Shenarri Freeman and Ayesha Nurdjaja

ICE Alumni Had Some of the Best Restaurants in 2021

New York Times restaurant critic Pete Well’s year-end “ten best new” recap included four restaurants run by ICE graduates.

New York Times restaurant critic Pete Wells deemed these restaurants by ICE alumni to be among the best in New York last year.

It’s been a challenging couple of years for the restaurant industry, but many chefs are still managing to thrive and adapt to the new normal. And four ICE alumni did especially well in 2021, at least according to the New York Times.

In restaurant critic Pete Wells’ roundup of the top 10 new restaurants of 2021, spots run by four ICE alumni made the cut. After kickstarting their culinary careers at ICE, these four graduates are making their mark on diners and critics alike.

Ayesha Nurdjaja (Culinary, ’07)

Chef Ayesha earned her diploma in Culinary Arts from ICE New York in 2007, and then quickly moved her way up in the restaurant world. She was a sous chef at Lidia Bastianich’s Felidia and helped lead kitchens at Michelin-starred restaurants Picholine and A Voce. After she was executive chef at Red Gravy in Brooklyn for three years, she opened her first restaurant, Shuka, in 2017.

But it’s her offshoot, Shukette, that’s earned her praise from the Times. Opened in July of last year, this Middle Eastern restaurant in Chelsea quickly caught the attention of critic Pete Wells for its “exuberant” tone and a menu that “radiates a love of pickles, a passion for dips and charcoal-grilled skewers, a near-mania for breads hot from the oven.”

Shenarri Freeman (Health-Supportive, ’20)

Chef Shenarri’s vegan soul food restaurant, Cadence, earned her instant acclaim. The Times, James Beard Foundation, Tasting Table, Resy and VegOut all had high praise for this East Village spot after it opened in March of 2021.

Chef Shenarri adopted a plant-based diet while working at a bistro in the Washington, D.C. area, and after noticing improvements to her health, she started throwing plant-based pop-ups and dinner parties. In 2019, she decided to take the plunge and enroll in Health-Supportive Culinary Arts at ICE, where she says she picked up invaluable knife skills, kitchen operation know-how and made important connections, like getting the opportunity to volunteer at the James Beard House.

“I wouldn’t know as many people in the food industry in New York as I know now,” she says. “I’ve only been here a year and a half and my network has really expanded in a small amount of time.”

Wells loves Cadence for the “surprises up its sleeve” — he didn’t expect to find the platonic ideal of potato salad in New York at a vegan restaurant.

Sohui Kim (Culinary Arts, ’02)

When Gage & Tollner shuttered in 2004, a collective cry could be heard by hungry New York City diners throughout the five boroughs. But New Yorkers can thank ICE alum Sohui Kim and her partners, Ben Schneider and St. John Frizell, who rode in on their horses together and saved the day for this Brooklyn steakhouse revival.

Though there was some pivoting due to the pandemic — the targeted opening date was March 15, 2020 — Gage & Tollner finally reopened their doors on Fulton Street in Downtown Brooklyn in April of 2021, and to much fanfare.

A Seoul-native, Chef Sohui moved to New York at 10 years old. Her extensive resume includes stints with high-profile chefs including Michael Anthony, Peter Hoffman and Anita Lo. Along with her husband, Ben Schneider, Chef Sohui is the co-owner of celebrated restaurants The Good Fork and Insa, also located in Brooklyn; glitzy Gage & Tollner rounds out their collection of restaurants.

The menu, led by Executive Chef Adam Shepard, “offers a contemporary view of Gilded Age indulgence,” Wells says in his roundup. Showstopping dishes include a mammoth chilled seafood platter royale complete with caviar service, clams kimsino (with bacon-kimchi butter), veal chop with roasted shallot-porcini verjus and roasted skate wing on the bone. All of that indulgence — paired with a classic martini or sazerac — Gage & Tollner has been deemed by the NYT well worth the trip to Brooklyn.  

Bobby Yoon (Culinary/Management, ’16)

Chef Bobby grew up in a household where food was at the forefront, and later graduated from ICE with a dual degree in Culinary Arts and Restaurant & Culinary Management. He's gone on to work at venerable restaurants including Danji and O Ya before opening Yoon Haeundae Galbi in bustling Koreatown in 2018. 

Paying homage to his grandfather’s restaurant Haeundae Somunnan Amso Galbijip in Busan, South Korea, which has been in operation since 1964, all meat served at the New York iteration “is prepared with unparalleled technique,” per the restaurant’s website. 

Though Chef Bobby’s restaurant is a more modern take on the Busan location, one thing remains the same — short ribs are given the Haeundae cut, a tenderization method developed by Bobby’s grandfather himself. Per Wells’ review last summer, the cut “goes with the grain, leaving a two-inch length of bone at one end of a long, wide belt of meat. Yoon then goes at the beef with a knife, making long, deep slashes across the grain to break up the sinews.” Those short ribs and meats of all kinds, including brisket, rib eye and bulgogi, are served on the grill, stuffed in dumplings or studded in noodle dishes. 

“The meat is cooked on what looks like an ancient warrior’s helmet; all the fat and juices run down to a wide brim,” adds Wells. 

“I am very proud to be part of [the] ICE community,” Chef Bobby says. “More fun and exciting [things in] 2022 are coming.”

Pursue your culinary dreams at ICE.

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