New Internship, New Lessons

By Kieu Tran, NYC: When I first came to New York, nine months seemed like a really long time. And as cliche as it may sound, time really does fly. I have a little under three months left and one of my biggest priorities in the last month was to find an internship.

I finished my first internship earlier this year. I interned at Michelin star restaurant The Modern. I could not have asked for a better internship and experience. I learned production for bar and dining room desserts. I got to experience plating during service. I was lucky enough to be a part of a team who was willing to teach and mentor me in terms of procedure and technique. I am truly grateful to have had the opportunity to meet and join the Modern pastry family for the past few months.

It was bittersweet leaving the internship. I was really nervous at first interning in a kitchen. Thoughts of maybe I’ll mess up, maybe I’ll get stuck doing grunt work, maybe I won’t be good enough played through my head. What I realized at the end was that I needed to have those fears. I needed to learn that I am capable of working in a kitchen in terms of speed and technique. I needed to gain that confidence in my ability and self. I left a group of really wonderful people who taught me to believe in myself and trained me to be a better pastry chef.

I also left the internship knowing that I needed experience in a bakery. I wanted to learn things I couldn’t necessarily find at school. For a few weeks, I was trying to find that fit. Chefs Move even sent Chef Lisa to New York to help me scavenge. We went to a lot of dessert and bakery places. We even had a long walk and talk through Central Park during the snow, which was something I always wanted to experience.

Chef Lisa’s visit pointed me into my current internship. She gave me the motivation to figure out what I wanted, to seek out the best internship for myself and to just do it.

I am currently interning at Silkcakes under premier cake Chef Judy Lai. I have a cake decorating internship. So far I’m learning to open my eyes to detail, the very smallest of details matter. I’m learning to create a cleaner product. I’ve learned that if you do something right the first time, you don’t have to waste time to do it over. I’ve been there for one week and it’s helped me to do better in school in terms of my chocolate project. I made a conscious effort to work with speed but producing a clean project. I made a good grade so I’m guessing it paid off.

I really love my internship and school is going really well. I’m in level two and were heading into individual dessert 2. I’m really excited about learning how to make soufflés.

I look forward to telling you more about desserts and my new internship soon!

Best,
Kieu

New York Escapades

BY KIEU TRAN, NYC: This will be the year. We all make New Year’s resolutions, I know I do. And with every promise, I am gung-ho that I’m going to follow through.

The other night, walking home from class, my friend Emily said, “Let’s all make New Year’s resolutions.” Without really thinking, I sarcastically blurted, “I’m still trying to work on this year’s resolution.”

I’ve promised year in and year out to lose weight, to always look presentable, to say yes to living life, to chase happiness, to get a 4.0 G.P.A. every semester and to figure out what I wanted to do. All, of course, failed by the time Mardi Gras rolled around. But, it recently dawned on me that I’m actually following through on this year’s resolution. My goal was to chase my dream of becoming a pastry chef.

In the midst of chasing my dream, an encounter with Chef John Besh enlightened me to something important. Something that has veered this month’s blog away from school. I volunteered at the Food and Wine John Besh Oyster Bash in October. There, Chef Besh told me that school is just a very small portion of the experience.

Experience. Why didn’t I think of that? But, more importantly, what I heard was to relish every moment, that I’ve been given an experience. It is an experience that goes beyond school, it’s a New York experience, a culinary Mecca, the sponge waiting to be soaked up, and one that will help me become a great pastry chef one day.

This past month, I’ve done a lot of experiencing. I’ve walked out the subway and saw a huge Ronald McDonald statue with a man frantically shining the shoe. People were crowded around with cameras out and the cops asking the man if he needed to go to an emergency room. I realized then that I was in the presence of something weirdly awesome. It was the famous street artist Banksy’s Shoe Shiner piece at play.

I’ve watched the sun rise atop the Williamsburg bridge. I’ve tasted oysters shucked and prepped right in front of me by Todd English. I’ve learned the romantics in dining for one. I’ve explored Central Park and climbed rocks on my date day with New York! I’ve had the New York staples of Shake Shack and a Salty Pimp at Big Gay Ice Cream. I’ve strolled almost every inch of the Lower East Side and wandered Chinatown, walking in and out of shops and restaurants and found myself feasting on pho and spring rolls. I’ve found my “secret hiding spot” in my dorm. A terrace that overlooks Soho that I escape to witness the peacefulness that is New York’s unknown gem. I’ve made friends that I know I’ll keep for a lifetime.

I’ve volunteered alongside Chef Besh, saw him cook, and listened in on his love and thirst for good food. I’ve tasted tripe because Chef Besh cut and handed me a piece and I’ve learned to try everything at least once. And you just don’t say no to food given to you by John Besh.

I’ve volunteered for Chef Kelly Fields, who inspires me in ways she’ll never know. I’m learning from her the ways of being a badass in the kitchen and to step out of my comfort zone. I’ve watched her hold her own next to the culinary guys, and bake without recipes. I’ve realized that that’s the kind of pastry chef I want to be. That’s the kind that I will be one day, mark my words.

