top of page
  • Writer's pictureAnthony Manuel Ramos

Updated: Jan 19, 2021

I applied to the French Culinary Institute (FCI) in late 2007 and would start classes early February 2008 in their part-time evening program that met Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 5pm to about 11:30 pm. As the date got closer, the school invited our student group to an orientation so that we could meet our other classmates and chef-instructors. The class was strictly limited to only 22 students. That evening when I met my fellow culinary colleagues, I was definitely the oldest aspiring student in the room. However, there was also a successful lawyer, a mom with two school-aged kids, and a high powered brand manager from a global consumer goods company. These woman had similar life and career experiences and I tended to gravitate to them most of the evening. We also had international students hailing from South America, Israel and the UK. We were a highly diverse group of individuals from many different backgrounds and levels of experience.

I anticipated my first day at FCI and when it arrived I was nervous and excited. I reviewed the lesson plan in advance, my chef uniform was pressed and ready and my fancy new black Dansko clogs were so comfortable albeit as ugly as sin itself! Becoming a student once again was humbling and the last time I was officially a student was 1992.

That first night in the FCI kitchen, I wondered if I accidentally signed up for the military instead. I’m uniformed, I have my weapons (a gorgeous set of knives, and cooking utensils), I’m wearing my regulation shoes and now I’ve received my post (a stainless steel work area with high-powered gas jets, and a French top cooking surface). Lastly, I had a strong introduction to my commanding officer - the Chef. Fine-tuned kitchens are run with organization, efficiency, attention to detail and respect for your fellow kitchen soldiers and most importantly the utmost respect for your ‘commander-in-ch(i)ef’ with replies of “Yes, Chef!” after every instruction and “Thank you, Chef!” after each critique. I was sweating bullets that night and I didn’t know what to expect and as the evening went on, I become more flustered. The professional kitchen is not the place to daydream, serious attention needs to be paid to what you are doing because it can be a hazardous place. Razor sharp knives, scalding pots, and a slippery floor can cause serious injury. Every movement must be calculated; every action must be thought out and then executed and implemented flawlessly.

That first night we learned traditional taillage (methods of cutting veggies) such as julienne, jardinière, macédoine, paysanne, and brunoise. We also learned how to prep vegetables with techniques such as émincer, ciseler, tronçonner, parer, hacher, concasser, and chiffonade. I was learning new terminology in a familiar language having studied French for four years.

We also practiced two methods of cooking vegetables; à l’anglaise is a method to cook vegetables prior to service and reheating at time of service and à l’étuvée is used à la minute, or at time of service and cooked to order.

The evening wound up around 11:15 pm and after changing back into my regular clothes, I raced to Grand Central Terminal to catch a train back to Westchester. It was a long, but rewarding day.

Here I was a new student, learning the basics, I gained a new appreciation for proper knife skills, the necessity of mise en place and respect for the professional kitchen and those individuals that work in the food industry day-after-day. I was weary and tired but knew in my heart I was exactly where I was supposed to be – in front of the stove.

67 views0 comments
  • Writer's pictureAnthony Manuel Ramos

Updated: Jan 8, 2021

After stints of working and cooking at various jobs during my late 20s, I still wondered what I wanted to be when I grew up. I believe that there are people that come into your life at certain times to help steer you in the right direction. Or, at the very least, point out the scenery and suggest possible destinations. I happen to be very lucky to cross paths with individuals that influenced my first real career in marketing and public relations. Strong women that encouraged me to think outside-of-the-box and develop a new set of skills and talents. I am forever grateful for these inspiring colleagues, gaining their confidence in me led to a 20-year career in the creative communications, marketing and development fields. And after living in Boston for almost two decades the opportunity to move to New York became a reality.

