to flex your creativity, incorporate something you struggled with— you’ll be grateful later!

1. Don’t Miss Out

When I started at ICC, I attended the demonstrations that related to pastry, but I didn’t always participate in the culinary demos and  was far too nervous to volunteer. This was my first mistake. How many times in your life will you get the chance to sit in the same room as some of the most celebrated and innovative chefs from all around the world, hear about their journey, ask them questions and get insight into their lives? Attending demos is an incredible way to learn about the diverse paths within the food industry.rankly, you can learn more about what to expect when you start working by attending demos and asking questions than by just attending class.

Harris volunteeringIn addition, ICC is always looking for volunteers to help out when chefs come to visit the school. Instead of having your first time working under a professional chef be day 1 on the job, take advantage of your status as a student and give it a try! You don’t need to know how to do everything before you volunteer. Just come prepared to try your best, use what you know, and ask questions when you need help. Volunteering will not only boost your confidence, it will also give you a glimpse into what it will feel like to work for a chef. What better time to learn than when you’re in school!

2. Practice at Home

Because the 600-hour curriculum is filled with all the fundamental skills & techniques a professional needs to know,, you’ll only get a chance to make things a few times  before moving on to the next lesson. For this reason, it’s so worth it to take these recipes home and test them out in a new environment. Every chef will tell you it takes hundreds of times doing the same thing to even begin to master it. The school exposes you to so many classic and modern techniques but it’s worth it to take it upon yourself to practice things you want to master at home. You want to make a genoise that doesn’t come out thin or dense? Practice your folding at home! You want your buttercream to be smooth and clean? Mask a cake in your tiny New York apartment! Your macarons didn’t have feet when you baked them in class? Try again in your oven! At the very least, your friends, family and or roommates will be grateful.

The best part of trying these recipes at home isn’t even that you’ll be a genoise master the next day. Rather, it’s that you’ll very well take it out of the oven and realize something completely new went wrong this time. This is the magic! Trying recipes at home without a chef instructor demonstrating for you first is how you’ll identify the real questions. By attempting to make things on my own, I became a more curious student and was really able to take advantage of the talent and experience in front of me each day by preparing questions for my chef instructors.

3. Get To Know As Many Chefs As You Can

harris w instructorsSpeaking of questions, hopefully you’ll have tons of them! Maybe you’re having friends over for dinner and you want to make a juicy chicken. Or, your family needs advice on how to finally make a turkey for Thanksgiving that isn’t dry. Don’t forget that you’re in a building with so many different kinds of chefs! Get to know the chefs in culinary, bread or the cake programs. You never know where your passions will take you while at ICC, but by getting to know chefs that may not be your instructors, you will inevitably build a larger network and learn more than you might have signed up for.

4. Do What You Struggle With

Harris platingIn the first few levels of the Professional Pastry Arts program, much of what you will do is right from the textbooks.However, as you accumulate more skill and learn advanced techniques, you will have opportunities to show off your individual talents through recipe development and showpiece work. It’s tempting to want to produce something flawless and keep it safe by doing something you feel comfortable with. I suggest pushing yourself to try something you might not be as good at. Tempering chocolate isn’t your strong suit? Don’t skip out on it this is your chance to practice with the help of a professional chef as your teacher! Incorporate tempered chocolate into your dessert for restaurant day! This is especially true for the skills that are more difficult to practice at home.

Interested in the Professional Pastry Arts program? You owe it to yourself to visit the school that has been home to icons and thought leaders like Jacques Torres, Ron Ben-Israel, Christina Tosi and many more! Click here to schedule a tour to see our kitchens in action, meet with chef-instructors, career services, financial aid, and speak with our admissions team about your personal career goals.