March 7th, 2011 by

Brown Butter Pound Cake with Banana Coconut Mousse, Beet Poached Pears and Fennel Pear Sorbet

I am leaving the restaurant. I’ve been here a year. This has been a  great year in which I have been given an extraordinary amount of opportunities to learn and grow as a person and as pastry cook. Looking through the desserts I have written about here, I think there are some clear lessons to be gleaned. The first being that I have progressed so much in my ability to put desserts together that make sense structurally, in the way the flavors work together and in the way they are plated. These are not things that can be taught but must be learned through experience. Most chefs will talk with great gusto about the  people who influence and inspire them.  This is because chefs don’t just start as blank slates, they are influenced by what they have seen, what they have tasted and especially what they grew up with. I personally use a lot of Asian flavors and it’s not just because the restaurant happens to have Asian slant, it has more to do with the fact that the people I admire like Asian flavors and I have seen how successfully Asian flavors can be incorporated into desserts.  The fact that I know this about myself is an extraordinary gift and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to begin to find my personal style because it is not an opportunity that most people get this early in their career.

Another lesson that is obvious is that procrastination hurts the final outcome. The dishes I am most proud of are the ones that I took the time to think, plan and research before I broke the first egg. The fact that I can throw something together at the last minute and have it be acceptable, doesn’t mean I should. The best desserts are also the ones for which I left myself enough time to edit, rethink and possibly try again. There are days when I can execute the dishes in my head exactly as I intended, but there are many more times when it just doesn’t taste or look quite like I thought it was going to. I have never served anything that I knew tasted bad or was in anyway unsanitary, but I have served dishes that I wasn’t proud of because the prevailing wisdom is that good enough is good enough, and it‘s ok to just go with an inferior product to avoid wasting time or product by making it again. I am learning (slowly) that I am not happy with the result if it is merely acceptable and that working harder earlier is the only way to achieve the results I want. I know there will always be times when you just have to go with what you have, but I want to be pushing myself so that these times only occur because of circumstances outside my control and not because I was too lazy, or tired, or overwhelmed to do it right the first time.

It is also very clear that I still have so much to learn and I am excited by this. Culinary school gave me the basic skills to make this past year possible and the restaurant has given me the opportunity to hone these skills; however, I am ready to learn more, to try new things and take on new challenges. I am excited to see what happens next.

The dish above is my last dish at the restaurant, so I took the time and really thought about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to put it together. I am proud of the flavors that I got out the ingredients and the variety of textures and temperatures. I’m still not sure about the plating, but it is modern and, if not stunning, at least interesting to look at. The cake is a brown butter pound cake to which I added a banana to keep it moist and soft. The brown butter made the cake nutty and earthy; the brown sugar gave the sweetness a complexity. The white strip of mousse is made of heavily roasted banana, white chocolate and coconut powder. This was the sweetest of the components, but it was also the component with the most clear flavors. The banana and coconut worked especially well together, sort of a tropical harmony. I added to this my favorite fennel pear sorbet which is green and juicy with just a hint of refreshing licorice. The red squares are pears poached in roasted beet juice. This lets the natural sweetness of the pears come out, but also infused them with the taste of sun-drenched, summer soil. There is a crumb on the bottom made of oatmeal, panko, and graham cracker crumbs that have been toasted together and tossed in browned butter. This was added to give the dish one more texture and reinforce the flavors of the cake. The sauce on the cake was added at the end of the process. After tasting the dish up to this point all together, I decided it needed a little more acid, and I wanted to repeat the pear flavor through one more time. So, the sauce is powdered sugar mixed with pear liquor, pear juice, and lemon juice. I wanted this dish to reflect what I like to eat the best, so there are a lot of elements that weren’t that sweet combined with a few that were sweet to push the dish into dessert territory.

This dish has a lot of different elements and, at first, it seems unlikely that they could all come together; but, because some flavor elements of each piece intertwine with those of another, the overall effect is to mutually complement one another rather than to be confusing or distract. In the end I was pretty proud of this dish. It hit the flavor notes I was looking for, looked decent, and had unexpected textures. It’s not a perfect dish, but I was satisfied with it, and I felt that my planning and execution had both been rewarded.

The Monday after this dessert debuted there was a yelp review of the dish. They hated it. It was their least favorite of all the dishes they had that night, but they did say that they were impressed by complexity of the flavors and textures. I guess you can not win them all.

»  Substance:WordPress   »  Style:Ahren Ahimsa