Interview with Taylor & Derek of Botanist Bar PDX

Posted on April 10, 2019

A gastro- cocktail bar that is one of the first of its kind, Botanist Bar PDX offers a unique experience, great cocktails, and delicious small plates in Portland’s Pearl District.

Botanist hosts one-of-a-kind special events every week. On Wednesdays, you can experience a 4 course experimental food night with a different dinner menu every week. Tuesday is experimental drink night, with a 4 drink menu that includes a mystery drink— if you guess all 4 ingredients in it you win a betting pool starting at $50.

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Behind this vision are two Oregon Culinary Institute alumni.

Taylor Figueroa is the Co-Owner/Partner at Botanist Bar. He graduated from OCI in 2012 with a Culinary Management Degree. Derek Boaz is Chef de Cuisine at Botanist, where his role includes helping come up with the food that appears on the menu. He is also a 2012 OCI grad with a Culinary Management Degree.

We sat down with Taylor and Derek to talk about their experience at Oregon Culinary Institute and to learn more about Botanist Bar PDX.

What brought you to OCI? / Why did you choose OCI?

Taylor: Taylor made his culinary school decision after going to the Le Cordon Bleu restaurant and finding that the food was just not good. He then tried OCI’s student-run restaurant and it was so much better. Taylor says he “I always wanted to be a chef,” and chose Portland specifically for school.

Derek: Derek first went to a 4-year school where he got a literature degree, though he decided didn’t want a masters or to work for the government. To Derek, “cooking felt like an adventure” and after school, he was living in Salem trying to get a job in a restaurant in Portland— getting callbacks for restaurant jobs but no offers as he did not have any culinary school experience. Going to Oregon Culinary Institute was a good way to move to Portland and network in the culinary industry so he could work at the restaurants he wanted to be at.

What were your goals coming into the program? Have those changed?

Taylor: His goals were to first be head chef by 25, then to own his own place by 30.

After OCI, Taylor was head chef by 21 at Vault 244 and then went on to become an owner at his bar Botanist at 25. He did the management program which taught him the back end of culinary management, so he learned how to do numbers, costing, recipe making, etc. where most people just learned to cook.

Derek: His goal was to line himself up with kitchens that required culinary school. He thought he knew how to cook before OCI but learned he had no clue how to cook in a top professional kitchen until OCI. The culinary program helped him learn the language of the culinary world. His goal was to push what he already knew and how to communicate with those who knew better.

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How would you describe your overall experience at OCI?

Taylor: “It was so great I wanted to take T-2 (term-2) twice.” The teachers were amazing (he talks to chef instructors) and helpful, supporting him throughout his whole time at OCI.

Derek: “F#@%ing wild.” Derek kept busy during his time at culinary school with 2 jobs in Salem, at urban farmer (4 days a week), and as a sorority house as a cook on weekends. One memory that stands out to Derek: “Chef Wilkie took me outside and told to consider my food after I made something ridiculous. I would stay up at night thinking about it. It was a conversation in passing that was a monumental turning point at OCI and something I consider to this day when making food. I can hear Chef Vidaya saying ‘That’s too much cinnamon’.” What he describes as a Jiminy Cricket experience, they were happy to help me be humble and shepherd my career instead of cultivating it. Letting him choose the path he wanted.

What is unique about the curriculum and how did that affect you after graduation?

Taylor: It’s really cool that OCI starts with the basics, and quickly evolves while making sure you understand the fundamentals like cooking rice and all the different grains— most people don’t know that kind of stuff off the top of their heads.

Derek: With so many moments when you have to use teamwork, he developed a group. Ten years later OCI grads are still helping each other, and he is still in contact with his classmates. Building relationships and networking, OCI set you up for that.

What is the environment like in the kitchen? In the classroom?

Taylor: In the kitchen it’s intense— the chef instructors push you, they make you work hard, and it’s nice. It’s not casual. In the class room they try to incorporate everything you learn into a food knowledge which is really fun, it made it more interesting to me. I hate writing but when the assignment is writing a blog post about what you just made in the kitchen I thought “Oh I can do that,” it makes it more familiar with what you want to learn about instead of just dry knowledge.

