2015 NY Rising Stars How To Make It Panel at the Institute of Culinary Education

Sound Bites from NYC’s “Rising Stars”

Photo Credit: Megan Swann

This year, StarChefs.com was proud to announce the 9th class of New York City “Rising Stars”—a selection of 26 upstart chefs, beverage professionals, artisans, and innovators. This year, two ICE alumni—Ann Redding, Chef/Owner of Uncle Boons, and Mina Pizarro, Pastry Chef at Juni—were named among the city’s young leaders. We were also thrilled to host an exclusive panel discussion with a handful of these promising new talents. Read below their thoughts on everything from landing that first job and finding the right mentor to becoming the kind of leader that will shape the industry’s future.

StarChefs - Rising Stars - NYC - Panel - Institute of Culinary Education
Photos: StarChefs.com

How long should culinary school graduates stay in their first job?

  • John Daley (New York Sushi Ko): Stay until you’re done learning.
  • Bryce Shuman (Betony): Before I went to culinary school, at my first job, I started out as a dishwasher—and within two and a half years was the chef de cuisine. You determine when you’re ready to leave, but there is a lot to be said for dedicating some time.
  • Jen King (Liddabit Sweets): While you want to stay and learn—you also stay to learn about what you don’t want. And you can gain a lot from the experience of putting your head down and working through the challenges when it’s hard.


JJ Johnson - Rising Stars - NYC - Star Chefs - Interview
JJ Johnson of The Cecil shares his innovative approach to hiring staff from the local community.[

What do you personally look for in new hires?

  • JJ Johnson (The Cecil): We hire 80% of our workers from Harlem, the Bronx, and Upper Manhattan. I interviewed 1,000 people to hire for a kitchen of 46. I don’t believe there are that many good people in the world, and I’ll choose a good person over a good cook—because a good person is going to show up.
  • Travis Swikard (Boulud Sud): It depends on the kitchen they’re coming from. I like to take on young people who might have had problems at another restaurant and build them back up, but if you’ve been through five different kitchens in the last three years…that’s a problem.
  • Liz Gutman (Liddabit Sweets): We like to see a demonstrated ability to commit. What we do requires a lot of skill, so we’re not looking to retrain new staff on a regular basis.

How have mentors shaped your career?

  • Richard Kuo (Pearl & Ash): I got hired at wd~50 after a four-month stage, and what I learned most from Wylie was to question every little thing you do. Cooks generally don’t question the cause and effect of what they’re doing—it’s all “yes, chef.” But it should be like mathematics, and once you understand the basic principles, you can think outside the box.
  • Mina Pizarro (Juni): My greatest mentor was Richard Capizzi. What I initially thought was crazy—soulful cooking—that’s what Richard is. That’s what he taught me and the yield is contentment.
  • Erin Kanagy-Loux (Reyard): Peter Edris was my mentor in school. Anything I was frustrated with, he pushed me to do it again, again, again. He helped me to understand the way things work and inspired me to get into teaching.
  • John Daley (New York Sushi Ko): When someone you respect who is a driver in the industry will tell you what he or she knows—listen. You may not understand what or why he’s telling you to do something—you may even disagree—but then five, ten years later it will suddenly hit you, and you’ll realize why.


Mina Pizarro - Juni - ICE Alumnus - StarChefs - Rising Stars - NYC - Interview
ICE alum and Pastry Chef at Juni, Mina Pizarro, shares her thoughts on leadership and changing careers.

Have you ever worked abroad?

  • Richard Kuo (Pearl & Ash): I was fortunate to grow up in Taiwan and Australia, but it was important for me to travel abroad for the challenge of new local ingredients, of learning to adapt. And where I come from is more conservative—in New York you can cook outside the box.
  • John Daley (New York Sushi Ko): I’ve worked in Japan several times, and the main thing I’ve learned is that working abroad—it becomes your life. You live, eat and breathe cooking. If you’re not ready to take it on as your entire life…there are 100 other things you can do [other than cooking].
  • Travis Swikard (Boulud Sud): I worked in the countryside of London for a restaurant that was pushing for a Michelin star. We lived on the grounds, worked from 8am to 2am every day. And then I worked for [iconic UK chef] Marco Pierre White for three months. We only were doing 30 covers a night, but it was the most intense kitchen experience of my life.

What has it been like to start your own business?

  • Jen King (Liddabit Sweets): Liz and I really didn’t know what we were getting into. One year into opening Liddabit Sweets, we took a 16-week business course …only to learn that we had already done each of the “3 things you must never do.”
  • Liz Gutman (Liddabit Sweets): [The business] needs to matter to you, because success is not a foregone conclusion. The passion needs to be there.
  • Daniela Soto-Innes (Cosme): It’s been crazy seeing a strip club transform into a restaurant. Coming from a different country, we had no resources here—I walked into J.B. Prince asking about where to hire a cook and they looked at me like I was crazy. But today, we have people fighting to get in—don’t let anyone tell you can’t do it. You can make anything happen if you work as a team.

Star Chefs - Rising Stars - Liz Gutman - Interview
The founders of Liddabit Sweets were among the expert StarChefs panelists.

What are your thoughts on being a good leader?

  • Mina Pizarro (Juni): I changed careers—from advertising to pastry—and it gives you perspective. My management style is more familial than militant…until you make me mad.
  • Jen King (Liddabit Sweets): You don’t need to like a person to respect them. You don’t get the best out of people by treating them like a piece of [junk].
  • Travis Swikard (Boulud Sud): Nobody does this alone. In order to become an incredible chef, you need to be able to light a fire in people, to inspire a great team.

Ready to join their ranks? Launch your career in just 6-13 months at ICE.