Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Lens on Food

Adriana Mullen
Classic Culinary Arts, 2004

Not everyone who goes to culinary school ends up in the kitchen. There are many ways to look at food, and sometimes that view should be permanently captured, and even shared.

Adriana Mullen, 53, has cooked most of her life. She’s always liked to cook. She also likes to travel. So, when she does, she enjoys eating out. When she finds a dish she particularly likes, Adriana works out the tastes and the cooking methods until she’s figured out how to make the dish at home.

all photos courtesy of Adriana Mullen

Adriana came to the United States from Sardinia in 1982 to study gemology. She married and settled down in New Jersey—first in Summit, then in Watchung. Culinary school never entered her mind, not until her husband planted a seed after a ski trip they had just taken to Colorado. Adriana had been mulling over what direction to take next with her life, when her husband suggested, “What about culinary school?” She’d always had a serious baking phobia and was never quite comfortable with making cakes, tarts, and the like. But cooking she could do. From there it all came together very quickly. She visited the school and enrolled immediately. There happened to be an opening in the next class, so she started classes four weeks later. And six months after that, she graduated top of her class with her culinary certificate. She loved the experience. She enjoyed class and the other students she met.

But it was time to move on, and the next step seemed obvious: find a kitchen to work in. She started out in a restaurant in New Jersey but quickly learned restaurant work was not for her. She knew, however, that she’d always loved the arts and being creative. The question became: How to bring cooking into that realm? While musing over this question, Adriana began to take notice of the beautiful photos in her cookbooks and food magazines. One day the light went on: She could do this! And she knew she could do it better.

copyright Adriana Mullen

The kicker? Adriana had never spent time behind the lens. She went out, bought her first camera, and started experimenting. She started with what she knew. She would cook, and then she would take a picture of the food she’d made. Not only did her camera skills get better and better, but Adriana was getting in a lot of cooking practice.

To look at Adriana’s photos, you would think she was born with a camera in her hands. And because her lighting is so artfully employed, you might also be surprised to find out that it’s all natural. She refuses to shoot in anything else. And she never adds anything artificial to the food she snaps. She eats what she shoots. She considers these two requirements for naturalness her demarcation as a stylist and photographer.

And her philosphy? “'Less is more,' has been my motto since I started shooting food photography four years ago. I like to keep the focus on the subject and leave everything else out. As much as I love props, I prefer shooting them separately, [instead creating] a story with [just the] food. This is my vision!"

copyright Adriana Mullen

“You don’t have to be a cook or a chef [when you graduate from school]. You can do other things. Be creative. In life, if you have to roll up your sleeves and cook, you can do that. But you can make it into something else, too, if you want.”

Adriana is very proud of her work. “I don’t want to be just another average Joe. I want to be different. I want to do something that makes people take notice.” As you scroll through the photos on her blog or click through her online portfolio, you can’t help but notice that for Adriana her work—from the cooking to the styling, to the picture taking—really is all about quality. Her photos resonate with her passion for her subject matter in clear, beautiful visual language; she has definitely found her own unique voice behind her lens. And her fear of baking…well, that seems to have been left far behind!

To view more of her work, visit Adriana’s blog and website.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

International Student Dinner at Rosanjin

It was a rainy day, and our umbrellas danced with the wind on our way to Rosanjin. The restaurant's staff warmly greeted us upon our arrival—little did we know about the amazing dinner that was about to start.

A menu had been specifically created for us: an early summer was the theme. Different and exotic seafood had been shipped in from Japan earlier that week especially for our meal. The dinner had a special flow designed to increase the experience of each course, going from a light and delicate appetizer to a fulfilling bowl of rice towards the end. We learned a lot about authentic Kyoto-style Kaiseki cuisine.

My favorite dish was zensai, the first course, an interesting mix of hama fish sushi, homemade tofu with caviar, miso-marinated firefly squid, broccoli wrapped in smoked salmon, and pollock roe watermelon. I found myself completely overwhelmed when this dish was carefully placed in front of me, but then came an explanation about the chef’s creation and how to appreciate it.

