A Cuisine in Ferment // Judy Joo Culinary Arts’04

By Eric Levin
Appears in the July 2016 issue of New Jersey Monthly
Photo by Jean Cazals

Judy Joo, the studious, Jersey-raised daughter of Korean refugees, left Wall Street to bring the bracing food of Korea to TV and now a cookbook.

Uprooted by the communists, little Eui Don Joo, his eight siblings and their parents put what belongings they could on their backs and walked south. The family had been landlords and farm owners in northern Korea, but now, as war raged in the early 1950s, they were refugees. In his backpack, Eui Don, the youngest, about age five, bore the lightest load, but the most crucial: rolls of fine silk. With Korean currency worthless, silk could be bartered for essentials, most of all food.

Eui Don’s daughter, Judy Joo—author of the new cookbook, Korean Food Made Simple(HMH, $30), based on her Cooking Channel series of the same name—learned perseverence and scholarship from her father, who came to this country in 1967 after graduating from medical school in Seoul. She learned those virtues and Korean cooking from her mother, Young Nim Park, who left Korea in 1968 with a scholarship to Ohio State, where she earned a master’s degree in chemistry. Eui Don became a psychiatrist. Joo’s parents met in Michigan and eventually settled in Berkeley Heights.

At the exclusive Kent Place School in Summit, Joo and her older sister, Sonya, were the only Asians. “Our parents pushed us hard. ‘You have to succeed! Play the violin, play the piano, excel!’” Joo recalls with a laugh. “I didn’t read that Tiger Mother book. I lived it.”

Partly to help her daughters fit in, their mom made them pb&j sandwiches for school lunch. But family meals were always Korean and made from scratch. “The laundry room,” Joo writes in her cookbook, “teemed with jars and containers stacked precariously, filled with fermenting drinks, bowls full of soaking tripe, mung beans, bean sprouts, or rice. The adjoining garage had rows of drying seaweed on hangers, chiles, and a small foil-wrapped charcoal grill for barbecue perched in the corner.”

At Columbia University, Joo majored in industrial engineering and operations research. She became a financial analyst and, at age 22, worked the trading floor. “It was a crazy environment,” she recalls, “with 500 people on the floor, 48 phone lines, a headset, two handsets, six screens in front of you. You’re yelling all day. The market is always moving, so you have to handle stress effectively and have a ridiculous memory. You either sink or swim.” She swam, but soon realized she didn’t love the pool.

What Joo did love was food and restaurants. So she quit and got a degree in pastry arts from the French Culinary Institute in New York. Why pastry? “Because of the science factor,” she says, referring to the precision required. She cooked, among other places, at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry in the Napa Valley and Heston Blumenthal’s high-tech Fat Duck in London. After the stress of the trading floor, the pressure of a high-end restaurant kitchen was “not that big a deal.”

In London, Joo became a U.K. Iron Chef, competing in some 200 battles. She was executive chef of the London Playboy Club, working some Korean influences into her menu, when a backer who had eaten her food called out of the blue and offered her the chance to open her own restaurant. “I didn’t really want to,” she says, “because I knew how much work it was.” But she bit.

Jinjuu (Korean for Pearl) opened in London’s Soho in early 2015. By year’s end, through a cold call from another backer, she had opened another Jinjuu in Hong Kong. Now she commutes between those two cities and New York, where she appears on various Food Network shows and sees her family.

Joo’s book leads cooks gently from dishes that have gone mainstream—like crackly Korean fried chicken and kimchi, the spicy fermented condiment and ingredient—into the heart of a hearty and healthy cuisine.

Anything Jersey in the book? Yes! Kimchi pulled-pork disco fries—a tribute, Joo says, to the many hours she whiled away in the diners of Route 22.

Chef Dustin Christofolo, Italian Culinary Experience’09

Chef Dustin Christofolo,
Italian Culinary Experience 2009 Graduate

My experience at the ICC was short and sweet. The total Immersion program is one of the main reasons I selected the International Culinary Center.