Derek: There are higher standards in OCI kitchen T1 and T2 than almost anywhere he’s ever worked except Gotham in New York which had standards (each station was carpeted and they had to prove a point on how clean the restaurant is). During Term 1 (T1) he remembers getting grilled about keeping his space clean and organized. Keep clean, keep in your space. It set me up to be able to work small, work clean so that he can work really well in small spaces. His current workspace is in a “one butt kitchen with two butts,” and OCI prepared him to be able to work in a space that size. As for the classroom experience, he had an expectation for OCI of what college courses were like from his 4-year college experience. It was jarring to have classes that were highly relational and collaborative. He describes 4-year college as “self-serious” which is very different than his experience at OCI. He could feel the ties in his field and amplify his experience.

What was the most useful thing you learned?

Taylor: Always better yourself. The knowledge of you are always having to work harder to do better. Don’t just try to beat everyone around you, you have to beat your own goals and challenge yourself, try to beat yourself. If you did it in five minutes today do it in four minutes tomorrow. His favorite quote from Chef Brophy was “no smiling in the kitchen it makes the food taste funny”. It took him a month after culinary school to understand it was a joke.

Derek: Networking yourself to the absolute maximum. I’ve gotten to meet and do cool things for incredible people just because I was friendly and ready to talk without any expectation. You don’t dislike food, you are challenged by it. Derek is so far removed from the idea of hating a specific food, and he attributes that to OCI. You have to know what food tastes like, you can’t have personal opinion when you are cooking for other people you have to have a professional one to make the most incredible food experience. Given a brand new respect for ingredients that challenge him. His favorite Chef Brophy quote was “Any job will go faster if you don’t do it so slow.”

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What was your experience like working in the OCI restaurant? Did you feel it provided real-world culinary practice?

Taylor: Working in the OCI restaurant was the greatest because he had a class where people would call in all the time, which made it just like the real world. Constantly understaffed and having to do 2 people's jobs and still do a great job.

Derek: He was in a unique class (this is the only time this has ever been done) that went to T3 before T2. Because of the size of the class, a handful of students with restaurant experience were selected to go to Term 3 (restaurant) before Term 2. “It was a steep learning curve, by week 3 hit our stride. Diving head first into restaurant service. All of us had worked in kitchens before but never as structured and classic as the OCI restaurant.” Since then looking back it looks like a fantasy land because of the limited menu, structure, and support. There is a reduced number of curve balls which is good for learning.

What was it like working with the chef instructors?

Taylor: It was great to have as many chef instructors as we did. Everyone’s personality was helpful, from tough to believing. Chef Bikram would still get your hopes up where Chef Brophy was harder on us.

Derek: “I have a Facebook memory of me every year that pops up wearing oven-mitts and a welding mask trying to cook, to avoid touching the food to taste it in a Chef Brophy’s class. I’m thankful for all the experiences both good in bad that I had in my direct relationships with all the chefs, I felt the class sizes were great for building 1-1 relationships with the chefs.” The faculty bring varying and degrees of professionalism, background, and education to the OCI team, making it easier to work for all types of personalities that run kitchens in the culinary industry.

How do you feel OCI prepared you to enter the culinary industry?

Taylor: “I didn’t have kitchen experience before OCI, it felt like on par with other people in professional kitchens even though I had less experience. Lack of experience made me try harder because I had something to prove and I had school to rep.”

Derek: “It’s hard to say because I was working at the nines hotel and urban farmer while going to school so I felt like I was applying what I was learning every single day to my work. The externship program was really helpful to my classmates and was convenient for me to just continue on where I was working. It made my transition to professional kitchens seamless.”

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About Botanist Bar PDX

Tell us about your cocktail bar!

Taylor: “Botanist at first was a mention of a friend of a friend that I worked around in Corvallis. He was the cocktail program manager at a bar that was a competitor, so I knew of Robbie, who is one of my partners, last year. I met him through a mutual friend Ian, who is now our front house manager. They offered me the job as chef, after looking at their business plan and sharing ideas a couple weeks/months after looking at the operation side they offered partner because of knowledge of back of house.” Now Taylor is the general manager and equal owner of Botanist, doing all the paperwork as well as working with food.

