Advice for International Students: Friendships

I didn’t know anybody in NYC before making this leap towards my dream of becoming a professional pastry chef. Naturally, I was a bit nervous making the move from Toronto, but was excited more than anything. My first week or so was a bit lonely, and initially making friends was a slow process. Although everyone in my class was extremely friendly, spending time together outside of class was not really mentioned. However, after a couple weeks we all got more comfortable together and made plans outside of the kitchen. Now, I have made some close friends whom I can see having long lasting friendships with.

 

What Happens When Science and Food Get Married?

You see things outside the culinary box. Chef Herve Malivert, Director of Food Technology at the International Culinary Center, took students and alums through a tour of simple modern gastronomy even the home cook can conquer. That is, if you can get your hands on some liquid nitrogen.

1. Faux Noodles 

As I watched Chef Herve transform oil and water into a “noodle,” all I could do was scratch my head. How could he even get oil and water to emulsify when the two are intrinsically polar opposites? This was the first magic trick Chef Herve pulled out of his hat during his food technology demonstration, and it involved the help of a chemical called methyl cellulose. Adding less than 1 percent of methyl cellulose will allow the oil and water to emulsify into a mayo-like consistency. He used this concoction to add another dimension to consommé, a clear soup. Using a squeeze bottle, he piped tiny strips of the emulsion into the soup, which solidified when it came in contact with the hot liquid. The noodle resembled the texture of soft Udon.

2. Coca Cola Caviar?

Transforming any liquid into a tiny, pearl of jelly is an interesting way to add a pop–literally!–of flavor to a dish. Chef Herve took the popular soda, Coca Cola, added 1 percent agar, a gelling agent, to it and dripped the soda into a water bath containing 5 to 8 percent lactate, which solidified the Coke into little balls of caviar. Only bathe the caviar in this solution for a minute–the longer it’s submerge, the denser the gel will become.

3. Instant Ice Cream

Want to really impress your friends? Invest in some liquid nitrogen, whip up a creme anglaise, and shower your custard with liquid nitrogen to make a quick batch of ice cream. Pour the creme anglaise–a mixture of eggs, sugar, and cream–into a stand mixer. While on a low speed, add the liquid nitrogen. You’ll use about a 50:50 ratio of creme anglaise to liquid nitrogen, but you can eyeball the process. Once the ice cream comes to the right consistency, stop adding nitrogen. Top with caviar!

The Meatball Shop’s Keys to Success

Michael Chernow, the restaurateur behind The Meatball Shop, wasn’t really sure what he wanted to do with his life. In high school he was a jazz tubist. (No really.)  Then he spent two years at Hunter College before realizing it wasn’t a good fit. So he left for California, chasing the dream so many others had before him: to become an actor. That fizzled.

He quickly returned to New York City, where he landed a front-of-house job at Frank, an iconic lower east side Italian spot. It’s there that things started to click.

“I learned I had a passion for people,” says Chernow. “If you stick me in a room of people, I’ll learn how to acclimate.”

Chernow spent years at Frank learning the restaurant business and building up a team of people who believed in his potential. When he was ready to pitch his own restaurant concept, he already had financial and mental supporters. That was his first smart move.

His second? Going into business with his best friend, Daniel Holzman, which he admits doesn’t always work out for everyone.

“Everybody’s an asshole,” Chernow says, pointing to specific people in the crowd and laughing. “But I’d rather be in business with an asshole that I trust than one who will screw me over.”

But he started a restaurant with with a friend who spent years at Le Bernardin. Cue tasty food.

The first problem they ran into was deciding on a concept. Chernow put himself through the culinary and restaurant management programs at the International Culinary Center, where he developed an idea for an artisanal cheeseburger joint that won him an award at school. But, it didn’t win over his best friend, who wanted to create a Byzantine tasting menu. (“A What?” was basically this crowd’s reaction.)

Their ideas didn’t mesh well. However, they knew their restaurant would be located in the Lower East Side, so they studied their demographic – drunk, budding adults partying until 4 a.m. They saw an audience who needed fast, cheap food at ungodly hours. So they settled on the idea of meatballs. Smart move number three: Matching their restaurant concept to the location and demographic.

