My Favorite Books: An Interview with Alumna Genevieve Yam Kopman
“IF I CAN’T READ IT OR EAT IT, I’M NOT INTERESTED”
Meet Genevieve Yam Kopman. Culinary Arts '17 Graduate. Pastry Chef De Partie at Per Se.
A culinary book helped to change Genevieve Yam Kopman’s life—so it’s not surprising that she logged some significant time in the library while she was studying at ICC. “I love books, especially culinary ones,” she says now. ”If I wasn’t here, I was at [the bookstore] Kitchen Arts and Letters.”
Before culinary school, she was working as a data associate in Toronto, at a startup called Zomato. But she found working with Excel all day “soul-sucking.” That’s when the former restaurant stagiaire started reading Dan Barber’s The Third Plate—and figured out what she really wanted to do with her life. “Someone referred to food as my ‘side hustle’” she says now. “I didn’t want it to be a side hustle, I wanted it to be my career.” In November 2016, Yam enrolled in ICC’s Professional Culinary Arts program + Farm-to-Table extension, hoping that her newest life dream—working at Blue Hill at Stone Barns with Chef Dan Barber—would work out.
And it did: after her externship at Blue Hill at Stone Barns was complete, she was hired at the restaurant full time! Though her training at ICC was in culinary, she ended up transitioning to pastry, both because of her interest in it and because the pastry department was short-staffed. She learned a lot of pastry techniques during the whirlwind two years she spent at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, and “loved every minute of it.” In February, she moved on to become a pastry chef de partie at Per Se.
Unsurprisingly, she admits that her style of cooking and the way she uses ingredients has a strong farm-to-table slant, influenced by the time she spent working for Chef Dan Barber. “It’s definitely seasonal and very much plant and ingredient driven. I like to keep things simple. As for desserts, I really enjoy desserts with fruit. I love sweets but don’t like desserts that are too sweet. Desserts and baked goods should never just taste like sugar—they should always have a flavor of their own.”
This spring, we challenged Genevieve to come up with the five books that influenced her most during culinary school—and which she felt would be most useful to ICC students pursuing their passion in the kitchen. Here are her top choices:
1. THE THIRD PLATE BY DAN BARBER
This book really changed the way I thought about food, cooking, and agriculture. It’s insightful and makes you think critically about the way food is grown/raised, prepared, and served. It made me feel hopeful about the future of food. I can’t even begin to sum it up in a few sentences! After I read it, I wanted to share it with everyone I knew.
2. ON FOOD AND COOKING BY HAROLD MCGEE
This book continues to answer so many of my questions. How can we make something delicious if we don’t know anything about our ingredients? It looks at the history of milk, eggs, meat, fruits, vegetables, spices, grains, nuts, bread, sauces, sugars, alcohol, and food additives, and discusses nutrition and the principles of cooking. Along the same vein, I highly recommend Kitchen Mysteries by Hervé This…
3. THE ART OF FERMENTATION BY SANDOR ELIX KATZ
I am endlessly fascinated by fermentation and preservation. Some people find fermentation very intimidating but Katz breaks it down really well and you will want to ferment everything when you’re through with it.
4. VEGETABLE LITERACY BY DEBORAH MADISON
Know your vegetables! Vegetable Literacy is so helpful for identifying different plant species and families.
5. THE ART OF FRENCH PASTRY BY JACQUY PFEIFFER
I didn’t go to school for pastry, so this book was very helpful and instructive for traditional French pastry techniques. A lot of what I know was learned on the job, but most of it also came from taking the time to learn when I wasn’t at work. It’s very straightforward and the recipes are great— I think it’s one of the best pastry books out there.
There are so many other books I’d like to include (including The Last Course [by Claudia Fleming]) but I think these are… very essential, the ones that have really influenced the way I think about food.
Genevieve Yam Kopman 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.