Botanist is one of the first gastro-cocktail bars. Most cocktail bars focus on cocktail program, Botanist focuses on the cocktail program and then incorporating food into it, using items 2 different ways in cocktails and food. It’s the same amount of effort— all the care that goes into crafting cocktails goes into the food as well. Neither one outshines the other.

Derek: Derek is new to Botanist, helping create menu items with care and creativity. He was working as an executive chef at a brewery and sat down with Taylor who talking about Botanist and he was offered a chef position.

“The common foundation we have from OCI has made it seamless to step into the kitchen with him again. The style of food at Botanist is very straight forward, well-crafted but not frivolous. It’s been really easy to distill the heart of it and put own spin on it. There is this incredible collaborative mindset that is indicative of the future of food services where chefs are as involved in food as cocktails. We have apple chutney in a pork dish which is paired with the big apple cocktail. Investment to find commonality between cocktail and food programs. Finding moments in the menu to offer a special cocktail for their experimental menu nights. It is all like several cogs turning all at once.”

Best and worst thing about running your own place?

Taylor: “The best part is knowing it’s for myself. There was a patio event and I slept at the bar to watch the tents for the event, was there for 48 hours straight. I would never have done that if it wasn’t my thousand dollar deposit on those tents. It’s nice to know that everything I am doing is investing in my own future. The worst part is probably the exact same thing, it’s my problem to fix when things go wrong. It’s fun, built a good team, push employees to do better. It’s cool to share your knowledge.”

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What is your favorite thing on your menu?

Taylor: “My goal is to do 3 things I want to do and 1 thing I am testing out to put own the menu. Sometimes all the things are really good and I will work them into the menu later. At the experimental dinner nights, the menu comes with comment boxes for customers to share their thoughts. It’s fun to read the comments and be like “F you, you’re wrong!” Or “Wow that’s a really great idea.” It’s our own Yelp. We sell tickets on Eventbrite or customers can come in, either way you pay in advance, which allows us to know how much food to order and prepare. Each experimental dinner night includes 4 courses that are based around a theme. Corn, rabbit, salads, olives, etc. The next time someone comes in who has made a comment I will let them know that was a genius idea. Creating our own local fan base. We are selling out.”

Derek: “Each experimental dinner night we are trying to make the moment special.”

What is your advice to people looking to break into the culinary world?

Taylor: Set your goals high, it’s a great thing to be into and you have to really want to do it to make it. Be committed, you can do it but it’s not for the weak of heart. You just have to make sure it’s something you really want to do.

Derek: Before you invest yourself in this wild world of rock and roll and sweet food you have to come to terms with yourself that this job will physically destroy you. It’s gonna be rock and roll all the time, late nights, meeting people you would have never met before, incredible food, flavor, alcohol, great opportunities at great cost. In love with the physical pain and the rewards you get.

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What does the day-to-day look like?

Taylor: “It’s a long day, you wake up to a bunch of texts and emails (ignore half of them and say I’ll get to it later but never do), teach employees how to do jobs in meetings, jump in the kitchen and kickass, clean it up and do it again. It’s a big learning curve in patience. Clean up all of Derek’s dishes because he likes to use every single one I own.”

Derek: “Day to day for me is insane. In addition to being Chef de Cuisine at Botanist which is 12hrs day 5 days a week, I also run my own catering company Events by Derek Boaz. I am a freelance photographer so I have a couple contracts with breweries in Salem and do headshots for friends, engagement photos and all that. I’m also on contract with wineries in the area to run their quarterly wine dinners and clubs. I also partners with a vegan and do 5 pop-ups a year called "A vegan and a butcher walk into a bar.” I run a food cart called Oregon SMoregon. I run a blog called NW Pizza quest.

My every day is stacked, managing Instagram (5 different handles), working on websites, writing menus for tasting events, taking a lot of notes on his little yellow notepad. Work at Botanist is half an hour of fiddling around with menu and ideas, then jam straight into fire and knives and then cleaning up and catching the last max home.

My skin crawls if I am sitting still. Part of being a professional chef is being a food photographer, being a father, managing events, creating networking partnerships between people, and cooking at the restaurant. You can’t not work for what you want in 2019.”

Final thoughts or advice for prospective students

Taylor: Set your goals high!

