Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Interview with Christina Tosi, 2010 FCI Outstanding Alumni Awards recipient for pastry

“Most of the items we serve at Milk Bar are made from ingredients we have lying around in our kitchen. I love making flavored milks by steeping toasted items over spans of time—something that I learned [to do] and loved to do while [working as] a pastry cook at wd~50.” —Christina Tosi

Christina Tosi is the executive pastry chef of Momofuku Milk Bar and the 2010 Outstanding Alumni Award recipient for pastry. In a recent interview, Christina gives an exclusive scoop inside her professional life after graduating from The FCI in 2004 from the classic pastry arts program.

She took the traditional route of college to appease her parents before coming here. Once she “finished college, it was crystal clear she couldn’t face a conventional profession.” Something many students can relate to and have come from a far to study at the school for the same reason. Christina made her way to NYC to study amongst the best at The FCI.

I asked her, "How did you come up with the idea for cereal ice cream?"

"Cereal milk was something I had in the back of my head for a few years, and it came out just right when I was playing around with it one night in Ssäm Bar's basement, while desperately looking for dessert inspiration.” By the way, if you haven’t tried the cereal milk soft serve, you must make a trip over to Momofuku Milk Bar and get a cone or cup…and bring some friends. Another great treat is the Corn Cookie. Christina has always had a sweet tooth and is known for never drinking any type of milk straight up (that includes any soy milk varieties). The only way you can get her to drink a glass of milk is by infusing the liquid with Lucky Charms or any other childhood cereal favorites. Her now famous cereal milk is a good result of this process.

Cereal Milk soft serve ice cream with assorted topping

The New York Times's T Magazine named her as one of their “The Nifty 50” and said her Compost Cookie recipe resulted from a “happy mistake." Some of her dessert ideas come from recycling reusable pantry items or incorporating foods that are already made. Somehow she has a gift of resurrecting ingredients that most folks would allow to go stale and eventually discard. Not Christina. Her biggest inspiration is Wylie Dufresne, whom she met while working at wd-50. Christina says, “I think a lot of what I draw from is a combination of Wylie’s influence, how to think about food and apply flavors and science and applicative thought to food, and what I've learned from the old gals in my family: the waste not, want not type of mentality, where [surplus] cereal goes into the cookies that are baked for every occasion; standard pantry items are made into breakfast, lunch, dinner, or dessert. It’s all in the craft and creativity of it for them.”

Compost Cookies

You can describe her culinary aesthetic as comfort foods on steroids. Some of her favorite foods are Lucky Charms and, “Campbell’s Soup with grilled cheese, the ultimate symbol love and home, grandmas, moms, boyfriends—it always tastes so damn good”.

Whether she’s listening to oldies, reggae, Bob Dylan, or Neil Young, you will find her immersed in conjuring up the next Sunday Funday inspired dessert wearing a vintage scarf and apron. When I asked her who created the signature Momofuku Pastry look, her response was, “Ha! I think being in a kitchen is all about personality and personal identity and flair amidst a sea of white porter shirts and an army of checkered canvases. In kitchens outside of the city where the dress code isn’t enforced, signature looks are all the rage. You have to love the food you’re making, and wearing something that helps remind you you’re you really makes a difference.”

Outside of the kitchen, typical civilian garments include mostly “old lady stuff.” That entails “old lady dresses, or jeans with old lady blazers or blouses and old lady belts.” She recommends reading “Joy of Cooking, the older the edition the better. It’s got an immense wealth of food story, history and knowledge in it. I could read or bake from it for hours. I love to bake from it and put a twist on whatever recipe I’ve fallen in love with at that moment.”

Christina is originally from Virgina. She is down-to-earth, approachable, and her food could describe her personality. When she’s not at work, you’ll find her wearing old lady clothes, bartering clothes for cookies, or hanging out with friends and indulging in comfort foods. Aside from Crack Pie and other notable sweets, you will find a new addition of truffles—some that resemble remnants of confetti sprinkles. Her desserts bring out the big kid in all of us.

assorted cake truffles (clockwise from top, left): apple pie cake, chocolate malt cake, birthday cake, and banana cake

A Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook is in the works and will be released later on in the Fall of 2011.

