Noma: A Look Inside the World’s Best Restaurant

ICC President Erik Murnighan details his experience at Noma.

I feel exceedingly privileged to have had the opportunity to attend MAD4. But that privilege was surpassed when I learned that I also had an opportunity to have dinner at Noma, the best restaurant in the world, in my humble opinion. In this case, my opinion is shared by many, considering Noma has been ranked best restaurant in the world by San Pellegrino four of the last five years (it finished second in 2013 but is back on top this year).

MAD4, curated by Rene Redzepi and Alex Atala, asked the question, “What is Cooking?” and created an insightful forum for chefs to demonstrate thought leadership on many global food issues. Inspiring speeches from Ron Finley, Chris Cosentino, Albert Adria, and many others were the backbone of this epic event. Much of the event is documented at; all is worth watching and reading.

But Noma…WOW is the only way to describe it. Photos and details about individual dishes at Noma are well documented so I’ll start with something that’s not: the fermentation lab.

Lars Williams, (FCI/ICC culinary grad 2006; Outstanding Alumni winner 2014) is the head of research and development for Noma. His job is beyond fascinating and he gave me an inside look. He was very proud of the fermentation lab that they had just built and completed only three weeks before my arrival. I’m an amateur fermenter – longtime homebrewer, maker of homemade vinegar and lactic acid fermented ungodly hot sauces, etc. – so this is of particular interest to me. The lab consists of five “rooms” – one is a control center with some vinegar making production and some heavy equipment, including a centrifuge. I learned more about vinegar making in 10 minutes than I’ve managed to learn making my own vinegar over the past decade. Time to put ethyl alcohol on my shopping list (Everclear should do it). The other four rooms are smaller and temperature controlled. We spent a few minutes in the warm room (close to a sauna but not quite) with the meat garums, aka fermenting meat. Fish sauce is a good example of a garum, but Noma makes several from cloven-hoofed creatures. The beef garum is made from off-cuts that have been combined with seaweed. Apparently that gets the right kind of action going so that many months later the precious liquid can be used to make oils and cure other things (like the cured egg yolk on the menu). Another room had mushrooms fermenting in cryobags (similar to my hot pepper mash method, albeit temperature controlled).

The amount of things fermenting and/or being purposefully inoculated with molds was astonishing. This is where ingredients are transformed, using ancient techniques, to create new ingredients in a modern setting. This process, which apparently has a high failure rate in the R&D phase, is what puts Noma in another gastronomic universe. There are no gimmicks here but there is plenty of deep thought and attention to every detail. Noma is as ingredient-focused as it gets. This is no mystery. But how the ingredients are prepared, and in many ways transformed, is beyond innovative.

Something that really struck me was how Lars described “luxury items” at Noma. He told me about a pea that was served in the spring as one of the first dishes. Every customer got one pea. Each pea took twelve man-hours to prepare! Although Noma does serve some caviar, the luxury in the items is in the preparation, not in the cost of the raw ingredient. There are no cheap tricks; no wow factor based on a splurge ingredient. Luxury boils down to technique. Creativity, yes, but lots and lots of precise technique.

My philosophy on cooking is simple. I often utter the following, as an equation:
Great ingredients + great technique + just a bit of creativity (not too much) = great cuisine.

The cuisine at Noma breaks my mold a bit on the creativity part. It’s more than just a bit and definitely not restrained. But I loved every gram of it and it all worked in a perfect harmony with the ingredients it accented. I’m ready to go back for another season.

Erik Murnighan is President of the International Culinary Center.

From basic knife skills through every station on the line, ICC’s trademark Culinary Arts course—created under the guidance of Deans Jacques Pepin, Andre Soltner and Alain Sailhac—provides hands-on, real-world knowledge for you to succeed in a culinary career in just six to nine months. 

Spaghetti Squash Pizza

A Fall-inspired recipe by 2013 Culinary grad Shikha Sharma.



For the pizza crust

  • 3-4lbs of Spaghetti Squash, cut into two pieces
  • 2 T Water
  • 1.5 T Oregano
  • 1 L Egg
  • ½ Cup Skim Mozzarella Cheese
  • Coconut Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • Salt & Fresh ground pepper as per taste

For the pizza sauce

  • ½ Cup Medium Onion, finely chopped
  • 3 Large Tomatoes, Pureed – with the skin on
  • 2 T Garlic
  • 2 T Dried Oregano
  • 2 T Fresh Basil leaves, finely chopped
  • Salt & Fresh ground pepper as per taste
  • 2 T Coconut Oil


For the pizza crust

  1. Scrape out the seeds with a spoon.
  2. Brush or spray oil on the sheet pan and also the inside of the squash.
  3. Season generously with salt and pepper.
  4. Add 2 T of water around the sheet pan.
  5. Bake at 350 F for about 40 minutes or until it is tender.
  6. Meanwhile prepare the pizza sauce.
  7. Once the squash is cool to touch, scrape out all the flesh with a spoon into a bowl. Then place it in a cheesecloth and squeeze out as much moisture as you can.
  8. Grab a medium bowl; add salt & pepper, oregano, egg, and mozzarella cheese. Gently combine and knead, scraping the sides of the bowl as you go along.
  9. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spray or brush some oil. Next, flatten out the pizza base with the palm of your hand and smooth out the surface with an off set spatula.
  10. Bake at 350 F for about 20minutes, flipping after 10 minutes. It will be sticky therefore, scrape gently making sure not to break the crust.

