outstanding alumni with aaron sanchez

4 Tips for Success from 2019 Outstanding Alumni Award Winners

Since our days as The French Culinary Institute, our school has had a long tradition of celebrating the success of our graduates. And why wouldn’t we? With more than 15,000 graduates in 90+ countries, it’s easy to find an ICC trained chef, sommelier, pastry chef, baker, cake decorator and everything in between at businesses integral to their communities.

So when we created the Outstanding Alumni Awards in 1997 to showcase the accomplishments of graduates who had gone on to excel in their field, we couldn’t have imagined the people and achievements we would be celebrating. These awards have been bestowed to some of the industry’s best and brightest—from the mind behind culinary empire Momofuku, to the creative genius crafting Milk Bar’s imaginative desserts; from the chocolatier handcrafting “storybook” bonbons recognized on Oprah’s Favorite Things, to the chef turned voice of the farm-to-table movement named one of TIME Magazine’s Most Influential People in the World. But what David Chang, Christina Tosi, Susanna Yoon and Dan Barber all share is that they received Outstanding Alumni Awards as they were rising to secure their place in the culinary landscape. Each year at our Annual Commencement Ceremony, the next wave of culinary trailblazers are recognized with an award celebrating excellence in their respective fields.

This year, Leland Clark, Vice President of Student Affairs, presented the 2019 Outstanding Alumni Awards at our Carnegie Hall Ceremony to five very deserving recipients—Scott Tacinelli of Don Angie for Excellence in Culinary Arts, Zoë Kanan of Simon and the Whale and The Studio for Excellence in Pastry Arts, Vanessa Da Silva of Ninety Acres for Outstanding Sommelier, Matt Monahan of Other Half Brewing for Excellence in Entrepreneurship and Ben Mims of The Los Angeles Times for Excellence in Media. If you haven’t heard of these alumni just yet, it’s time to remember their names!

As each recipient accepted their award, they shared advice for members of the graduating class hoping to follow in their footsteps, like setting personal goals and continuing to be curious. Read what these alumni said that has helped them in the pursuit of their culinary, pastry and wine careers. Then, check out their bio’s to learn more about their road to success!

Scott Tacinelli

scott tacinelli

Chef/ Co-Owner of Don Angie
Excellence in Culinary Arts

“Set personal goals. Don’t stop until you achieve those goals. Work as hard as you possibly can and always continue to set objectives.”

Zoë Kanan

zoe kanan

Head Baker of Simon & The Whale and The Studio
Excellence in Pastry Arts

“Treat every person that you work beside with compassion and respect, from dishwashers to owners. Kitchen work is teamwork, and support from your team is what will give you an edge. Buy and cook from cookbooks—they’re my favorite resources for inspiration, and a great way to dive into a chef’s mind. Keep your ego in check—there is room for everyone in our industry, and the best way to get to where you want to go is by championing your friends, your colleagues and yourself. Champion yourself, lean into your creative thoughts, work hard, but make sure that you get the sleep that you need. Do your best to make time for the people who make you happy in life.”

Vanessa Da Silva

vanessa da silva

Sommelier at Ninety Acres
Outstanding Sommelier

“Be curious, ask questions, and stand up for the things that you believe in—that really matters. More than anything else, try to learn something new every single day.”

Ben Mims

ben mims

Cooking Columnist for The Los Angeles Times
Excellence in Media

“When you’re just starting out, do a little bit of everything. Take every restaurant job, every catering job, anything you might not even be interested in, just do it. Only by doing everything will you find what you want to do. Once you find what you want to do, stick to that, and love what you’re doing every day.”

Looking for more inspiration as you pursue a career in the culinary & hospitality industry? Check out the advice our Commencement Keynote Speaker, Chef Aarón Sánchez, gave to our graduates and those aspiring to work in the industry here.

aaron sanchez

What Aarón Sánchez Wished He Knew As A Young Chef

For over two decades, Aarón Sánchez has been building his culinary empire—from restaurants and cookbooks to TV shows, media platforms and philanthropic work. You may recognize him today as co-star of FOX’s MasterChef and MasterChef Junior, but he wasn’t always a household name. Even before he judged culinary hopefuls on the “chopping block” in the early 2000’s on Food Network—a time when culinary TV was just gaining in popularity—Chef Aarón was following his dream to have his own restaurant and be the captain of his own ship. Not only has his hard work and determination allowed him to do what he loves every day, but he’s also helping other young chefs do the same. Through his charitable foundation, The Aarón Sánchez Scholarship Fund, he’s empowering aspiring chefs from the Latin community to pursue their culinary passions, providing recipients with mentorship and full culinary scholarships to the International Culinary Center. The result is encouraging diversity in the kitchen, something we can all get behind!