It’s not easy to break away from your day to day life for two years that’s why the one year program was perfect for me. My focus was cooking, I was trying to avoid classrooms filled with lectures and tasks that did not fall in line with culinary. ICC kept us in the kitchen 6-8 hours a day with an Italian foreign language class twice a week to prepare us for our internships in Italy. Each cook executes 3 to 5 recipes a day with detailed demos by the chef-instructors. Recipes are very detailed in this program but I did appreciate that there were times we could “freestyle” with pizzas and pastas on select days which would help us express our creativity.

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Chef Guido is an amazing instructor! With the roots of Italy fueling his style you’re sure to find yourself cooking like a true Italian. Not to mention, before and after class you find yourself in the greatest culinary city in the world, Manhattan! We also had great demos and lots of opportunities for volunteer work with reputable chefs.

The trip to Italy and ALMA was phenomenal! ICC is layered with three different experiences: the program in Manhattan, the program in Italy and then the internship in a selected restaurant in Italy which is optional. Working with multiple head chefs was an eye opening experience that continues to help me grow in this business. The program was very consistent but every chef had their own signature. The program at ALMA took more of a traditional approach, while the program in Manhattan was deeply rooted with Italian technique but had more of a contemporary approach. It was great to work with multiple styles and venues. This gave the program more depth and character plus helped me build my own style.

I wasn’t sure if I was on vacation or away for a culinary program. My stay in Italy was during the winter session which was great for me and my classmates. We had a two-week Christmas break during the program where I traveled as much as possible. I couldn’t believe that I had this opportunity to have an entire European trip! I took full advantage of the break while others choose to go back home for the holidays to shortly return when classes resumed.

After finishing my education, I headed home to Phoenix, Arizona and I am now at my second restaurant as Executive Chef and Co-owner, Quiessence at The Farm. Our restaurant focuses on hyper local ingredients to give the diner a true farm and garden-to-table experience. Our menu changes weekly, but there is always a pasta course available, taking me back to my roots at ICC where I learned the best techniques. The immersion education from ICC has lead me to being invited to cook at the James Beard House along with several accolades from our local and national publications.

Library Notes // The Cookie Books

By Sara Medlicott,
ICC Librarian

It’s that time again, everyone’s favorite contest The Cookie Games will happen on August 4th this year! The Cookie Games is a competition open to all students to develop and produce a cookie inspired by a country. These cookies will be judged by a panel of celebrity judges for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place as well as by the audience to select a fan favorite. Last year’s top winner was Chocolate Cardamom Button by Savita Bhat. Second place went to the team of Julia Johnson & Elena Ubeda who created Lavender and Violet Shortbread cookies. The Nagelkass Cocktail Cookie by Maureen Naff came in third. As you can see, creativity is a major key to success.

If you are looking for inspiration to fill out an application, or if seeing the cookie posters around school has just made you hungry, stop by the library and take a look at some of our great cookie cookbooks.

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The Gourmet Cookie Book

It is much more than a collection of cookie recipes; it’s a cultural history of the United States told through our recipes. During the Second World War, sugar was rationed so for the cookie pick of 1942, Gourmet recommended using honey instead of sugar. By 1976, the food processor was available to the US market, “it brings epicurean feats frequently into the realm of everyday fare,” one of these feats was Almond Bolas or Portuguese almond cookies.

In its earliest days, Gourmet assumed its users were accomplished cooks and wrote recipes in shorthand, but as the years went on the recipes needed to be made accessible for a readership who cooked less frequently. In 1982 the format of the recipes started evolving with the Chocolate Meringue Biscuits, listing ingredients separate from directions. The cookies highlighted are only several among many, with different flavors and styles, all representing different trends throughout history.

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The International Cookie Cookbook by Nancy Baggett

As the theme of The Cookie Games is to select a country for inspiration, this book is completely appropriate with many ideas if you want to step outside the box of classic American cookies. Divided into regions, you can find Nanaimo Bars from Canada, Polvorones (Brown Sugar Cookies) from Cuba, Spitzbuben (Little Rascals) from Germany and even Lenguas de Gato (Cats’ Tongues) from Spain – don’t worry they don’t contain any tongue!

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Martha Stewart’s Cookies by Martha Stewart.

Who doesn’t love Martha? Divided up by texture, this simple, easy to follow and very visual book includes a diverse range of cookie recipes. Try the light and delicate Amaretti Crisps, soft and chewy Pistachio Lemon Drops, crumbly and sandy Bourbon Currant Cookies, chunky and nutty Magic Blondies, the cakey and tender Fresh Peach Cookies, crisp and crunchy Earl Grey Tea Cookies or the rich and dense Lemon Tassies.

