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.


What I Learned in Culinary School

Five of our fantastic graduates contribute their thoughts on what they learned in culinary school in The Chef’s Connection:

Bobby Flay
“Every day I cook in my restaurants, I’m using techniques that I learned in school. Every day. And I always will for the rest of my life.”

Wylie Dufresne, Chef/Owner at Alder and wd~50 in NYC
“All of my research and development is grounded in the skills I learned at ICC. They taught me how to apply my creativity.”

Bao Bao (Suchanan Aksornnan), Owner/Chef at Baoburg
“I went to the French Culinary institute. What I learned from culinary school was everything. You learn from the base. That is why I am not afraid to do fusion. Because I’ve learned from the root. To learn at culinary school is to cook properly. You have to know the rules before you break the rules.”

Melissa Muller Daka, Chef/Owner of Pastai and Bar Eolo in NYC
“ICC focused me. I learned a lot about time management which prepared me for not just the kitchen, but life. Knowing mise en place, technique, knowing what to do when. Every stop of the way changed me as a person, not just a cook. I opened my first restaurant at 22. It was tough, but I was prepared.”

Jonathan Borowitz, Chef/Owner of Café 48 in Tel Aviv
“I really owe a great deal to the school for forming within me the right state of mind to be able to understand and grasp how things are done. The focus on the WAY and METHOD, not just on the end result, are fundamental not only to cooking, but for other things as well. People always tend to say cooking schools are useless—find a job and you’ll learn how to cook. That is totally wrong.”

CLICK HERE to read the full article.

Christina Tosi Ranks in Fortune Mag’s “Most Innovative Women”

2004 pastry alum Christina Tosi featured in Fortune Magazine.

2004 Pastry Arts alumnus Christina Tosi, Chef/Owner/Founder of Milk Bar, ranked number ten of twenty-five on Fortune Magazine‘s list of “The Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink.”

The masses may have Momofuku mania, but the restaurant group’s dessert branch is a phenomenon in its own right. Tosi created the dessert program at Momofuku before starting the Milk Bar offshoot in 2008. This month she’ll have seven locations when she opens in SoHo. Tosi has helped make dessert a meal’s main event with creations like cereal milk soft serve and crack pie. “All the savory courses that came before dessert already have you in last place, literally,” she says, “so you have to fight for the best bite in a meal.” She’s known for her unique flavor combinations. One that didn’t work out? American cheese cake or pie with a saltine cracker crust and green tomato sorbet.

CLICK HERE to read the whole article.

Grad Ed McFarland Talks Lobster with Forbes

“How to Cook and Crack Open Lobster” with 1995 Culinary grad Ed McFarland.

Ed McFarland had not tried lobster until he was 17 years old. The New York City native grew up in a family devoted to cooking with quality vegetables and meat, but shellfish was not on the menu. He wound up devoting his life to food, graduating from the French Culinary Institute in 1995, working at Le Cirque, then at Terence Brennan’s Picholine and establishing himself in six years at Pearl Oyster bar.”

To watch Chef Ed cook a lobster and to read the full article in Forbes Magazine, click here: “How to Cook and Crack Open Lobster with Chef Ed McFarland”

Grads Chaz Brown, Julian Medina Featured in NYT

ICC graduates featured in The New York Times!

2006 Culinary Arts graduate Chaz Brown:

The fall promises more: Sachi, a pan-Asian bistro with a long list of dim sum freely tweaked by Andy Yang, will offer tomato-egg drop soup and a brown butter-miso lobster roll with yucca fries. Northern Tiger, a Lower Manhattan food stall from Erika Chou and Doron Wong of Yunnan Kitchen, will prowl the Greenmarkets for inspiration. And at Soul Noodle, the “Top Chef” contender Chaz Brown will infuse dim sum and noodles with Western touches.

1999 Culinary Arts graduate Julian Medina:

Aarón Sánchez returns to the Lower East Side with Alegre and some recipes from his grandmother and his mother, the cookbook author and restaurateur Zarela Martinez. Julian Medina of Toloache is branching out with a cantina, Tacuba, in Astoria, Queens. And Jon Neidich and Jean-Marc Houmard, the duo behind the A-list magnets Indochine and Acme, will straddle Asia and Latin America at Tijuana Picnic on the Lower East Side.

