From a Career Crossroads to Croquembouche
Pastry & Baking Arts student Stephanie Loo shares her path to pastry school.
Pastry & Baking Arts student Stephanie Loo finished business school and a finance internship before finally giving in to her passion for pastry. Today, she's pursuing a fine dining career next door to the global bank she left behind. Here's how she came to enroll at the Institute of Culinary Education after gaining experience at Philadelphia restaurants.
In many ways, coming to culinary school has been a decade-long dream in the making, with a lot of detours along the way. I didn’t grow up in a family that appreciated food or restaurants much, so it’s always been a mystery to my parents as to where my unbridled passion for pastry came from.
I was born and raised in New York City. Although I loved sweets growing up, it wasn’t until my high school years that I got more serious about baking and enrolled in a summer pastry program at the Culinary Institute of America. I fell in love with the idea of going to culinary school upon graduating but I had been accepted to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, my dream Ivy League school. My parents pushed me to go to Penn, believing that it would be a better long-term path for me and convincing me that at 17-years-old, I might not be sure that I really wanted to pursue pastry. Ironically, it was my personal essay on baking bread that got me into the college.
As I made my way through finance, management and accounting courses at Wharton, I could not stay away from the kitchen. The tight-knit restaurant world in Philly welcomed me with open arms in so many ways. As a wide-eyed, eager and easily excitable freshman, I was fortunate enough to have Ellen Yin, restaurateur and two-time James Beard Award nominee, take me on as a pastry stagiaire at Fork and High Street. I worked in pastry on a weekday evening once a week, taking SEPTA down to Old City after my classes wrapped up for the day. I also had the opportunity to intern with Starr Restaurants after my sophomore year, learning the ins and outs of the business in Philadelphia and New York and being able to rotate through FOH and BOH positions at different restaurants. One of the coolest parts of my internship that summer was being able to see the opening days of Le Coucou here in New York City.
My love for food permeated other aspects of my college experience. During my junior year at Penn, I decided to do my exchange semester in Copenhagen, for the sole, express purpose of wanting to eat at Noma, the No. 1 restaurant in the world at the time. Back on campus, I ran a private supper club out of my dorm (offering a rotating six-course tasting), had the opportunity to be a teaching assistant for a food journalism class, and volunteered at different food events such as the James Beard Awards in Chicago and Cherry Bombe Jubilee in New York. I dined out in Philadelphia as much as I could — it’s truly one of the most exciting and underrated food scenes.
I immersed myself in the food world during college and at times, it felt like living a double life, always having one foot pursuing a traditional business path and one foot pulling me towards the culinary world.
Prior to my senior year, I landed a coveted internship at Goldman Sachs and it felt like being back at the crossroads I had experienced towards the end of high school. The Goldman Sachs office and the Institute of Culinary Education, funnily enough, are right next to each other, and sensing towards the end of the summer that I wouldn’t be fulfilled with an office job, I scheduled a tour of ICE’s campus. Though it would still be three years later that I would bite the bullet and enroll in culinary school, I knew that I would be back someday.
It’s hard to express what my first few months of classes have been like. I’ve always loved learning, but feeling so much excitement about the things we’re producing in class each day keeps me going. Upon graduating, I’m hoping to work in fine dining, but we’ll see what the future holds for me.
If you’d like to follow along on the rest of my adventures through culinary school and beyond, you can do so here.
Bite the bullet like Stephanie by applying to career training at ICE.