I told you I experienced a lot this past month and I can’t wait to chase some more. I don’t know what I did to be lucky enough to be here, but I won’t take one moment for granted! I hope all of you have a wonderful Thanksgiving! I will be spending it with my family, and baking of course!

 

Until the next escapade,

Kieu

Wax On, Wax Off

By KIEU TRAN, NYC: Wax on, wax off. Mr. Miyagi may have taught the karate kid the tenants of hard work and practice, I learned it from my family. My grandma has worked until 2 a.m. for as long as I can remember. My parents work overtime to provide everything and more for my siblings and me.

I was “lucky” enough to only dance with the idea of hard work. I was expected to go to school and do well. Simple enough. But it wasn’t hard work, it’s like a dancer twerking as their audition to get into Julliard. Mediocre, at best.

This past week, I worked hard. I started my first week at The Modern. New environment. New recipes. 30 hours. And I enjoy every moment. At The Modern, we earn our recipes. I’m expected to chase after what I want to learn. I spun ice cream for the first time today. I’m also getting some whipping cream muscles. The people there are wonderful, always willing to teach and work as a team. Everyday when Chef Marc Aumont comes in, he shakes his pastry teams’ hands and greets them. How can you not love working there?

Aside from work, I’ve been balancing school. I am on the bread section. I’ve learned how to make croissants and Challah. (The “c” in Challah is silent by the way.)

Straight from my Saturday morning class, I raced to volunteer at the James Beard Foundation. It was an amazing experience. I got to plate, prep and work in a culinary line. I got to touch a truffle in real life. Best of all, I was in the home of greatness. Being there made my 17-hour work day worth it.

Every day this week, I came home tired and my feet ached. But with every day, I learned something new. I tested and worked myself a little harder. I am living my dream. All those things are worth it.

I’ve learned that working hard isn’t considered hard work if you love what you do. Hard work to me is giving my all, while chasing after what I love. I love what I do and I’m so grateful to be here.

Being Humble is the New Black

BY KIEU TRAN, NYC: Listen and respect your elders. I’ve heard that adage many times over, and its resonating tone rings a similar bell here in NYC.

A week ago, I met Jacques Pepin. I saw him de-bone a chicken in under 2 minutes, carve a rosette out of butter, and filet a fish within a blink of an eye. And throughout his demo, he oozed humility and had so much culinary knowledge. He told the crowd that to be great in the culinary world is to humble and to be open to learning.

With that advice, I approached my trails with the same notion. This past week I trailed at The Modern and Gramercy Tavern. They were both amazing restaurants and great learning experiences. At the Modern, I got to make macarons and watch Marc Aumont make chocolate. At the Gramercy Tavern, I got to see a fast-paced kitchen during service. It was like watching the  road-runner at work. Instead they were in chef coats with more agility, precision and craft, which was awesome to watch.

From demos to trailing, are you wondering what about school? School is amazing, as always. I’m in the puff pastry section. Making lamenated dough is oddly therapeutic and there’s so many desserts you can make with it.

It’s been a really busy month, as you can see. But I’ve also snuck in some great NYC time. I visited the Statue of Liberty, which is absolutely beautiful in person coupled with the Manhattan skyline. I visited the 9/11 memorial. I went to a Valrhona chocolate class and had dinner with Chef Kelly Fields, she’s awesome. And lastly, I had one of my NYC food highlights this month at Ippudo. Long wait, best ramen I’ve ever had! Don’t tell my grandma.

I’ll talk to you all next month. Stay tuned for updates on my internship at The Modern.

-Kieu

Tarted Out and Loving It!

BY KIEU TRAN, NYC: People search their entire lives to find a place where they belong—it’s human nature.

I spent the past few years, trying to find my fit in college. I attempted to plaster myself into the typical journalism student mold, writing for student magazines and newspapers. But I never felt that sense of belonging.  Here at the International Culinary Center, things are different.

It’s been a month since I left New Orleans and started the pastry program in New York. And for the first time, I feel like I belong in school.

We’re currently in the tarts and cookies section. On the first day, I made my very first apple tart. Since then, we’ve made a lot of tarts. My favorite parts are making, rolling and molding the dough. Eating it was fun too, until about Tart Day 3 when I realized I was tarted out and it was accumulating in my dorm fridge. I’ve learned to give it away.

It’s been a really great first month. I love school–from the chef demos to being in class to volunteering to make sugar sandcastles. I’ve made some great friends.  People who understand the happiness that is a pate brisee and that you can never have too much vanilla sugar. And everyday I fall a little bit more in love with New York and I’m learning to navigate the city on my own.

Am I making my first month sound a little too dreamy? Well, there’s a downside. I’m still waiting for my New York feet. You know, the kind where you can walk miles and still have blister-free feet. Maybe next month?

Until next time,

Kieu