In the world of cookies the options are endless, as this small selection of books demonstrates. These and many other cookie recipes are available for you in the library. If you decide to enter the games, good luck! If not, be sure to stop by and vote for your fan favorite on August 4th at ICC!

Chef Michelle Doll Olson (Pastry Arts’04)

By Sara Medlicott,
ICC Librarian

A class with Chef Instructor and ICC Alum Michelle Doll Olson might feel a little like you stepped into a comedy club with a two pastry minimum. Perhaps that’s due to her background at Stella Alder Conservatory and Upright Citizens Brigade.

The self proclaimed “98% ham” has a way with words and she will absolutely keep you awake after the sugar crash. Chef Michelle moved to New York with the intention of modeling and acting. Luckily for us here at ICC her “startled look” wasn’t in demand. She found herself managing the Creative Services department at Sesame Street and from there went on to work with modeling agencies, Corporate Identity Design and Branding.

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All the while though, Chef Michelle was baking. She started young, teaching herself and yet it never occurred to her to be a chef until her late 20s. An illicit cable hook up inherited with her apartment introduced her to Food Network’s original programming from the 90s. Particular favorites were Dean Jacques Torres’ Pastry Circus and Gale Grand’s Sweet Dreams. “I simply HAD to learn how to do what they were doing,” said Chef Michelle, “Once I dipped my toe in, I was hooked.” Little did she know, after completing the ICC night pastry program in 2004 she herself would be featured on Food Network first winning a throw down with ICC Alum Bobby Flay and later participating in other challenges and appearances.

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Chef Michelle loves teaching here for the camaraderie with other instructors and students, “We continue to learn something new every day and that just deepens our understanding of the pastry world.” It’s hard for her to pick a favorite class to teach, but she does really enjoy the cake classes. Said Chef Michelle, “The students are so hungry for knowledge! (No pun intended!) They get so excited and it’s infectious… speaking of infectious I also like teaching sanitation because I’m probably a little weird.”

When she isn’t teaching, Chef Michelle keeps busy with Michelle Doll Makes (previously Michelle Doll Cakes.) While her main focus now is on teaching, she does still occasionally do cakes for friends and family. Last year, she was able to do a cake for Vogue! Chef Michelle also developed a class for Craftsy called Smart Baking Substitutions. After her father was diagnosed with diabetes, she was inspired to do more for her family and for people wanting to make healthier choices. She develops healthy alternatives without taking the fun out of baking. Chef Michelle would eventually love to do a cookbook on the topic. Or a cookbook on her nomadic upbringing as a self proclaimed Army brat.

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The first cookbook to inspire Chef Michelle was Larousse Gastronomique. “The crazy depth of knowledge was exciting,” she said, “and it looked super cool on my bedside table.”

Before starting pastry school, she bought a copy of Bo Friberg’s The Professional Pastry Chef, “It scared the heck out of me. Would I really learn all these new crazy words and techniques? Now it’s like the back of my hand, splattered with chocolate.”

Some of her current favorite books are Dan Barber’s 3rd Plate and What to Eat by Marion Nestle. Said Chef Michelle, “We, as chefs, need to be conscious of not just the quality of our ingredients, but where they come from, are the farmers treated fairly? Is it responsibly farmed? What kind of carbon footprint is it leaving behind and finally how nutritious is it? I’ve definitely fallen down the rabbit hole and am doing as much as I can to decode what’s happening so I can make clear informed decisions. Sounds easier than it is.”

There you have it, comiedienne, artiste, sanitation enthusiast and food justice advocate; Chef Instructor Michelle does it all with a smile!

More about Chef Michelle:

Website // Instagram // Facebook // Video Interview

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#50BestTalks at ICC

We were really proud to be the Official Educational Partner at ‪#‎50BestTalks‬ hosted at ICC by The World’s 50 Best Restaurants! With talks from some of the world’s best chefs and a screening of an episode from the brand new Netflix series of Chef’s Table followed by a Q&A from the filmmaker and chef, the day of activities on 12th June was pretty much unmissable. Here are some of our favorite moments:

Chef Talk: The World’s Best Female Chef 2016, Dominique Crenn

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Recently named The World’s Best Female Chef 2016, French-born Dominique Crenn, owner of Atelier Crenn in San Francisco and Petit Crenn, spoke about winning the award, her roots, her philosophy and her desire to change how the world eats.

