Behind the Scenes of Milk Bar R&D
ICE alum Scotty Blenkarn shares his day to day leading the lab.
Chef Scotty Blenkarn (Pastry, ‘12) reflects on his career, from pastry kitchens in New York to the Milk Bar Lab in Los Angeles, and the relationships along the way.
Scotty chose ICE for a convenient class start after a bread course elsewhere motivated him to immediately enroll in a career pastry program. He valued the small class size, focused time with instructors and the opportunity to learn from then-new Creative Director Michael Laiskonis during his seven months in ICE’s Pastry & Baking Arts program.
“My externship was everything,” Scotty says. “We had a class field trip to Del Posto and I loved everything I saw, everything I ate, and Brooks Headley (the pastry chef at the time) was someone I could relate to and easily work hard for. I went back and volunteered some time [at Del Posto] while in school, and when the time came for me to select an externship location, I asked the sous chef.”
Scotty spent several years focused on fine dining and seasonal plated desserts with Chef Brooks at Del Posto. As his pastry career developed in New York, he worked with chefs like Anna McGorman at Dominique Ansel Bakery, where she was executive sous chef and he was starting his first job. Years later, Scotty and his family moved to California and Chef Anna, who had become the culinary director at Milk Bar, gave him the opportunity to lead research and development at the lab.
“I really wasn't looking for R&D work, but the job sounded great and I knew the team would be amazing,” Scotty says. “The relationships you forge in the kitchen will be the foundation for your career. It's a small industry.”
Now they work together regularly, alongside Christina Tosi and lab assistant Rikki Shapiro.
“Our weeks are divided up between ideating about what our next project will be, visiting farmers markets for amazing ingredients, working with Christina and Anna on new concepts and producing treats for our lab window, which we open four days a week for a couple hours a day to sell off-menu ideas that we're working on,” Scotty explains. “It's an incredible opportunity to be close to our customers and offer them a voice in the whole process.”
He has the opportunity to serve regulars, work with live feedback and share his process with the public while benefiting from relationship-building with “monumentally inspirational” colleagues.
“Christina has built a really impressive home for her employees: Our family here is wildly diverse, celebrated and appreciated,” Scotty says. “It's not a place for slackers, as most of the team has done their time in tough kitchens, but there is a real vibe here of balance. I've never worked anywhere like it.”
His advice for aspiring chefs, whatever path awaits: “Whether you're working in fine dining or at a corner bake shop, the most important thing is accountability. Be present, listen, and push yourself while you're in the kitchen. Do whatever you can to make yourself valuable.”
Fellow ICE alum Tori Eisenstadt (Pastry, ‘18) has done just that, working her way up from extern to pastry cook to Scotty’s new lab assistant as Rikki moves to New York for Milk Bar’s upcoming flagship and lab openings.
“There is nothing like New York, and I think if you learn to work in the great New York kitchens, you can bring that experience absolutely anywhere,” Scotty reflects. “Looking backwards is so fun because I love so many people I've had the pleasure of spending time with in the kitchen and those relationships carry me every day. I can only hope that the future is more of the same!”