Monday, March 25, 2013

Five Things To Know Before Your Next Trail

It was every culinary student's dream: Five floors brimming with potential employers like Momofuku, ABC Kitchen, The Breslin, Club Med, Food Arts magazine, and over 50 other employers excited to talk to ICC grads. No really. I asked the employers why they show up to The International Culinary Center's career fair, and they told me it was because the graduates make good employees. When I swung by Blue Hill's table, human resources coordinator John Jennings told me that "the overall quality of applicants here is higher than any where else." And the chefs from Marlow and Sons come every year to The International Culinary Center's career fair because it's their main source of recruits. Why? Because they know what they're getting, they said.

But to flesh out the definition of "qualified applicant," I asked each chef, HR manager, and boss what they have loved and hated about the trails they've witnessed. And these are the five best tips I heard all day:

1. Make the commitment. If you want to get your feet wet in this industry, you need to commit to it, said Executive Chef Sean Rembold at Marlow and Sons. At his restaurant, he wants interns to commit to at least three shifts a week because you'll be working on the line (read: not demoted to prep work) and need to learn the ever-changing menu. But if you buck up and put in the hard work, you'll become part of the 70 percent success rate they have of hiring interns to work full-time.

2. Be fast, but accurate. David Burke Kitchen's pastry chef, Zac Young, said it best, "We don't want you to butcher something, but we also don't want you to pick mint for a half hour. I appreciate perfection, but there has to be some sense of reality." Bottom line? Practice your knife skills while you're in school and at home.

3. Be humble. "You're not an expert until you've seared 700 bass," was what Chef Rembold explained about cooking. Cooking is a trade, and it takes practice. Don't walk into your first day on the job with the mentality that you're going to teach the executive chef how to cook something because it'll take years of practice to perfect it. Watch and listen.

4. Come prepared. Shockingly, a lot of chefs said the biggest mistake students make is they forget to bring the essentials: a knife, kitchen shoes, and a hat. If you don't show up prepared, they won't take you seriously. And that also means showing up with a sharp knife.

5. Ask questions. Carry a small notebook with you and don't be afraid to ask thoughtful questions, said Chef Charles Imbelli at the Marcus Samuelsson Group. Chefs want to see proactive line cooks who don't need to be told to do things--they want cooks who can sense when to hop on a new task before being asked.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Visit from a Three-Starred Michelin Chef

“I love the kitchen because it can take you across new continents or bring you back to your grandmother’s stove top.”
These are the humble words of Massimo Bottura, a three-starred Michelin chef, who visited The International Culinary Center on March 4 to showcase Italy’s best regional flavors. And for the lucky ones who sat around the table, and tasted his "Come to Italy with Us," a six-course tasting menu, all you wanted to do was send his grandmother a thank-you note for introducing him to the kitchen. Let me explain.
Almond granita
Almonds, bergamot (think: the citrus fruit responsible for earl grey tea), coffee, capers and lemon powder. These were the opening flavors to the night, and they were magically combined to create a granita--shaved ice usually reserved for dessert. But Chef Bottura turned this combination into the perfect palate cleanser. He put some of the most beautiful flavors of Italy into a dessert made mostly of water, and had us panting for more, which was probably his point: We were salivating for the next five courses. 
Cacio e Pepe Risotto
The night was a choreography of impressive plates that ignited all the senses. But one that really captured our tongues and imaginations was a cacio e pepe risotto, which isn’t shocking for an Italian meal, but most chefs resort to slowly puffing their grains in some sort of stock. Not Chef Bottura. He slowly cooked Parmigiano Reggiano to render its sacred juices, and used that as a broth to cook his risotto. 
Chef Bottura holding up his Parm broth
Then he walked around to each guest and personally dusted their plates with the essence of pepper. It was like witnessing a magic show. 
Chef Bottura spritzing "pepper essence" on the plate
But we shouldn’t have been surprised by this ingenious technique. Chef Bottura’s culinary genius doesn’t just stem from pure talent, but from mentoring from legends like Chef Alain Ducasse and Chef Ferran AdriĆ . And when Chef Bottura finished his stage with Chef Ducasse, this culinary legend tore Chef Bottura’s notebook in half, and told him, “You don’t need this. You have it all inside you. Now make it your own.” And that’s exactly what he’s done.

Today, Chef Bottura is the owner and chef of Osteria Francescana, a three-starred Michelin restaurant that holds fourth place in the S.Pellegrino 50 World’s Best Restaurants and has been voted the best restaurant in Italy for three consecutive years. He's touring through the United States hoping to promote Italy's culinary gems. 
“I hope to be part of a revived Italy, a proud Italy, an economically secure and creatively supported Italy. There is still so much to be discovered here: tasted, touched and seen. This project is the first step in realigning our culinary values with our cultural values. My legacy as a chef is an ambassador for the Italian kitchen making sure that there is plenty of space to grow by seeing our past from a critical point of view not a nostalgic one,” says Chef Bottura, according to a press release. 
The night finished with a deconstructed idea of a tiramisu, which was the best tiramisu that we ever tasted. The coffee flavor stood alone while a mysterious crumble (almost akin to astronaut's food, but palatable) broke up the smooth, airy textures of the cream. By the end of this extensive meal, we were wooed by this talented chef and thankful we were able to taste his food.