“The idea of not having meat [at Petit Crenn] was quite a strong political stand. I was very angry about farming in the US, how they treat animals and the way meat is produced. Vegetables are the rock stars, but they are all sourced locally – only the cider and the butter come from Brittany itself!”

“Food is the core of society. You can taste someone’s food and know something about what their society is about.”

Watch more on Periscope.

Eat, Drink, Ferment: Fermentation demonstrations and tastings with chefs including Mingoo Kang of Mingles, André Chiang of Restaurant André, and Yannick Alléno of Pavillon Ledoyen.

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“Creative fermented juices – the purest way to appreciate the complexity of nature.” – André Chiang of Restaurant André.

“In Korean temple cuisine we never throw away any part of the ingredients” – Mingoo Kang of Mingles

Watch Mingoo Kang talk about Korean fermentation techniques on Periscope.

Yannick Alléno introduced gastronomization of the terroir: “It’s not just a ‘wine thing’. Fermentation enhances the expression.” Chef Yannick taught us that fermentation adds life and energy into sauces. He says, “aesthetic is not the main point of the dish, it’s the taste.”

Netflix & Chat

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We watched an episode from the latest season of Netflix’s Chef’s Table, followed by a Q&A with featured chef Gaggan Anand and filmmaker David Gelb.

See an excerpt of the Q&A session on Periscope.

And last, but not least, we’d like to say “Congratulations!” to all the winners of The World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2016, especially to our own grads Joshua Skenes with Saison, and Dan Barber with Blue Hill At Stone Barns!

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Interview with Essie Bartels (Essentials of Fine Cooking’16)

My name is Essie Bartels. I am the Owner & Spice Mixologist for Essiespice. It’s a small start-up out of New Jersey. We make small batch spice blends and sauces/condiments that use traditional West-African cooking methods and spices but with a fusion of world flavors. In 2016, I took the Essentials of Fine Cooking course at ICC.

– What did you do before attending ICC?

I worked in Corporate America for 8.5 years but around the 6 year mark, I started making Essiespice Sauces and spice blends. I worked at Hitachi, Panasonic, Unilever and ADP. My career allowed me to travel a lot and I also studied in Europe while in College — my work and my travels are a big part of my sauces.

– What is your best memory from your time at ICC?

Chef Guido made a sauce out of duck stock and fat and it was the best sauce I have ever had in my life! I honestly will never forget that sauce.

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– What was your inspiration behind Essiespice and your products?

I am inspired by West African cooking and spices. A lot of my inspiration also comes from visiting 24 countries during my travels. I want to teach people about the indigenous food from West-Africa especially our spices, and also to highlight my experiences with global flavors and cuisines.

– Describe a day in your life.

No two days are ever the same with me! There are some days where I have to do a lot of paperwork for inventory and stock levels tracking. I could also be working on posts for our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Some days I’m planning recipes and shooting them for our social media pages. I also do my own production in an incubator in NYC, so I could be getting the ingredients for any and or all of our sauces and then actually getting my team together to work on the actual production of the sauces: cutting, cleaning, blending, cooking, and bottling. Other times, I am meeting with bloggers or writers. I also do deliveries to the stores that order my spices and sauces and sometimes I do actual in-store demos and tastings to show customers how to use the products.

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– What would you tell someone who dreams of starting a food business?

I would tell them to go for it. Honestly, no good thing will come easy. I won’t lie and say Essiespice hasn’t been the most challenging project of my life. It has tested everything in my life: patience, courage, endurance… that’s what you have to get ready for.

You will most definitely have to develop a thick skin and unless you have a lot of savings or investment from the start, you’ll have to get dirty and be a jack of all trades. Once you decide this is what you want to do, there’s a lot of research that has to be done with certifications and food safety so that is something to be mindful of and also you have to make up your mind that you’re in it to succeed so nothing will deter you. Because a lot of things will come at you and you have to stand firm.

– What’s next for you?