Sake pairing was optional, but our entire party ordered it. There were five sakes, each followed by a brief explanation. Cloudy, sweet, fruity, and sophisticated sakes enhanced our dinner experience, and we learned how to appreciate their aromas and a little bit about sake and food pairing.

I had a pleasant conversation with students from a variety of levels, programs, and countries. Needless to say, we all share our love for food, but it was amazing to learn a little bit more about how each one of us sees it according to our culture.

Paula Tanaka Camara is a Brazilian Food Engineer currently enrolled in the fifth level of Classic Culinary Arts. After working for a few years in the food industry, she decided to pursue her dream of becoming a chef and integrating her background into a life in the kitchen. You can read more (in Portuguese) about her culinary experiences on her blog and online column.

Monday, May 24, 2010

All Hail The Concours de Chien-Chaud

Hot digitty dog! Because celebrating Americas most maligned sausage is not just a good idea, it's delicious. The third annual Concours de Chien-Chaud (hot dog eating contest) is upon us, and so begins the race for the champion recipe.

2009 contest. From left: Student finishes last minute preparations on hot dog entry; signed posters from the competition; Kee Ling Tong, alum and owner of Kee's Chocolates in SoHo.

Split into four contests to complement the reigning hot dog, any student in our professional classes can enter their culinary know-how or eating talents in the following:

1. Hot Dog Eating Contest: Each class can send one student to dog-dine in the Hot Dog Eating Contest. Students will be tested on sheer skill of putting away 2.5 feet—that’s 30 inches—of pure dog, folks. The winner will continue eating on a surplus of gift certificates to some of New York City’s finest restaurants.

2. Beverage Contest: Who will be the Master Mixologist? Contestants will concoct an original nonalcoholic recipe to complement the main meat and will be judged by fellow students the day of the fight. The student with the winning beverage will receive a brand new Vitamix 3 Blender.

3. Condiment Contest: Everyone knows that the accoutrements are what give the dog its identity. What’s on your “everything” dog? To slaw or not to slaw is in your hands. The winner of this contest receives a three-day pass to the coveted FCI Charcuterie class.

4. Fund-raising Contest: Not down with the dog? Boo! Well maybe you like money. Try your hand at the most important component to this event. The student who raises the most money will receive an incredible collection of new top-quality cookbooks.

Although an event of this magnitude holds an importance difficult to verbalize, it’s for a good cause, too. All proceeds go to our fellow classmates in financial crisis. Last year we raised $12,000, and this year we’re shooting for $16,000! So come stuff your face, quench your thirst, or test your palate to help students who possess the passion but need the funds to get through their studies.

Franks, frankettes, and fellow francophiles, file up. Join us on June 10th at 3:45 p.m. in the FCI amphitheatre as we dine American under French pretense!

Jessie Nunez in Student Services will have the registration forms for the three competitions, or they can be downloaded below. They must be returned to her and be legible. (Night students who can't see Jessie can talk to Chef Phil Burgess.)

--Rachel Wingfield

Hot Dog Eating Contest Rules
Hot Dog Eating Registration Form
Hot Dog Condiment Contest Rules
Hot Dog Condiment Registration Form
Hot Dog Beverage Contest Rules
Hot Dog Beverage Registration Form
Hotdog Contest Official Blog (coming soon!)
Contact email:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Saying Grace at Taste of the Nation

What’s better than eating and drinking some of New York City’s most mouthwatering food and beverages? Doing it for a good cause. On May 17, hundreds of supporters gathered at the Grand Hyatt hotel in midtown for Share Our Strength’s 22nd annual Taste of the Nation, the country's premier culinary benefit dedicated to raising critical funds needed to end childhood hunger in America.

Every spring and summer, Share Our Strength brings the nation's top chefs and mixologists together at nearly 40 events across the United States and Canada. Share Our Strength is a national organization devoted to raising funds and awareness to make sure no child grows up hungry, raising more than $245 million so far, and counting, for antihunger organizations nationwide.

