Professional Pastry Arts Unit Two: The Reaping

Professional Pastry Arts student C.C. McCandless on pies, tarts and the importance of timing.


After a rousingly successful whirlwind of a first week in the Professional Pastry Arts program, I entered Unit Two with equal amounts of excitement and trepidation. On one hand, I was thrilled that we would be expanding our skill set so quickly, delving into the crucial and delicious world of tarts and pies. The syllabus indicated that we would learn a multitude of different doughs, fillings and presentations. This sounded excellent.

Except, as it turned out, pie doughs were my nemesis.

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Back home, once I had committed to ICC last fall, I used that upcoming holiday season as my own personal training grounds. Thanksgiving and Christmas provided ample opportunity to test out any and every manner of desserts on more-than-willing family members. I’m happy to report that most of my attempts were successful to one degree or another. The one glaring exception, however, was the broad category of homemade doughs.

I just couldn’t get them right.

I tried. Truly, I did. Different recipes. Different techniques. Different baking methods. However, each and every final product included something that I viewed as unacceptable. Don’t get me wrong…they tasted good. But my crusts were suboptimal. Sometimes they would shrink, retreating down the sides of the pan like a frightened turtle back into his shell. Or my pie top wouldn’t seal exactly right with its bottom partner, looking ragged around the edge. My attempt at a lattice top for an apple pie was a ham-fisted mess that looked like the work of a serial killer. Dirty Harry said that a man’s got to know his limitations. In this case, mine were crystal clear: I was unable to make a perfect tart or pie dough.

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That’s just what we learned to do in Unit Two. It turns out that all I was missing were perfectly proportioned dough recipes taught to me by a master of the craft. At ICC, I received both in short order. There was literally no time to worry about whether I would screw up my doughs yet again; no opportunity to mentally linger over whether this might just be some fatal flaw in my own baking DNA. We were taught how to make pate brisee, pate sucre, pate sablee, and more, and the important differences between each.

A new unit meant a new partner, and we drew random numbers from a bowl to determine the new pairings. For a week that I might be anxious about, it was all-too-fitting when I drew a classmate that I had my eye on since day one. She had an uncanny air of professionalism and confidence, and I just knew from the first moments of our initial class that she would be a force in the kitchen. My instincts were spot on, as I peripherally watched her turn out one gorgeous product after another during unit one, all while working diligently and maintaining a sparkling clean station. Did I mention that she already has her own amazing food blog? Well, she does, and I had no doubt that she was a future food star in the making. For recipes I had every possibility to muck up, I couldn’t ask for a better teammate to work beside.

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I carried myself well enough during unit one that she seemed excited about our pairing, too. And once again, a classmate and I fell immediately into a seamless rhythm. This was especially important for this unit, because I learned that making doughs had to become automatic; almost robotic. The routine, I found out, was the inherently incorrect part of my process. Make the dough. Don’t overwork it. Chill it. Roll it out. Chill it again. Trim it in your tart ring. Chill it again. None of these steps were optional, and the unit was cleverly designed to ingrain this process immediately. Repeating it daily beside someone that knew her stuff helped it become second nature for me. Literally within a couple of days, I was able to look back at my amateurish problems at home with a smile.

My doughs were now really good, but more importantly, they came out that way automatically. There was no worrying or concern anymore. They always turned out right. It was so freeing and soothing that it’s almost mind-boggling, thinking back to what a thorn in my side they used to be. And the fillings! Lovely, flambeed fruits; rich, stirred custards; luscious, chocolate ganache…we cranked out an incredible array of mouth-watering treats in room 204 that week.

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Our lead instructor, Chef Jürgen, did not make a big deal of the minutiae of the daily schedule. He did, however, write it out on the giant white board at the head of the class each morning, with the expectation that we would follow it to the minute. Every moment from our arrival to the concluding clean up of the kitchen before our departure was accounted for in bright, dry erase marker. The rare occasions we lagged were inevitably met with a booming Austrian voice imploring us, “Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go!”

Each day, we had homework that included preparing recipes for the following morning. On one particular afternoon near the end of the level, we were also assigned something completely new. It looked innocuous enough, as it was essentially a blank sheet of paper. Chef Jürgen informed us that not only were we to prepare tomorrow’s recipes, but that we each had to craft our own version of the daily schedule. His smile gleamed as he assigned us this deceptively tricky task. “And tomorrow, we will have a Reaping like “The Hunger Games,’” he said, with a sinister tinge in his voice. “One of you will be chosen to read your schedule to the class.”