I’m getting ready to launch a Crowdfunding Campaign for Essiespice in the next 6 weeks. We need to raise money to keep Essiespice running smoothly into a stable and viable business that supports women entrepreneurs. We will also use part of the funds raised to research and create new product lines and introduce auxiliary products Made in Ghana to the US and world market.

Alumni Interview with Deanna La (Pastry Arts ’15)

My name is Deanna La and I am 36 years old. I am a mother of one beautiful young lady who is the inspiration for all I do. Her name is Alika and she is 13 years old. I come from a huge family and many of the women in my family bake. I grew up baking traditional sweets from Honduras with my mom and I can’t think of a single birthday as a child that went without a home made caramel cake from my grandmother. Even my aunts on my fathers side are wonderful bakers and they always made traditional Honduran caramel cakes, chocolate cakes filled with pineapple and what people from the islands call pone. Those are soft cakes baked in casserole dishes and are made with things like pumpkin, cassava and banana.

I started baking on my own at about 14 years old. The first things I ever baked on my own were vanilla cakes with whip cream frosting, cheesecakes and chocolate chip cookies. I stopped baking for a long period of time at around 22 and didn’t pick it up again until around 28 when I met my husband and we started throwing huge dinner parties for family and friends. It wasn’t until around 33 that I started taking my baking more seriously and thinking that it was something I would like to do for a living.

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– What did you do before attending ICC?

Before I went to ICC I felt like a wanderer. I worked as an administrative assistant for many many years in various fields from investment baking to pharmaceuticals until I found myself working in IT for a financial software company. It was different and for a while I enjoyed the work and learning something new but it wasn’t right for me. After three years I found myself dreading going to work. I became very depressed and disinterested and longing for the freedom to set my own direction. That’s when I started to look for culinary schools to take what had already become more than a hobby to the next level.

The day I decided to quit my job and go to culinary school full time, I had already taken a leave of absence from work and it had done me no good. Returning to work, I was happy to see my co-workers but I still felt dread and unhappiness with my job. I was already set with ICC to attend classes at night but I was sitting in my cubicle feeling down when I typed a text to my husband that said. “I can’t do this anymore” of course alarmed he called me to clarify what I meant (haha!) and I told him that I was truly unhappy with my job and I couldn’t do it anymore. He knew I was miserable and he told me that he would support whatever decision I made so I got up from my desk, went into a conference room and called the school to see if there were any spots left for the day program. It was my luck that there were and I gave my two weeks notice that day, a few minutes after the school confirmed.

– What is your best memory from your time at ICC?

My best memory from ICC has to be when I took first place in the NY cake show as a student. All the messages of support I got from the school, fellow students and alumni was wonderful but the day after when I came into class and Chef Alain came by to congratulate me that was amazing. I have never really won anything before so to have that accomplishment for something that I really took a huge leap of faith to pursue and then have someone like chef Alain take his time to come by and recognize me was pretty great.

– What was your inspiration behind your masterpieces for the NY Cake Show 2015 and 2016?

The inspiration for my cake in 2015 was my mom. The theme was Mother’s Day that year and my mom has always been an avid gardener. Her yard is filled with so many wonderful flowers and roses in very color so I wanted to make a cake that was filled with flowers and color while still keeping it in the simple clean lines that I feel define my own personal style.

For my 2016 cake I absolutely had no idea. Unlike when I was in school, I was working full time with clients and I was pretty busy in the months and weeks leading up to the competition. I had several ideas but nothing I was truly in love with when my husband said “your cake tier looks like grand central” it all clicked together from there and I went full steam in that direction.

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– What would you tell someone who wants to be a Cake Artist?

As with anything, love what you do. If you don’t love this business you won’t get far. It takes hard work, long hours on your feet and dedication for often little pay. Many of the tasks involved are tedious and repetitive so you must be patient. You also have to keep in mind that you are providing a service to people for events that will forever be a part of their memories so you must be kind, compassionate and strive to do your best work always no matter what the budget.

– What’s next for you?

I will continue competing and I will be looking to expand my business Just Eats Custom Cakes to a store front shop. I will be sure to give an update when that happens!