Rina Oh is an evening student in the classic culinary arts program and is a contributing writer on Eat Life FCI, The Hot Plate and Food2. When she's not working as a food writer or stylist, she continues developing content for her gossip blog, dining with outlaws, and illustrating a comic book series called
The Gastronomic Chronicles.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Outstanding Alumni Awards 2010

Dorothy Cann Hamilton with Dean André Soltner

On Monday, November 29, 2010, The French Culinary Institute hosted their annual Outstanding Alumni Awards. Five individuals received a prestigious award in the following categories: culinary, pastry, professional achievement, restaurant management, and bread.

All the deans were in attendance, and the evening was highlighted with introductions given by Dorothy Cann Hamilton (CEO and founder of the school) and special words of inspiration by Dean Alain Sailhac. When describing the art of making bread, he told us when recently asked how can you tell if the bread is good, he answered “it’s all in the crackling of the crust.” In other words, if there is no sound, it is no good. Chef Alain later described Roger Gural’s bread as “extraordinaire.”

Roger Gural, outstanding bread award

Roger Gural, this year’s Outstanding Bread Award recipient, finished the intensive six-week bread course at The FCI in 1998 and went on to work for Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud shortly after completing the program. Dorothy Cann Hamilton said, “his own personal drive, curiosity, and discipline sent him in a very short period of time out to those bakeries. And to get those positions that he did was absolutely extraordinary.” In 2009 he went oversees to compete, representing the United States, in the prestigious Mondial du Pain held in Lyon, France.

Zak Pelaccio, outstanding culinary award

Zak Pelaccio is the Outstanding Culinary Award recipient this year. He graduated in 1998 and has become the award-winning executive chef/partner at the critically acclaimed Fatty Crab, two Southeast Asian joints in NYC that focus on Malaysian-inspired cuisine, and the recently opened Fatty ’Cue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He is a partner in Cabrito and former chef for multiple critically acclaimed concepts. After graduating from the culinary arts program, Zak worked at The French Laundry and Daniel prior to traveling-throughout Asia, where he developed his unique palate. Zak is the founder of a new nonprofit called the Future Chefs Initiative and recently met with Dorothy Cann Hamilton and Phil Gutensohn, director of placement at The FCI and the executive director of The Future Chefs Initiative, to discuss future plans on how the initiative and Wellness in Schools programs can work together and create a working formula other institutions can follow.

Christina Tosi, outstanding pastry award

New York Times “The Nifty 50", Christina Tosi, who’s desserts at Momofuku Milk Bar have recently been all the rage, received the Outstanding Alumni Award for Pastry. Christina went on to work for wd~50 and Bouley after graduating from the intensive pastry program in 2004. Now the heralded pastry chef at Milk Bar and David Chang’s (also an alum) Momofuku restaurants, her unique twists on conventional sweets has lead her to the top in only a short few years since graduating from The FCI. Her work has been featured in a number of local and national print magazines and periodicals, and she has made television appearances on the Today show and The Martha Stewart Show.

Mark Dissin, professional achievement award

The Professional Achievement Award was given to Mark Dissin, who graduated in 1997. Mark, vice president of production at the Food Network, is a television pioneer who has helped to shape the food media industry into what it is today. He joined the cable network during their early inception. He has three daytime Emmy awards, is the producer of Giada at Home, 30 Minute Meals, and several other hit Food Network shows. He recently directed Cook Like an Iron Chef in 2010.

Named by O Magazine as one of the “Five Most Giving and Gifted Food Professionals,” Laura Pensiero is a chef, restauranteur, cookbook author, and a registered dietician. Laura received the Outstanding Restaurant Management Award, a title that barely describes her multifaceted talents and all the hats she wears. Laura has established a well-managed cohesive restaurant brand Gigi Hudson Valley, which includes Gigi Trattoria, Gigi Market, and she is a chef-partner of Just Salads. Laura works as a contributing writer to several national print magazines. Her most recent venture, Just Salads is “a collection of healthy fast foods” with five locations in NYC and two in Hong Kong.

