Monday, June 27, 2011

California's Inaugural Class Meets Jacques Pepin

Jacques Pépin with students in the first FCI culinary class

This spring, in celebration of the launch of our new California campus, the inaugural career program was named for one of our legendary deans Jacques Pépin. Students in the Jacques Pépin Inaugural Class for Classic Culinary Arts receive an exclusive session with the acclaimed chefs.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Chef Peter Rudolph visits FCI Calfornia

Chef Peter Rudolph

Peter Rudolph, executive chef at Madera, in Menlo Park, California, visited The FCI California last week to do a demo for the students there. Interestingly, he began his career in pastry, but eventually made his way over to the savory side of the kitchen, working 10 years with The Ritz Carlton Hotel Company. Chef Peter was awarded his first Michelin star this year.

For his menu, Chef Peter presented an arctic char ballotine, made with arctic char mousse and Louisiana lump crab, with a fried egg, nasturtiums, shaved truffles, and heirloom greens.

Chef Peter showed students how to use a immersion circulator to prepare the dish by using this method to poach the ballotine. He also demonstrated three techniques for making poached and deep-fried eggs.

The eggs bundles and ballotine poach in the circulator at 74 degrees.

After poaching, he dredged the eggs in flour, then dipped it in lightly whisked eggs, and coated the outside in panko before deep-frying to a slight crisp.

Three ways to prepare the eggs, from left: 1. left in the shell and cooked in circulator at 62.4°F; 2. left in the shell and boiled for 5 1/2 minutes; 3. cracked, tied up in plastic wrap, and cooked in circulator at 74°F.

Chef Peter starts the third egg preparation by cracking an egg into a ramekin lined with plastic wrap and then ties the ends together to form a little egg bundle (see above).

the final dish

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Pig Project

The following video highlights the pig-filled adventure I took in the spring of 2011 as part of my menu project in the Classic Culinary Arts program at The FCI. After tasting the delicious pork from a Berkshire hog, I was compelled to find out what sets these animals apart from the pork I grew up eating. My search began in Brooklyn, New York, at Heritage Foods USA, where I was allowed to intern for a month in exchange for half of a 100 percent Berkshire hog and a trip to their partner Paradise Locker Meats in Trimble, Missouri. I set off to spend some time with the people who raise and slaughter the pigs that I had become so fascinated with.

Upon my arrival, I was welcomed into the home and business of Mario and Teresa Fantasma, owners of Paradise Locker Meats. There I was shown their immaculate and fully thought-out facilities. From outdoor holding pens with automatic water dispensers and misting fans to the remarkably clean kill floor, the family operated meat locker has it all. What I was most impressed by was the process in which the animals are slaughtered, cleaned, and broken down. The six-person crew works systematically to ensure that each animal is handled with respect and that the requirements of their Humane Slaughter Certification are met.

Later, I was able to tour Norton Farms in Plattsburg, Missouri, where third generation pig farmer Eric Norton breeds a variety of hogs, including Berkshires. The Norton Farm spans 5,000 acres of outdoor pasture and crops, where they raise roughly 2,000 hogs at a time. Throughout their property, I saw hundreds of pig huts, which Eric told me needed to be lined with fresh straw every other day during the winter in order to keep their outdoor pigs warm. Hearing of Eric’s dedication to raising these animals gave me that much more motivation to get back to New York City, so I could honor the animal and all the hard work required to raise it with my cooking. For my menu project (something all culinary students are require to complete toward the end of their schooling), I prepared an entire meal showcasing various parts of my hog.

Brian Scibetta will graduate from the Classic Culinary Arts program on August 3rd, 2011. He plans to begin work with a master butcher to further hone his butchering skills. Brian also hopes to open his own restaurant with an ever-changing charcuterie-based menu that is dictated by what local farmers are able to offer.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The Condiment Competition

On June 6th, The Friends of The FCI held its 4th annual Hot Dog Eating Contest, where students not only came out to prove their incredible eating abilities but their culinary ones as well. The hot dog condiment contest gave students a chance to use their creativity to come up with original recipes for unique hot dog toppers. Five finalists were chosen to be judged by a panel of distinguished NYC chefs.