For the pizza sauce

  1. Grab a medium pan; add oil, onion and garlic. Sauté until onions become translucent then add salt and oregano.
  2. Next, add tomatoes and cook everything on medium to low heat for about 30-40 minutes or until the moisture has evaporated.
  3. Add fresh basil leaves, pepper and mix everything and set-aside until ready to use.
  • Notes: Top pizza with your favorite toppings, I used onions and kale.

Learn more about Professional Culinary Arts.

The Level 3 Midterm: Battle of the Nicoise Salads

Professional Culinary Arts student Danielle Marullo on the Level 3 Midterm.

Follow Danielle at Got Room For More

If you tuned into my last article, you read about the trials and tribulations of Level 3 which I referred to as the “hungry games,” or “culinary boot camp.” Just two short weeks ago I was anxiously anticipating the Level 3 Midterm, where our skills and nerves would be put to the test. If you are wondering how it went well here is my “post game” recap:

It’s 5:45pm and all 22 of us enter the Level 3 classroom nervously clenching our knife bags and fussing with our uniforms to make sure everything is in place. First things first, we pick a letter/number out of a hat (or bain-marie) which indicates the time in which we will be presenting our dishes. Now this moment is crucial because if you pick, lets say D7, you will have at least 20-30 more minutes to execute your dishes than the person that is D1. I quickly and aggressively pull out a number as if I am removing an old Band-Aid that is stuck to my skin. My voice decrescendos as I say out loud “C!…2…” This means I am the second group out of seven to present and one of the people with the least amount of time to cook, fabulous. The white board at the front of the room indicates which recipes each number will be making. For my class, the two possible combinations of recipes were, Barramundi Americaine/Apple Tart or Nicoise Salad/Grand Mere Chicken. Considering I have a strong pastry background, I prayed that I would get the opportunity to wow the judges with my beautiful apple tart, but that’s not the way life works. My fate lies in a bowl of raw chicken and vegetables. Focus Danielle, let’s do this!

The first part of the midterm is a comprehensive written exam. We must write down the ingredients, measurements and procedure for one of the 16-20 recipes we cooked in Level 3. No we do not choose which recipe we want to use, the chef chooses and it is noted on the exam. The recipe portion of the exam is followed by a few multiple choice and short answer questions, and then it is note taking time. We have 4-5 minutes to jot down any notes that may be helpful when making our recipes, since textbooks cannot be out during the practical exam. I frantically wrote down as many details about the recipes as I could remember, barely forming each letter on the page from all the adrenaline pumping through my body. When the five minutes was up it was time to pull out my knives and get cookin’.

When it comes to timing, I have never had a problem in the kitchen. In fact, I am usually one of the first ones done with my dishes in class each week. For some reason this day felt different. The clock seemed to be ticking double time, how was I going to finish these dishes!? I remained calm, I gathered my mise en place and began to execute the Nicoise Salad. Now if you have never made a Nicoise Salad, you are probably thinking, how could a salad be so stressful, she got the easy one…no you are very wrong! The hard part about a Nicoise Salad is that there are so many different components and all of them are prepared differently. You have the butter lettuce which must be washed and torn into pieces by hand; red potatoes that need to be boiled, peeled and cut into wedges; eggs that need to be hard boiled, peeled and cut into wedges; haricot verts that are blanched and cut into equal lengths; bell peppers that are peeled and cut into a nice julienne; olives that have to be finely chopped; tomatoes that are blanched, peeled and cut into petal shapes; parsley that needs to be washed and finely chopped; a vinaigrette that needs to be made and infused with garlic; and finally, tuna and anchovies that need to be drained and dressed properly. This is a composed salad, which means that each one of these ingredients also must be dressed and seasoned with salt and pepper separately and then arranged on the plate one by one.

Everything was going smoothly, most of my salad ingredients were cooked and ready in individual bowls in the fridge waiting for me to assemble them except for the eggs and potatoes, which were still cooking. I test the potatoes, and they are still hard! I swear these potatoes take very little time normally but of course today they decide to take double the time. I throw them back into some water and attempt to cook them some more. I take the eggs out of the boiling water and shock them in ice. I start to peel them and realize that the shells are sticking to the egg white, causing me to somewhat mutilate a few of my eggs. Now I am starting to breathe heavily, I have about 20 minutes before I present the salad to the judges and I have eggs that don’t peel. I take a deep breath and peel them as carefully as I could, damaging about half of my eggs along the way. I run and grab my cold plates that I had stuck in the freezer to ensure my salad stays crisp and fresh on the plate. I put on gloves so the proctor walking around sees that I am following proper protocol. I have four minutes left, I am dressing each ingredient separately and placing them on the four dishes. My hands are shaking so hard that half of the chopped olives are ending up on the ground instead of the plate. The chef proctor yells, “A2, B2, C2 it is time for you to present!” Now every minute you are late your grade drops, so I quickly grab my serving tray and walk across the hall to the judging table, praying that all my ingredients made it to the plate. I place my tray of four salads in front of the judges and leave the room. I did it, I finished the salad. The presentation was not my finest, it was mediocre at best in my mind, but I knew the taste was just right. No time to relax, you re forgetting that I still have another dish to finish and present.