So, when Sánchez took the podium to give the keynote address for our annual commencement ceremony at Carnegie Hall, he needed no introduction. The crowd, including graduates and their families, was buzzing with excitement to hear what wisdom the acclaimed chef would impart on the future chefs, pastry chefs, sommeliers, bakers and cake designers of the industry. At the end, he left the diverse group of graduates inspired to embark on their next tasty adventure, and the audience hopeful for their bright, and delicious, futures ahead.

Whether you’re thinking about going to culinary school, just starting out in your career, or are already a seasoned professional, you’ll do well to heed his advice!

1. Follow Your Passion

“Be mindful of your culinary identity. Figure out what genre of the cooking world you want to be in early on.”

There are many ways to become successful in our industry and cultivate your love of food. “You can be a food stylist, a personal chef; you can work in food production or be a catering chef. There are so many different areas that you can pursue your love for food…Don’t feel compelled to be a restaurant chef necessarily.” While Chef remarked that it may be important to have the experience of working in a restaurant, you will find success when you follow your passion.

2. Find A Mentor

“Mentoring is the primary thing you should extract from your moment in the culinary industry.”

Sánchez shared that he was a troubled kid growing up; for him, “restaurants were my salvation…and my mentor in life, Chef Paul Prudhomme, got me right. He not only taught me lessons in the kitchen, but life lessons that I think were invaluable.” As he told this story, he implored graduates to make a list of chefs who inspire them and seek them out. These are the people who will stand up for you, recommend you for jobs, and push you to excel as the best version of yourself.

3. Go The Extra Mile

“The reason that you will get noticed in kitchens is that sadly, so many people just go through the motions and do just what they’re asked to do. If you take that extra step, come in early, engage your chef and make yourself available, you’ll get noticed. Trust me.”

People will take note when you do more than what you’re asked to do. Even if you find yourself doing something monotonous, remember that even someone like Sánchez was in the same place that you are. Take those moments to make plans for your future and trust that there is always a lesson to be learned—patience, consistency, all those things that are invaluable to be a great chef.

4. Understand Your Fear Vs. Your Potential

“Your potential, coupled with your ICC diploma, will put you in the game. You’re already in the running. Don’t be scared to live your dreams, not your fears”

There are things that might scare you, like seeking out your dream job or travelling. Don’t let these things hold you back from realizing your potential. Use your potential, and your education at ICC, to help propel you in the direction to achieve your dreams.

5. Reflect On Your Culinary Memories

“Savor every culinary moment, every trip to a place where you learn who the best cook is—take on every lesson from those people. Make sure you remember that!”

By sharing this piece of advice, Sánchez recalled how appreciative he is to remember everything that he’s done throughout his career. He’s able to look back on his life now and these incredible chef experiences, cherishing the memories and lessons learned. By using the skills that others taught him, he became a knowledgeable, respected chef. But this didn’t happen overnight. He encouraged graduates not to “rush the process, make sure you have a foundation of mentoring, a foundation of travel, and understanding of your craft.” Don’t be afraid of the repetition, take your time, you’re already ahead of the game!

6. Become A Well Rounded Person

“I thank my mom for encouraging me very early on to read the paper. Why? Because chefs tend to be boring sometimes! We talk about our industry, our food, restaurants, and my mom was very adamant about allowing us to find inspirations in other facets of art.”

By going to museums, listening to music, writing poetry, traveling, reading newspapers and learning about other cultures, Sánchez expanded his knowledge beyond the kitchen, which in turn helped to inform his cooking. He encouraged graduates to “become multi-faceted and a lover of all things beautiful and artistic.”

7. Build A Reliable Team

“People say, ‘you are the sum of your parts, you are the people you surround yourself around’, and my team has been invaluable—but I don’t say my team. I say OUR team, because people are not objects. So, when you come to that position of being in a leadership role, say OUR team, because we’re all dedicated to the common goal of being successful.”