We would also like to acknowledge 2010 Culinary Arts graduate Ma-Le’ Au, Chef de Cuisine at Sachi, and 2011 Culinary Arts graduate Ben Pope, Chef/Partner at 2 Duck Goose:

“The fall promises more: Sachi, a pan-Asian bistro with a long list of dim sum freely tweaked by Andy Yang, will offer tomato-egg drop soup and a brown butter-miso lobster roll with yucca fries.”

“Some restaurants have already opened: At 2 Duck Goose in Gowanus, Brooklyn, you’ll find smoked tofu with chile sauce and Cantonese borscht stew”

To read the whole article, click here: Hotel Dining, Updated Chinese and More

Essen Magazine: NY Restaurant Trend Report

ICC featured in the July 2014 issue of Korea’s popular food magazine, Essen. See below for the translation:

New York Restaurant Trend Report
New York restaurants have to fight tooth and nail to attract the fickle palates of New Yorkers to get to the top, and the range of restaurants one can see is vast. We relay the recent experience of Fiona Bae, founder and CEO of fionabae ltd., who witnessed the restaurant scene.

Hooni Kim, who is currently a judge on “Masterchef Korea 3”, is a graduate of the internationally renowned culinary school, the International Culinary Center (ICC) which is now in its thirtieth year. He has a simple, compelling reason for choosing to attend the ICC instead of other culinary institutions – “the ICC is in the middle of New York City,” he says. New York isn’t just a trendy American city, it’s a global cultural center that happens to be a trend setter. That’s why so many people around the world, even now, dream of living in New York City. And among those dreamers there are chefs holding their knives and jumping into New York, which is why there is so much change in the New York restaurant scene.

Casual restaurant instead of fine dining
Larry Fish, who has taught the restaurant management program at ICC for 10 years, says fine dining is less popular these days. Per Se or Daniel will stay, but more people are moving to casual places. At Alder, chef Wylie Dufresne, who’s famous for his creative cooking, is attracting both neighborhood locals and other New Yorkers, because the new restaurant is more accessible and affordable. Hooni Kim’s Hanjan, which pairs Korean food with Korean drinks, has great appeal to New Yorkers and was included in the NY Times’ Top 10 restaurants of 2013 along with Alder.

Sophisticated Food Court
Hugh Mangum of Mighty Quinn’s BBQ, who transformed the NY BBQ scene, mentions the rise of the sophisticated food court as the next trend. Through the 6 month program at ICC, he successfully changed his career from a musician to a chef owner. He expects the current, lowly food courts that typically sell cheap Chinese food will become a new venue to offer a wide range of fresh and delicious food.

Authentic ethnic food
Larry Fish points out authenticity is one of the notable trends. Instead of American style Mexican, ethnic food more true to its roots is popular in NY. For that reason, for instance, many more Korean dishes are becoming popular.

People are looking for healthier option
As an opinion leader who shapes the culinary world in the U.S., ICC founder and CEO Dorothy Hamilton looks at the broader impact and issues when considering food trends. She suggests that with the increasing cost of growing ingredients and more concerns about fast food and overeating, people are going to cook more at home. She thinks people will pay more attention to how to grow healthy ingredients. With climate change and lack of protein and other nutrients, she believes we will have to look for a new source of food.

2014 July_ICC_Essen

ICC Named Overall Winner for Top Culinary Programs in 2014

ICC the ‘Overall Winner’ for Local Cooking Classes’s  Top Culinary Programs.

Local Cooking Classes announced the International Culinary Center as their Overall Winner for their list of Top Culinary Programs in 2014.

“The ICC staff provides a world-class teaching environment which is personal and individualized thanks to their low student to teacher ratio. We want to congratulate the team at ICC for maintaining one of the highest standards in the culinary field and always continuing to push the creative boundaries within culinary arts.”

CLICK HERE for the press release.

ICC featured in Harper’s Bazaar Korea

A feature of ICC grads Wylie Dufresne, Hooni Kim, Kee Ling Tong, and Hugh Mangum.