Derek: Don’t consider a job working the line in a restaurant as the only opportunity in food coming out of culinary school. Food is so crazy multi-faceted, your culinary school degree is much more applicable than just a line cooking job it’s a matter of taking a hold of it and running. Make your own moment.

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Experience Botanist Bar PDX

Interested in checking out the hard work and creativity that Taylor and Derek put into Botanist?

Botanist Bar is located in Portland’s Pearl District. You can find them on Yelp, Google, Facebook, and Instagram.

For an experimental dinner or drink night, tickets can be purchased on Eventbrite, through Facebook, or on their website (prices change per menu). They plan on opening a patio this summer which Taylor says will be Portland’s best patio.

To learn more about pursuing Culinary Arts at Oregon Culinary Institute, talk with an admissions officer today!

7 Steps For How To Start Your Own Bakery Business

Posted on March 28, 2019

Imagine your dream of opening your own pastry shop finally becoming a reality.

Maybe you’re ready to make the first move, but you have no idea how to start a bakery business. Your passion for sweets can become a successful operation if you take the process one thing at a time.

How To Start Your Own Bakery Business


Consider these seven steps to get your business off the ground.

1. Define Your Identity

There’s more than one type of pastry business you can open. Before doing anything else, determine which of the following concepts you’d like your business to follow:

  • Food truck
  • Café
  • Counter service
  • Specialty bakery
  • Online business

The route you take may change as well. You might choose to start a small online business or open a food truck with the intention of someday moving into your own storefront. It’s a good idea to have these goals mapped out early, so you have an endpoint to move toward.

This is also a good time to think about the types of baked goods you’ll offer. Starting drafts of your menu early in the process may be key in defining your brand’s identity.

If you pursue a Baking & Pastry education, you can use that time to experiment with different styles and gain experience that you can apply to your own bakery after graduation.

2. Procure Startup Capital

A detailed bakery business plan can help you outline the amount of financing you’ll need to get the business started. Do research in the industry to gain accurate insight into the pricing of equipment and materials. Factor in labor and overhead costs and brainstorm the ways you plan to offset all of these expenses.

With an informed figure in mind, you can pursue financing through investors or small business loans. Either way, you can’t move forward until you have the money to take the next steps.

3. Choose a Bakery Location

If you’re setting up an online business, you may think it’s okay to skip this step, but don’t dismiss it too quickly. Operating your bakery out of your home can quickly become an overwhelming situation. It’s smart to rent a commercial kitchen where you can prepare your items before sending them to customers. This gives you access to high-end equipment that could speed up the production process.

For other types of businesses, find the perfect storefront by factoring in things like foot traffic, potential competitors, and the type of demographics in the area. Make sure the space will work for your concept; it doesn’t hurt to bring in a contractor to price out any improvements you’d like to make before you sign the contract.

4. Purchase Baking Equipment and Supplies

Once you have your space prepared, it’s time to outfit it with all the equipment needed to start a bakery. Regardless of your recipes, you’ll need some basic fixtures and supplies:

  • Ovens
  • Refrigerators
  • Commercial mixers
  • Sheet pan racks
  • Worktables
  • Baking supplies

At this stage, it’s also good to start procuring vendors for the ingredients you’ll need to make your creations. Calculate how much it will cost to prepare one item, so you can price it to your customers accurately. Businesses with poor profit margins lose money quickly.

5. Staff Your Baking Business

To figure out your staffing model, start by deciding how many hours your business will be open each day. Then, define the roles you need fulfilled. How many bakers will you need prepping food? How many cashiers should be out front at one time?

If you’re going to hire a manager to help you run the day-to-day operations, make sure it’s someone with experience in the baking industry. Spend time training your new staff and make sure everyone knows their job prior to opening day.

6. Create an Online Presence

At the very least, start with a basic website that outlines what your business is about and where to find you. Make use of popular social media sources, such as Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Many customers search for restaurants, coffee shops, and bakeries online before visiting in person. This way they can read reviews, preview the menu and decide if it sounds appealing.

A social media presence also gives you the opportunity to communicate directly with customers. You can address and resolve complaints to protect your reputation. At the same time, you can offer coupons and special deals to get people in the door.