Follow Deanna:

Instagram // Website

Library Notes // Cake Techniques and Design

By Sara Medlicott,
ICC Librarian

Chef Cynthia Peithman is a regular in the ICC library. Not only is she a Chef Instructor here, she is also a student herself, pursuing a Masters Degree in Food Studies. Chef Cynthia uses the library to prepare for her class instruction here and research her assignments for school. Her capstone project at the end of last semester focused on – what else? Sugar! For her project she created a unique and beautiful cake themed around sugar cane fields in the Dominican Republic. The cake was inspired by her reading and is full of hidden details which tell the history of the fields and sugar production.

Would you like to learn how to sugar sculpt Fidel Castro? Sugar craft a sugar cane? Learn from Chef Cynthia herself in our upcoming Cake Techniques and Design Program! In the meantime, check out some of her top picks for cake books.

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How Baking Works by Paula Figoni

Take the guess work out of your baking with Paula Figoni’s How Baking Works. This text delves into the science of baking so you can understand how batter temperature impacts texture and why different sweeteners change the quality of cake. The book takes complex subjects and distills them so they are accessible to the average person. It also includes questions, exercises and experiments at the end of each chapter in case you need more practice with any particular topic.

Stylish Cakes: The Extraordinary Confections of the Fashion Chef by Charlotte Neuville

Stylish Cakes is a recent release from ICC alum Charlotte Neuville also known as the Fashion Chef. It features a wide range of her intricate and chic cakes for all different occasions from birthdays to fundraisers to weddings, each with a unique spin on client requests. Chef Cynthia has worked with Charlotte and you will even find one of her special touches pictured within – see if you can guess which cake she contributed to.

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Debbie Brown’s Enchanted Cakes for Children

If you are looking for a bit more instruction, we have several books by Debbie Brown here in the library. In each of her cake books she provides detailed, step by step instructions for anything you may want to create, in this case, mystical fantasy cakes for children. From mermaids to dragons to sunken treasure, you can find a cake to match almost any theme included within. Brown even includes templates and recommended suppliers in the back of the book.

The Art of Royal Icing by Eddie Spence

Eddie Spence covers both recipes and technique in depth with detailed step by step instruction, process photos and templates throughout. The book concludes with design ideas for full cakes representing a multitude of occasions and skill levels. Each cake includes a helpful list of all techniques used as well as the pages where you can find those instructions in the book so you can go back and review if need be. For classic beautiful cakes look no further.

We have these and many many more cake books in the library, so stop by and take a look!

Interview with Julianne Feder (Culinary Arts’13)

ICC alumna Julianne Feder has a rather unusual and diverse culinary background. Her goal is to learn every aspect of the food world (in her true nerdy way), and so she’s done sales and marketing for a small Italian specialty foods importer, worked on a farm in Tuscany, helped scout companies for a food start-up accelerator, went to culinary school, and worked in some of New York’s best kitchens before becoming a private chef. Julianne is now a food writer, a private chef, and she runs the marketing for a restaurant group.

– What did you do before attending ICC?

I worked in agriturismo in Tuscany (we raised gorgeous pigs and made salumi) and before that I did sales and marketing for a specialty Italian food importer, selling truffles, aged balsamic vinegars and more. It was a lot of fun and I even went on a truffle hunt!

– Describe a day in your life.

I wear a lot of hats these days. I am the Director of Marketing at Tarallucci e Vino, I write regularly for Thrillist for the Food and Drinks Section, and I still work as a private chef on the weekends. So, the average day could be organizing and food styling a photoshoot for the restaurant, coming home to brainstorm recipes to develop or topics to research for a new Thrillist article and then coordinating with a client about an upcoming dinner party. It’s a lot of juggling!

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– How did you come up with the idea behind The GastroNerd?

I am a huge food nerd. I have always found the stories, etymology and histories behind ingredients and dishes fascinating, and felt that learning about them helped inform my cooking. The GastroNerd is my way of sharing that passion. Think of me kind of like a new wave of Alton Brown (I say humbly…).

– What would you tell someone who wants to be a private chef?

Get some real restaurant experience under your belt first. It will really up your private chef game. Be prepared to compromise a lot and go with the flow; remember you are there to serve your client first and foremost. Your clients will often make very specific requests or make last minute changes to your menu and event. You have to be very organized and independent. There is no one telling you what to do. You are on your own!

