Monday, November 29, 2010

Coming Up Kosher

Photo by Micah Beree 507 Studio

Shaya Klechevsky
Classic Culinary Arts 2007

Our students come from diverse backgrounds, and half the fun as a student is the cultural diversity of fellow classmates, and all you can learn from them. Often students are excited to share their food traditions with others by bringing dishes and desserts they have made at home to class or by arranging a club outing to a favorite restaurant, highlight a particular cuisine. Along with this, many students fit what they learn here (yes, all those fancy French techniques) into a personalized course that incorporates their individual background.

This has been the course for Shaya Klechevsky, whose path proves you can attend culinary school while observing kosher law and that what might seem as a limitation to some was actually what became a passionate driving force for his career. Shaya came into school, after working as an administrator at a private Jewish high school, with no more training than the love he had for food and cooking. Attending an evening culinary program, Shaya remembers how hard he worked and particularly, chef Candy grilling the students with questions as they prepped and cooked—that you had to be on your toes at all times. He felt he walked away with valuable "confidence to go out and embark on his profession" and the "classic techniques to build off of." And through the process of working through each station and getting kitchen experience at L'Ecole, Shaya was able to refine what he wanted to do with his education.

roasted salmon fillet with mustard cream sauce

He knew he wanted to be a part of and contribute to what is available and going on in the kosher food industry. Not interested in restaurant work, Shaya decided to look into catering and being a personal chef. He found clients that were not interested in using a large caterer for smaller events, such as anniversary dinners or private fetes on large yachts, and from there he grew his business, servicing his clients with healthy, gourmet kosher food. At Your Palate was born.

champignon en croute

After the economy snagged on the rocks of the bursting housing bubble and subsequent Wall Street tremors and crumbles, Shaya found the party scene lackluster, necessitating a shift in business. But, as often comes with seemingly bad fortune, good things arose, leading Shaya into the world of teaching. Now his company has grown, and Shaya has a team of three chefs plus two interns. They still cater small parties and events, but now they also prepare cooking lessons for individuals and small groups—all with the personal touch. He "loves interacting with his clients and connecting people to food so they can really appreciate it."

Shaya is doing what he likes best, and in a way that is integral to who he is as a person. And the bonus? He is able to share all this with others.

truffled tuna tartar with caviar

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Urbanites, Take Note

It's exciting to watch students from any of our classes go out and do exciting things with what they have learned, whether that be for home cooks or for professionals. Kate McDonough, who has taken a variety of classes at the school (a master class with Marcella Hazan, The Craft of Food Writing with Alan Richman, some short courses at The Italian Culinary Academy, and most recently she completed our intensive Culinary Techniques for amateurs) has just had her first book published. The City Cook, edited by McDonough, is based on her blog of the same name, which has drawn quite a following since it's inception, with it's mission to be a "guide for urbanites looking for ways to fit great cooking into a busy life and a small kitchen."

This is the perfect read for weekend warrior bakers, week night kitchen bunglers, or anyone else who may want to make cooking a part of their busy city life.

Friday, November 19, 2010

At the New York Chocolate Show

Our talented pastry chef-instructors have contributed often to the annual New York Chocolate Show, showing off their talent and skill. This year, chefs Kir Rodriguez and Jae Kim headed up a team of volunteer students and three recent grads to make a six-foot Amazon dressed in 240 pounds of chocolate for the Trains, Planes, and Automobiles themed exhibit at the event.

And she lives up to her name. A mighty chocolate presence, indeed!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The FCI heads to California

In some exciting personal news, the school is growing! The French Culinary Institute at The International Culinary Center now has a branch campus (The Professional Culinary Institute) in Campbell, California (San Francisco Bay Area).

In an area know for it's local, organic, sustainable foodways, nearby vineyards, as well as such industry luminaries as Alice Waters, Thomas Keller, and Michael Chiarello, not to mention the bubble and foment going on in the area's restaurant scene, this is a unique and rich place to study the culinary and pastry arts.

We look forward to being a part of two great food hubs in the country. Stay tuned for more to come...

Friday, November 12, 2010

Kitchen Tools for the Brain

Released this month, Harold McGee's (all serious cooks and chefs should check out his excellent two-day kitchen science course at the school) new book is a guide for every cook. Filled with basics such as the best way to wash and store berries, how to cook a juicy steak, or effectively treat a burn, Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to Making the Best of Foods and Recipes is another (next to McGee's On Food and Cooking) wonderful reference for the kitchen shelf. Organized in short, often bulleted sections, this is a practical and helpful go-to page-turner for those little nagging questions, like, Should I freeze this bread or leave it on the counter? We can guarantee you will find something brillantly useful between its covers. You can see what we mean, just watch below.