I landed first in Westchester County - just north of the city - and began working at a wildlife conservation nonprofit in NYC. I had always wanted to work in the nonprofit sector and after seven years at a dynamic PR agency it was a refreshing change. I enjoyed my new role as Director of Communications and after two full years at the organization the pot that I had put on the back burner started to bubble over. It dawned on me that this might be the right time in my life to go to culinary school. I was working in a city at the center of it all and started to contemplate the idea of working and attending culinary school in the evenings. I was 38 years old and figured it would be now or never.

There were two culinary schools in New York City that I would consider, the International Culinary Center (ICE) and the French Culinary Institute (FCI). Both schools had excellent part-time programs and my first step was to visit and tour both facilities.

My first appointment was at ICE located in the flatiron district on West 23rd Street in NYC. The admissions officer (who seemed to clearly lack my excitement and energy for being there) gave me a full private tour of the school, the culinary and pastry classrooms spanned many floors and many of the kitchen classrooms had windows that looked out at the skyline letting natural light flood the space. That impressed me since so many commercial kitchens did not have that commodity. Many notable chefs taught at ICE when it was formerly known as Peter Kump's New York Cooking School. Notable instructors in those early days included James Beard, Simone Beck, and Marcella Hazan. And noted ICE graduates included Marc Murphy, a current judge on Food Network's Chopped, and my one of my favorites, Gail Simmons, a judge on Bravo's Top Chef. ICE was a viable option and the facility was well appointed but one thing I couldn’t ignore was the incredibly strong smell of disinfectant that hung in the air. Understandably, I knew its purpose but it was so strong it practically burned my nasal passages. That afternoon, I left ICE slightly cold and I was curious to see how the French Culinary Institute (FCI) in SoHo was going to compare.

The following week, I trekked down to SoHo for my appointment at FCI. The school sat on the corner of Broadway and Grand Street – the cast-iron architecture and façade were indeed grand and beautifully ornate. Cast-iron architecture in this neighborhood in lower Manhattan was all the rage from 1840 to about 1880 and SoHo had a distinct artsy bohemian chic sensibility.

The restaurant, L’Ecole, is perched at street level and is where FCI students gets hands-on experience as the chefs de cuisine for paying patrons. I ascended to the second-floor lobby, the interior design was a mix of industrial and modern. As I approached the waiting area, my ears immediately picked up on a video that was playing on a loop, some of it entirely in French, and my Francophile brain felt welcomed. I was greeted warmly by the receptionist and waited patiently for my appointment with admissions.

The tour began with a peek inside the amphitheater where cooking demonstrations and lectures were held on an ongoing basis. From there we ascended to the next floor where numerous culinary classrooms were located and I was able to peer into an active class in progress. Rows and rows of gas ranges, French tops, ovens and stacks of pots and pans neatly organized flanked the wall on stainless-steel shelves. The students dressed in traditional kitchen garb, all gathered around the master Chef as he explained some cooking technique with a demonstration. From there the group broke up and began their lesson for the day, with an almost orchestrated dance. Gathering their mise en place, cutting boards, cutlery, and neatly stacked kitchen towels, the students worked in tandem teams and set out to cook.

Moving on, we toured the pastry and then bread kitchens. The pastry students were working on crafting spun sugar into ornate shapes and molding chocolate for spectacular desserts. The aroma of baguettes, glossy brioche, and freshly baked croissants from the bread kitchen was intoxicating. I was a kid in a culinary candy store with my face plastered against the glass ogling delicate French pastries, tartes and soufflés.

The tour continued on an upper floor to check out the student lounge and well-stocked library filled to the rafters with cookbooks and research materials. A wall in the lounge had photos of well-known FCI graduates including Dan Barber, David Chang, Wylie Dufresne, Bobby Flay, Daisy Martínez, and Christina Tosi, along with the school’s foremost Deans including Jacques Pépin, Jacques Torres, André Soltner and, Alain Sailhac. A cornucopia of culinary talent!

The admissions director sat down to chat about my motivation to attend FCI and my goals. He pointed out that every student that enrolls receives a full set of Mercer chef’s knives, various pastry and kitchen utensils all packed in a heavy-duty black canvas case. Student names are also stitched on three chef’s jackets accompanied by checked chef’s pants, aprons, neckerchiefs and beanies.