– What’s next for you?

I love my job(s) and I am excited to grow with them. Our restaurant group Tarallucci e Vino will be opening its 5th location soon and we can’t wait! I also will be writing more regularly for Thrillist and heading up more recipe development for them. I was also recently on the FoodNetwork (watch here). Hopefully I’ll be doing more with them and more general video content too!

Keep Up with Julianne:

The Gastronerd // YouTube

Interview with Chris Chowaniec (Culinary Arts’13)

ICC California alum Chris Chowaniec (left) and his brother Mark have turned their lifelong relationship with food into an exciting new business. The Chow Brothers “are committed to always being a fun and responsible food brand delivering unique flavors as accouterments, appetizers, and main dishes to good food fans everywhere!”

– How and when did you know you wanted to work with food?

My mom grew up on a farm. I grew up starting dinner prep for the family because my parents worked late. We never went out to eat, and family parties were really food festivals. Post college – my brother and I enjoyed throwing dinner parties back in Chicago, which turned into fundraisers. Shortly after, one of my friends started a private cheffing and pop-up dinner business in NYC back in 2008 and I went to help with him in the kitchen. When I got back, I realized I wanted to take our events to the next level – and formed The Chow Brothers. The culinary school bug was always in me, even though I have always worked in tech and photography. In 2013, before I turned 35 – I knew if I did not make the move to California and just do it, it would never happened. I committed to aligning all my work to focus on food, the food system, and cooking. It’s been my passion since I was young, and The Chow Brothers has allowed me to turn it into something bigger than myself.

– Tell us a bit about your photography – how did that start? Were you always interested in food photography or did that develop over time? What do you love about it?

My grandpa and dad taught me how to use medium format and 35mm film cameras when I was 9. I haven’t stopped carrying a camera around ever since. In 2007, after constantly taking photos, posting, learning, attending seminars and classes – one of my close friends asked me to shoot his wedding. So then I started my own photography business in 2009, and pivoted to food once The Chow Brothers came together. One of my mentors and friends who worked for Food and Wine Magazine brought me deeper into the world of food photography back in 2012, and when I moved to California for the ICC – I knew I wanted to work for a food magazine, so I knocked a lot on the doors of Edible Magazine. I love combining my knowledge and respect for cooking, plating, and serving into my photography. I guess what I like most about it is the ability to express my creativity and passion in a physical medium. That release of mental and creative energy into a solid form gives me purpose and allows me to communicate about food in ways that my words cannot.

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– What inspired The Chow Bros? What’s next for them?

– Already discussed above – but we are definitely motivated to leave a legacy, celebrate our traditions, and responsibly grow a business we can rely on in the future. At a more simple level, it is about having fun and bringing people together with food.

What’s next? We are going to be producing gourmet pierogi like short rib and port, duck confit, and bourbon maple pork. Raw Carrot and Coriander Sauerkraut is already in progress and on sale in the Bay Area, and we are looking to outsource some of our production with partners. We are also trying to obtain our official organic certification for all of our products this year, redo our website, and break into some more bar and retail locations.

– What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

I had to think about this one, because I have received a lot of it in my life from incredible people. But I guess the one that keeps on coming into my head is what my parents constantly told me growing up: study, study, study. I am the first generation in the US, and my parents are both from Poland. Their hard work ethic rubbed off on me for sure – but they insisted I do well in school, and go to college since they never had the opportunity. The advice I got out of it was to always learn new things. Challenge yourself intellectually and practically to be curious and learn how things work. Ever since I was a kid, I have been taking things apart, taking classes and workshops, and trying to things whether in kitchen or in life the better or right way. Curiosity is essential in the kitchen and it turns out it is some great advice in life.

– How did your ICC experience influence your career path?

The ICC gave me more confidence in my abilities and to appreciate the importance of not only a sustainable food system, but efficiency and excellence in the kitchen. At the end of the day – I have to run a business, the food has to be incredible, and the chef instructors at the ICC are passionate, experienced, and a great source of inspiration.

– What’s your favorite memory of your time at the ICC?

Charcuterie class, learning how to bake bread, and our farm to table field trips. Respecting the whole animal and respecting our farmers, food, and food system are important values for The Chow Brothers.