I had so much fun meeting the contestants and tasting their hot dogs. Each had a completely different approach, but all had delicious results! I asked each contestant about the inspiration for their recipes. I was really impressed by how much the condiment recipes reflected on each student’s own background, influences, and interests.

So without further ado, let’s meet the contestants.

Jaime Herrera, a level 5 culinary student, took the classic condiment of aïoli up a notch by incorporating spicy chipotles. Jaime drew his inspiration from one of the best possible sources—his own palate! Jaime is from Mexico, and his inspiration for this condiment was born out of one of his own favorite flavors: chipotles. At the end of the day, you can’t go wrong with cooking what you love best! I personally LOVE chipotle sauce of any kind, especially on sandwiches. Needless to say, I was thrilled to sample a hot dog swimming in Jaime’s mouthwatering chipotle aïoli, topped with diced red peppers!

Bettina Will hails from Germany, the home of the frankfurter—the original hot dog. She is currently in the culinary level 2 class, and she created a fantastic lamb chili for her hot dog.

Chili has long been a popular hot dog topper, but this was no ordinary chili. Inspired by Syrian lamb kebabs, Bettina combined sour cherries and rich ground lamb meat with such spices common in Middle Eastern dishes as cumin and cinnamon. Packed with flavor, this dark meaty chili satisfied my taste for sweet, sour, and spicy all in one.

Mary Luz Herras, a level 6 student, reinvented a popular Ecuadorian hot dog.

According to Mary Luz, hot dogs are typically topped with pineapples and salty potato chips in her native Ecuador. I loved her creative twist of flavors by making a pineapple-chile pepper marmalade topped with fried tomato skins.

The marmalade was the perfect blend of sweet and spicy, and the fried tomato skins added an unexpected salty element with a crispy texture reminiscent of potato chips. This refreshing condiment not only brought the flavors of Ecuador to the table, but also utilized tomato skins that would normally be wasted.

Level 2 student, Francine Lee, created a hot dog like none I’ve ever seen. Francine loves to eat the traditional English breakfast, which is comprised of fried eggs, bacon, grilled portobello mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, and baked beans. As a result, the breakfast hot dog was born. Topped with baked bean puree and a small amount of each key ingredient in the English breakfast, Francine’s hot dog was a beautiful sight. Presentation wasn’t the only beautiful part of this hot dog. Each bite brought a perfect blend of various flavors. I absolutely loved Francine’s creative approach. I might even start eating hot dogs for breakfast!

Last, but certainly not least, level 3 student Marite Acosta created something really special with her farm stand relish.

Using all local produce harvested mostly from her own backyard on Long Island, Marite’s relish was a perfect example of cooking seasonally and close to home. Her pickled relish included fresh jalapeņo peppers, okra, radishes, sweet baby bell peppers, and persian cucumbers. Marite was inspired by the Chicago-style hot dog, which is often topped with sweet pickle relish, dill pickle spears, and pickled sport peppers. One bite rendered a full flavored and wonderfully textured hot dog.

The competition truly was a tough one with such different and delicious condiments to choose from. In the end, the judges chose Marite Acosta’s farm stand relish as the winner! Her prize is a spot in FCI’s coveted charcuterie class! Congratulations Marite!

Many thanks to all the contestants for their hard work and excellent products! I was pleasantly stuffed after enjoying all five unique and incredible hot dogs!

Melissa McAllister is a Classic Culinary Arts student graduating in February 2012. She hopes to pursue a career in food journalism or test kitchens. Her favorite way to eat a hot dog is smothered in ketchup at a baseball game with her Dad.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Pop a Cork!

On opening night, theater superstition forbids actors to wish each other good luck, so they pass along their good wishes by saying, "Break a leg." At The FCI, when our wine students are entering their exams for their "big break" as certified sommeliers, in the same vein, we might wish them to "Pop a cork!"

