Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The International Culinary Center presents a Pop-Up Restaurant Challenge!

By Alexa Magarian

Students at the International Culinary Center have an exclusive opportunity to design a menu and potentially have it featured in their own pop-up restaurant at L’Ecole.

The objective is to create and execute an original restaurant concept. Students participating in the contest will compete in groups. Each group will create a four-course menu which can reflect any cuisine. If they pass this first round, they then have to create a tasting from their menu and present it to a panel of judges. One team will be selected to open a pop-up restaurant where their original menu will be served for two consecutive Sundays, February 12 and 19.

How exciting would it be to see a menu come to life that you designed? One lucky group will get the chance to transform L’Ecole into their very own restaurant.

Check back soon to see who makes it to the final round, what the judges say, and which menu gets a spot at L’Ecole!

Alexa Magarian is a student in the Classic Pastry Arts program. Originally from Boston, she hopes to combine her background in public relations and writing with her love for cooking and baking. Her greatest joy in life is spending time with her family around the kitchen table, eating dinner together. When she is not tempering chocolate and creating desserts in class, she enjoys traveling for inspiration, and meeting people who are just as passionate about food as she is.

Friday, January 20, 2012

A Demo with Chef Francois Kwaku-Dongo

By Jonathan Espitia

“Passion is what gets us into the kitchen, desire is what keeps us there” is what Chef Francois Kwaku-Dongo said as he sweated his aromatics for a sauce to go with his short ribs. This past Wednesday we had the honor of having Chef Francois, executive chef of The Wharf restaurant at the Madison Beach Hotel in Madison, Connecticut; join us for a demonstration on combining sweet and savory flavors in dishes.

Chef Francois is the culmination of hard work and determination. To those who think they’re already too old to be great chefs, that they didn’t start cooking at the age of 15, take solace in the fact that Chef Francois came to New York City from Côte d’Ivoire at the age of 24 and started out delivering pizzas. He worked his way up from dishwasher to executive chef of one of Wolfgang Puck’s restaurants. But he did not stop there; he is also partner of the Omanhene cocoa bean company in Ghana and sells his chocolate to chefs and restaurants worldwide.

I had the pleasure of helping Chef Francois with his demonstration. I was in charge of setting up his mise en place: cutting carrots, celery, and onions into macedoine; measuring out his flour, butter, and panko. The real work didn’t start until he asked me and my friend Ryhan to roll out his sweet potato gnocchi. Chef told us, “It is a chef’s goal to teach their cooks how to do something better than they can. That way, when we are not there, we know they will do it perfectly each time.” Well, I can say I learned how to roll gnocchi (decently), but I’m thousands of gnocchi away from being anywhere in Chef Francois’s skill range.

For the demo Chef Francois made Mustard and Chocolate Braised Short Ribs served over Sweet Potato Gnocchi. As Chef braised the short ribs, the aroma lured in passersby to poke their heads into the kitchen and find out what was that delicious smell could be. But Chef Francois did more than cook for us, he painted us the story of his journey through the many kitchens that fostered his growth and fueled his passion to cook. The gnocchi represented the beginning of his career in the Italian kitchen that would spur his desire to cook. The braising represented his desire to master a myriad of cooking techniques in the kitchen. And the use of chocolate as a crust for the ribs represented his humble beginnings picking cocoa beans on his family farm in Côte d’Ivoire.

The ribs were cooked perfectly and were very tender. The gnocchi were soft and delicious. There was just the right amount of chocolate and mustard on the ribs; neither of them overpowered the dish, but instead brushed your taste buds lightly, so ephemerally that they were there and then gone.

Chef stayed after the presentation for a bit to talk to students and I retreated into the kitchen to help clean up. Afterwards I looked back into the amphitheater and Chef was gone. So I gathered my belongings and was ready to head out when I saw Chef Francois going down the stairs, about to exit the school. I called his name, thanked him for letting me help him, and asked him one last question. I asked him what a culinary student should look for when looking for a restaurant to work in. He told me, “Work somewhere where they do everything in house. Look for a restaurant that makes its pasta, bakes its bread, and makes everything from scratch. And when you have to work prep, do the best prep you can do. Go to work every day and prep better than you did the day before. Everything is built from the basics, so learn them well.”

Jonathan was born and raised on Long Island and grew up eating and loving great seafood. His mother is a great cook and his grandfather was an Italian chef; both instilled in him a love for food. He is passionate about using fresh, local ingredients in his cooking and is currently enrolled in the Classic Culinary Arts Honors Program.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Pumped with Excitement

By Ron Yan

I’ve been meaning to blog but things just got crazier and I got busier and then procrastination kicked in. But I’m glad I finally have time to write. I have so much excitement right now. I finished Level 2 of the culinary program on Tuesday, December 27 and I am psyched about starting Level 3. For levels 1 and 2, we are taught the French techniques and we cook a variety of meats. In level 3, we will be cooking under time pressure and we will be working in a simulated restaurant kitchen setting.