This year, more than 50 New York City chefs and mixologists donated their time, talents, and passion, serving small dishes and specialty cocktails to attendees whose contributions will support programs including City Harvest, Food Bank for New York City, and New York Coalition Against Hunger. Local and national sponsors included the Food Network, the New York Post, Food & Wine magazine, Union Square Hospitality Group, and L’Ecole, the restaurant of The French Culinary Institute.

As volunteers worked to keep the event running smoothly, attendees enjoyed a ballroom full of tasting plates, both sweet and savory, generously provided by some of the city’s most renowned restaurants. Aquavit, Gramercy Tavern, Eleven Madison Park, Le Cirque, L’Ecole, Tribeca Grill, and Union Square Cafe were among the participants.

Beverage pairings included cocktails from PDT, Death & Co., and B.R. Guest restaurant group (Blue Water Grill, Dos Caminos), and wine and spirits from Chambord, Finlandia, and Stella Artois. Guests were also treated to coffee and espresso drinks from Stumptown Coffee and Illy Issimo on their way out.

Along with such exquisite dining and imbibing, guests were invited to bid on lifestyle, epicurean, and travel packages in the silent auction and purchase cookbooks signed on the spot by top chefs and food writers.

Perhaps the most decadent and delicious fund-raiser of the year, Share Our Strength’s Taste of the Nation will do more for hungry children than it has for its fortunate participants, aiming to end childhood hunger in America by 2015 through its No Kid Hungry initiative. For more information or to get involved, visit the website.

A member of its online team, Amy Hrnciar handles web and email marketing projects at The FCI. After hours, she can be found sipping and snacking around the East Village, rollerblading crosstown, or lounging on her purple couch. Her favorite food and drinks include stir-fried kimchi bibimpop, habanero-infused dirty martinis, and a Brazilian dessert of guava paste, sweet ricotta, and dulce de leche.

Jacques Pepin on ABC News

FCI dean Jacques Pepin cooks a dinner menu on ABC News's Chef's Table to give a sneak preview to his fall master class at the school. Watch and learn. We promise you will!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Battle of the Cakes

Watch Michelle Doll (Classic Pastry Arts '04) of Michelle Doll Cakes go toe-to-toe with Bobby Flay (an FCI grad, too!) in his Throwdown! with Bobby Flay series on The Food Network. May the best cake maker win!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

How to be a Chef Entrepreneur

French Culinary Institute Founder Dorothy Cann Hamilton and Momofuku owner David Chang talk about how to turn cooking talents into business opportunities on Fox Business.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Justine Delaney on Grub Street

Oh, the glamorous life of a rock 'n' roll baker. Current FCI student and nightlife legend Justine Delaney spills to Grub Street about what's next after graduation for a dj promoter turned pastry cook.

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Perfect Cut

There is such a thing as knife wizardry. I've seen it firsthand. And if you ever want to be inspired to cook better, watching a master chef in action in person will definitely do it.

This past week, Dean Jacques Pepin showed students how to chop, mince, dice, and whip with the best of them. It sounds like basics, I know. And you may wonder how this differs from all the basic knife skills that get drilled into culinary students during level 1. But although I knew it all before, I walked away with an even greater appreciation of what can be done with just a knife and the importance of practicing to perfection.

The short and simple list of what I learned from Jacques Pepin:

Avoid waste. A clever chef can use almost every part of the produce he/she buys. Note to self: remember to plan carefully.

As if this hasn't been said enough: Keep your knives sharp! Pepin showed us how to keep our knives up to par, emphasizing the importance of doing it the right way so as to not ruin the edge.

Although he was doing nothing more than demonstrating skills—peeling this, chopping that—he carefully plated his minced parsley, tomato roses, artichoke leaves, and trussed chicken with thoughtfulness. Everything remained tidy and all those bits and pieces looked presentable. After he finished whisking a mayonnaise, he used his knife to smooth and make a ridged pattern across the surface. Do everything as if you mean it.