Just as theater folk don’t want their cast members to actually break their legs, we don't want out students to actually pop their corks. (They would actually lose points on their test for that!) Proper removal of a cork should always be a quiet process. As you can see from the photo there have been a lot of bottles uncorked in practice leading to up to the exam.

Wine students of the Intensive Sommelier Training program are seeking the prized pin classifying them as an industry recognized certified sommelier. To accomplish this certification, they will have to pass two levels of examination, which are conducted by the Court of Master Sommeliers®: Level 1 Introductory Sommelier Exam and the Level 2 Certified Sommelier Exam.

Introductory Sommelier Course, Level 1 consists of an introduction to the Court, fast-paced lectures on such things as wine regions, wine law, and wine styles, and a theory based exam. Certified Sommelier Exam, Level 2 involves a one-day exam with three components: blind tasting, written theory, and practical service. The service portion can be either Champagne or wine decanting, and students won’t know which they will be expected to do until they are tested.

It's an exciting accomplishment to earn this coveted pin. We would like to wish all of our students the best of luck on their exams this week. —Royce Dove, associate marketing manager, International Culinary Center California

Stand Up for the New Reigning Hot Dog Champions

On Monday, June 6th, I had the pleasure of attending the Fourth Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest, a charity event organized to raise money for The Friends of The FCI Award. There was certainly some very lively competition between the contestants. Students raced to finish a single two-and-a-half-foot-long hot dog, and the faculty was tasked with putting away as many regular size dogs as they could in three minutes.

I had never been to an event like this, but eating competitions are really something everyone should experience, even if just once. The room was packed with a sizable crowd, all yelling and cheering while the hot dogs were being eaten—myself included. Not that consumption rate is necessarily correlated with the loudness of the crowd, but I wanted to believe that we could actually help them eat faster if we were just a little louder.

The staff champion, Chef Dave Oland (pictured above, center), from Chicago, took home a prize of three vacation days after downing 13 hot dogs in three minutes.

Winning strategy?
"Come in and beat Erik Murninghan, and raise money for the cause."

Favorite thing about hot dogs?

Best hot dog memory?
"this one"

In the student division, Dan Esposito (pictured above) placed first, finishing all two-and-a-half-feet of hot dog before any of his classmates. He was handsomely rewarded with a stack of coupons to various restaurants around the city and a trophy made entirely out of sugar. It was a pretty heavy trophy.

His winning strategy?
"Apparently, make a mess, and eat faster than everyone else. If it weren’t for a good cause, I’d be very, very ashamed of myself."

Favorite thing about hot dogs?
"I think that a hot dog is a fun food. I wouldn’t feel the same way about eating 30 legs of duck confit, or a bucket of foie gras."

Best hot dog memory?
"This one, or Nathan’s 4th of July Hot Dog Eating Contest. Unless I'd been there, I wouldn’t believe that people could get so excited about eating pork by-product."

I screamed myself hoarse from all the excitement and went home with a sore throat. I was also waiting to see if anyone would have trouble keeping it all down, but everyone took it like a champ. And, the best part? Raising money for a good cause while having a blast.

Grace Ports is a Classic Culinary Arts student graduating in February 2012. She hopes to expose more people to Cantonese cuisine and help bring family dinner back into people's homes. She has a food blog at Her favorite hot dog was eaten at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur in Reykjavik, Iceland.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Give a Little, Get a Lot

A large part of being in the food industry is community. Giving and sharing are inescapable elements in what serving food to others is all about.

As a school, along with education (and good technique!), we are also advocates of investing positively in the community around us. And our chef-instructors, employees, students, and graduates share their passion with a larger community in a multitude of positive ways—ways that support, build, and make life better. Whether sharing food or skills with underserved populations, working tirelessly to improve food in our schools, fighting hunger, getting involved with food policy, or making positive choices in how to run a restaurant, bakery, or food truck, there is so much good that can be done with just a little effort (or sometimes a lot).

Recently, The International Culinary Center of California participated at a Meals on Wheels of San Francisco event, serving food prepared by our chefs along with other area restaurants in an effort to raise money for the program. Meals on Wheels of San Francisco provides daily nutritious meals to homebound seniors, while also providing needful human contact, with the mission of helping these seniors stay in their homes and avoid premature institutionalization through the aid of their supportive services. It was a fun event, and everyone had a great time!