When Chernow enrolled in the restaurant management program at the Culinary Center, he learned how to write a business plan and open his own restaurant, a template he used for The Meatball Shop. (Smart move number four.)

“You need a business plan. If you don’t have one it’s like driving across country without a map,” explains Chernow.

It took about a month for Holzman and Chernow to customize Chernow’s original business plan for The Meatball Shop. Chernow stresses the importance of the executive summary and the financials.

“Investors aren’t interested in details. They want to read a strong executive summary, which should only be a page, and then your financials. If those two match up, maybe they’ll sign up.”

One of the keys to Chernow’s success was building a key team of investors during his earlier career at Frank.

“Seventy-five percent of our original investors are from Frank,” says Chernow. “Our first meeting was with three investors, and we walked away with $75,000. From there it was no turning back.”

It took $390,000 to get the restaurant up and running. They opened in 2010 with 30 employees and no management costs. Today they have 400 employees and soon-to-be five restaurants.

“Public relations is a huge element in business, and our PR agency took a risk on us. They saw how hard we worked and believed in our food,” says Chernow. “That was over 3 years ago, and yesterday I was on The Today Show.”

It was over fancy cocktails that Chernow divulged all these secrets to his alma mater’s crowd. He was the first guinea pig in the new series, “Drinks with Dorothy,” a networking series where successful food industry leaders will share how they made it in an often unforgiving industry.

The event made a splash, especially after Chernow told us to stick around because he brought a sampling of his favorite meatballs. There’s really no better way to network, is there?

The Best Olympics Ever? One Revolved Around Cookies

Imagine this: A room filled with 11 different types of cookies, a panel of feisty celebrity judges, and a band of students hoping for gold. Cue: The International Culinary Center’s first annual Cookie Olympics. And things got a little kookie at this cookie competition. Let me explain.

The national anthem was supposed to kick off the events, but a mishap in sound department resulted in “O Canada!” blasting from the speakers. No one seemed to notice until a young kid behind me asked the very astute question: Why is Canada’s anthem playing?

Alan Richman, the sometimes salty critic and one of the guest judges, teased, “Can we grade the sound?”

The event was then proceeded with the lighting of the torch—or the blowtorch in this culinary sporting—err…eating—event. The torch carrier made a loop around the darkened room, and came full circle to emblaze three Sterno burners (the ones used for chafing dishes at catered functions).  Let the games begin.

The judges were poised to judge each of the 11 cookies (each from a different country) on flavor, texture, difficulty of technique, presentation and ease of eating. The first-prize winner would be treated to a free dinner at the school’s restaurant, L’Ecole, and have their recipe and cookie featured on the restaurant’s menu.

 


Contestants and Judges

When the singing and pyrotechnics were finished, the eating began. Tasked to test their taste buds was the row of famed judges:

Kierin Baldwin, executive pastry chef at The Dutch
Dan Kluger, executive chef at ABC Kitchen
Johnny Iuzzini, JamesBeard award winner, “Outstanding Pastry Chef”
Alan Richman, Dean of Food Journalism at The International Culinary Center
Christina Tosi, Founder/owner of Momofuku Milk Bar

The judges ate cookies from Canada, China, Bangladesh, Japan, Mexico, Ukraine, Russia, India, America, Jamaica, and France. Milk and champagne fueled them through this massive sugar rush.

“Punch up the flavors,” and “Add a little more salt,” were Chef Baldwin’s repeat comments every time she tasted a cookie.

The judges loved the savory cookie entries like India’s Chana Masala shortbread, which was made with chickpea flour and topped with a ginger and sundried tomato jam. It made me wince, but the judges loved the spicy topping.

One of the crowd favorites was America’s Fred Flintstone cookie, which was a glorified chocolate chip cookie with a Cocoa Pebbles brittle baked in. Chef Iuzzini noted that if the student coated the cereal with a caramel, and let it dry before mixing it into the cookie batter, the brittle would’ve maintained its crunch rather than becoming soggy and chewy. (I still would’ve eaten a dozen of these in one sitting.)

 


Bojena Lotina cutting her Dulcetto Baz cookies

The ultimate winner was Russia’s Dulcetto Baz cookie, which was kind of an enigma if you didn’t have a recipe in front of you. Bojena Lotina, an International Culinary Center culinary student, took home both the gold and the “Fan Favorite” award.