When you have a good team surrounding you, you will be able to realize your loves and passions. As Sánchez shared his final guiding words, he remarked that there’s a difference between hospitality and service. Service is putting down a fork and taking an order; hospitality is an innate need to foresee your customer’s needs. Hospitality is bringing people joy! Build a team who shares your love for bringing people joy, because at the end of the day, that’s what the hospitality industry is all about!

Want to read more coverage from our 2019 annual commencement cereomy? Check out our recap article here.

2018 Outstanding Alumni Awards: Angie Mar, Anna Bolz, Steven Cook, Aaron Babcock

ICC Announces 2018 Outstanding Alumni Award Winners

International Culinary Center’s 2018 Commencement Ceremony, held on June 3rd at New York City’s iconic Carnegie Hall, celebrated students who have completed ICC’s Professional Culinary Arts, Italian Culinary, Pastry Arts, Cake Techniques & Design, Art of International Bread Baking and Intensive Sommelier Training programs between May 2017 and June 2018.

ICC has a long tradition of celebrating the success of our graduates. Part of our process for planning each year’s Commencement is looking at who has made an impact in the previous year and left a mark on their industry. ICC selects these individuals from each field of study to honor in a series of Outstanding Alumni Awards.

This year, ICC bestowed the Excellence in Culinary Arts award to Chef Angie Mar, Chef/Owner of The Beatrice Inn in New York City. Excellence in Pastry Arts was awarded to Anna Bolz, Pastry Chef of Per Se. Steven Cook, graduate of the Culinary Arts program in 2000, and Co-Owner of CookNSolo Restaurants, received the Excellence in Entrepreneurship award. Lastly, the Outstanding Sommelier recipient was Aaron Babcock, Advanced Sommelier and the Sommelier at Quince in San Francisco who traveled from the West Coast to receive his award.

Please join us in congratulating our 2018 Outstanding Alumni Award winners and let their stories, and successes, be an inspiration to you!

I’m honored to provide this exceptional group of individuals with the distinction of Outstanding Alumni during the 2018 Commencement Ceremony at Carnegie Hall. It’s so inspiring to watch former ICC students thrive and innovate in the hospitality industry. We acknowledge Chef Angie Mar, Anna Bolz, Steven Cook, and Aaron Babcock, for excellence in their fields and hope that their stories inspire our new graduates to love what they do and to prosper in whatever career path they follow.” – Erik Murnighan, President of the International Culinary Center


Angie Mar | Executive Chef/Owner of The Beatrice Inn | Classic Culinary Arts, 2011

Chef Angie Mar, a native of Seattle, Washington, comes from a family of food lovers and restaurateurs. After graduating from our Culinary program in 2011, she went on to work in some of the toughest kitchens in New York, including the Spotted Pig, Marlow & Sons, Reynard, and Diner. In 2013, she took the helm of the West Village institution The Beatrice Inn, where she’s now the executive chef and owner. She has become known for working with whole animals and live fire, earning her a two-star review from the New York Times. She was Thrillist’s chef of the year in 2016, a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2017. Read more & see her interview here.

Anna Bolz | Pastry Chef of Per Se | Classic Pastry Arts, 2007Chef Anna Bolz, Pastry Chef Per Se

Anna Bolz is the Pastry Chef at the three-Michelin-starred Per Se where she oversees the production of all the dessert offerings and chocolate production for the restaurant. Born and raised in small-town Iowa, Anna studied music before pursuing her passion in pastry and baking at the International Culinary Center, then The French Culinary Institute. She cooked her way through a few of New York’s best kitchens, including Porterhouse and Jean-Georges, before landing at Per Se. Read more & see her interview here.


Steven Cook, Co-Owner of CookNSolo RestaurantsSteven Cook | Co-Owner of CookNSolo Restaurants & Dizengoff NYC | Classic Culinary Arts, 2000

Steven Cook may not be a household name yet, but he’s one of the country’s most successful restaurateurs and oversees a mini-empire in New York and Philadelphia along with his business partner Michael Solomonov. He graduated from our culinary arts program in 2000 and is now the co-owner of a growing family of restaurants including Zahav, Dizengoff, Federal Donuts, and the philanthropic luncheonette Rooster Soup Company (check out their website roostersoupcompany.com—they’re really doing amazing work!). The cookbook he co-wrote with his business partner, called Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, won TWO James Beard Awards in 2016, for Best International Cookbook and Book of the year. Read more here.

