A Pastry Chef's Thanksgiving

 Sunday, November 25, 2012

Turkey Dinner #1, mostly pie
One of the worst parts of working in a restaurant is having to work the holidays. Since I've started professionally baking, I've always been at restaurants that were open 365 days a year. The first year I had to work on Christmas, I bawled my eyes out in the walk-in refrigerator. Thinking about how my family was opening presents and listening to Christmas carols while I worked brunch service (something that would make anyone want to cry regardless of it being a holiday...) was just too much for me, and I had a tiny meltdown. Fortunately, one of my coworkers found me, gave me a hug, and told me to get my ass back upstairs to work. Since then, I've toughened up considerably and working the holidays has become a slight annoyance, but nothing that will cause tears. I've come to view my coworkers as a family, albeit a very, very dysfunctional family and spending the holidays with these people now feels almost normal to me.

It was also one of our chef's mom's birthdays
This Thanksgiving was the first holiday our restaurant was opened for, and it sort of caught me by surprise. With the whole month of trying to transition to an entirely new dessert menu, the hurricane, and my birthday, I kind of forgot about Thanksgiving. I was trying to cram too much into that week, and while everything got done, there were stressful moments. Like when I showed up on Thursday to realize that not only did we have just one working oven (which has been the case for a few weeks now), pastry would need to share it with all the turkey-roasting. And we were opening for dinner service four hours earlier. So all the bread, turkeys, assorted side dishes, and desserts needed to come out of one oven in about half the time we normally have. No sweat, right? Um, cue the tears in the walk-in....Almost.

Pastry's contribution for family meal
The chef/cook team cobbled together a "family meal" for our staff- the term used for the pre-shift meals a lot of restaurants have for employees. I made a couple apple crisps (one of my favorite things to bake, using the same recipe I learned in preschool, no joke) and pecan pies. Kristen, my sous chef, and I sat down to quickly eat some turkey, but weren't really into the side dishes. What amazes me about Thanksgiving is how every family has a roster of side dishes that is particular and unique to them, and every family thinks others makes the exact same sides. For instance, I wrongly believed every family had Stovetop stuffing, mashed potatoes, corn, and canned cranberry sauce. Whoever prepared our family meal thought the standards are brussel sprouts, collard greens, and mashed sweet potatoes. And maybe they're onto something...Those mashed sweet potatoes were delicious.


Feeling relatively unsatisfied though, we begged a friend to stop at Wawa on his way to work and bring us a turkey bowl. For those of you unfamiliar with Wawa, you're missing out. It's pretty much the best convenience store you can imagine, but better. Turkey bowls were delivered and consumed, ovens were cleared, and things were looking up.

About an hour later, a server misfired a dinner, so Kristen and I ended up with a turkey dinner for 4, making that our third turkey meal in under three hours. Which made this day maybe the best Thanksgiving ever by some people's standards. We sold a lot of desserts, had some fun, and at the end, went out for some beers.

Pecan Pie Bread Pudding with Maple Bourbon Ice Cream
Thursday also marked the end of my 1 month trial period, and I'm happy to say it went well and my promotion to executive pastry chef is now official. That is definitely something big to be thankful for. I'm excited about the month to come. Holiday season is one of the best baking seasons, and this year will be no different. Stay tuned for a giant gingerbread display that Kristen and I are putting together. It's going to be epic. Or a major fail. We shall see...


Birthday Cake!

 Monday, November 19, 2012

For the past four years, I've really wanted a Wall-E cake. Unfortunately, I'm usually the one who makes the birthday cakes, and I frequently make my own birthday cake. I swear this is not as sad as it sounds.

Sometimes it's sad to cut a cake this nice

This year, my birthday (November 17 kind of took me by surprise. I've been so busy with working and the new menu that I almost forgot it was coming up. I think it crossed my mind to make cupcakes for my coworkers, but things got hectic and I totally forgot.

Kristen with the Wall-E eye post cutting

I was totally surprised when my pastry cook and friend Kristen showed up with a Wall-E cake on Saturday for me. Kristen is a really talented cake artist, and she's made some cool things for us at the restaurant. This one really "took the cake" though. The level of detail was incredible, and it looked so much like Wall-E. It was probably the coolest birthday cake I've ever had (sorry Mom!).

We cut it up before service and it was easily enough Funfetti cake to feed the entire restaurant staff. That amount of sugar probably is what got most of us through an insanely busy Saturday night service.


Menu Process: Revisions, Revisions, Revisions

 Sunday, November 11, 2012

I'm a total perfectionist. I think to be a pastry chef, you have to be extremely type A. There are so many painstaking aspects of this job. Hours of spreading tuiles (those delicate cookies used as garnish), measuring and cutting cakes with no slice deviating in size from the rest, delicately forming sugar flowers to decorate cakes with. When I set out to develop my new menu for the restaurant, the process was especially intense.

Assembling the tarts
I had presented my menu tasting, but only had a week to put that together. In the weekend following the tasting, I worked pretty relentlessly with our corporate chef, Chris, to perfect three of the desserts to ready them for the menu. All were close, but needed slight tweaking on plating and garnishes to make them better. We did this in addition to a busy weekend of dinner service, and at the end of it, I was exhausted, but it was well-worth it seeing how much they improved. I wish I had before and after pictures, but when I was in NYC doing the tasting it was too frantic to take pictures.

Apple Tart
The first of the three is a caramel apple tart. To do something that simple, each component needs to be perfect. I paired the tart with a cider caramel, cinnamon ice cream, and a candy apple chip. The chip is particularly interesting to me. It started out as a candied apple peel and evolved to this chip. To make it, I cook the apple slices in a candy apple simple syrup, partially dehydrate them, and then flash fry them. The resulting chip is crunchy, sweet, and apple-y.

Trying the cheesecake with different sauces

The second is a pumpkin spice cheesecake. It's definitely that time of year when everyone wants to eat and drink pumpkin everything. The cheesecake is enrobed in a gingersnap shell and served with a toasted marshmallow sauce and creme fraiche sorbet.

AC Car Bomb

The last has proven to be the restaurant's most popular of the new ones, the AC Car Bomb (dessert name courtesy of Chef Marc). It's a chocolate bread pudding (made with chocolate brioche we make in-house) with Guinness ice cream, a banana Jameson butterscotch and bruleed bananas. Chef Marc is known for his banana Jameson, Jameson whiskey that is mixed with sliced bananas, set aside to macerate for a period of time, strained and then served. The resulting whiskey is not overtly banana-ish, but the bananas filter the rough edges of the Jameson and give it a smooth feel. I'm not big on brown liquors, and I even like to drink the banana Jameson straight. What I love about the Car Bomb dessert is how nicely all the flavors play off each other. Each component is good on its own, but together they're even better. The sauce comes in a shot glass and is poured table side.

Cracker Jack Sundae
Tonight we debuted a fourth new dessert to the menu, a Cracker Jack Sundae. It's popcorn ice cream (we make all our ice cream in house as well), caramel sauce, caramel popcorn, peanut brittle and vanilla bean whipped cream. I like being able to play around with traditional "American" sweets and presenting them in a new or different way that people aren't expecting. The popcorn ice cream is definitely a surprise to most people. It's a flavor you've had many times before, but in a different form.

There's just one more dessert that needs to be worked on before it hits the menu, a candy bar cake. Then I have some specials I'm working on, holiday menu items, and some holiday-related projects.