Each of the five outstanding alumni received a special, hand painted plaque made by Dean Jacques Pépin.

Dean André Soltner

The evening ended with a few words from Chef André Soltner: "I have been in this business for 61 years. And it was always a joy for me. I did my apprenticeship and then I was a cook for a long time. And later on, I became a sous chef and then chef and owner of a restaurant. And when I retired, I came to the school. And I must say that I’ve always had a great pleasure to be in this industry. The biggest pleasure is to see when the students who graduate—and we are very proud—when we see them years later and they are honored because they made a great career. That is the greatest thing for us. Congratulations to all of you.”

It was an intimate and exclusive gathering of star chefs, culinary notables, and experts. We raised our champagne flutes and toasted to the outstanding alumni’s achievements. Attendees included our very own founder and CEO of the International Culinary Center, Dorothy Cann Hamilton; the Master Chefs: Alain Sailhac, Jacques Torres, André Soltner, and Jacques Pépin; Vice President of Culinary and Pastry Arts Nils Norén; Dave Arnold, food technology expert; The 2010 Outstanding Alumni Award Recipients: Zak Pelaccio, Roger Gural, Christina Tosi, Mark Dissin, and Laura Pensiero; former alumni award recipient Wylie Dufresne; faculty and staff; students and alumni, with friends and family.

award winners, deans, and Dorothy Cann Hamilton, the school's founder

Alain Sailhac and Zak Pelaccio

Alain Sailhac, Christina Tosi, and Nils Norén

Wylie Dufresne with Christina Tosi

Mark Dissin (left) and Dorothy Cann Hamilton (right)

Jacques Torres, André Soltner, Dorothy Cann Hamilton, and Phil Gutensohn

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Meeting with Dorothy

A few lucky FCI students attended a private meeting with Dorothy Cann Hamilton, CEO and founder of The International Culinary Center, and the deans of the French Culinary Institute. We enjoyed wine with hors d'oeuvres and good conversations. We got a chance to mingle with other students from Culinary Arts, Pastry Arts, and The Italian Culinary Academy and got a few words of advice from the master chefs.

From left: Alain Sailhac; André Soltner; Jacques Pépin

From left: Alain Sailhac; André Soltner; Jacques Pépin; Jacques Torres

the author, Rina Oh, with the deans

Leland Scruby from student affairs

Jacques Pépin

André (left) and Jacques (right) pose with Dorothy Cann Hamilton.

Candy Argondizza, assistant director of culinary arts at The FCI

Rina Oh is an evening student in the classic culinary arts program and is a contributing writer on Eat Life FCI, The Hot Plate and Food2. When she's not working as a food writer or stylist, she continues developing content for her gossip blog, dining with outlaws, and illustrating a comic book series called
The Gastronomic Chronicles.

Monday, December 13, 2010

A Tasty New Year's Eve

Our very own (and very talented) André Marrero, executive chef of events at The International Culinary Theater, will be ringing in the new year by cooking at The Beard House on the 31st. Some of the tempting menu items include: Kumamoto Oysters with Pickled Radishes and Mignonette; Tamarind-Glazed Poached Egg with Truffle Butter and Shaved White Truffles; and Slow-Cooked Spiced Beef Short Ribs with Onion–Garlic Confit and Braised Potato.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Menu Project

Pork Rillete banh mi

Platters of Vietnamese Banh Mi sandwiches, Chinese roast duck rolled into pancakes, steamed fish in banana leaves, and Tom Yam soup filled the white-clothed tables on Wednesday night. Over six class days, five classmates and I roasted, braised, sliced, stewed, and baked everything we could to pull off this buffet, one of our assigned projects in our classic culinary arts program.