Aaron Babcock, Advanced Sommelier, Sommelier at QuinceAaron Babcock, Advanced Sommelier | Sommelier at Quince | Intensive Sommelier Training, 2012

Aaron Babcock, this year’s Outstanding Sommelier, is a young man who has accomplished incredible success in a very short span of time. He graduated from our Intensive Sommelier Training program in 2012, earned his Certified Sommelier qualification and went to work at Manresa, one of California’s best restaurants. Just a few years later, at the unlikely age of 24, he passed his Advanced Sommelier exam and joined the team at Quince in San Francisco, which he helped to earn its third Michelin star. Read more here.

Carnegie Hall Commencement Ceremony 2017

ICC Annual Commencement Ceremony 2017

On Sunday, April 23, the International Culinary Center®  celebrated graduates throughout the past year at our annual commencement ceremony, held at Carnegie Hall in New York City.  Jacques Pépin, our Dean of Special Programs, offered the keynote address with wise words for graduates on how to stay humble and work hard throughout their culinary careers.

In addition to the hundreds of Culinary Arts, Pastry Arts, Cake Techniques, Bread Baking and Sommelier graduates, the school also recognized this year’s selected Oustanding Alumni winners. Chef Julian Medina, the chef/owner of Toloache, Tacuba, Coppelia, Yerba Buena and La Chula received the award for Excellence in Culinary Arts. Susanna Yoon, head chocolatier and founder of Stick With Me Sweets received this year’s Excellence in Pastry Arts award. Rhonda Crosson, the head baker for MeyersUSA received the award for Excellence in Bread. Hugh Mangum, a graduate of ICC’s Professional Culinary Arts program (2001) received the award for Excellence in Entrepreneurship as the chef/owner of Mighty Quinn’s – having multiple locations of the New York style BBQ establishment across the globe. Last but certainly not least, ICC celebrated Jhonel Faelnar as this year’s Outstanding Sommelier. As the Sommelier for The NoMad Hotel, Jhonel is the only ICC graduate to receive the distinction of being an Advanced Sommelier and is currently studying for the Master Sommelier exam.

We wish nothing but continuous success to all graduates and alumni and look forward to seeing you “Love What You Do” throughout your careers.

ICC Announces Outstanding Alumni for 2017 Commencement Ceremony

The International Culinary Center® will celebrate the annual commencement ceremony for students who have completed programs between May 2016 and April 2017. The ceremony, held at the iconic Carnegie Hall in New York City, will feature keynote speaker and Dean of Special Programs, Jacques Pépin. Each year during the ceremony, ICC honors one alumnus from each field of study in a series of Outstanding Alumni Awards. This year, ICC dedicates the Excellence in Culinary Arts award to Chef Julian Medina, Chef / Owner of Toloache, Tacuba, Coppelia, Yerba Buena, and La Chula. Excellence in Pastry Arts will be awarded to Susanna Yoon, Founder and Head Chocolatier of Stick With Me Sweets. Culinary Arts and International Bread Baking graduate and Head Baker of MeyersUSA, Rhonda Crosson, will receive the Excellence in Bread award. The Excellence in Entrepreneurship award will be presented to Hugh Mangum, Chef/Owner of Mighty Quinn’s and a graduate of ICC’s Classic Culinary Arts program. Lastly, the Outstanding Sommelier recipient and alumnus will be Jhonel Faelnar, AS, the Sommelier at The NoMad.

The commencement will be held on Sunday, April 23rd. For media inquiries, please email Angela at asamartano@culinarycenter.com

I’m honored to provide this extraordinary group of individuals with the distinction of Outstanding Alumni during the 2017 Commencement Ceremony at Carnegie Hall. It’s extremely inspiring to watch former ICC students, and even my own classmates, go on to thrive in the hospitality industry. We acknowledge Julian Medina, Susanna Yoon, Hugh Mangum, Rhonda Crosson and Jhonel Faelnar for excellence in their respective fields and hope their stories inspire our new graduates to love what they do in any career path they follow.” – Erik Murnighan, President of the International Culinary Center.

