At one point during his 27-year career, Alex Grunert worked in the chocolate department of a Viennese pastry shop. He had to taste-test bonbons every day to the point that he grew tired of sweets.
Perhaps that’s why Grunert, the executive pastry chef at the three-Michelin-starred Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, makes a chocolate-vanilla truffle that is surprisingly light on sweetness. The confection is paired with a white soy-caramel sauce made with brown butter. His subtle play on savory and sweet is refreshing.
Grunert was among the top 10 pastry chefs in America named this year by Dessert Professional magazine. An award ceremony on June 6 at the Institute of Culinary Education in downtown Manhattan honored the chefs and showcased some of their creations. The following are a few of the highlights.
Inspired by Art
Scott Green, executive pastry chef at The Langham Hotel in Chicago, studied graphic design. He gets inspired by works of architecture and art, “the angle of something, or the colors and patterns,” he said. The petit gâteau he prepared that night certainly revealed his eye for design: a long rectangular block of black pepper gooey butter cake, covered with a vibrant red wild strawberry jam, studded with teardrop-shaped pistachios on the sides, and topped with a coriander flower.
Seasonal, Light, and Comforting
Kelly Fields, executive pastry chef at Besh Restaurant Group and co-owner of Willa Jean in New Orleans, likes to play with whatever ingredients are in season to create desserts that “make you feel refreshed, not weighed down,” she said. Southern desserts have a reputation for being heavy and overly sweet, but she said, “The weather is too sticky. The dessert shouldn’t be.” At the award ceremony, she served a cornbread pudding with blackberries, peaches, bourbon, and buttermilk sherbet—a mix of everything you’d want in a comforting dessert.
Bold, Fruity Flavors
Lauren V. Haas enjoys using bold, fruity flavors that “really grab your palate,” like her kumquat-and-yogurt tart and cassis moelleux-and-chocolate sable lollipop. As co-chair of the pastry and baking arts department at Johnson and Wales University, Haas also channels her creativity toward breaking down the steps of baking in ways that new learners can easily understand.
Sometimes it’s the vessel that inspires the creation. Chef Franck Iglesias, executive pastry chef at Foxwoods Resort Casino, found clear plastic balls while browsing online, and decided to plate a mini-spring garden inside, with cherry gel, mint-chocolate mousse, and pistachio cake. Iglesias likes to pique people’s curiosity with interactive desserts like a strawberry-rhubarb push pop, filled with layers of cake, white chocolate, and tangy passion fruit cream.
The other chefs honored at the ceremony were Cedric Barberet (Bistro Barberet, Lancaster, Pa.); Morand Dare (New York Hilton Midtown, N.Y.); Joseph DiPaolo Jr. (Pinnacle Foods, Parsippany, N.J.); Robert Nieto (Kendall-Jackson Winery, Santa Rosa, Calif.); and Jean-Marc Viallet (Disneyland Resort, Anaheim, Calif.).