Who are some of your favorite pastry chefs in
New York, and whom did you learn the most from as you were developing your
My favorite pastry chefs in New York are also good friends of mine. Sam Mason
at WD-50, Alex Grunert at Bouley and Sébastien Rouxel at Per Se. They
are all very talented, modest, and down to earth. The chefs I’ve learned
the most from are Francois Payard, Thomas Haas, Jean Georges Vongerichten
and Daniel Boulud. Each gives their heart and soul to what they do. They
have so much passion and knowledge, yet their styles couldn’t be more
different from each other. Working for such talents has allowed me to develop
my own style based on bits and pieces from each one.
When do you find time to come up with new creations now?
I am definitely not that guy who goes home and thinks up new creations. I
need to play with food and combinations to make new things. I don’t
just dream them up. Sometimes when we go out to eat and I taste a cool combination,
I go back with those flavors in my mind, but start from scratch on how to
build the dish. A lot of times we get inspired by the local farmers and markets.
For example, recently I started working with Bee Raw honey, a small company
that specializes in artisan honeys from across the country. They have amazing
honeys that I have never been exposed to.
What new flavors/ingredients have you been experimenting with lately?
I think the wave of “molecular gastronomy” will definitely influence
the direction of my food in the future. The key is learning to use the ingredients
in a way to not only achieve a texture or product that you normally couldn’t
get without them, but to increase the “deliciousness” of the
dish. Otherwise it just becomes a gimmick.
How did you get involved with the Share Our Strength “Chefs on tour
for hunger” campaign?
My very good friend Chef Brad Thompson of Mary Elaine’s at the
Phoenician Resort in Arizona is very benevolent with his time and talent.
He is the one who got me into doing events for charities such as Share Our
Strength and The TJ Martell Foundation. I feel that if chefs can join forces
to raise money for good causes, I want to be a part of it.
You have a reputation
for being a bit of a prankster. Do you think your sense of humor comes out
to some degree in your dessert creations?
I definitely do. I am a pretty playful person so of course it will show
in my food. I’m not talking about circus desserts but I may take chances
that others wouldn’t. I feel as though I have the best of both worlds.
I have a strong French training yet I don’t wear their blinders. I
am still an American; I like to think in new directions.
I read in a 2003
interview that said, quote “Food network is calling
and book deals are imminent.” Have you pursued any of those “star
chef” type avenues?
I’ve made some appearances on the Food Network as well as other
networks. I have fun doing that. As far as my own show, I would consider
it but it couldn’t be a plain cooking show. I am way too hyper for
that! The show would have to be built around my personality. Everything falls
into place in time, there’s no rush. I did recently go into contract
with Clarkson Potter to do my first book, however. I am super excited about
that, it will mark a great point in my career as well as pay homage to all
the great chefs I have worked for.
Any stories you’d like to share in
that sort of vein? Maybe a preview into a story from your book, “Dessert
I remember when I was working at Payard and I was in charge of the cake
station. We were buried one Saturday and I had to do a large chocolate wedding
cake on top of it, so my assistant set up the cakes for glazing and after
I finished glazing all the small ones I did the large ones. The cake was
beautiful when it left Payard and it arrived safely. A few hours later the
people from the wedding thanked Francois for the cake and said it was great,
except they were having problems cutting it. Puzzled, Francois asked what
the problem was. It turned out that when I glazed the cake, I didn’t
notice that I had left the acetate strips on the sides. I guess both my assistant
and I assumed the other removed them. Needless to say, Francois chased me
around the kitchen screaming in French for a good couple of days. Lesson
learned: never assume.
Someone once said that if you’re a pastry chef
looking for recognition you must “get out of the restaurant and behind
the shadow of the chef, especially if that person is a chef/owner.” Do
you agree with that?
I don’t believe that. It’s very difficult to make your name
in this business, especially when you are in a big city like New York. The
key is to just put your head down and push. Make the best product you can
make and eventually you will be noticed no matter where you work or who you
work for. I have worked for some of the biggest names in the industry. You
just have to be patient and wait your turn. The other alternative is to take
the short cut and pay for your press. Those people know who they are!!
you getting free reign to try new things here (JG) more than you were at
That’s true I definitely have more ground for experimentation at
JG than I did when I was the pastry chef at Daniel. Keep in mind though that
the restaurants are very different from each other. Daniel is based more
on Classic French cookery, while Jean Georges pushes the envelope by tying
different cultures into his food. It is apples to oranges. They are both
at the top of their game.
What are your future projects, and the direction
of your profession in general?
I definitely have the itch to have my own business. Every day I am one day
closer but the toughest part is finding the right partner. A good friend
gave me some advice. “Money is cheap in New York, but the key to being
successful is finding the right partner that will stand beside you and support
you through the years.” My business will mirror my personality and
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