Marc Bauer, master chef and roundsman, New York campus

André Soltner, dean of classic studies, (left) with Jeremy MacVeigh, director of culinary arts, California campus, (right)

André Soltner with Brooke Schwartz, president of International Culinary Center California

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Grand Finale: Pastry Takes a Bow

Scanning the hallways for final projects is a favorite diversion around here. Creativity reigns. Given a central theme, Classic Pastry Arts students must design and create a display made out of chocolate and/or sugar (pulled, blown, pastillage, etc.) on which to showcase their final product for judging. Each student is assigned a cookie or petits fours, cake or tart, and confection (some sort of candy dipped, coated, or encased in chocolate) from the curriculum, along with a bread product that is not arranged on their showpiece. Top chefs from the industry come in to judge what the students have produced.

Can you guess what theme these students were given?

Monday, June 06, 2011

A Taste of South America

"Fusion isn’t Korean tacos," says Adam Schop, chef and partner of Nuela, a Latin American restaurant in the Flatiron district in New York City. To Schop, simply mixing flavors together from different cultures is missing the point of fusion cuisine. He has embraced this philosophy at Nuela, where he focuses on flavors from such countries as Peru, Brazil, and Columbia, pulling from native influences and tastes from immigrant populations.

Peru is Schop’s strongest focus, a country boasting a broad range of dishes heavily influenced by its large Japanese population. Schop visited the International Culinary Theater recently to share his philosophy with students and demo a few signature dishes from his restaurant.

Chef Adam Schop of Nuela

First up, a bright pink and orange Florida red snapper hit the cutting board and Schop quickly filleted it and sliced up tender pink cubes to create seviche tipico, the typical seviche served across Peru, and one of many served at the seviche bar at Nuela. Although you could technically make a seviche by marinating fish in citric acid and salt until it is cooked, there are a few integral steps that transform it from something acrid into something really special.

The secret to Nuela’s seviche tipico is something the Peruvian’s call leche de tigre, or tiger’s milk. It’s a natural liquor that leaches from the fish as it marinates, creating a salty, milky liquid that is often served alongside the ceviche as a shooter. Schop takes this principal and brings it to the next level by making his own leche de tigre base as a marinade for the fish, incorporating raw fish, celery, onion, garlic, and fresh ginger to create a savory green puree.

The other key ingredient to his seviche is a custom blended citrus juice designed to replicate the flavors of Peruvian limes, which are larger versions of Key limes and pack a bold flavored juice unavailable here in the United States. He uses a blend of Key limes, bitter orange, and yuzu to marinate his fish along with the leche de tigre and some salt to make one of the freshest, brightest tasting seviches I’ve ever tried. He tops the dish with red onion slivers, chopped cilantro, and cancha—sun-dried corn kernels fried in duck fat—to complete this classic dish.

ceviche tipico

Students had the opportunity to not only watch and learn, but sample Schop’s seviche, along with a Brazilian-influenced lobster moqueca with hearts of palm, Swiss chard, farofa, and cashews, and the show stopping, duck-focused dish, aroz con pato (shown below). Awarded the distinction of Sam Sifton’s Best of Dishes of 2010 by the New York Times, the aroz con pato is a paella topped with seasonal veggies, foie gras, dry-aged seared duck breast, duck confit, a fried duck egg, and a duck gizzard salad to make a feast for two (or three, or four…).

lobster moqueca

aroz con pato

You can sample Chef Adam Schop’s flavors of Latin America, and try the infamous aroz con pato, by visiting Nuela, located at 43 W. 24th street, between 5th and 6th avenues. Learn more at

Don’t forget to check the events calendar to stay up to date on the exciting demos coming to the International Culinary Theater; students and alumni are invited to taste and learn!