The entire experience felt right. I knew I was at a place where I could drop everything I thought I knew about cooking at the entrance door and go in tabula rasa and be trained in the classic techniques of French cuisine. My mind was made up and I was ready to apply to be in the next class. I could hardly contain my excitement – just the mere thought of graduating as a chef from the French Culinary Institute was a dream that was finally in reach and in my sights.

- to be continued -

68 views0 comments
  • Writer's pictureAnthony Manuel Ramos

When I was in high school, a field trip to the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) located upstate New York made an indelible impression on me. From a young age, I had become very interested in cooking. I will never forget my attempt at making a pound cake that required mace (the lacey outer covering of nutmeg) as an important ingredient. My Mother did not have it in her spice rack so I had to go out and find it for myself.

I was determined to follow the recipe to the letter and it required an ingredient I had never known prior. The cake itself turned out OK, nothing remarkable, I do recall how frustrated that the end result wasn’t some glorious baked masterpiece. And, not only that, the amount of time it took to measure, sift, combine, and bake this ultimately mediocre cake was A LOT of effort. I believe my spiced pound cake experience landed me on the other side of the kitchen and had me focus more on dinners rather than dessert. It’s probably all for the better, I was more help in the family kitchen - particularly for Sunday dinners.

Gathering around the family table in the early afternoon for our main meal was a special Sunday affair in my eyes. My parents instilled a love of food and appreciation of culinary traditions. Growing up in our household we were exposed to traditional Portuguese and Polish foods from my parent’s family roots. My “apprenticeship” in my Mom’s kitchen began very early in my life learning to help make those comforting Sunday meals. I became fascinated with the culture of food and its importance in our very own traditions – from there on I’ve had a love affair with food that continues to fuel my culinary passion. Both my parents cooked, and had a very distinct appreciation for good food. My father also baked bread at a local bakery and brought home some of the most delicious warm Italian bread, rolls, and semolina loaves. Good bread and giant bags of freshly made bread crumbs were commonplace.

But let’s get back to that field trip to the CIA. We had a very fancy lunch served and prepared by a team of CIA students. I recall having an incredibly rich and flavorful shrimp bisque in particular. The rest of the menu evades me, but course after course, I was swept up in the presentation and elegance of fine dining. Then and there, I decided I wanted to take my amateur cooking skills to the next level by attending culinary school. I thought long and hard about my future and wondered if cooking would be my ultimate career or something that satisfied my soul, personal growth, and raison d'être. It was a tough decision to ponder.

I chose the path to attend Boston University to get a well-rounded liberal arts degree and I am extremely thankful for my education and that college experience. College taught me how to think and decipher information that was presented to me. But in the back of my mind that gnawing thought of going to culinary school never waned. After college, I casually entertained the thought of going to Johnson & Wales in Providence, RI or the New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, VT. Living in Boston, both schools were not commutable. So, I put my desire to go to a culinary school on the proverbial back burner - set to simmer.

My love of cooking bubbled into hosting dinner parties, and even private catering. I also held some jobs in the food industry. I was a counter boy at an upscale café located in a gorgeous newly renovated and historic building. The café was located in a venerated Bostonian haberdashery called Louis, Boston. That experience was an incredible hands-on education. A few years later, I also held the reigns as a barista and then was promoted to head cook and kitchen manager at a neighborhood café in Boston’s South End.

Anthony Ramos
Portrait of a budding Chef circa 1997-98

In retrospect, I absolutely respect the chefs that learned to cook without a structured culinary background. Toques off to that breed of chef and in many ways, I was taking that same path of on the job learning as I dabbled in the food industry, testing ideas and recipes, it was an invigorating time in my life. But that desire to be classically trained was a burning ember inside me. I craved a formal culinary education, I wanted to ultimately learn how to think like a chef. - to be continued -

78 views0 comments
bottom of page