While making the salad, I was simultaneously dressing a whole chicken, searing it in a pan, finishing it in the oven, starting a chicken au jus, making bacon lardons, and cleaning and sautéing mushrooms. I was in decent shape, or was I? I still had 12 cocotte potatoes to make which is basically whittling potatoes into a 7-sided bullet shape using a paring knife. I start to cocotte the potatoes, hands shaking and scraps of potato plopping into the bowl of water in front of me. The proctor begins to hover; she is watching my every move. I quickly try to straighten up my area around me and when attempting the throw some onion peels into the garbage beside me, I accidentally throw the silver bowl in the trash with it. I look up at the proctor like a deer in headlights, smile and nervously say, “I totally just threw that bowl out.” She looks at me and says nothing…nothing. I chuckled nervously while ripping the bowl out of the trash, bring it to the dish pit while kicking myself along the way, wash my hands in shame and then get back to work. Okay, it is just one little hiccup, my chicken looks gorgeous and is resting beside me and my cocotte potatoes are some of my best. I blanch the potatoes, sauté them and then roast them in the oven until they are perfectly crisp. My au jus is reduced, perfectly seasoned and strained into a pan staying warm on the stove. I have roughly 30 minutes left and I haven’t touched the pearl onions! The pearl onions we are used to using are usually about ¾ of an inch in diameter, but today they were microscopic. These pearl onions were the smallest I had ever seen! They were the size of an M&M and when I peeled them there was virtually nothing left. I did by best and cooked them glacer à brun (to a dark caramel color) and set them aside. With 15 minutes left I cut up my chicken and flash the pieces in the oven to get warm along with the entrée plates. 8 minutes on the clock and I begin to plate. I am careful to plate one piece of white meat with one piece of dark meat on each plate, one bone in and one bone out. I place 3 onions, 3 lardons, 3 potatoes and 3 mushrooms on each plate. I gradually pour a hot stream of au jus over the chicken and finish the dish with a sprinkle of parsley.

chicken midterm

I walk the dish over to the judges right on time, wearing just as much chicken au jus as I am serving. It was a stressful evening, but it was over. I begin to do a play-by-play of the evening in my head over and over, unsure about what the outcome would be. Did I feel it was by best work? No… but I felt proud of myself for finishing two difficult dishes under such extreme pressure. Once everyone was done presenting their dishes we were called into the judging room one by one to hear their feedback.

The judge who critiqued me started with, “How do you think you did?” I told him I thought my presentation was lack luster knowing my abilities and that I could have done better overall, but I felt the seasoning and flavors were pretty spot on. He smiled and said to me, “I think you are being hard on yourself, I thought your Nicoise Salad was the best one in terms of flavor and seasoning, and I thought your chicken dish was one of the two that I felt were done extremely well.” Wow, maybe I was a little too hard on myself. Hearing those words coming out of this gentleman’s mouth felt like someone saying, “You just won a million dollars.” I was immediately overcome with a feeling of accomplishment and self worth. It reassured me that this is where I belong, I was on the right track to becoming the Chef I always dreamed of being. Here I come Level 4!

To learn more about Danielle’s class, click here: Professional Culinary Arts
Follow Danielle at Got Room For More

Watch a short video of our Level 3 Midterm to see what it’s like for yourself!

Halloween Cupcakes by Love Food and Thought

A Halloween-inspired recipe by Deniece Vella, 2013 Professional Culinary Arts Graduate

Credit: Love Food and Thought

As the former owner of a cupcake company, I love making festive cupcakes around any holiday. All you need is good food coloring and a stash of disposable piping bags and you can have a blast decorating your cupcakes.

Halloween Cupcakes

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 cups confectioners sugar
  • 1⁄4 teaspoon salt
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • Green food coloring
  • 12 chocolate cupcakes
  • 1 cup crushed chocolate cookies
  • 12 Candy tombstones or fondant decorations
  • 12 Candy corn pumpkins, optional
  • 12 Gummy worms

1. Add the butter to the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Whip until fluffy, about 1 minute.

2. Next, add the sugar and salt. Start the mixer on low speed to incorporate the sugar. Once combined, whip on medium-high speed for 3-4 minutes.

3. Using your spatula, scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the vanilla extract and whip for 1 more minute.

4. Prepare a pastry bag with a plain tip. Add 3⁄4 of the frosting. Pipe frosting onto each cupcake and reserve remaining frosting.

5. Dip the cupcakes into the chocolate cookie crumbs.

6. Next, color the remaining frosting green with a few drops of green food coloring. Add the frosting to a pastry bag prepared with a small grass tip. Pipe grass onto the top each cupcake.

7. Add a candy tombstone or a fondant decoration, candy pumpkin, and gummy worm to each graveyard cupcake.

8. Enjoy & Happy Halloween!


Subscribe to Love Food and Thought’s YouTube Channel for more videos to come!

Learn more about Professional Culinary Arts

Apple Dartois, Napoleon and Vols-au-vent Car

Investment Banker turned Pastry Arts student on the Unit 3 exam.

By Mark Franczyk
Professional Culinary Arts Student
Blog credit: Outside of the Breadbox

“Hands up, utensils down!”