“It makes no sense to me, but I love it,” was Richman’s first reaction to this dense dulce de leche cookie, which was studded with shortbread bits.

The second and third prize winners were the Indian Chana Masala cookie and the Jamaican spice cookie, respectively.

The event had a palatable amount of kitsch, and the students were genuinely excited to bake their original cookie recipes to a crew of talented bakers. It was safe to say that everyone left the event with a sugar high and a few good tips for perfecting a great cookie:

Using nuts? Toast them to extract more flavor. –Johnny Iuzzini

Add salt to make the flavors pop. – Kierin Balwin

Need more structure in a cookie? Add more flour. –Johnny Iuzzini

Your cookie name should match the cookie’s flavors. Making a cherry and green tea cookie? Both elements should be prominent in the cookie. –Dan Kluger

Grad Lands His Dream Job Working for José Andrés

Carlos Castera admits that he used to go to José Andrés’ restaurant, Jaleo, and dream about being in the kitchen. Back then he was working as a union representative, but in his free time he’d be at home replicating the meals he’d eat at restaurants.

And if Carlos didn’t end up at the International Culinary Center as a Spanish Culinary Arts student, he may have had a lot of “what if” thoughts stuck in his head right now:

What if I never won that scholarship to attend the Spanish Culinary Arts program?

What if I never got to meet Chef José during my classes?

What if I never got the chance to go to the school’s career fair and meet with Jose Andres’ team and apply for the sous-chef training program?

What if I never went to Spain and trailed Chef José to his favorite restaurants and farms?

Luckily, Carlos had the opportunity to go to school, practice classic tapas dishes, and travel around Spain to learn the origin of the cuisine. And now he can say he is part of the management team at Jaleo—his dream job.

He scored a three-month training program within Chef José’s ThinkFood Group, which sets Carlos up for a sous-chef position once he completes the program next month.

“I’m living the dream. I can say I’m management,” he admits. “The other day I went to grab ice, and I ran into José who asked how I was doing and wanted to check in on me. Then, in the middle of the restaurant, he gave me a hug.”

Carlos describes his culinary adventure as a big puzzle. The culinary principles and techniques he learned in class have been put to use over 100 times in the restaurant; and when he plates a piece of jamón he refers back to his trip to Spain.

 

“In Spain, I learned about the products I now work with. A lot of people just see jamón, but I see the whole process,” says Carlos. “It’s a big puzzle and now I’m putting it together.”

 

What It’s Like to Study Food in Italy

So I should’ve rethought my culinary experience. I loved spending six months as Classic Culinary Arts student, but after talking to Carl Vahl about his experience in the Italian Culinary Experience, I have to say I’m a little jealous.

Carl is a career changer and in 2010 he decided to leave his law career behind, take a leap of faith, and follow his dreams of becoming a chef. An Italian one at that. So he applied to the International Culinary Center’s Italian Culinary Experience and a few months later he was learning Italian and the principles of Italian cuisine in the New York campus, all in preparation for his voyage to Colorno, Italy. That’s where he started the La Scuola Internazionale di Cucina Italiana, or Alma, a palace outfitted with a cooking institution. And that’s where my deep-seeded jealousy begins.

He pointed me to his blog where he detailed pretty much every moment of his trip abroad. Cue hunger pangs. I spent a few hours reading about weekly visits from Michelin-starred chefs who made beautiful meals by transforming simple ingredients into something so delicious your palate could hardly recognize it.

He got to talk to executive chefs like Mauro Elli chef of Ristorante Il Cantuccio who shops his own produce and grows the rest in his own garden. Talk about fresh. And then to top it off, he takes everyone of his 24 guests’ orders and personally suggests which wine would pair well. Then he heads to the kitchen to make the meal. Talk about an impressive chef.

Chef Bruno Ruffini, chef-instructor for English-speaking students at Alma, led the class in daily instructions. Some days, the Italian class would be in charge of family meal and it wouldn’t be uncommon for Carl to have to turn out a meal for 250 heads. He remembers one particular meal where he cleaned 60-plus bass in three hours. But days like this were juxtaposed with field trips to castles such as Al Cavallino Bianco in Emilia-Romagna where he had the chance to dine among the beautiful vistas and explore the castle’s cellar where they aged DOP salumi.

