You’re fond of apple tarts. When is the one time you dislike apples in pastries?
I’m fond of apple EVERYTHING! Apple tarts, Apple panna cotta, Apple bread pudding, even the apple pies from McDonald’s. However, I’m not a fan of people using applesauce as a replacement in recipes to make them low fat. Pastries are supposed to be decadent.
At this year’s Taste of Tennis event, how did you excite people (and athletes) about the cooking process when they were probably more excited about eating the results?
I think people are always intrigued with how something is made, especially if it’s an over-the-top dessert. Last year, we served tennis ball pops with a liquid margarita filling and painted them with colored chocolate to look like tennis balls. People went crazy wanting to know how we got the margarita filling inside the ball. This year, we turned blueberries into mini tennis balls by coating them in edible glitter and painting white chocolate stripes. Everyone was talking about them.
OK, both Butter and Bouchon Bakery are great dessert places. What skills did you learn at each place you now use on a daily basis working for Mr. Burke?
Bouchon laid the ground work for classic French pastries, and it also taught me a lot about organization. At Butter, Chef Alex Guarnaschelli taught me to use our wonderful local farmers for inspiration. Letting the fruits and often times vegetables at the market speak to me. She encouraged me to go back to classic American desserts like strawberry shortcake or apple crisp and create a new spin on them. This combination of classic French and uniquely American techniques is exactly what Chef Burke is known for so it was a very natural progression for us to work together.
How do you develop a dessert recipe when you’ve gotten the chef version of writer’s block and feel everything has been done before?
Overseeing so many restaurants, each with their own unique identity, could potentially be very draining creatively speaking, but instead, I find inspiration in it! I’m lucky to have wonderful Sous Chefs who I can brainstorm with. I also love sourcing ideas from the executive chefs at each property. Even if I don’t end up using them, it’s fun to see what their minds come up with.
When you were younger and narrowed down your specialty, how did you know it had to be desserts?
If someone in culinary school is reading this and confused on what they need to do, how will they too know if they’re meant to be pastry chefs? I think being a pastry chef for me was the perfect way to blend my creativity, theatrical flair, eye for design and love of science into one job! Pastry chefs need to be meticulous and almost obsessive. They also have to be patient. Let me put it this way, if a chef overcooks a steak he can cook a new one in 5 minutes. If a pastry chef messes up a layer of mousse in a cake it could take hours or days to replace.
What’s the worst kitchen mess you’ve made developing a dessert that eventually made it worthwhile?
Pretty much everything I make is a mess! We have this one amazing dessert that is served in a chocolate egg shell. To make it we dip balloons in chocolate and then carefully deflate the balloon once the chocolate is hardened. It took a long time to figure out what kind of balloons to use and how much to fill them. While I was experimenting with this, so many of them popped, flinging chocolate all over me and the kitchen. It looked like a chocolate crime scene for a week but was well worth it.
Aside from food work experience, you once handled wigs for the Radio City Rockettes. What hair styling tips did you pick up?
HA! Well, we dealt with a lot of white beards since the Christmas show was so huge. The purple shampoo is great for keeping white or blonde hair bright. It even works on white dogs… I use it on mine.
This article originally appeared en español on my ELLE Spain blog.
ELLE Spain discontinued their freelance blog journalism program in 2016. I have republished it on NicoleRussinMcFarland.com once again so my journalism may live on. I am grateful for the experiences I had from 2011-2016 writing for my personal Spanish language blog, revista ELLE for providing the blog, and the time from all of my interviewees.