It’s the end of Unit 3: Puff Pastry. And that means one thing: Once again, it’s exam time in culinary school. Tonight I will likely dream about not being able to find my offset spatula or over-whipping my Creme Fouettee. Long gone are the nightmares of showing up to high school without any pants on. Anxiety dreams have taken a decidedly pastry focus.

What does a culinary school exam entail?

The first hour is for the written portion of the exam. Students are tested on recipe ingredients, methodology, technique theory and a multitude of French vocabulary words that make you sound extremely pretentious to the rest of the world (… or everywhere except for France, I suppose).

“Welcome to Starbucks. Would you like whipped cream on your Frappuccino?”

“No, but I will have the Creme Chantilly.”

Then again, “Grande Frappuccino” is pretty obnoxious too. It’s a medium coffee milkshake people!

The second phase of the exam is the fun part — the practical. A lottery system determines which recipes are assigned to which students, and then it’s go time. Everyone has two to three hours to prepare, bake, finish and present several items to the Chef judges.

More than anything, the practical exam is designed to test each students’ organizational skills. So you have to complete three items, and one takes an hour in the ovens? You just might want to get that one done first.


Grading is based on the following criteria:

  • Cleanliness: Yep.. it’s the first category. You will be docked points for “working dirty.” Cleaning as you go is critical. And there’s a particular focus on safe food handling. If you’re making an item with fresh cut fruit, but you didn’t wear gloves when you cut it, then you should expect to lose points.
  • Organization: You must have a game plan. A good itinerary means you’re busy for every minute of the exam. If you’re waiting to something to chill in the fridge for 30 minutes, that doesn’t mean you’re just chilling too.
  • Mise-en-Place: It goes hand-in-hand with organization. You should have all of your tools and ingredients ready to go before you start cooking (all of your “things in place”).
  • Tool Skills: This most often refers to knife skills, but you should use the right tools for the job. Trying to poach pears in a sauté pan… not good. Trying to whip cream with a wooden spoon? Why did you even enroll?!
  • Timing: When you’re ready to present your finished items, you call time. If you miss the established finish time, points are progressively deducted.
  • Technique: There are many ways to get to the same end product, but centuries of established technique can’t be wrong (one hopes… culinary school isn’t cheap, after all). Use the methods demonstrated in class.
  • Attitude: There’s no denying it… the practical exam can be a little stressful. But it’s best to keep your cool. Flipping out when things don’t go your way will just cost you points.
  • Taste and Texture: The ultimate test. Did you make something that people actually want to eat? Proper seasoning… cooked all the way through? Let’s hope so.
  • Presentation: This is classic French pastry. It has to taste good and look good. And by look good, that means you have to adhere to the traditional forms of presentation. I know… you may want to let your creativity shine at this point, but if the classic recipe calls for finishing the dessert with a light dusting of powdered sugar, that’s what you have to use.

– Ingredients Running Tally –

I have to admit, I was a little disappointed that we didn’t reach the 10kg milestone for flour as we ended this unit. Oh well, with bread right around the corner, there will be no wanting for flour in the weeks to come.

Ingredients used to date (10.13.14):
Flour: 9,585g
Eggs: 4,800g (95x)
Sugar: 5,575g
Butter: 6,575g
Milk/Cream: 5,550g

– The Recipes –

Apple Dartois (Dartois aux Pommes)

An apple compote tart in a lattice puff pastry

Focus Techniques:
– Working with larger sheets of latticed dough, keeping the dough well chilled before cutting, unfolding and placing on the tart.
– Creating dry-compotes that will not seep through the puff pastry when baked.
– Decorating the edges of the puff pastry with Demi-Feuilletage.


Photo: Unbaked Apple Dartois

Napoleon (Mille-feuilles)

The traditional Napoleon, this tiered pastry is made of compressed sheets of Pate Feuilletee and layers of Creme Legere. The top of the pastry is glazed with fondant and decorated with melted chocolate in a chevron pattern.

Focus Techniques:
– Firming Creme Legere with gelatin to give the pastry extra structure when assembled. The pastry will still be delicate, particularly in the heat, and must be served the day it is made.
– Creating the decorative chevron pattern immediately after applying the fondant glaze given the fast setting time of fondant.
– Finishing the edges of the pastry with Feuilletine at the very end of the assembly process. This prevents any fondant or chocolate from dripping onto the coating.


Vols-au-vent Carre

A larger format, square shaped vole-au-vent, best used for appetizers and entree-sized dishes.

Focus Techniques:
– Using only freshly rolled Pate Feuilletee Classique or Inversee to ensure the highest possible rise for the edges of the pastry.




Read about Mark’s journey from Investment Banking to Pastry Arts! Check out his blog here: Outside of the Bread Box

Learn about Mark’s class: Professional Pastry Arts 

Professional Culinary Arts Level 3: “The Hungry Games”

By Danielle Marullo
International Culinary Center Student
Professional Culinary Arts

Levels 1 and 2 of the Professional Culinary Arts program were the fundamentals; the preparatory levels that teach you all the proper techniques and terminology you need to survive in a professional kitchen. Then there was level 3…the boot camp. I remember being one of the “newbies” back in May, listening to all the level 3 students chattering in the locker room about their stressful day in the kitchen. I would come back to the locker room after level 2 with maybe a small splatter or two of food on my jacket and apron with my hair still in tact and my makeup from my day job still lying perfectly on my cheeks and lashes. With the level 3 students it was different. They looked as if they got caught in a Vitmamix Blender on high speed, I knew this level was no piece of cake…in fact it was more of Pot de Crème (a dish you make in level 3 and one of my worst dishes).