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I realize that it’s kind of ridiculous that I’ve approached this entire experience like a classic hero’s journey. I don’t think Joseph Campbell had lemon meringue pie or tart Alsacienne in mind when he crafted his theories about myth and storytelling. But it has been my approach, to the best of my ability, to live this culinary adventure to the fullest. Thus, Chef Jürgen’s throwing-down of the gauntlet left me with only one possible reply. I had to make Katniss Everdeen proud.

“I volunteer as tribute!” I blurted out from my station, which happened to be right beside the chef’s marble that week.

“Yeah?” he said, giving me a sideways glance as his sly smile grew wider.

“Sure,” I said, realizing that my arrogant mouth and desire to say something cool were at least a couple of steps ahead of my brain. But I couldn’t back down. I returned home and began to assess all of the steps that needed to be compiled for the necessary schedule. I stared down the prospect of coordinating a couple of complex tarts, a new pie dough and two different compotes for fillings, and I immediately realized that I took the precision of our razor-sharp daily schedules completely for granted.

I did the best that I could. I accounted for time needed to roll out doughs, to chill them and to make the requisite accompaniments. I scheduled the brief but integral intervals when the chefs would demonstrate new techniques. I accounted for our lunch break and even left some time at the end of the schedule for review. I was confident that, while my itinerary might not have been perfect, it was one that would work.

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The next morning I arrived early, as I always do, and Chef Jürgen quickly double-checked the validity of my bold offer to volunteer. I had no intention of shying away from the task at hand or asking him to proof my work. He took the quickest of glances at my itinerary and instructed me to write it out on the board. I thought that had to be a good sign. I did so, wondering if there was some crucial error that he intentionally left in my plan, just so he could point it out to the class.

“Looks good,’ he said, analyzing my handiwork as I finished up. “Very nice job.”

Whew. We ended up using my itinerary exactly as written that day, and it worked out perfectly. That was an excellent lesson, reminding us that each day at ICC we are learning things that we might not even be consciously aware of. It wasn’t exactly a life-threatening challenge, like surviving a day in the arena from “The Hunger Games,” but I still felt heroic about it.

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Learn more about Professional Pastry Arts

Rachael Ray’s Scholarship Competition

Make your culinary dreams come true with Rachel Ray Show‘s first-ever ICC scholarship competition!


Looking for a fresh start?
If your dreams include a culinary career, here’s your opportunity!

One winner will receive full scholarship to the Professional Culinary Arts with Externship Program at the International Culinary Center in New York City!

 

ICC Grads Named 2015 James Beard Award Semifinalists

The James Beard Foundation has announced The 2015 Restaurant and Chef Award Semifinalists. Congratulations to our alumni who received 14 nominations!


Outstanding Chef
Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama, Hoboken, NJ

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Marc Vetri, Vetri, Philadelphia

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Outstanding Pastry Chef
Ghaya Oliveira, Daniel, NYC

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Christina Tosi, Momofuku, NYC

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Outstanding Restaurant
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, NY (Dan Barber, Executive Chef/Co-Founder)

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Momofuku Noodle Bar, NYC (David Chang, Executive Chef/Founder)

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Outstanding Service
Restaurant Alma, Minneapolis (Alexander Roberts, Executive Chef/Proprietor)

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Saison, San Francisco (Joshua Skenes, Executive Chef)

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Strip T’s, Watertown, MA (Tim Maslow, Chef/Owner)

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Outstanding Wine
Momofuku Ko, NYC (David Chang, Executive Chef/Founder)

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Sepia, Chicago (Andrew Zimmerman, Executive Chef)

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Best Chef: Great Lakes
Andrew Zimmerman, Sepia, Chicago

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Best Chef: Northeast
Tim Maslow, Ribelle, Brookline, MA

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Best Chef: West
Joshua Skenes, Saison, San Francisco

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CLICK HERE to see the full list.

How Education Helps Veterans

International Culinary Center Professional Pastry Arts student Fontasha Brown and Chef-Instructor Tom Jones featured in The New York Post: “How education helps veterans when career goals are half-baked.”

When life handed lemons to Fontasha Brown when she was on the Coast Guard’s search and rescue team, she made lemon cakes.

