Alumni Interview with Sylvia Yoo (Pastry '09)
Meet the International Culinary Center graduate
In 2009, Sylvia Yoo enrolled at The International Culinary Center in New York and eventually worked in some of the city’s most formidable kitchens, including Jean-Georges and WD-50. When she returned to Los Angeles she found work at an interior design firm, and tried balancing four days there and two days on the line. The pressure of maintaining both jobs was fierce and exhausting, and Yoo eventually left the culinary industry, but still needed an outlet for her love of the kitchen.
Drawing on her love of ice cream and pastry that she had developed during her culinary ventures in New York, Sylvia was inspired to put the two together and Churro Borough was born!
What inspired you to go to ICC?
I had taken a trip to Japan and Korea in 2009 and was mesmerized by all the beautiful food products and pastries they had.
Visually, they were like miniature sculptures with beautiful form, color, textures, but those concepts also translated over once you ate them. I thought, being a pastry cook must be like being an architect, just a different medium. Once I had returned back to New York, I decided to enroll in ICC to further my curiosity.
Was there a moment in your life – in school or otherwise – where it all clicked and you knew what you wanted to do with your career? Can you describe it?
I was living in New York during the time of the recession and was an interior architect by profession at that time. Finding work was getting really tough and I found myself at a crossroads in my life where I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and wondered if I was actually ever going to get a job back in design. I decided to take that vacation to Japan and Korea during my down time and it was in Japan that I realized that pastry arts was very similar to architecture and design. Once I returned back to NY, enrolled and began courses at ICC, I fell in love with it! I felt like I was in design school again, working with my mind and my hands again, being conceptual and actually building that concept with my bare hands. But the difference between architecture and food was that everyone and anyone was able to enjoy the food you created and you were able to experience the reactions and emotions of the user. In architecture, you don’t get that same connection…that’s when I knew that I wanted to switch careers and be a pastry chef.
What was your graduation dream? How does the business you opened reflect that?
At first I thought I wanted to work the ranks at high concept restaurants that make beautiful dessert creations and one day become their executive Pastry Chef. But after a few years of working at these types of restaurants, I started to realize that only a certain percentage of people who can afford these types of restaurants are the ones that get to see these desserts. I wanted to make desserts for EVERYONE, not just the select few. I already knew that ice cream was not only my favorite dessert to consume, but my favorite dessert to make. It’s the first thing I eat off a plated dessert because it’s the best part! Knowing that, and knowing I wanted my desserts to be more accessible, it just seemed natural that I would open up an ice cream shop.
Any tidbits of advice for others who are considering this path?
Surround yourself with good people and good business partners (if you can afford it). It’s not just about being the chef and being in the kitchen anymore. There’s so much more to owning a business that I didn’t expect and you just can’t do everything. Currently I’m playing General Manager, Executive Chef, Head Dishwasher, Social Media Intern, Deliveryman, Handyman, mentor, mediator, etc…it can get exhausting and overwhelming, but if you can afford to have someone that can take some of the burden off your shoulders, it won’t be as stressful.
Where do you see your dreams taking you five years from now?
I would like to expand the Churro Borough concept to other cities and states – New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco. But for now, just getting a couple more locations opened in Los Angeles would be just as dream-fulfilling!
Sylvia graduated from the International Culinary Center (ICC), founded as The French Culinary Institute (FCI). In 2020, ICE and ICC came together on one strong and dynamic national platform at ICE's campuses in New York City and Los Angeles. ICC’s culinary education legacy lives on at ICE, where you can explore your own future in food.