Here are some of the dishes we served:

Duck pancakes with scallions and cucumbers
Chinese roast duck with cucumbers and scallions in pancakes

I roasted eight ducks and shredded the meat.

Chinese Roast Duck
Chinese roast duck

Egg rolls with filet mignon and bell peppers
Egg rolls with filet mignon and bell peppers

Buffet overview
Students and teachers fill up their plates.

Causa de camarones
Causa de Camarones, a Peruvian dish with molded layers of mashed potatoes, aji peppers, and shrimp

Tom Yam Soup
Tom Yam soup

Summer rolls with shrimp and basil
summer rolls with shrimp and basil, served with hoisin-peanut sauce

Crispy pork belly and pickled watermelon
deep-fried pork belly with pickled watermelon

Steamed fish in banana leaves
steamed branzino with sticky rice in banana leaves

Coconut flan
coconut flan

Tea-braised lamb
tea-braised lamb stew

Mango lassi and Cinnamon tea
Cold drinks such as mango lassi (front) and Korean cinnamon tea were served.

Stir-fried mushrooms with noodles
stir-fried mushrooms with noodles

Mango Sticky Rice
mango sticky rice

Chinese almond cookies
Chinese almond cookies

Asian Latino buffet group
My classmates, Chef Veronica Lindemann and I (second from right) stand still for a photo. Chef David Oland (not shown) also guided us through the preparation of our buffet.

To see more photos, go to this Flickr page.

Jenny Lee-Adrian is a student in the Classic Culinary Arts program. She has a food blog called Hummingbird Appetite.

Monday, December 06, 2010

A trip to DessertTruck Works

Chocolate bread pudding with bacon custard sauce

I could taste the imprint of bacon in the custard sauce that had been poured over the chocolate bread pudding. I liked the savory touch in something that was so sweet. I had never tried the famous chocolate bread pudding of DessertTruck Works that was declared the winner on Throwdown with Bobby Flay in 2009.

I went along with The FCI's Dessert Club to DessertTruck Works to try their sweet treats on Friday, December 3rd. In 2007, FCI alum Jerome Chang and Chris Chen, a Columbia Business School MBA graduate, created DessertTruck with the goal of bringing gourmet desserts to the public in a mobile kitchen. This year, Chang opened the pastry shop/cafe at 6 Clinton Street. Besides bread pudding, the menu offers molten chocolate cake, doughnut holes, Pavlova, honey-rosemary ice cream, macaroons, as well as other delectables.

Jerome Chang, owner of DessertTruck Works
Chang is a proponent of fine dining in casual fare.

As far as the idea behind a food truck selling sophisticated desserts, Chang said, "We thought it was something in the zeitgeist. We thought 10 other people want to do this, but we wanted to be first."

"It's a democratization of food," he said.

What is Chang's advice for culinary students?

"Attitude. Keep your mouth shut. Always ask why, why, why. Ask yourself why so you can put your personality on a plate."

At the tasting, we enjoyed doughnut holes, slow-baked apples, and butternut squash ice cream.

Brioche donut holes
warm brioche doughnut holes alternately filled with vanilla cream and nutella

Butternut squash crepe

Butternut Squash crepe
butternut squash crêpe with butternut squash ice cream and roasted pumpkin seeds

Warm slow baked apples
slow-baked apple with puff pastry, cranberries, whipped cream, and vanilla ice cream

Tasting macarons

Pavlova with quince sorbet, candied grapefruit, pomegranate seeds, and whipped crème fraîche

For more photos, click here.

One of my favorites was the honey-rosemary ice cream. Chang had infused the rosemary into the ice cream base. The final product left a faint impression of the herb in your mouth. Chang said it was simple to make, but it's all about the execution.

He looked at us and emphasized, "Execution, guys. It's always the execution."

Dessert Truck Works

Jenny Lee-Adrian is a student in the Classic Culinary Arts program at The French Culinary Institute. She has a food blog called Hummingbird Appetite.