Culinary Coordinator & Chef Instructor
A native of France, Chef Bruno Ponsot brings over 30 years of culinary experience to the International Culinary Center. He has worked in some of the most prestigious kitchens in France, England, and on both coasts of the United States, including as chef de partie with Michelin-rated chefs Paul Bocuse and Alain Ducasse. Chef Bruno has held positions as a sous chef, chef de cuisine, and executive pastry chef, and he also owned and operated his own restaurant in Florida for nine years prior to making the move to the West Coast. During his career, Chef Bruno has participated in several culinary competitions sanctioned by the American Culinary Federation, winning a total of 12 medals: 3 gold, 7 silver, and 2 bronze.
ICC: What were the first steps you took towards your culinary education?
Bruno: My parents advised me that it would be hard to make a living as an artist and they suggested that if I became a chef, I would have steady work. With this is in mind, in my last year of school, I moved into an apprenticeship at a Michelin one star restaurant called La Sablière, located in a small village outside of my hometown, Besançon. At this restaurant, the Chef was “old-school” in every sense of the term. Having had served during WWII on the Russian front, the Chef had a militaristic way of doing things and expected his students to respond accordingly. The style of cuisine was classical French with Russian service, meaning that everything was served on platters. This was a two year apprenticeship where I was basically working as a full-time, salaried employee. I started in October of 1979, and my first monthly paycheck was 460 francs! During this time, I was also required to finish my general education by attending school once a month. In June of 1981, after the two years of training as an apprentice were complete, I received a Professional Aptitude Certificate (CAP).
ICC: What did you do after your apprenticeship?
Bruno: I had just turned 18 and requested to do my one year of military service a bit early. I chose to enlist in the French Navy and began this commitment on December 1st, 1981. After a couple months of basic training, I was stationed on a small boat in Cherbourg, Normandy, where I was assigned as cook for a crew of about 40 people. As for maintaining my culinary skills on the boat, I occasionally managed to apply techniques I learned in during my apprenticeship. On one occasion, I made Duck a l‘Orange. Another time, I made brioche that I kneaded by hand!
ICC: Have you ever made a decision that you later regretted?
Bruno: Over the course of my service, I spent time on two different boats. About halfway through my time in the service, the first boat was commissioned for a mission to Djibouti, Africa. Since I already had a job waiting for me in Burgundy when I finished the Navy, I turned down the opportunity to travel. I knew that this mission would require me to extend my service for a longer time than the required one year. I reasoned that I would be able to travel at some other time in my life – that was a big mistake! Looking back, I wish I hadn’t been so anxious to go back to work because unfortunately, that opportunity never came along again. My second boat did end up travelling through Belgium, Holland and the English Channel, so I was grateful for that small taste of travel.
Today, I tell this story to my students because I want to encourage them to take advantage of every chance to learn or experience more. When they choose to skip an event put on by our student services team, like our chef demos, I remind them that, “This is your education. What you miss is not going to come back.” I know now that working those extra three or four months at the restaurant in Burgundy had no effect on my life or career.
ICC: The beginning of your career in the food industry was focused on the culinary arts. How did you start working in pastry?
Bruno: As a cook in France, you were expected to have basic skills in pastry. Back when I was an apprentice, on my days off, I spent much of my time experimenting with pastries.
It wasn’t until the fall of 1984, when I had begun working at the Paul Bocuse restaurant in Lyon, that I began expanding on my basic knowledge of pastry. Originally, I was brought on as a cook but it turned out that they needed more help on the pastry team. As Pâtissier, for both lunch and dinner, I was required to provide each table with a tray of Mignardise, a selection of petit-fours. There were also ice creams and sorbets that had to be churned fresh before every service. Additionally, much of the menu was comprised of dishes en croûte; that meant that we made a lot of puff pastry and often used a dough sheeter machine. One particular dish, that made Paul Bocuse famous, was a consommé with diced chicken, foie gras and truffles served in a lion’s head tureen. What made this dish unique was the disk of puff pastry placed on top that would rise beautifully.
ICC: Why was working for Paul Bocuse significant?
Bruno: Before Bocuse, no one knew who the Chef was in a restaurant. He was the first Chef who understood marketing and applied it to himself. He was the first Chef who put his own name on the restaurant. He was a bold pioneer in many ways. Working at Bocuse was a great experience, because of what I learned from my superior, the Chef de Cuisine, Roger Jaloux. He was extremely demanding and didn’t care where you came from. I had relatively little experience compared to others but it didn’t matter to Jaloux; He expected me prove myself through my work. I am proud to say that, after about a year, I started gaining some of his respect.
ICC: In what way did you combine your passions for both culinary and pastry arts?
Bruno: In December of 1999, I opened my own business. It was a wholesale bakery called Bruno’s Gourmet Kitchen. Soon enough, the bakery was providing pastries and breads for many large clients such as Disney World. Due to the rate of success my bakery was having, I realized that I would need a better pastry kitchen space. In January 2002, I moved to another location located in Sanford, Florida where I would continue to service wholesale clients at hotels and whole foods. A year and a half later, I was able to purchase the building and renovated the store front to be open to the public. I then added more things to my menu, including sandwiches, soups and salads. Eventually, I had a lunch special every day.
ICC: What brought you to California?
Bruno: I had closed my bakery in 2008 and was looking for a fresh start. Feeling that I had exhausted the professional opportunities in Florida, I landed a job with the Palo Alto Baking Company in February 2010. I drove 3,000 miles across the states from Florida to California in a truck and trailer with my wife, kids and cats.
ICC: How did you become a chef instructor at ICC?
Bruno: Interestingly, at one point back in Florida, I had applied for a different cooking school but it didn’t work out. I had also, over the years, taught recreational cooking classes and children summer camps. From those experiences, I knew that I liked the idea of working for a school. In February 2011, I applied for the position of Chef Instructor at the ICC. When I got the call for an interview and was waiting in the lobby, I remember watching a video that talked about French cuisine and when I saw the curriculum, I knew that this was it! As of June 2011, I began working and 6 1/2 years later, I am still here and enjoy teaching both the culinary classes and pastry classes.