Meet the International Culinary Center alum.
A Q&A with ICC grad, Food Network and Cooking Channel Executive Chef Robert Bleifer.
“It was great seeing people who really loved cooking … Seeing that kind of enthusiasm was amazing.”
Hometown: Sea Cliff, NY
Current city: New York, NY
Course of study: Classic Culinary Arts
Graduation year: 1994
One food/beverage you can’t live without? Single malt whisky
Describe your culinary POV in three words: Live to eat!
Best meal of all time? Tasting menu at Spago 10 years ago
What would your last meal consist of? Goose liver, lobster, grano, porcini mushrooms, venison, chocolate, and plenty of wine paired with each course
Current job: Executive chef, Food Network and Cooking Channel
When you first entered the International Culinary Center , what was your cooking ability?
I thought I knew a tremendous amount and was just going there to fine-tune my skills. I learned that I wasn’t even close to as good as I thought I was
You were a photographer before becoming a chef — when did you decide to change careers?
While on a freelance gig, I was looking through the camera and just decided, You know what? I don’t want to do this anymore. It was a really easy job, too, but at that moment I realized that was not what I wanted to be doing with my life.
What appealed to you more about cooking than photography?
It was something I had a flair for and enjoyed a lot more than I enjoyed photography. It wasn’t until later, when I spent my year with Chef David Burke, that I saw the potential for the art form of cooking. It wasn’t until I got to the Food Network that I saw food as an art form.
Was the International Culinary Center what you expected?
Yes and no. It was in terms of the professionalism and what we were faced with, but again, I went there thinking I knew a lot, but like I said, I realized I had so much to learn, so that part of it was very unexpected.
What was it like working with the other students?
It was great seeing people who really loved cooking. One level ahead of me was Dan Barber. Here was a guy who didn’t care about making friends and having a great a time; it was about, I’m here to learn and get the most out of everything. Seeing that kind of enthusiasm was amazing.
What was the most challenging part of your education?
Probably just keeping all the information straight. The six-month program is pretty intensive. I was making sure I wasn’t falling a minute behind, and racing home to practice everything we learned, making sure that I ingested and digested everything we were hit with.
What were your goals upon graduation?
Bigger picture was I’m going to work for a couple of people and figure out where to open my restaurant. Short-term was to work for some top chefs who were doing food that I loved. Luckily, I got to work with David Burke. He was a dream chef to work for.
How did you get your job at Food Network?
After the almost yearlong butt whooping that is typical of the big name New York City restaurants, I stepped away to take a little breather. I literally thought it would be a few weeks, while thinking about who to let kick my butt next. But during that break, I fell into the Food Network as a freelancer, and they offered me a full-time job.
I thought I’d do it for two years, and then go back to the restaurant side to get that last butt whooping before I opened my own restaurant, but it’s 15 years later, and I’m still here. I now have 15 different show hosts kicking my butt.
What are your words of wisdom for aspiring chefs?
There is nothing quite as physically demanding as working in a restaurant. There is nothing as mentally challenging as being the low man on the totem pole, where people may potentially be hurling expletives at you with the pressure of service. No matter who you are, where you are, or where you are in your career, you should never stop learning. The day you stop learning is the day you are no longer a chef and you need to change careers.
Was attending the International Culinary Center instrumental in your career?
Yes, it totally opened up the entire culinary world for me. Before the International Culinary Center, I really didn’t know the culinary world other than restaurant catering.
Robert 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.