Unfortunately for me, I missed the first day of level 3 due to a work event, which made me even more nervous to walk into that second floor kitchen. I stroll into the kitchen on day two to find it is unlike any of the other classrooms. It is smaller, hotter than a bowl of Consommé straight out the pot, and the tension in the air is so thick you can julienne it. Strategically placed above the doorway is a very large, digital clock that shows the time in beaming, red, LED lights. Let the “Hungry Games” begin.

1Level 3 is titled “Discipline: Skills Consistency and Refinement.” We focus on time management and properly executing multiple dishes simultaneously while keeping our eyes on the clock. In the beginning, you are split into groups of four, and each group is divided into stations resembling a restaurant kitchen. One person is assigned to Garde Manger (soups and salads), one person is Poissonier (fish), one Saucier (meats and sauces) and finally one person is Patissier (pastry). As a group you must present each of these dishes at a designated time, and tardiness is not tolerated. While you are cooking your dish you must be able to assist your team members to ensure everything is perfect and presented on time. After all, you are a team so even if your partners dish turns out poor, it is a reflection of you and your ability to multi-task and work as a team.

As a team you are also expected to create an “Amuse Bouche” which is a one-bite appetizer that gets the taste buds going at the start of a meal. This is one of my favorite things to execute because it is my time to get creative! We are given a few mystery ingredients to use in this one-bite-delight and must use at least three of them along with anything else we can find in the classroom. This tiny appetizer can tell the chef a lot about your abilities, your creativity and finally your presentation skills. For example, one day the secret ingredients were: goat cheese, baguette, smoked salmon and tomatoes. I knew most people would make a crostini once they saw the bread, so went outside the box! I made a New York style bagel in one bite. I mixed the goat cheese with capers and formed it into a log and froze it. I then took the baguette, toasted it, and made breadcrumbs out of it. Once the cheese was solidified in the freezer, I cut it in 1/3-inch-thick medallions, breaded them in flour, egg and the breadcrumbs and then fried them in Canola Oil. Once they we’re crispy and golden brown we topped them with smoked salmon and finely diced tomato and shallot with a hint of lemon juice. When the chef put it in his mouth his response was,“WOW this tastes like a really good bagel!” Great success!


A few weeks into the level you begin to work in pairs and are expected to execute two dishes simultaneously, while being timed of course. You will also have mock midterms throughout the level to prepare you for the real midterm, which is where the fun begins. The midterm = two difficult dishes, two hours, and me myself and I. This practical exam is a true test of your abilities and your nerves. You better hope you paid attention throughout the entire level because midterm day is when you find out what you will be cooking. The chef-instructor chooses two different pairings out of the 16 dishes we have executed in level 3, one Garde Manger dish with one Saucier dish, or one Poissonier with and one Patissier dish. We have five minutes to quickly jot down a few notes about those dishes, such as the ingredients and measurements, and then it’s showtime. We have roughly two hours and 15 minutes to create four portions of both dishes, plate them perfectly and then present them on a serving tray to a panel of judges. Who are the judges you ask? Well they are recent graduates of the program, so you know they may have their neckerchiefs in a bunch…no mercy. Did I mention that while you are cooking there is a Chef walking around with a notepad watching your every move? The Chef will be making sure that all students are following proper sanitation rules, keeping their stations neat and tidy, as well as observing our knife skills and time management skills.


Here are a few key things to remember when in level 3 to ensure you are successful.

    -Remain Calm! Panicking does you no good. You need to be functioning and productive every minute, so nerves will not help you.
    -Be confident in your abilities! At this stage in the game you know a lot more than you think.
    -Ask questions at the start of the class before you start cooking
    -Communicate with your partner to ensure you are managing your time correctly and don’t end up with duplicates of the same item.
    -Have trust in your partner. If your partner is less skilled than you are be sure to be patient and give helpful/encouraging tips along the way. The worst thing you can do is bring the morale of the team down ultimately causing your partner to lose focus.
    -Take notes when the chef is giving you pointers on the dishes at the start of the class.
    -Make sure the plates are hot if the dish you are making is served hot. You will lose points for this!
    -Always have a side towel in hand. You will be moving extremely fast and due to the warm temperatures in the room you will sometimes feel out of focus. If you do not have a towel in hand chances are you will eventually burn yourself by grabbing a hot pot or pan. Yes, I am speaking from experience.
    -Wear gloves when plating! No one wants to eat cooked food you touched with your bare hands.
    -Mis en Place- Make sure you grab everything you need at the start of the class including ingredients, pots, pans and bowls so you do not have to run all over the classroom.

Learn more about Danielle’s class: Professional Culinary Arts
For recipes and videos by Danielle, go to

From Investment Banking to Pastry Arts

2014 Professional Pastry Arts student on changing careers.

By Mark Franczyk
International Culinary Center Student
Professional Pastry Arts

I took a seat in one of the conference room chairs facing a display case of ocean themed sugar sculptures. How quickly would those fish melt in actual water, I wondered idly as the admissions representative closed the door and started to make her way across the room.