 


Castle Al Cavallino Bianco


Salami aging

He finished his education by interning at Alla Lanterna, a family owned, exclusively seafood restaurant on the Adriatic Coast where he learned how to clean every type of seafood found in the Adriatic.

Studying in Italy meant that every minute was a learning experience—inside and out of the classroom. Carl took full advantage of this mentality and spent weekends traveling to nearby regions like Tuscany.

“The combination of the culinary instruction, language, history, wine, and all the field trips was really a perfect way to learn fine Italian cuisine. Italy has 20 food regions, many more sub-regions, and micro climates where the food is very diverse but always amazing because of the ingredients and the passion put into food. At Alma we got a taste of all regions and many amazing products,” says Carl.

Carl is now the executive chef at Della Notte, a classic American/Italian restaurant in Baltimore, Maryland.

Jacques Pepin’s Secrets to Eggs

In culinary school, you spend an entire day just on eggs. That’s how important they are. Before you try to impress a chef about your knowledge of sous-vide cooking, you have to master the basics. And to help the students at the International Culinary Center nail them down, the school invited the master himself, Jacques Pepin, to demo every possible egg preparation. He made them look easy. Really easy. But with years of practice, that’s what happens. We flagged five of his most memorable tips.

1. Crack your eggs on a flat surface. The simplest part of an egg dish is cracking the shell, but I bet you’re probably guilty of cracking it on the edge of a counter or bowl, right? Well, don’t. You’re more likely to end up with pieces of the shell inside your dish.

2. Poaching eggs? Fresher eggs are better. The older the eggs, the more the whites will tend to spread in the water. A dash of vinegar will help corral the web-like whites, but stick to fresh eggs for an easier attempt.

3. Butter is the key to a smooth omelet. French omelets should be perfectly smooth and beautifully yellow, and there are three keys to nailing this down: a) Practice, duh; b) A very hot, non-stick pan; c) don’t drown the pan in unsalted butter or else your omelet will be wrinkly (1 tablespoon butter is enough for a 6 to 8-inch pan).

4. Whisk your scrambled eggs.
When making scrambled eggs, it’s best to have the smallest possible curd during cooking. To achieve this, use a whisk and constantly whisk during cooking. Reserve a 1/4 cup of your egg mixture, and when the rest of the eggs are starting to set in the pan, pull off the heat and add the raw eggs. That way, you’ll guarantee that you won’t end up with rubbery, overcooked eggs.

5. Think outside of the pan. One of the most delicious (and easiest) ways to prepare eggs is to use a ramekin: Butter the ramekin, season it, and line it with whatever ingredients you have a hankering for (think: herbs, ham, tomatoes). Then, crack an egg on top and place the ramekin in a large saucepan filled a quarter way with water. Cover and let boil until the whites are set, but the yolk is still runny, about 4 minutes.

 

What I Learned at Saveur Magazine

By Sara Cann,
Classic Culinary Arts alum

Something struck me a few weeks ago when I was asked to try a new line of healthy frozen foods. I was standing among fellow magazine writers, but there was a major divide between these writers and me. They were gushing over the frozen chicken and reheated eggs whereas I found myself searching for the seasoning, the texture, and the presentation. In my head phrases like, “Where’s the pop? The excitement? The SALT?” were frantically streaming through my head, and then it hit me: I’ve been Saveured.

If this were a year ago, I probably would’ve joined the masses and cooed over this healthy alternative to Lean Pockets, but for the past three months, I’ve been through the trenches of Saveur magazine’s test kitchen. And if I had any doubt that this experience left an impression on my life, all I had to do was take a step back and realize that almost everything I do in the kitchen (and grocery store) is now different.

For a large chunk of my time in the test kitchen, I was the only intern (when they usually have three), so I got a crash course in everything from grocery shopping, recipe testing and developing, ingredient sourcing, and food styling. In a way, I was lucky. I didn’t have to share many responsibilities, and the large stack of recipes I tackled every day were just added to my arsenal of amazing recipes to impress friends and family with. I worked my way through the pizza and grilling issue. I know how to mold a thin and beautiful crust–one that won’t stick to a pizza peel or stone.


