Road Taken: The long road to the kitchen

Spring 2017

Leslie Lipton in the kitchen holding a plate she prepared.How on earth did I end up working in a luxury theater’s kitchen after 20-plus years as an attorney? This is not a follow-your-dream story, although it does have a happy ending.

I graduated as a political science and music major. With an unclear idea of my future, I attended law school. It was parent approved and a chance to enjoy my 20s in New York City. In 1985, there was (and still is!) a glut of lawyers, which made finding a job a challenge. But, my mother was an immigration attorney, and she had just opened her own office. Also, Ronald Reagan’s new Immigration Reform and Control Act was giving amnesty to undocumented immigrants, so my mother was busy and needed help. That’s how I ended up in the immigration field.

After 9/11, things changed drastically. The U.S. government was slamming immigration doors shut. In 2005, business began to slow down and there was talk of closing our office. I started to look for other jobs in the legal field; however, I was not trained as an expert in anything other than immigration law. In 2009, with the economy crashing, we were forced to close our office. For almost four years, I tried to run a small office in New York, but the expense was a drain. Then one day, I saw it: a sign that said, “Coming Soon to Brookfield Place – The Institute of Culinary Education.” Ding, ding, ding!

I started culinary school in March 2015. It changed my life. I lost 25 pounds, I became happy again, I fell in love — with the chefs, with my young classmates, with the kitchen, with the pressure and the creation and the food! I nearly died keeping up with the 20-year-olds, but I did it, and graduated with honors in January 2016. My externship was at the five-star Peninsula Hotel on Fifth Avenue; after three months there, I was ready to find a job. And there are jobs — tons and tons of jobs, in wonderful, interesting, renowned, fancy kitchens in corporations, restaurants, and hotels.

After a brief stint at Café Conde Nast in the Freedom Tower, I was recruited by the iPic Gold Class Entertainment Group to help open up its new theater and restaurant at South Street Seaport NYC. In the past three months, I completed a grueling training program that included hands-on instruction from five-star chef Sherry Yard, opened a new theater venue with a restaurant called the Tuck Room, and survived 10-day work weeks through the holiday season. I am currently a line cook on both the garde manger and pastry stations. And yes, I’m living the dream.

— Leslie Lipton ’80