“I used to have nightmares after Hurricane Katrina,” says the 29-year-old Brownsville resident, who was stationed in Guam, South Carolina and New Orleans and served during Hurricane Katrina, Haiti and Japan’s earthquake. “I would wake up in the middle of the night and bake. The smell was calming…

…So after leaving the military 10 years early due to an injury, Brown channeled that stress-relieving hobby into a formal culinary education. “I wanted to learn from people, not YouTube,” she explains. “It was stressful at first, but then I remembered my 9/11 GI Bill® — that’s been a blessing.” She recently completed her diploma in professional pastry arts at the International Culinary Center in Soho and aspires to own a dessert bar.
Brown’s not alone. According to the Center for American Progress, approximately 646,000 veterans were enrolled in a higher education institution in 2012.

CLICK HERE to read the full article.

GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at https://www.benefits.va.gov/gibill.

Celebrity Cookie Couture From The Red Carpet

Which actress stole the show? #CookieCoutureICC


To celebrate the fashion frenzy of the awards season, pastry chef-instructors at the award-winning International Culinary Center (http://bit.ly/1KHdMvP) recreated some of the most iconic dresses to ever grace the red carpet. Made of sugar paste and sweet cookie dough, each model took eight hours to construct–less time than most actresses take to get ready for an awards show. The edible stage design features a red-velvet carpet runway, surrounded by adoring cookie fans and paparazzi.

ICC CEO Only Fourth US Culinary Figure to Receive Legion of Honor

The Daily Meal reports that ICC Founder & CEO Dorothy Cann Hamilton is “Only the Fourth American Culinary Figure to Receive the French Legion of Honor.”

Dorothy Hamilton, James Beard award-winning culinary figure and CEO of the International Culinary Center, has been selected as a 2015 recipient of the French Legion of Honor for her work in promoting French cuisine in America. She joins the ranks of only three other American chefs and culinary legends, Thomas Keller, Julia Child, and Alice Waters for helping to bring French cuisine to America through culinary education.

CLICK HERE to read the full article in The Daily Meal.

ICC CEO Awarded Chevalier of the French Legion of Honor

Top 10 Culinary Arts Schools in the Northeast

Food Drink & Franchise lists International Culinary Center as one of the “Top 10 Culinary Arts Schools in the Northeast.”

Founded in 1984 as The French Culinary Institute in 1984, the International Culinary Center today is a leading globally recognized school specializing in culinary and wine education, with programs in New York and California. Led by high profile deans like Jacques Pepin, Jacques Torres and Jose Andres, ICC’s six-month Total Immersion program has graduated more than 15,000 students over its three decades in business. That includes an impressive roster of star alumni such as Bobby Flay, David Chang, Dan Barber, Wylie Dufresne, Hooni Kim, Josh Skenes, and Christina Tosi.

The International Culinary Center offers an impressive range of specialized professional programs, from culinary arts and pastry arts to bread baking and food styling, and also offers credits and a partnership with NYC’s The New School to help students earn a full bachelor’s degree. This year ICC is taking its offerings even further with the launch of a new expanded program. “When we first opened in 1984, about 90% of students wanted to be restaurant chefs,” states ICC founder and CEO Dorothy Cann Hamilton. “With the wide range of culinary careers now possible, 70% of students tell us they want to open their own businesses.” To that end, ICC is adding a paid externship program, specialized skill workshops, and new courses focused on economics and entrepreneurship.

A recipient of the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ “Culinary School of Excellence” Award since 2010, recognition of ICC’s status as a premier Culinary Arts school goes all the way to the top: in late 2013, the White House announced that the school will be working with the James Beard Foundation to create the USA Pavilion at the World EXPO (World’s Fair) in Milan in 2015.

CLICK HERE to read the full article.

About.com Launches How-To Series with ICC

A series of 40 how-to videos produced by About.com with International Culinary Center chefs.


Video: How to Poach Eggs
There are a lot of important steps to poaching eggs. In this video we show you the correct process with easy to follow steps.

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Video: How to Properly Soft Boil an Egg
Trying to get that perfect soft boil egg? Watch this video and we’ll show you how with these easy to follow steps.

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Video: How to Properly Hard Boil an Egg
Trying to perfect hard boiling an egg? Let us show you the correct way to do so. Watch this video and learn how.

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Video: Tips for Whipping White Eggs
Want to learn the proper way to whip egg whites? Watch this video for the best way to whisk those egg whites into your choosing.

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More to come! Stay tuned.