7. Keep Selling

No matter how successful your business may seem, you should never stop selling. Always keep an eye out for ways of reaching new customers, while holding on to those you already have with top notch customer service and quality baked goods. Don’t be afraid to experiment with ideas for new recipes or revenue streams. A bold approach like this keeps your audience interested.

Despite all of this hard work, sometimes the hardest part of opening your business is perfecting the product. If you’re a baking novice or you wish to strengthen your skills, the Oregon Culinary Institute can help you get the training you need to wow people with your desserts and pastries. Dedicated programs allow you to focus on the concepts you feel passionate about. Request your information packet today.

Why a Student-Operated Restaurant Is the Best Culinary Skills Practice

Posted on March 26, 2019

Culinary Student Run Restaurant


For all its sophistication and creative flair, at its core, culinary arts is a practical field. Learning requires culinary skills practice and working in the field requires hands-on experience. Because of this, after graduation, many students find themselves battling with requirements for two years or more experience for an entry-level position in a restaurant. The problem is, if you’ve only just graduated, where would that experience come from?

This dilemma is not unique to the culinary arts. In fact, graduates from other fields, such as business or tech, face the same problem. One of the best culinary school techniques that solves this problem is allowing students to gain real-life experience at a campus-operated business. In short, some culinary art schools have created a culinary student restaurant. If you’re interested in applying to a culinary arts program, here are just some of the many reasons you should enroll in a school that offers a student-operated restaurant.

Learn to Be a Team Player

Often times, classroom learning requires making an entire meal or dish on your own. However, this isn’t how it works in larger kitchens, especially for busy, high-end restaurants. Every person serves a specific role and you must all work together to ensure all objectives are completed on time. In a commercial kitchen, working efficiently as a team keeps food quality high and delivery delays low. It’s also important to remember that servers and other workers form part of this team, too.

Withstand Rejection

Some instructors are hard to please. Customers can often be far worse. There is always that one customer who may send the dish back a few times because something was too salty or too sweet or the steak was too dry for medium rare. It is important to gain the opportunity to withstand rejection and criticism while still learning, so you are well-prepared for picky eaters in the real world.

Work Under Pressure

In a classroom setting, you may have a specific time to finish a meal or dish. This certainly feels like high-pressure, especially in the beginning. However, in the real world, when the waiter is calling out multiple dishes and coming back every few minutes to add more orders and ask the status on the former — that is real pressure. Every successful chef needs to know how to work through peak demand times, whether he’s working at a popular food truck or a five-star restaurant.

Identify Strengths and Weaknesses

The best time to identify your strengths and weaknesses is when time is limited. What dishes can you whip up the fastest? What dishes do you struggle with? What two dishes do you get confused about if the waiter calls them out too close together? What recipes do you struggle to remember when the pressure is on? By identifying these in a real-world setting, you can remedy these in a classroom with the help of your instructor.

Make Supervised Mistakes

It’s human nature to prefer that your mistakes go unseen. However, when you’re learning, the sooner an instructor spots the error, the sooner the instructor can point you down the right path. Supervised mistakes are also easier to correct. What if you don’t spot the mistake yourself? Thus, having an instructor present helps to ensure quality control. This can make criticism a quick correction, instead of a sick or angry customer. At a student-run restaurant, you’ll get valuable on-the-job feedback before entering the culinary industry on your own.

Easier to Land a Job

Gaining all this experience at school before you land a job makes you a much more attractive candidate to an employer. If the restaurant your school creates is particularly well-known or well-respected, then even better. Not only can you put the time working at the restaurant on your resume, but provided you gave that working experience your best shot, you may also receive a letter of recommendation from your instructor.

Choosing the Right Culinary Arts Program

Your ability to truly realize all the benefits listed above will either be helped or hindered by the quality of the culinary program you enroll in.

Oregon Culinary Institute is the only culinary school that is locally owned and operated in Portland. One of the features we are most proud of at OCI is our student-run, fine-dining restaurant.

Before applying for the school, why not drop by the restaurant and see firsthand how well our students are doing? Then, if you like what you see — or taste — contact us for more information on how to get started.