The answer is always, "Yes, chef." A proponent of creativity, Pepin still drilled us in the way of the kitchen. Follow your chef. The time to express your own style is when you are the boss. It's easy to forget the value of humility and compliance. Working the line is not the time to show off what you think is "a better way."

When Pepin deftly made roses out of tomatoes and carved fish out of mushrooms, he knew these aren't the types of things we will be making. But by doing some of these flourishes, he emphasized what can be done when you have mastered your knife skills. Completely deboning a whole chicken, stuffing, and tying it up in no more than a few minutes is useful. And if you can do one, you most certainly can do the other. You've got to own your knives, and practice, practice, practice.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

A Tasting with Tuthilltown Spirits

On Thursday, April 29th, along with about 20 current students, I had the opportunity to participate in a whiskey tasting event that was organized as a student club activity. More than a simple whiskey tasting, it was also an opportunity to learn about a great New York success story—the Tuthilltown Spirits story.

Tuthilltown Spirits is “New York’s first whiskey distillery since PROHIBITION, and it distills some of America’s most prized spirits here in the Hudson Valley...." Indeed. From the grains used in the distillation process to the barrels the spirits are stored in, everything used in making these spirits is produced on New York farms. Tuthilltown Spirits, which was founded in 2003, has one goal: to bring about a renaissance of artisanal whiskey and make it a sustainable initiative.

The presentation and tasting was led by Gable Erenzo, Distiller and Brand Ambassador.
Our tour took us through farms and fields—five different stops in all—each stop represented by one of the five glasses we had the chance to taste.

The first glass that we tasted was also the first product ever made by the company. A triple-distilled vodka made from local apples. We, then, tasted a “clear whiskey,” also called “new make” or “white dog,” a nonaged whiskey that is as clear as water. It is made from 100 percent corn. No sugar is added to this nonaged sipping whiskey. Hudson Baby Bourbon, our third tasting, is the first bourbon whiskey to be distilled in New York. This single-grain bourbon is also made from 100 percent New York corn and has lovely vanilla and oak notes, probably due to the small American oak barrels Tuthilltown Spirits use for aging. According to Gable, “the barrel storage has the most profound effect upon the final spirit. Up next, Hudson Four Grain Bourbon Whiskey is made from corn, rye, wheat, and malted barley. “The grains are perfectly suited one to another, so that the end result is a balance of the soft richness of corn, the sharp peppery notes of rye, all the smooth subtlety of wheat, and the sweetness of malted barley." Our final tasting was a rye whiskey, often referred to as “Government Warning Rye.” It is made with whole grain rye and bottled at 92 proof. These unique batches are released as they are ready and each carries a unique flavor.
Each batch is the distiller’s choice with spicier overtones and a grassy rye notes.

Gable gave a wonderful presentation and tasting, and I enjoyed getting a glimpse into the Tuthilltown Spirits philosophy. I wish the continued success to the Tuhilltown Spirits family. They now have the tough job of balancing the increasing demand for their products with the long process it takes to create some of their spirits.

Loïc Ney is currently interning at the International Culinary Center. He attends the Universite du Sud/Toulon-Var, located in La Garde. He is studying foreign languages applied to business studies.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Happy Winnings

The James Beard Awards are always a big deal in food industry circles. But for us at The FCI the awards were an even bigger deal than usual. Having had our latest cookbook, The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts, nominated for a cookbook award in the category of Best Cookbook from a Professional Point of View, we were sitting on the edges of our seat, waiting to hear if we won or not. It was thrilling to everyone who worked so hard on putting together this resource (yes, that is you Pastry Department!), filled with many of the recipes and insightful tips our pastry students learn while at the school.

And, on Monday, former student Alexander Roberts ('93), Restaurant Alma, Minneapolis, won Best Chef: Midwest. We are so excited for him! It's always gratifying to watch our students do so well. What a great way to start off the month.