ICC featured in Harper’s Bazaar Korea, August 2014 issue, with graduates Wylie Dufresne, Hooni Kim, Kee Ling Tong, and Hugh Mangum.

“Young Chefs of New York”

Alder’s Wylie Dufresne
Q. How did you become a chef?
A. From age 11 onwards I worked at a restaurant every summer. I peeled potatoes, served dishes and washed the plates. But I decided I should finish my schooling first so I majored in philosophy then after graduation I went to the ICC to learn how to cook professionally. My mother was a good cook but I was also influenced by my grandmother. The reason why I started to like eggs was because my grandmother made me scrambled eggs or omelettes.

Hanjan’s Hooni Kim
Q. I heard you were a medical student. How did you start to cook?
A. It was my childhood dream to become a doctor. I studied really hard in the West Coast and was interning at a hospital, when suddenly in my fourth year I just realized I couldn’t stand the smell of hospitals. So I had to take a year off and I thought I would learn how to cook since I always had interest in that. Growing up in New York, both of my parents worked so we always ate out and I experienced a lot of different cuisines because of that. Since I had no experience as a chef I was looking for the fastest entry point into the industry. That’s why I decided to enroll at the ICC because it was hard training for a short period of time. Thanks to the ICC location in SoHo I would finish my lessons and go to work as an intern in famous restaurants to practice the learning.
Q. You completed the ICC course and you started at Daniel as a chef. It’s the West Point of the culinary world yet you managed to get in without any experience. How?
A. I did kind of wonder if I should go back to medical school after completing the ICC course, but I decided it wouldn’t be too late to experience working at a fantastic top restaurant first. So I went to Daniel and offered to work as a free intern. I worked hard for several months and then the manager asked me if I would consider going in as a full time worker. I was actually so happy I could cry when I heard the offer but instead I said, “Let me think about it.” I went in the next day to accept the offer, of course.

Mighty Quinn’s Hugh Mangum

Q. I heard you were in a band. What instrument did you play?
A. I was a drummer for a long time, we weren’t amazingly popular but we still managed to tour all over America. But I was always interested in food. I didn’t really have a lot of time and I was starting out much later than your typical chef. I found out about the ICC in New York so I finished my course there. It was a very short course but it was a very tough time for me – I copied out each recipe word for word every night to memorize it. Still maybe I couldn’t be mature enough to drop my drumsticks and I actually rejected my first job offer because I thought the pay was too low compared with what I was earning as a drummer. But my fellow chefs at the ICC lead me down the right path. Actually that ICC network is one of the school’s hugest pluses and the driving force behind what I am today.

Kee’s Chocolate’s Kee Ling Tong
Q. Please tell us how you came to open a chocolate shop.
A. I started working at JP Morgan in my teens and stayed there for over 15 years. When I became thirty, I thought, “Don’t I need to do something fun for myself now?”
I decided to quit my job and just throw myself into the ICC course. It was a present to myself. Initially I was focusing on baking but as time passed I found myself drawn to chocolate making. After I graduated I spent two and a half months in southern France learning about chocolate, then I opened the shop. In the beginning I had a flower shop too, but the chocolate shop became so popular I didn’t have the time to focus on the flowers. So after a year I closed down that business.


At World’s Fair, U.S. Pavilion is Poised to Address the Big Issues

What will the USA Pavilion address at Expo Milano 2015?

The Washington Post covers key issues the USA Pavilion will address at Expo Milano 2015:

“The next international exposition, 2015 Expo Milan, will take on one of the globe’s most vexing questions: How do we feed a future of 9 billion people without destroying the planet itself? The expo, which runs from May through October, will bring together more than 140 countries to share possible solutions.

At the helm of the USA Pavilion at the Expo is Dorothy Cann Hamilton, founder and chief executive of the International Culinary Center in New York. After persuading the U.S. government to have a presence in the expo, Hamilton agreed to organize the effort with the help of the James Beard Foundation and the blessing — if not the funding — of the State Department. And she is thinking big.”

Read the full article here: “2015 Expo Milan: At world’s fair, the U.S. pavilion is poised to address the big issues”