My pizza

I know that a pinch of sugar in the dough will make it a beautiful, blistered color when kissed by the broiler. And after weeks of standing in front of a grill pan, I got over my fear of using my fingers instead of tongues.

As I surge forward in my food editorial career, I’m bettered prepared for whatever the food industry has in store for me because of this internship. I’ve combed through hundreds of ingredients and know what fenugreek seeds taste like or where to buy Chiles de Arbol. Before this internship, I would’ve had no idea what ingredients like dried Persian limes were or how amazing they can be in broth or an aromatic for rice.

I was able to get a world-class food education without ever having to leave New York City all thanks to the kitchen directors, Kellie Evans and Judy Haubert. These ladies could turn a sub-par recipe into something mouthwatering. It was always a little nerve-racking to present these editors (and a host of others) with a dish you prepared, and wait for their thoughts. It was hard not to take credit for the dish even though it isn’t your recipe–no matter how good or bad. But it was amazing to watch the recipes transform from being “boring” or “it needs a better texture” to becoming irresistible.

And the most amazing part was that the kitchen director, Kellie, knew how to fix it without ever picking up a spoon. She’d fiddle with the recipe on her computer, print out a clean copy, we’d remake it, and boom, a classic was born. It was like watching a kitchen wizard. And being in the presence of these two magical creatures, the journalist inside me couldn’t help but try to lure out some of their tips. I now know that whenever you need that can’t-quite-tell-what-that-flavor-is-but-I-love-it touch, add a tiny pinch of cumin. Or if you want to make the most amazing burgers in the world, roll them in Montreal Steak Seasoning. And if you find yourself making a mess when cutting kernels off the cob, wedge the ear in the middle of a Bundt pan.

When the next round of interns rolled in, they asked me how many hours I needed to work in order to finish my education. None. I sometimes pulled 13-hour days because this was a dream job for me and I did it as a learning experience, not a school requirement. And for all my fellow crazy International Culinary Center grads–those who pull more work hours than shut-eye with no pay, and those who hobble when they first get out of bed, here are some of my favorite, fool-proof recipes that I fell in love with while working at Saveur.

1. Gruyere-Rosemary-and-Honey Monkey Bread: Think homemade, pillow-y biscuits soaked in cheese and honey. Good luck not eating the entire loaf.
2. Salad Nicoise Quiche: I developed this recipe and it was a favorite among the editors. It came out creamy as if a custard and has a traditional vinaigrette blended into the egg mixture, making for a perfectly seasoned quiche. Plus, it’ll look beautiful on your breakfast table.

3. Roasted chicken: Okay, you think you know how to roast a chicken, but this method guarantees a bronze bird packed with flavor. The secret? Soy sauce.
4. Creme Fraiche Salad Dressing: This salad is amazing. The citrus and pistachios keep it fresh and interesting.
5. Cherry Clafoutis: This cherry dessert has a wow factor. When you pull it out of the oven, it’ll have big, bronze air pockets studded with cherries. It’s basically a glorified crepe.
6. Greek Feta Tart: This is such an easy and delicious appetizer. It’s buttery and oozing with cheese. What more could you want?

The June/July issue is about grilling and there are a lot of standout recipes. I can’t link to them because they’re not uploaded yet, but look out for Thai Chicken, Korean Kalbi, and Jamaican Snapper.

An Intern’s Life at Jean-Georges’ Nougatine

Elizabeth Richards has the type of personality you question. Can you really be that happy all the time? She’s constantly smiling, always agreeable (at least for the week I’ve gotten to spend with her), and happy to help. And it gets even better. She throws around phrases like, “Splendid!” and “Brilliant!” because she’s British. British! She’s basically a saint of a person.

When I heard she spent the past three months as an intern at Nougatine, Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s restaurant in the Upper West Side, I was shocked she still maintains a bubbly personality. Not to say anything bad about Jean-Georges, but who can still be so sugary sweet after working 60-hour weeks, juggling school and an internship? Well, she can. And that’s why she’s the perfect person to interview for this blog. You can learn a lot from her experience and her attitude. Sometimes all you need in life is a positive spin on every situation. (Remember that the next time you’re having a crummy day, and think that you could be in your fourth hour chiffonading kale. How’s your day looking now?) And at the end of her internship she walked away with upgraded knife skills and a test kitchen internship at Saveur magazine.

