The top ten pastry chefs you need to know
NYC's dessert pros show off their best dishes.
Mon Aug 9 2010
Johnny Iuzzini, Jean Georges and Nougatine at Jean Georges
Jean Georges and Nougatine at Jean Georges, Trump International Hotel & Tower, 1 Central Park West at Columbus Circle (212-299-3900, jean-georges.com)
Innovative and daring, this tattooed toque—who took home a James Beard Award in 2006 and is about to debut as head judge of Top Chef: Just Desserts—is as well-known for his pastry pinup boy status as he is for his petit fours. At fine-dining stalwart Jean Georges, Iuzzini turns out an ambitious roster of "fourplays" (four bites on one plate exploring a single theme). His renegade spirit also comes through in unexpected flavor pairings and a penchant for molecular gastronomy.
Signature dessert: The Garden Fourplay
Fruit and veg take on ethereal dimensions in this studied dessert quartet. Start in the lower-right quadrant with chocolate cream paired with chewy, cocoa-dusted mochi, toasted hazelnuts and a strip of blackberry gelee. A cup of fizzy raspberry soda comes next, topped with finely diced melon and a dollop of birch-infused cream. The left side explores vegetal elements: Iuzzini's carrot cake is a plank of solidified carrot juice paired with rum-soaked raisins and cream-cheese froth, while the milky sweet-pea ice cream in the lower left is set atop a slightly bitter almond macaron. With prix-fixe $98
Jacques Torres, Jacques Torres Chocolate
Jacques Torres Chocolate, Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven (multiple locations, visit mrchocolate.com)
The Provence-born chef cut his teeth constructing cheeky, baroque French desserts at Le Cirque in the '90s (his famous "chocolate stove" featured a cake served inside an edible chocolate oven). These days he juggles a gig as dean of pastry studies at the French Culinary Institute and a cocoa empire that includes four stores throughout New York City. Whimsical chocolates by the piece are his specialty: from compact, meticulously decorated bonbons to Cheerios enrobed in milk chocolate.
Signature dessert: 12-piece chocolate box
A carefully guarded blend of chocolate sourced from Ghana and the Americas constitutes the mellow, slightly bitter shells of these beautifully wrought treats. Top-notch fillings shine—you might find ripe raspberries, fresh-squeezed lemon juice or fragrant spices secreted inside. Our favorite piece: the white-chocolate "Love Bug," stamped with a pink ladybug and oozing a filling of tart key-lime ganache. 12-piece box $18, 25-piece box $33
Michael Laiskonis, Le Bernardin
Le Bernardin, 155 W 51st St between Sixth and Seventh Aves (212-554-1515, le-bernardin.com)
This Michigan import and James Beard Award winner has spent the past six years manning the pastry kitchen at midtown's dazzling seafood palace, Le Bernardin. Using savory chef Eric Ripert's light, elegant approach as a template, Laiskonis produces sophisticated, sculptural desserts that are rooted in French pastry traditions. Molecular gastronomy methods modernize his classic recipes, as does the addition of Asian ingredients—green tea and yuzu are staples.
Signature dessert: Black Sesame--Cherry
Using a molecular technique known as spherification, Laiskonis transforms sour cherries into glistening orbs of fruit that burst when pricked. The cherries, combined with a citrusy yuzu meringue and a mandarin orange sorbet, provide an acidic foil for the silky, earthy black-sesame panna cotta. Minty shiso, a Japanese herb, ties the dish together. With prix-fixe menu: three-course lunch $70, four-course dinner $112
Gina DePalma, Babbo
Babbo, 110 Waverly Pl between Sixth Ave and MacDougal St (212-777-0303, babbonyc.com)
After more than 11 years as pastry chef at Mario Batali's Babbo, James Beard Award winner Gina DePalma is still turning out some of the city's most consistent Italian sweets. Having worked under Claudia Fleming at Gramercy Tavern, DePalma made a career out of simple but lusty desserts that call upon the same high-quality ingredients used for the restaurant's savory menu: Olive oil works its way into her gelato, balsamic vinegar into her custard and semolina into a rich pudding.
Signature dessert: saffron panna cotta
A quivering knob of milky saffron-infused panna cotta rests on a pool of bittersweet chamomile-and-apricot marmellata in DePalma's elegant yet unfussy dessert. A scoop of sorbetto made from ripe, local apricots rounds it out. $13
Matthew Lodes, Walls
Walls, 344 W 11th St at Washington St (212-352-2300, wallserestaurant.com); Caf Sabarsky, Neue Galerie New York, 1048 Fifth Ave at 86th St (212-288-0665)
As the pastry honcho for chef Kurt Gutenbrunner's family of Austrian eateries, Lodes executes tantalizing Central European desserts like mohr im hemd (warm chocolate cake) and marillenkndel (apricot dumplings) using skills he honed working at Financier Patisserie and the erstwhile Lutce. His secret: incorporating peak market produce like succulent peaches and pulpy huckleberries to help brighten the region's famously fussy recipes.
Signature dessert: Mozartkugel
This knockout baseball-size sphere of dark-chocolate mousse encircles an airy core of nutty pistachio parfait, studded with nougat and chopped Sicilian pistachios. Beneath the mousse, dig for crumbly chocolate and pistachio streusel and frozen cocoa powder. $12