Read about the recipients of ICC’s 2017 Outstanding Alumni awards below.
Julian Medina | Chef/Owner of Toloache, Tacuba, Coppelia, Yerba Buena, La Chula | Classic Culinary Arts, 1999

Julian Medina, chef- owner of Toloache, Yerba Buena, Coppelia, Tacuba Mexican Cantina and La Chula has been creating refined Mexican cuisine for over fifteen years. Raised in Mexico City Julian moved here in 1996 and graduated from ICC (formerly French Culinary Institute) in 1999. He has been featured in many publications, including The New York Times, The New Yorker and on Iron Chef American in 2011.

suzanna-yoon-stick-with-me-sweets-icc-alumniSusanna Yoon | Head Chocolatier/Founder of Stick With Me Sweets | Classic Pastry Arts, 2010

Susanna Yoon is the Head Chocolatier, Founder and heart behind one of New York’s finest confectionaries and chocolate shops, Stick With Me Sweets. Susanna was rewarded Top Ten Chocolatiers in America by Dessert Professional and attributes her intense, keen eye for perfection to her training in Michelin starred restaurants. Stick With Me Sweets’ chocolates were included amongst Oprah’s Favorite Things this past year and continue to receive many accolades for their exquisite bonbons.

hm-headshotHugh Mangum | Chef/Owner of Mighty Quinn’s | Classic Culinary Arts, 2001 

Born to a father from Texas and a mother from the Bronx, Mangum grew up among the diverse food culture of Los Angeles but always found the best barbecue in his backyard, prepared by his father. Honoring an inheritance he received after the passing of his father, Hugh Mangum graduated from New York’s French Culinary Institute in 2001. “My father had a lust for life,” he says. “I wanted to continue that tradition as we shared it—through food.”  In 2011, Mangum took his passion to the next level as Co-Founder and Pit Master for Mighty Quinn’s Barbeque which defines a distinct brand of New York-style barbecue that slots neatly into the fast-casual industry. Named after his eldest son and inspired by his late father, Mangum handles recipe development for menus across all Mighty Quinn’s locations. Mangum has also won Food Network’s hit series Chopped and has been featured on programs such as Beat Bobby Flay, Unique Eats, and more.

rhondaRhonda Crosson | Head Baker at MeyersUSA | The Art of International Bread Baking, 2004 | Classic Culinary Arts, 2006

Rhonda has worked for and with some of New York’s best bakeries and high profile chefs; from Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bakery and Per Se to Amy’s Bread, Daniel Boulud and Marcus Samuelsson, where she first got her interest in Scandinavian bread making. Rhonda used to work as a chemist and holds a degree in Biological Chemistry from Bates College, as well as diplomas in both Bread Baking and Culinary Arts from the International Culinary Center, where she has also been a bread instructor. Rhonda takes great pride in perfecting her rye bread, so it tastes like that of a Danish grandmother, and when not baking, she loves to travel the world.

jhonel-thumbJhonel Faelnar, AS | Sommelier at The NoMad | Intensive Sommelier Training, 2014

Jhonel Faelnar is currently a Sommelier at the NoMad Restaurant in New York. He has been with the Make It Nice family since 2015 and has recently taken the helm of the NoMad’s Beer Program, while preparing for the rigorous Master Sommelier examinations in 2018. Graduating with a Bachelor’s degree in Management Engineering from the Ateneo de Manila University and as captain of the men’s Judo team, wine and hospitality were far from mind in the beginning. Leaving home and moving to Osaka and then New York opened up a different culinary world that inspired his first foray into the industry in 2013, with scholarships from both the James Beard Foundation and the International Culinary Center, and an internship with Wine & Spirits Magazine. Obsessed with wine at this point, he pursued further education with Scott Carney, MS at the ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Program and the Court of Master Sommeliers at the close of 2013. Hitting the ground running from there, he worked with Roger Dagorn, MS on his first wine program where he learned invaluable lessons on wine and hospitality. Eventually moving to the NoMad Restaurant and pursuing further growth, he passed the Advanced Examinations of the CMS in July of 2016, happily the first graduate in the New York program’s short history to have done so.