Culinary Artistry Students visit NWREC

Posted on August 10, 2018

When you think of Oregon State University (OSU) the last thing that probably comes to mind is a farm that spans dozens of acres in the middle of Aurora, Oregon.

But that’s where you’ll find one of the OSU’s extension sites, North Willamette Research and Extension Center (NWREC).

It’s also where Culinary Artistry students nearing the end of their 2nd term caught a glimpse and learned about crops NWREC boasts, and how studies performed at the site affect agriculture production in the years to come.

During the length of the field trip students were introduced to dozens of different species of crops including strawberries, blueberries, kiwis, lettuces, tomatoes, and quinoa.

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The quinoa area is where the field trip was kicked off.

Scientists, farmers and students are among the personnel on the property. They keep the show, or in this case, the farm, running.

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After observing the quinoa portion of the farm, students were introduced to the site’s IR-4 Pesticide Registration Research Program.

Oregon’s only research program that collects residue from controlled crops then uses that data along with new chemistry to make sure certain residues are okay and don’t cause health issues.

The IR-4 program is among many of the reasons people from all over the world visit NWREC.

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The property will peak anyone's curiosity even if they're foreign to farming. From controlled beehives for berry pollination to top of the line tractors in the field, to recorded sounds mimicking birds of prey to act as a shield for crops, NWREC is an agriculture playground.

And if you don't sign up for a tour, you can still see the center multiple times a year when the team holds "field day". An opportunity for farmers, chefs, plant breeders, and the public to meet and discuss what variety of fruits and vegetables lie in the farm nestled in Aurora's valley.

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美味しい / OISHI (Delicious)

Posted on July 18, 2018

If you ever find yourself at Oregon Health Science University craving Thai, a two-minute walk to a family owned Japanese-Thai restaurant is all it takes to feed your craving. 

Nestled away at the top of Marquam Hill, Oishi Thai serves a wide variety of Asian dishes. Family-owned is an understatement, as this whole joint is completely managed by four people. One of them is 9-years-old and makes one of the best tasting crab puffs Portland has to offer.

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(Nui threw a free block party to celebrate getting her liquor license.)

The owner, Nui, is the ruby jewel of this ship. She not only takes all the orders, cashiers, and bar tends, she is also the chef and hostess. Nui doesn’t speak English too well, but she does her best to get a message across. Customers fall in love with the way Nui admires her guests, filling every request and always remembering their favorite sushi roll.

And for the size of the restaurant, this SW Portland destination has options. With a 6-page menu, any single item is sure to grab your attention. Five types of thick curry, filling appetizers like crab rangoons, and endless ramen options are just a teaser into their menu. However, the sushi rolls take the trophy home. With traditional rolls like the California and Veggie ($3) placed alongside original recipes like the Beauty and the Beast ($6), a half-eel, half-tuna, cucumber and avocado roll drizzled with warm sweet sauce, their sushi is hard to resist.

With a variety of options from different regions of Asia, Nui gets questions often about the blended nature of Oishi. “Is this Japanese or Thai food?”

Nui immigrated from Thailand and brought her two half-Japanese sons with her. She wanted to bring her family’s blended traditions together to create a multi-cultural dining destination, open to all. Her 9-year-old son, Ty Ty, is usually hanging around the property, which shares a humble parking lot with Plaid Pantry. He doesn’t actually work for Nui, but he loves being in the kitchen and practicing his serving. Some may find this to be unprofessional or quirky, but it is a constant reminder to the values of family and togetherness the restaurant upholds. Ty Ty is also a self-taught juggler and loves to entertain guests at Oishi.

Up on the wall sits a giant TV screen, with a slideshow of adorable animals and funny videos constantly playing as background noise. The restaurant is colorful and fun, and Ty Ty’s reading nook offers an area for children to play.

There are a few secrets in Nui’s cookbook that don’t appear on the physical menu, or online anywhere, and she loves to WOW customers with them. Fans of Thai iced tea must try Nui’s tangy and smooth Thai Lime Tea, with lime instead of cream. Nui also serves a fried banana tempura style over soft-serve vanilla ice cream, drizzled with hot fudge and salted caramel. It’s a good thing there’s a hospital nearby.

Jillian Odiorne

Part Time Culinary Student, Full-Time Nanny and Daycare Manager