Q&A with Chef Olivia Roszkowski
Olivia Roszkowski was a full-time chef instructor at NGI before teaching Health-Supportive Culinary Arts at the Institute of Culinary Education. She graduated from NGI's Chef's Training Program in 2010 and holds a bachelor's degree from Columbia University in Neuroscience and Behavior. As a pre-medical student and certified EMT, she completed internships at Bellevue, Columbia Presbyterian and the Hospital for Special Surgery. Olivia has cooked at well-known New York restaurants, including Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s (The) Mercer Kitchen, David Chang’s Momofuku Ssam Bar and Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events.
Read about her unique culinary experience and how she plans to further expand on her knowledge of food.
Can you tell us a bit about your background?
I am a native New Yorker, having grown up in the predominantly Polish neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn. I completed my undergraduate studies at Columbia University, where the original plan was to pursue the field of medicine. While balancing a full-plate of premedical coursework, I completed a summer internship in the Emergency Ward of Bellevue Hospital, became certified as a NYC Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and ultimately graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in Neuroscience and Behavior.
How did you become interested in food?
I spent my childhood summers in the European countryside with my extended family, who grew all their food. They had all the bases covered from fruit orchards, a vegetable garden, fermentation cellar, raising chickens for eggs, and even grew and harvested their own grains to feed their animals.
What led you to attending the Chef’s Training Program at NGI?
I was taking a tour of another culinary school in the city, when a question arose about specialty baking and the school’s admissions director mentioned NGI. I hadn’t heard of the school, but was taking nutrition classes at the time and thought the two would pair well together. It was a bit of a leap of faith because predominantly plant-based cooking was novel to me.
You’ve had experience working in some prestigious restaurants in NYC. What was your favorite experience?
Cooking for the participants of the New York City Marathon with Danny Meyer’s Union Square Events would definitely make that list. We set up this intricate maze of tents in the middle of Central Park and cooked enough salad and pasta varieties to fuel tens of thousands of runners.
What is it like to be on the other side of the table, teaching students in the Chef’s Training Program today?
I had a fabulous experience as a part-time student in 2009, so it has been a lot of fun reliving the classes on a daily basis. Our students are a constant source of inspiration, making each class a highly enjoyable occurrence.
What has been the most rewarding part of being a chef instructor at NGI?
It hands-down has to be the Friday Night Dinner process where we guide students to develop a balanced menu they are proud of, make culinary discoveries while testing in the NGI kitchens, and finally execute a three-course, plant-centric meal for upwards of one hundred.
You are set to study at NYU Steinhardt's Graduate Master of Arts Program in Food Studies this fall. What are you most looking forward to in the program?
I’m most excited for the conversations — first in the NYU Greenwich Village classrooms, and consecutively infusing my NGI lectures with further food expertise.
Can you share one of your latest favorite recipes?
It would have to be the carrot "lox" in my newly minted Vegan Umami: Deli Edition class. The carrots are salt-baked for two hours, lightly smoked, mandolined into ribbons and marinated in flax oil and plum vinegar. We served it with fermented scallion cashew ‘cream cheese’ and miniature, everything-seasoned bagels. All made from scratch.
This story was originally published by the Natural Gourmet Institute. Today, Chef Olivia instructs at the Natural Gourmet Center.