It was time for me to make my move.

“So let me ask you a crazy question,” I blurted.

The admissions representative, sifting through her folder of brochures, paused expectantly. Obviously my attempt at a natural transition in the conversation had failed. In fact, it must have been so unnatural that she looked genuinely scared by what I might be about to ask. After all, who was I but some random stranger who had stumbled in off the streets of SoHo asking to speak with Admissions? Some story about being a former Investment Banker… interested in the Professional Pastry Arts program. It certainly wasn’t a first, so why would anyone have been suspicious. Although crazy people can be articulate and clean cut too.

But what I was about to ask had been the true reason for visiting the International Culinary Center that afternoon. That’s not to say I hadn’t enjoyed the one-on-one tour of the kitchens, the lesson-by-lesson walkthrough of the syllabus and the presentation of the students’ chocolate projects. They were are critical pieces in convincing me that not only was I ready to enroll in Culinary School, but I had decided on ICC.


She still stood there… waiting… blinking… perhaps calculating if it would be better to scream for help or to make a dive for the door.

“I know you have a new class starting on the 15th,” I began. “I assume it’s closed at this point?” My voice lifted awkwardly with the question, my attempt to convey my true meaning – was there space for me?

“I suppose it’s possible to enroll right up until the start date,” she said with what could only be described as giddy relief. “Given the application process, students typically enroll at least a month before. We need to cover…”

“But you’re saying it’s possible? If everything can be processed in time, you’re saying it’s possible.”

“Up until that morning… yes, it’s possible.”

So I had until the 15th. It was the 13th.

But this had not been some spur-of-the-moment decision. It was the foregone conclusion to hours upon hours of internal debate and months of covert diligence into various culinary schools and programs.

An hour later, arms full of sundry forms related to the application process, I stepped out onto the SoHo sidewalk at 462 Broadway. Facebook status update: “I think I just enrolled in Culinary School.”

When I emerged from the subway just minutes later there were 83 “Likes”. One comment appeared repeatedly: “About time!”


Six months earlier I had done something that still feels more like the plot from a mediocre feel-good-movie and not a scene from my life.

After 10 years of grinding it out in Finance, I had finally ended my career as an Investment Banker. It had taken me five attempts to officially quit (some people insist the number is higher). With each attempt, I had received convincing counter-proposals promising changes to my job designed to make “sticking it out” more palatable. They were well-intentioned proposals from (mostly) sincerely motivated people. But after a decade of 100-hour workweeks, few seemed to understand the extent to which my motivations had changed.

Globally recognized firm name… oversized paycheck by almost anyone’s standards… the ability to say things at cocktail parties like, “My week? Oh, it was fine… I worked on the largest equity deal in U.S. history for the U.S. Treasury… yes, we raised $21 billion… or was it $22 billion? I forget exactly. But how are the kids?”

It had all started to leave me cold.

Yes, the work had been stimulating… at least at first. As a 21-year-old fresh out of college, a job in Investment Banking had met all of the requirements, which, at the time, had defined success. And over the course of that decade, I consistently worked with amazingly talented people. But motivations change. Definitions of success change. And any spark of true personal interest… that “thrill of the deal”… had long since faded.

One Monday, somewhere between my fourth and final attempt to quit, I had a bit of an epiphany while sorting through my morning email.

For every note on IPOs, merger deal alerts or upcoming due diligence sessions, I had at least one email that read something like “Next Thursday night… group of 5… out of towners… thinking Korean food, but no seafood… something on the East Side… thoughts?”

Or perhaps, “Just heard about this thing called a Cronut… thought of you… we must go!!!”

Maybe it was the constant state of sleep deprivation that had caused me to miss something so blatantly obvious, but if I was spending every free moment thinking about or talking about food, then why was I not working in food? Cooking… baking… food science… food writing… restaurant management… from where I sat, 28 floors above Park Avenue, they all sounded infinitely more attractive.

The truth was, the culinary world seemed so impossibly distant from Banking, and I didn’t see how I could move from point A to point B. When I finally quit (the fifth time), it became clear that many people had similar doubts.

“So you’re going to leave banking… but what will you do next? Cooking? I know you… in two weeks you are going to totally freak out and have no idea what to do with yourself. You know it. You just don’t want to say it! You can’t sit still. No matter what you do, you’re going to drive yourself crazy. You might as well start wearing socks on your hands, tissue boxes for shoes and start talking to plants. I’m sorry… I don’t want to sound harsh. I’m just thinking about you. And you know that nothing else will pay this well. Nothing. And I’m sure you’ve heard about chefs’ hours. I just hate the idea of you working so hard for so little money.”

My counter was simple.

“Do you like your job?”

“It’s pays wells, and…” they’d always begin.

“That’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking, do you like your job?”

They would just look at me in silence, unable to respond. I had made my point.

And yet, in my last few days with the firm, there were more and more people who emerged, eager to reveal to me their shared sentiments in whispered chats over coffee.

“I am so jealous. I have been thinking about leaving for years too.” They would lean in closer, as if the other Starbucks patrons were there to record our conversation and report back to big brother, latte cups fitted with hidden microphones. “I’m just not there yet. Good luck. You’ll do awesome. Augh, I’m so jealous. I need to get out of here too!”

