Alumni Spotlight: International Culinary Center
Katzie Guy-Hamilton is a nationally recognized Pastry Chef and creative recognized as a Top Ten Pastry Chefs in America by Dessert Professional Magazine in 2014. Her most recent role for chocolate brand Max Brennar International placed Katzie in the lead of their Global Food and Beverage business, overseeing innovation and serving as brand ambassador for media spots and events. Prior to this, Katzie ran the Pastry departments at Grand Hyatt’s New York flagship in Grand Central and the celebrated pastry program at New York’s trendsetting Ace Hotel. She trained in California under pastry maven Sherry Yard at Wolfgang Puck’s Spago Beverly Hills. As the graduate of the French Culinary Institute and recipient of its Outstanding Alumni of the Year for 2011, industry-leading talents earned her a spot on Season Two of the television cooking competition, Top Chef: Just Desserts.
Interests extend beyond the professional world through community impact work. Extra curriculars include sharing healthy cooking skills with Goal4Kids youth in Harlem and serving for 2 years as Co-Chair of October Ball which benefits the Catholic Big Sister’s and Big Brothers Organization. Katzie embodies the concept of living mindfully balanced and is training to become a certified Health Coach by the Institute for Integrative Nutrition. Katzie’s mission is to inspire others to explore their happiest selves through clean eating, delicious indulgences and a collective approach to integrative health. Katzie has appeared on Fox Network, Martha Stewart Radio, CBS, Food Network, Bravo TV and Internationally appearing in Japanese, Australian and Korean media.
Where did you grow up and who impacted you as a child that led you to pursue a career in pastry?
I grew up in Worcester, Massachusetts, about 45 minutes outside of Boston. I had the idyllic New England experience in a neighborhood with tree-lined streets, kids all in the same age group, lemonade stands and flashlight tag. This environment definitely fostered my creativity. I realized I loved to feed people and spent my teenage years making treats for family, friends and anyone who would eat them. Ultimately, I made the decision to pursue this hobby as my profession, where to this day, the simple pleasure of sharing a treat with a loved one or to foster a connection is something that still brings me the most fulfillment.
How did you get into the industry?
I started at my summer camp, opting to work in the kitchen one summer instead of being a counselor. I thrived in the environment and was able to see the direct exchange between my hard work and other’s happy faces. I went to culinary school at The French Culinary Institute (now International Culinary Center) in New York City and paired that experience with an externship at the Gotham Bar and Grill under Pastry Chef Deborah Racicot. I think the classic French discipline, paired with flavor forward New England desserts presented in a fine dining environment was a lucky move for me. I was able to connect classic techniques with execution that was my own personal style from the beginning. After school I flew off to work for Sherry Yard at Spago Beverly Hills where I connected with Sherry’s dynamic nature. Being trained within the bounds of California cuisine is a huge advantage both in savory and sweet disciplines. Young pastry cooks understand the importance of beautifully executed bases (think doughs, creams, cakes, etc.) being paired with unbelievable produce to create desserts that have remarkable depth of flavor regardless of whether or not they are executed in a casual or intricate manner.
What specifically attracted you to the International Culinary Center?
Sherry Yard’s first cookbook “The Secrets of Baking” broke down pastry into foundational techniques, which I then built on to create more intricate desserts. This approach was also reflected in the curriculum at the International Culinary Center in a way that I could grasp and I knew it was the right move for me to go there. I feel strongly that it was the best place for me to start, learn and gain confidence. The school balances having a broad sampling with enough repetition of techniques to leave students ready to take on more and hone their skills further in whichever area they choose. Finding the middle ground between lacking confidence and being too ego driven is a tough space to achieve and I feel the ICC helps their graduates get to this middle ground beautifully.
What were a few of the standout lessons you’ve taken with you from the International Culinary Center?
I was taught to edit myself very early on at ICC. I believe it was some sort of strawberry, pink peppercorn, rosemary and chocolate puff pastry concoction that, while delicious in theory, none of the favors were allowed to stand out. Allowing a flavor or a pairing to shine in a way that is not contrived is important to me while layering ingredients in desserts to this day. I was also taught a lot about time management and organization. While it is a lifelong practice, understanding your end goal and how to get there is all about taking the right steps, evaluating and organizing yourself. It definitely pays off.
You worked at the Hyatt. What role does/should food and beverage play at a hotel? How has a hotel’s approach to food and beverage evolved?
Food and beverage is intricately intertwined with a guests stay at Hyatt, or any hotel for that matter. Guest needs range from accessible coffee in the morning to quick lunches, late dinners or snacks that are available for a variety of cravings. You not only are catering to a guest that is on vacation, and with that mindset, but experiential dining experiences are important. You are also dealing with business travelers that spend their time as road warriors and need a semblance of balance via the food and beverage offerings they gravitate toward. Add the complex system of in room dining, how to make it current, managing operations and finances for a large hotel and banquet hall that handles events of 1,000 on a regular basis and you have a very dynamic production list. You have to adapt to each of the dining outlets while streamlining the production of the larger events.
It is pretty amazing in a world so focused on healthier eating, that pastry, dessert and chocolate are more popular than ever. Why? And what role should decadence play on a menu?
Believe it or not, I am a health coach as well as a pastry chef and food and beverage director. My philosophy is quite simple: I encourage people to stop demonizing desserts, by taking responsibility for their health and wellness through clean eating of whole real foods. The more you take care of yourself the more likely you are to appreciate the best desserts and they stop becoming a vice. Balance is as overused as rejuvenation and integration; however respecting your body allows you freedom to appreciate a craft like pastry.
You’ve given so much back to charities. What role does that play in terms of who you are? Is it ironic that a pastry chef is teaching and advocating for healthier eating?
You must give back. Whether financially or with your time. I have always stood by the fact that I am so lucky to have had the experiences, opportunities and guidance throughout my youth and career. Not everyone is as lucky. If I am able to impart knowledge, time, inspiration and encouragement to those that may not receive it on a daily basis I am sharing my gifts with the world. I do not want anyone to live in a bucket of excess or denial of pure joy. Your health is directly related to your overall success both professionally and personally. If I can promote health as a vehicle to pursue your dreams, as well as walk this talk, I am doing my job.
What career advice would you offer recent pastry school graduates?
Focus. Work hard. Say yes to everything. Be humble. Take care of yourself. Burning yourself out isn’t sexy. You can still be driven and keep a grasp on what matters. You do not and should not know everything. Learn the basics. Listen. Be grateful for the people that are teaching you. It is hard to do and such a gift. Remind yourself that your ego is crap now and always—trust me. Work to keep your soul filled with the fantasy driven world of desserts and the rest will come.
Crystal ball, what lies ahead?
Clean Eats Dirty Desserts and hopefully a golden retriever named Sears.
To learn more about the International Culinary Center’s award-winning professional programs, visit www.culinarycenter.com or call 888-324-2433.