Thursday, June 28, 2012

Baker’s Dozen: Santa Barbara’s Sweet Pastry Chefs

Culinary trends keep cooking: molecular gastronomy, farm-to-table, food trucks, vegan and raw foods. Chefs are the new rock stars with loyal fans buying everything from cookbooks to cookware. But the role of the pastry chef is also rising to prominence as seen by these Santa Barbara pastry chefs. But what exactly is pastry chef; a glorified baker? A flunkie chef? Someone’s mom baking apple pie? The basic differences are that a baker tends to be an employee, (someone hammering out products at the discretion of their employer) but a pastry chef is just that, a chef, who oversees, plates and creates desserts as a leader, and decision maker.

Cielito’s Secret
Pastry chef Sandra Adu-Zelli, originally from the UK, started her career as a culinary chef at the Four Seasons in London and admits she doesn’t have a sweet tooth, therefore her approach to dessert is restrained. She has been cheffing since she was 16 and knew then she wanted to be a chef. “When I was training to be a chef I was very anti-pastry, I was a bit of a tom-boy and felt pastry was for girls,” she tells Cervins Central Coast. She didn’t have the patience for pastry, but now she loves the discipline and calmness of it. Cielito is Mexican food, not something she was exposed to in London, though many Mexican foods have their roots in Spain and Portugal. “My goal was to create desserts that are Mexican, but modern and fun.” Her crepes with cojetta cheese are one of the most popular desserts at the restaurant. But her Baked Alaska is a standout. “I think about food constantly and ways to mix it up and the Baked Alaska just came to me.” Adu-Zelli creates meringue accented with a pineapple relish and delicately topped with sugared cilantro leaves. 
Sandra's Baked  Alaska

The Sugar Cask
The Wine Cask’s pastry chef, Roise Gerard, also had a similar disdain for pastry early on.
“I have always wanted to be a cook ever since I was little, however I never wanted to do pastry, I thought it was a girl’s job,” she admits. She ended up loving pastries and today Gerard is known for adding savory ingredients to her desserts. “Many people don't understand how a dessert with basil, cilantro, or bacon can possibly be good,” she says, and she decries desserts that only activate the sweet taste buds. “Great desserts try out each taste bud: bitter, sour, salty, and sweet. I like to bring many levels of flavor into one dessert.” Her top desserts? The butterscotch pudding, the chocolate peanut butter cup, and the chocolate and goat cheese donuts. “I tried to take the donuts off once, we go so many complaints that I put it back on,” she admits. As a pastry chef of a small restaurant, one of her biggest challenges is that she does most of the work herself. “I am faced with the challenge to create a delicious and diverse menu that one person can execute.”

Daniel Sampson bakes everything from scratch
The same cannot be said for Daniel Sampson, pastry chef at the Bacara, who has a small army to help him. Sampson started his career with the Halifax Sheraton in Nova Scotia as a pizza cook. But he had fond memories of baking in the house when he was a kid. “My mother couldn’t read or write but she created these delicious desserts and was baking all the time.” His mom made bread in a big enamel bowl. “She’d place it on the sofa overnight,” Sampson recalls. It got cold at night so she’d place blankets over the bowl to keep the dough warm. “In the morning I’d be the first up to peek under the blanket to see the dough,” he recalls. Sampson makes most everything from scratch. “It’s healthier for people when I use authentic ingredients, like real butter” he says. Sampson creates a diversity of treats from meringues, to raspberry chocolate tortes to restaurant Miro’s signature dessert, orange blossom beignets. Four beignets, dusted with sugar are plated with a pot de crème with toasted pistachios sprinkled on top. The deep fried beignets are like billowy clouds that smell heavenly of fried dough.

Angels at Andersen’s
Birte and Charlotte Andersen keep Danish traditions alive
The mother and daughter team of Birte and Charlotte Andersen at Andersen’s are constantly coming up with new ideas. The drawback of experimenting with new pastry ideas is that failures cost a lot of money. “If the cream doesn’t set properly or the butter lacks the right butter fat content, you end up throwing the whole thing away,” Birte says. They avoid refined mixes and create Danish-inspired treats from scratch, using age-old Danish recipies. Being old-school European there is typically less sugar in their desserts. Organic butter, real cream and marzipan are the staples of Andersen’s, which has 30 different daily pastries. And they use three tons of marzipan annually. Favorites range from marzipan layer cakes, to puff pastries, Kringles, and butter rings. “These are heritage pastries,” says Charlotte.

So the next time you reach for dessert, remind yourself that someone created these culinary delights. With the resurgence of the local food movement, baked goods are cashing in on homespun goodness. “People are educating themselves,” says Daniel Sampson. “There are more a lot more requests for good, home baked things.” And that’s sweet news for everyone.


The Andersen’s

Wine Cask

Miro at the Bacara