Tara O’Keeffe graduated from the evening Classic Culinary Arts program on March 16, 2011. After an exciting year learning how to make food look and sound good at the Food Network and Food Arts magazine, she has come back to FCI to share and expand her passion for food, working in the Culinary Programming department. She has a blog called Fun Fearless Foodie.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Eggs Most Excellent: Lessons from Jacques Pepin

The Dean of Special Program’s at the French Culinary Institute, Master Chef Jacques Pépin, recently spent some time with students and alumni in the International Culinary Theater to talk about life’s wonder ingredient: eggs!

Eggs are incredible for a number of reasons—not only are they packed with protein and nutrients, but they can thicken, stabilize, emulsify, and add flavor. Whether hard-boiled, over-easy, scrambled, whipped into a meringue, or the secret to a soufflé, eggs are an essential ingredient every cook should know how to work with.

A master of classical French cooking, Chef Pépin has been working with eggs his entire life and introduced some very helpful tips and simple recipes to the crowd of eager listeners. Here are the highlights:

On boiling eggs:
  • When soft-boiling or hard-boiling an egg, use the tip of a pin to poke a tiny hole in the top of the egg. This allows pressure to release as the egg is cooking, preventing cracking and helping reduce the sulfuric smell and gray lining around the yolk.
  • As soon as your eggs are cooked, place them in a bowl of ice water to shock them for at least 15 minutes. This slows down the cooking process and allows the sulfur inside the egg to escape into the water, again preventing that stinky smell and reducing the chances of getting the gray lining.

On separating whites and yolks:
  • If you separate whites by passing the yolk back and forth in the shell you leave behind 20% of the whites and run the risk of breaking the yolk. If you are working with a recipe calling for whites and don’t get them all, your ratios may be negatively impacted and that soufflé or meringue may not come out right.
  • Instead, separate the whites and yolks while the eggs are cold using your hands (clean of course!), passing the yolk back and forth. This method works well because the cold egg prevents the yolk from breaking as easily and you will drain off almost all the whites.

On mayonnaise:
  • According to Chef Pépin, there is nothing quite like fresh mayonnaise, and I have to agree. Simply place a few yolks into a bowl, add a dash of vinegar, and slowly stream in canola oil while whisking vigorously until a smooth emulsion forms. Season to your tastes with salt and pepper, and serve. Use within a day. Making your own mayonnaise takes a matter of minutes and is leaps and bounds better than that jarred stuff.
Chef Pépin also shared with us a recipe for his mother’s take on deviled eggs—what he calls Eggs Janet. Janet, his mother, is 96 and still a powerful presence in his life. She makes a garlicky filling for the eggs, stuffs them, then sautés them in a little butter to achieve a golden crust. She serves them over a quick mustard sauce for a simple but tasty egg dish.

Eggs Janet
recipe courtesy Jacques Pépin
4 hard-boiled eggs
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
fresh chives
black pepper, freshly ground
unsalted butter
Mustard Sauce (recipe below)
1. Slice the hard-boiled eggs in half lengthwise and remove the yolks using a small spoon. Place 3 of the yolks in a bowl and reserve the 4th yolk for the mustard sauce.
2. Mash the yolks with the garlic and chives until a smooth paste forms. Season. Pour in milk, a little at a time, until the mixture is creamy. Spoon the filling into the egg whites.
3. Heat some butter in a sauté pan set over medium heat. Add eggs, filling side down, and gently sauté until the surface is golden brown, about 2 minutes. Remove from pan, and serve over mustard sauce.
Mustard sauce:
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
canola oil
fresh herbs (chervil, parsley, and chives work great)
black pepper, freshly ground

Whisk reserved egg yolk with mustard until incorporated. Stream in canola oil and whisk until an emulsion forms. Stir in herbs; season.

Don’t forget to check the events calendar to stay up to date on the exciting demos coming to the International Culinary Theater; students and alumni are invited to taste and learn!

Tara O’Keeffe graduated from the evening Classic Culinary Arts program on March 16, 2011. After an exciting year learning how to make food look and sound good at the Food Network and Food Arts magazine, she has come back to FCI to share and expand her passion for food, working in the Culinary Programming department. She has a blog called Fun Fearless Foodie.