My start at ICC could not have gone better. I awoke that first morning to a Facebook post by Jacques Pepin, one of the school’s deans.

“Today is Julia’s [Child] birthday. I think of her often, and miss her. Let’s all raise a glass to her today.”

Well, if starting culinary school on Julia Child’s birthday was not a good omen, I don’t know what is!

Over the course of the first few weeks, I would leave class around 11pm feeling physically exhausted, arms loaded to a full evening’s work of pastry, but more emotionally energized than I had in years. Doubts about having made the right decision… regrets for having left something stable for something totally unchartered… I was genuinely surprised how I felt neither.


Three weeks into the Pastry Arts Program, ICC held one of its regular career fairs: a veritable “Who’s Who” from the culinary world and an unparalleled opportunity to meet with top potential employers. Although I was still a culinary school neophyte, I was eager to try my luck at an internship while still in class – take on a little real world experience to round out my classroom hours.

Speaking with prospective employers meant updating a long dormant resume. The night before the career fair, I sat at my computer, staring down the document that chronicled my 10 years in Finance. It was a crowded page detailing a litany of deals and transactions. The font size had been reduced each year to accommodate what had become a meaningless and illegible mess.

And then I hit delete, reducing everything to a single bullet point somewhere near the bottom… Investment Banker, 2004-2014.

The page looked relieved with the potential of things to come.

To learn more about the class Mark is taking, fill out the form below and an Admission representative will contact you.


Eggs Benedict with Champagne Truffle Hollandaise and Sweet Tomato Jam

By Deniece Vella
2013 International Culinary Center Graduate
Professional Culinary Arts

At L’Ecole, brunch is never taken lightly. When I attended the International Culinary Center (then The French Culinary Institute), I visited the restaurant quite often on the weekends to enjoy their famous brunch. As a typical eggs benedict guru, I always made sure to order the classic version that impressed me every time. As a student, I learned how to make the perfect poached egg and the perfect hollandaise sauce. These skills have stuck with me since leaving culinary school, but it’s been incredible to see how much more I’ve learned about this classic dish.

As a lover of prosciutto and truffle, I craved incorporating those flavors into the dish. In this version, I use premium truffle butter, truffle salt, prosciutto di Parma, and sweet tomato jam to amp up eggs benedict like you’ve never seen. Enjoy!


Eggs Benedict with Champagne Truffle Hollandaise and Sweet Tomato Jam

Ciabatta Toast:
1 loaf Ciabatta bread, sliced
Olive oil, for drizzling
Pinch truffle salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Tomato Jam:
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 shallot, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
5 plum tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
¼ teaspoon herbs de provence
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons sugar
½ tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Poached Eggs:
8 eggs
2 teaspoons truffle butter

Champagne Truffle Hollandaise:
5 egg yolks
¼ cup champagne, reduced to 2 tablespoons
1 stick unsalted butter, melted
Pinch truffle salt

4 slices prosciutto di Parma
Sunflower sprouts

1. For the Ciabatta toast, preheat the oven to 425F. Lay the bread slices on a parchment lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with truffle salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake for 10 minutes. Set aside.
2. For the tomato jam, heat the olive oil in a sauté pan. Add the shallots, garlic, herbs de Provence, kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Gently sweat the shallots over low heat until softened, about 5 minutes.
3. Next, add the tomatoes, red pepper flakes, sugar, balsamic vinegar, and red wine vinegar. Season again with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Allow the tomatoes to cook down over medium-low heat for about 15-20 minutes stirring occasionally. The jam is done when there is very little liquid remaining in the pan and the jam has thickened. Set aside.
4. To make the hollandaise sauce, combine the egg yolks, reduced champagne, and truffle salt together. Whip this mixture for 5 minutes. The mixture should become very pale and fluffy. Gently heat over a double boiler while continuing to whip vigorously. When you can see the whisk’s tracks in the bottom of the bowl, the egg yolks have thickened enough and are ready for butter. Off the heat, very slowly whisk in the butter. Season with additional salt if necessary. Set aside.
5. To poach the eggs, bring a pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, line a small ramekin with plastic wrap. In the bottom of the lined ramekin, drop ¼ teaspoon of truffle butter. Crack an egg into the ramekin as well. Using butchers twine, wrap the plastic wrap into a pouch at the top so you have a small egg pouch. Make sure to remove as much air from the pouch as possible. Repeat with the remaining eggs and truffle butter.
6. Drop the pouches into boiling water and cook for three minutes. Remove the eggs from the water and allow them to cool for two minutes before removing the plastic wrap. Set aside.
7. To serve, spread tomato jam onto two slices of Ciabatta toast. Lay them crosswise on top of each other in the dish. Top the bread with 1 slice of prosciutto and 2 poached eggs. Drizzle with hollandaise sauce. Garnish with sunflower sprouts.

For more recipes by Deniece, visit:


A recipe request by one of our Facebook fans after a photo was posted of our wonderful Pastry Chef-Instructor Kathy Sadler making this recipe on Kugelhopf Day!



