Cooking and Teamwork Go Hand in Hand

The Institute of Culinary Education mixes cooking and teamwork

Institute of Culinary Education

A pizza-making class at the Institute of Culinary Education (ICE), in New York City, had all the ingredients Ashley Higgins, director of prime services division for banking giant Barclays, needed for a successful teambuilding event.

"In our industry, there has been a lot of change with additional regulatory focus," says Higgins. "We are doing more with less, and our days are more strained than ever. It's important to step away and focus on decompression with colleagues. Doing this helps morale."

Her group of 30 consisted of women in her division as well as the senior leadership of the New York City-based team.

Together, they donned aprons and perfected their dough-making skills while creating the pizzas of their choice, choosing from a variety of toppings. "This class was a great opportunity for us to get away from the office and get to know each other informally," says Higgins. While the pizzas baked, the group had the chance to socialize. "Prime Pizza Night was perfect, as the recipe wasn't that challenging, so we had time to interact."

Then the pies were sliced and sampled. "In typical finance form, we made a competition out of it, and ended up voting for everyone's favorite pizza," says Higgins. The event was such a success that other divisions within Barclays have headed to ICE for the class.

ICE's New Home
ICE, New York City's oldest culinary school, is now its newest, as it recently opened a new facility at Brookfield Place in Battery Park City in Lower Manhattan, with windows looking out over the Hudson River. This is the largest culinary education facility built in a major American city in more than 10 years. ICE, one of the largest and most diverse culinary schools in the world, hosts more than 500 special events each year.

The new 74,000-square-foot facility is an amusement park for chefs and food lovers, featuring a culinary technology lab, an indoor hydroponic farm, and a chocolate lab featuring "bean-to-bar" chocolate production equipment. The lab, the first of its kind in the U.S., is focused on the entire process of making chocolate, from roasting the beans all the way to tempering and molding chocolate bars, bonbons, and more.

A hearth oven, tandoor, plancha, rotary evaporator, centrifuge, and vertical rotisserie are among the latest gadgets offered at the new facility. ICE's new home is a far cry from Peter Kump's Upper East Side apartment where the organization was founded 40 years ago, but it still offers a loose, out-of-the-box atmosphere ideal for group gatherings.

"Colleagues who may not typically work together in the office can build relationships here in a fun environment where there isn't any stress," says Gina Mignon, ICE's director of special events.

ICE's new home is going to add a whole new level of excitement to teambuilding events, as groups have all the new equipment to work with, says Mignon. Take the new chocolate-making lab: Attendees can take truffle-making classes here as well as chocolate tastings and wine and chocolate pairings.

When groups come to Mignon looking to host events with teambuilding as a goal, she recommends they include a "secret ingredient" component, adding an unexpected ingredient into their dishes. "The head chef for the evening will then judge how each team worked together and how they incorporated the secret ingredient into their dishes. They will be judged on how the dish tasted and how it was presented," explains Mignon.

Mixing Camaraderie
Maura McCabe, FSO planner of meeting and event services for accounting firm Ernst & Young LLP, planned a spirited ICE event for an internal tax group and one of its clients. "They wanted to do something different that was interactive," says McCabe.

A mixology class fit the bill for the group of 50. Following a 90-minute hands-on lesson in the basics of mixology -- from the importance of using fresh juices to how to make the perfect cocktail -- the group made and sampled several cocktails that were then paired with a meal.

McCabe told ICE's special events director her budget, and it was met. "The mixology event was a twist on a traditional cooking class," explains McCabe. "Activities like this are great for people who may struggle with networking. It's a common ground that brings the group together and helps facilitate conversation."

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This article appears in the August 2015 issue of Successful Meetings.