What was your first day at Nougatine like?
Terrifying! I arrived and I had never been in a professional kitchen before. I felt completely out of place but I was directed to the sous chef who told me to help out garde manger. My hands were literally shaking while I was slicing Thai chillies and I think the cook thought I was incredibly inept. I remember at one point he asked me what level I was at the International Culinary Center and when I told him level four he looked shocked. However, I was soon put with the other interns where I met a recent Culinary Center graduate who helped me find things,
gave me advice and most importantly, cracked jokes. Although I had never met him before, he felt like a friendly face and made me much more comfortable. I did prep work—cleaning Brussel sprouts, chiffonading kale, peeling
garlic—for the rest of the trail, which started at 4 p.m. and ended at midnight.

How did you score a stage at JG?
I met with Gina Novak, one of the members of career services at the Culinary Center, who put me in contact with one of the sous chefs at Nougatine. I emailed the chef with my resume asking for a trail and within a few days I had heard back that I could come by. Two days later I did my trail and they offered me the internship.

Were you the only woman in the kitchen? What was the environment like?
There were actually quite a few women, although the kitchen was mostly male. Two of the chefs were women and several of the cooks were. I would say there was a 65-35 split between men and women but maybe I am overestimating the imbalance. I never had a problem with it, everyone was very respectful, but there were a lot of phallic jokes.
However, while I wouldn’t say you have to be tough to make it in the kitchen, it definitely helps.

What were your responsibilities? Which was your least favorite?
My routine responsibilities were prep based and involved a lot of chopping, peeling and placing out recipes, but I also got to do some cooking and I made things like risotto, soup, granola, sauces, different oils, bolognese etc. When I first started, my responsibilities were almost exclusively peeling/chopping but as I advanced and they came to trust me, I did more things that involved cooking.

What was the hardest thing you had to do?
I wouldn’t say anything I did at Nougatine was particularly hard, or harder than anything else I did. The hours were long and I was pretty tired but that was manageable after I got used to it. To be honest the hardest thing was remaining focused on school while I was also working. I was totally exhausted all the time and my body was pretty
sore and there were days when I felt I didn’t want to wake up or study for a test. Sometimes it was hard to remember why I was working so hard but one day Chef Veronica spoke to my class and told us to remind ourselves that the reason we were at school was because we loved cooking and were passionate about our work. It was such a simple
thing to say but it really put things in perspective for me. I do love cooking and I want to work hard and make sacrifices to achieve my dreams.

What did working in a restaurant teach you? Any great tips?
There was way less space to work than at school and so I learned how to work more cleanly and to be better organized. Most importantly though I learned how to work fast (though I doubt my chef would agree with that). Nougatine is great because it’s a learning kitchen, every time I had to do something new the chef would first show me how to do it even if it was something as basic as slicing radishes on a mandoline. I was once told that I wasn’t expected to know anything just because I had graduated from culinary school. This was a relief and took a lot of the pressure off because I was worried that people were going to expect me to know what to do all the time. The reality
is that you will learn every day while you are cooking and even though you may have learned cooking techniques and taillage at school, every chef is different and wants things done a certain way. My advice to cooks going to Nougatine or any other kitchen would be to be work clean and organized, be polite and respectful, ask questions if you’re not sure of something, and most importantly keep your knife sharp! Also eat before you go to work because you may not get an opportunity until you leave.

What’s one dish you learned that you love?
The mushroom bolognese. It’s totally meatless but tastes like a beef Bolognese. It’s honestly incredible. Also the granola. And the basil oil. And everything that I made there. The food is amazing.

Is there anything else you want to add?
It is incredibly hard work and you will sacrifice time, sleep and your body but it’s worth it. I have never had so much fun (not that it was fun all the time) as I have had at Nougatine. Everyone is talented and special and the food is great. I learned a lot and by the end of my internship I felt like I was part of a family. I highly recommend this kitchen to anyone who really wants to improve their skills and have a future working in fine dining. Talk to Chef Tom and Chef Camilla, they are the best.