Ice Cream

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Piece of Cake

Sara Heslington
Classic Pastry Arts, 2002

With a disposition to match the sunny California climes in which she lives, Sara Heslington has recently embarked on the next phase of her professional career as a pastry chef and cake designer, starting her own cake design studio in Corona Del Mar. But not unlike Odysseus's voyage home, she has more than a tale or two to tell from along the way of getting from the beginning to where she is now.

Sara's pastry odyssey began in college as a student in the biological sciences at Rutgers University in New Jersey. It was here that she realized she wanted to pursue a career in pastry focusing on cake design instead of science. So with that, she began shopping for her new culinary school and landed at The FCI. She remembers loving how hands-on the program was and how fun and exciting Chef Jürgen David made it to be there. And in step with her interests in cake design, one of her favorite parts of the program was how many different showpieces (chocolate, pastillage, sugar) they were required to make. Sara was talented enough to score an internship with Ron Ben-Israel, one of New York City's top cake designers. Her internship lead to a job, where she worked until an opportunity to be a part of the opening team at The Montage Laguna Beach in California came her way.

all cakes designed and made by Sara Heslington

After a return to New York City and another stint with Ron, Sara, always looking to further her cake skills, answered a job posting on The FCI jobs board and found herself moving to Chongqing, China, where, as the pastry chef for an American-style bakery and cake company, she went through all the challenges of sourcing Western ingredients and figuring out how to run a business in a large city not very exposed to Western ideas. She would find a supplier for one item but have to go somewhere else for another. Finding a fondant supplier was one of her biggest challenges (something she finally ended up importing from Australia).

Working in a kitchen so small that you couldn't open the refrigerator door all the way because it hit the counter and with the sink located under the stairs, she had to be scrappy and resourceful. All of which, Sara took in stride. In the end, the business morphed into a cafe with a wide assortment of desserts and meatballs on skewers being sold from a different vendor at the front of the shop, instead of the line of cakes and bakery items Sara thought she would be working on. She returned to New York City to work once again with Ron, helping him complete the massive and elaborate celebration cake for The Plaza hotel's 100th birthday. (A sugary replica of the famous building, the cake measured over 12 feet tall and feed over 1,500 guests.) After her project with Ron was finished, Sara again returned to California and worked for The Montage for several months before joining the opening team of The Resort at Pelican Hill. Starting as a pastry cook in charge of all cakes, she had the opportunity to switch after a year to doing cakes only (her true love). So after another short stint with Ron, she returned again to California to head up the cake department at the resort, making all the wedding and special occasion cakes for all the restaurants and banquet functions.

But these weren't the only adventures Sara had dipped her pastry brush into. While working for Ron, Sara met James Roselle, and they became good friends. James had been invited to compete in a Food Network "Cake Challenge" while she was in China and won. When he was invited back, he asked Sara to be his assistant. They took on the surprise engagement challenge and won. Sara admits that she, "enjoys competitive sports and the atmosphere of team competition. The days are long and stressful [working on a show], but I really enjoy having that competitive outlet." By their third competition, however, the team felt that the pressure to keep a winning streak was overload, and this time the show had so many unexpected twist and turns, that when the show was over, they decided to call it quits. It felt more like TV drama than a place to showcase their skills.

However, after a year, when asked to participate in a roller derby–themed challenge, they couldn't say no. But this time they were doing it for fun and doing what they wanted to do. For Sara, some of what she enjoys most about participating in these challenges is meeting other designers and seeing their different styles and ways of working. In total she competed with James in the Surprise Engagement Challenge, Extreme Holiday Cakes, Last Cake Standing Series, and Roller Derby Cakes. The added bonus to competing with James is that they are both so busy that this is time they can spend together as friends.

Back at the resort, Sara was still itching to do more with her cakes. With long hours spent at the restaurant, she rarely had the time or energy to take on any designs on her own. With having her own studio always on her mind, when she heard of a personal assistant opportunity through a friend, she jumped on it, thinking, I could do that. From chef to personal assistant may seem like an incongruous move, but not for Sara. Now, she could finally focus on having her own cake business. She works four reasonably houred days a week as an assistant, leaving her time to work on her own cakes. She rents a kitchen part-time and only takes on two to three cakes a month. This may not sound like a lot of decorating, but when you know that Sara's minimum order is $2,000.00, you get the indication that these are no ordinary confections. She wants to focus exclusively on decorative and detailed cakes that really allow her to be creative. Her favorite? Flowers. "I look at flowers differently after working with Ron. I love a cake with a ton of sugar flowers." She also likes to create a cake that is detailed enough to reflect the event the bride and her wedding planner have envisioned, pulling in details—perhaps lace from the dress or a color from the invitation—in such a way as to bring all the pieces of the happy day together into the cake.