Recipe by International Culinary Center
Used in Professional Pastry Arts and Art of International Bread Baking programs.
Yield: 1 kugelhopf

For the Sponge
150 g all-purpose flour
30 g yeast
150 mL warm milk

For the Dough
140 g butter
140 g powdered sugar
1 t salt
Zest of 1 lemon
1 T vanilla sugar
2 eggs
1 egg yolk
250 g bread flour
Pinch of nutmeg
50 g warm milk
150 g raisins, plumped in water and drained
15 to 20 whole blanched almonds
Powdered sugar, for finishing

For the Sponge
1. Prepare sponge with the all-purpose flour, yeast, and the 150 mL of milk. Set aside and allow the sponge to double.
2. Prepare the dough: Cream together the butter, powdered sugar, salt, lemon zest, and vanilla sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Add the eggs one at a time, and allow each to fully incorporate before adding the next.
4. Add the sponge to the creamed butter mixture.
5. Add the bread flour, nutmeg, and 50 g of milk to the mixture.
6. Mix/knead to develop gluten, scraping the sides of the bowl often.
7. Add the raisins and mix just to combine.
8. First proof: Place in oiled bowl, cover, and proof 30 to 40 minutes or until doubled in size.
9. Prepare the mold: Put almonds in the bottom of a buttered kugelhopf mold.
10. Turn dough when proofed, and place in prepared mold. Final proof and allow the dough to ferment in the mold. The dough should rise to ½ inch below the top edge of the mold.
12. Egg wash.
13. Bake the kugelhopf at 350°F (176°C) for 35 to 40 minutes, or until dark brown.
14. Unmold immediately after baking onto a cooling rack to prevent it from becoming soggy.

For the Finish
Lightly dust with powdered sugar.

Special Instructions
• To save time, cream the butter and sugar while the sponge is rising.
• Once the sponge and bread flour have been added, it will take several minutes to build up the gluten.
• The dough will remain very loose but gluten structure should be apparent.
• Add the raisins last to avoid breaking them apart and discoloring the dough.
• Be careful unmolding the bread; it will be very fragile while hot.

Learn more: Professional Pastry Arts
Art of International Bread Baking

Professional Pastry Arts: The Final Exam

By Julie Couture
International Culinary Center
2014 Graduate, Professional Pastry Arts

After six months of learning recipes and techniques, in addition to partaking in various tastings of coffee, tea, cheese and wine in the Professional Pastry Arts program, the final exam was upon us. To be honest, I was excited about it. As a career changer, I’d already been out in the real world; it can be overrated. I was excited because this was an opportunity to apply what I had learned in the program. It was go time.

In the pastry arts program, four and a half days are devoted to the final exam. By noon on the fifth day, our items are to be displayed for judging by local, esteemed pastry chefs. Day one was devoted to our written exam and to the construction of our showpiece. The showpiece served two purposes. The first was to display our desserts. We were each required to make a petit fours, chocolate, viennoiserie and a seasonal tart. The second was to showcase a theme, which was the International Culinary Center’s 30th anniversary. Our showpieces could be constructed from pastillage, chocolate, poured sugar, pulled sugar, and other sugar mediums we had learned in the program. Due to the humidity, the majority of us opted to use pastillage to avoid any issues with warping or collapsing showpieces.


Our Chef-Instructor, Chef Tom Jones, told us on Day 1 there is always friction. I thought he was referring to tiffs in the classroom due to heightened stress. Instead, he meant circumstances beyond our control would pop up and we would need to deal with them. He was right… Friction visited us on day two when I realized the oranges for my orange truffles were playing hide and seek. It was chocolate day, and consequently, we referred to Day 2 as “The Day Chocolate Hates Us.” Although our classroom was well air-conditioned, some of us had difficulty tempering chocolate. The longer it took to temper chocolate, the more time it took away from doing other tasks.

The rest of the week was devoted to creating the other food items – the tarts, petits fours and viennoiserie. Friction popped in at times and threw things off a bit, requiring some of us to remake certain recipes and revise our showpieces. Through it all, we plowed forward. As recipes came together, we slowly felt more confident about our progress. We learned how to work around the inevitable friction and not get overwhelmed by it. Overall, we laughed instead of cried, and managed to deliver our products when the clock struck 12:00 pm on Friday.

In the midst of Finals Week, I couldn’t help but think back to my first month in school. While working on my croquembouche in Level 1, I burned myself four times on the caramel. Burns are an occupational hazard, but they, coupled with my disappointment at the finished product, left me feeling frustrated. I expressed my doubts about my abilities to Chef Christopher Ciresi, my Level 1 chef-Instructor. He didn’t buy it. Chef Christopher simply said the pastry arts program is a learning process. Even though I was frustrated that day, he said I was on track and I would improve.

Chef was right. During the week of finals, I noticed my progress. I’m not an expert pastry chef, but I feel faster, more organized and better able to multi-task. My work is nowhere near the level of my chef-instructors, but due to their instruction and feedback, I hope I will eventually get there.


At noon on judgment day, two revered pastry chefs evaluated our work anonymously, focusing on flavors, techniques, and aesthetics. We all received constructive comments regarding what went well and what could be improved. Their feedback, along with six months of intensive training at ICC, can only help prepare us for our future careers as pastry chefs.

They say what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The final exam didn’t kill us…but it did make us stronger. Our diplomas are proof of that.

Learn more about Julie’s class: Professional Pastry Arts