I wanted to focus this post on how much I look forward to watching Top Chef Season 9 every Wednesday. Now, I actually understand everything that the competing chefs talk about and all the descriptions under the dishes that they make. Before coming to The International Culinary Center, I was a home amateur cook and during that time, I felt I was on the opposite side of where the competing industry chefs were on the show. Now that I’m about to start Level 3 and I’ve been in school for three months, whenever I watch Top Chef this season, I feel I am a part of them. I understand their jargon, and their concerns about not sending their best dish forward. I also have a better understanding of some of the dishes that they’ve cooked because I cooked them myself in class!

Just as an example of jargon, at home, I used to say, “green beans,” but in school, we say, “haricot vert.”

And how cool is that this season of Top Chef, it’s in my home state of Texas! ATX pride! It’s obvious whom I’m rooting for to win this season.

In the first episode of Season 9, the first group of chefs had to butcher a pig. The terms “primal” and “sub-primal” were tossed around and take a look,

It looks exactly like the picture in our textbooks except it’s cuter!

I heard that we would be breaking down a pig in Level 4 during our charcuterie unit. It’s a good thing that Chef Janet was our Level 1 sous chef so we got a feel of what is expected for butchering. One of the contestants got sent home because he incorrectly broke down part of the pork chops that also had the tenderloin attached with it. He wasn’t even allowed to cook.

In the sixth episode of Season 9, three minutes in, I shouted out with glee! Mother sauces! A mother sauce is a base for other sauces: béchamel, velouté, espagnol, hollandaise, and tomate. Their challenge was to make a new sauce that stems from their mother sauce. Whenever I watch this season of Top Chef, I feel like it is an interesting review session for me. It was surprising that none of the chefs used a roux. A roux is a thickening agent and in school, we always mix equal amounts of butter and flour together. In the third and sixth episodes, one of the chefs made a génoise cake. We made that in Level 2!

I feel so inspired that I'm going to start my menu project (culinary students create a unique menu with beverage pairings, recipes, illustrations, and food costing) now. I have my eye on the award that will be given during graduation for the best and most creative menu project!

Ron has lived in Beijing, Toronto, Hong Kong, and the state of Texas (Plano and Austin) before coming to The International Culinary Center to study in The French Culinary Institute's Classic Culinary Arts program. He is inspired by the cuisines from different cultures and loves to travel. When Ron is not Yelping or passionately learning new skills and techniques in class, he is updating his food blog, Cooking with Strawberry Tsunami.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

A Christmas Conscience: One Student's Take on Ethical Eating

By Emma DeSantis

Another Christmas has come. Feeling very accomplished by completing your last minute Christmas shopping you are rushing towards your local supermarket to purchase a leg of ham. You make a beeline for the meat aisle and look for the biggest leg that will feed the most people. But have you ever considered checking where this leg of ham (or at least the pig that it once belonged to) came from before it became this oh so tasty Christmas meal? Amongst the chaos and commotion of Christmas, it is often easy to forget these festive details. There use to be no such terms as “sustainable” and “organic” and food was exactly that – food. Gone are the days when the milkman delivered the crates of glass bottles fresh to peoples’ doorsteps and they knew the farmer that it came from. But in this ever-changing world, it is still very possible to know your suppliers well.

There are many reasons why we should become more conscious of what we are purchasing and choose organic and local foods, over mass-produced animal products and produce. When you purchase local organic foods you know it’s fresh without the use of mass amounts of insecticides and pesticides. Produce has not been genetically modified in any way and meat is not injected with antibiotics or hormones. Purchasing local food supports your community which in turn helps the local economy and the carbon footprint is much less, as the food doesn’t travel as far. If that isn’t enough reason for you, well locally grown, organic food just tastes better!

Much of the beef on the supermarket shelves these days have been grain fed, as opposed to eating what really makes them thrive – good old grass. It’s cheaper for the manufacturer and, admittedly, it makes for a cheaper piece of meat on the shelf for consumer. But is it really worth sacrificing the flavor and nutrients we would otherwise get for paying a few extra bucks?

Most of us know what happens on those factory farms and what the battery cage hens go through, yet many people still choose to eat this chicken and the eggs they produce because it’s cheaper. It isn’t simply for ethical reasons that I choose organic meats over the cheaper variety—I’m a big believer that the better a life an animal had and the more it was treated with respect while it was alive (and even during the slaughter process for that matter), the more wonderful the meat will taste.

There are loads of local farmers markets around New York City that are open on various days during the week and weekend. You can find one in your neighborhood at These markets not only include produce, but also meats, seafood, breads, grains, dairy, and much more. There are also many butchers appearing around the city that sell only organic and grass-fed beef. Every time I walk past my local organic butcher they are jam-packed with customers. This is a sign that consumers are indeed becoming more aware of the importance of what they are eating.

So on Christmas day, if you’re lucky enough to eat a leg of ham, hopefully it once belonged to a pig that got to roll around in the mud and ate well itself. And while you’re at it, slather on some cranberry sauce made from locally grown cranberries. You may just enjoy it that much more.

Emma is originally from New Zealand and is a Classic Culinary Arts student at The French Culinary Institute. She is inspired by cuisines of different cultures and loves to cook for anyone willing to eat her food.