Sara's travels are far from finished. And with a new studio in its first year, many would say she has only just begun. But, for Sara looking back on the story she has created so far, she's excited to be where she is at. And the sources she credits most for where she is today are the people she has worked with. She is grateful to have had many good teachers and mentors along the way.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Culinary Liaisons Culinaires

appetizers prepared by chef-instructors and students at The FCI

Yesterday, Dorothy Cann Hamilton (founder and CEO of The International Culinary Center), along with Susan Ungaro (president of The James Beard Foundation) hosted a welcome dinner at the school to honor the chefs cooking at Culinary Liaisons Culinaires, the JBF's 2010 gala dinner and auction being held tonight at The Four Seasons Restaurant in New York City. Famed French chefs Joël Robuchon, Guy Savoy, Alain Ducasse, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, François Payard, along with FCI chef-instructor Pascal Béric and current students will be preparing a menu item each for the gala. The food at last night's celebration was also prepared by FCI students. Top chefs and food industry professionals gathered to enjoy the pre-gala feast.

Guy Savoy and Dorothy Cann Hamilton

2010 Outstanding Alumni Awards

Every year The FCI presents five alumni with an award for professional excellence and achievement in their field. And the results are in for this year's 2010 Outstanding Alumni Award winners. A celebration for current students and alums will be held at The International Culinary Center on November 29 to celebrate their accomplishments.

We congratulate the winners on their hard work, dedication to their field, and their success!

Zak Pelaccio (Classic Culinary Arts '98)
Executive Chef/Partner, Fatty Crab & Fatty 'Cue,
New York City

Christina Tosi (Classic Pastry Arts '04)
Pastry Chef, Momofuku Milk Bar, New York City

Mark Dissin (Classic Culinary Arts '97)
VP of Production, Food Network, New York City

Laura Pensiero (Classic Culinary Arts '92)
Owner/Manager, Gigi Trattoria, Rhinebeck, New York

Roger Gural (Bread '98)
Baker/Consultant, François Payard Bakery,
New York City

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The Secrets of Spices

Under The International Culinary Center umbrella, perhaps the most recognized name is The French Culinary Institute. It's been around the longest and has made quite a name for itself as a top school in training culinary and pastry professionals. The school places high value in learning the classic techniques necessary as building blocks to becoming a great chef.

But the school also offers the same dedication to excellent training and education to amateurs. Both the longer and more intensive amateur courses and the shorter and more easy-going recreational classes provide students with valuable skills along with a fun time in the kitchen.

On Friday night, Chef Candy Agrondizza, assistant director of culinary arts at The FCI, taught a group of rec students how to use spices and herbs to layer flavors into any dish.

Chef Candy started out with a preamble on seasonings and how to use them in cooking before showing the class how to make a coconut-lime soup with chicken, chiles, and cilantro. Students learned how to breakdown a chicken, bruise and chop lemongrass, and the important basics to holding, using, and maintaining a knife.

After the demo, the class slurped up hot, spicy cups of soup, while Chef Candy went on to demo how to make a tomato jam and prepare all the ingredients for a flavorful salmon en papillote. Everyone was then turned out to blanch, shock, and peel their own tomatoes, roast fennel blubs, sauté mushrooms, and compose a tasty pile of ingredients to be baked in their very own parchment paper pocket. With five spice (cinnamon, cloves, fennel seeds, star anise, and Sichuan pepper) compound butter, soy sauce, and sake as dressing, the Asian flavor-inspired dish was eagerly consumed by all the cooks. Complex sweet, salty, spicy notes engaged the palate, and students were excited to have an easy recipe for a delicious and healthy midweek dinner.

In keeping with the Asian theme, the evening was finished with a ginger pots de crème garnished with candied ginger. Over white tablecloths and glasses of wine, everyone discussed different vegetables and seasonings that could be applied to the same dishes from the night, showing the ever flexible approach toward cooking any chef worth their knives will take to any given recipe.

And in the best testament to playing with herbs and spices in the kitchen, upon questioning, Chef Candy admitted that there would be not a whiff of cilantro nor a spotting of chiles in the next round of the class. She was already thinking about the enticements of Eastern European flavor profiles, divulging that there may be a lot of pickling making a showcase in the next class. Sounds good to me!