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2013 Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America by Dessert Professional Magazine

Dessert Professional - Top 10 Pastry Chefs in AmericaDessert Professional Magazine Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America 2013

Yesterday evening, I attended the Dessert Professional Magazine 20th Annual Awards Ceremony for the Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America 2013 held at the Institute of Culinary Education.  This gathering brought together top pastry chefs, food writers, bloggers, photographers, and other industry professionals to celebrate the recognition of all the hard work that these chefs do to create those sweet concoctions that we enjoy so much.

Chicken Skewers w Peanut Dipping SauceChicken Skewers with Peanut Dipping Sauce

Before the festivities got underway, the guests sampled a few savory nibbles prepared by our hosts, which we all agreed would help to balance out all the sugar that we were planning to eat later when we had the chance to try the desserts the chefs had prepared for the event.  The catering kitchen at ICE was going full steam with tray after tray of small bites of beef tenderloin on baguette, endive spears of salmon mousse, toasts with cheese and radishes, and chicken skewers appearing to tempt us.  Before long, however, the ceremonies started, and we all filed into the room where the awards were to take place.

Chefs chatting before the ceremonyChefs chatting before the ceremony

The energy level and excitement started to rise in the room as everyone gathered together.  Hugs, high-fives, and congratulations were exchanged as the chefs mingled with their peers as well as with friends and family members.  Cameras came out.  Bloggers and media types angled to get the best pictures of the group as well as of the other prominent chefs who had arrived to support this event.

Top10PCiA - Engraved KitchenAid bowlsKitchenAid mixing bowls engraved with the award winners’ names

After introductions by Matthew Stevens of Dessert Professionals Magazine, Zac Young of David Burke Kitchen called each of the chefs up individually to present them with their engraved KitchenAid mixing bowls which go along with their new 7-Quart stand mixers given to them by the company as part of their award.  For the group photo, boxes of Guittard chocolate, also a sponsor for this event, were given to the chefs.

2013 Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America2013 Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America

The awards for this year for Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America went to:

Lifetime Achievement Award - Florian BellangerZac Young of David Burke Kitchen announcing Florian Bellanger

The Hall of Fame Honoree this year is Florian Bellanger of MadMac.  Chef Bellanger was formerly the Executive Chef at the famous Fauchon in Paris and pastry chef at Le Bernardin and is a judge on Cupcake Wars on The Food Network.  In his remarks, he commented that when he’d first arrived in the United States, pastry chefs worked almost exclusively in restaurant kitchens.  Now, their professional has grown and developed to the point where pastry chefs are opening their own businesses and are found working in many aspects of the industry.  He commented that he is “so happy to see the new generation” and that pastry chefs’ talents are being widely recognized.

Andy Chlebana's show pieceAndy Chlebana – chocolate showpiece

After the last photo was taken, the crowd headed to the kitchens to taste the desserts that the chefs had worked on for everyone to sample.  Students from the Institute of Culinary Education had assisted them with getting their dishes ready, although some of the chefs also brought members of their culinary teams with them to help out at this event.

Andy Chlebana - Chocolate Cake with Amaretto Ice Cream, Raspberry Sauce & Baked Raspberry MousseAndy Chlebana – Chocolate Cake with Amaretto Ice Cream, Raspberry Sauce & Baked Raspberry Mousse

Like several of the chefs, Andy Chlebana had brought most of the components of his dish with him to New York almost fully completed.  He’d packed up the moist, rich chocolate cake with chocolate glaze, the ice cream base, and the baked raspberry mousse (which he told me takes three days to make), preparing the fresh raspberries and finishing the ice cream when he arrived in town.

Bill Corbett - German Chocolate Cake - veganBill Corbett – German Chocolate Cake

This vegan, deconstructed version of a German Chocolate Cake got a bit smashed in transit, Chef Corbett mentioned to me, but I couldn’t taste that any harm had been done to it.  This super-rich, moist, almost fudgey cake had some pronounced notes of citrus and coconut for me.  I loved the candied pecans on the top and just really enjoyed the whole set up of this dessert.

Chrisophe Feyt - Dessert displayChristophe Feyt – Dessert Display

The set up for the event involved the guests walking from kitchen to kitchen on a couple of floors of the school.   The desserts were laid out on the table ready for the guests to pick up with the chefs available to talk about their creations while they made sure that there were enough plates at the ready.  The chefs and their helpers hurriedly replenished the dishes as soon as they vanished so that everyone was given a chance to taste everything.

Christophe Feyt - milk chocolate creameux, fresh apricot compote, almond streusel mousse, & salted caramel bon bon  Christophe Feyt – Milk Chocolate Creameux with Fresh Apricot Compote, Almond Streusel, and ring of White Chocolate with a Salted Caramel Bon Bon

This is what those desserts looked like up close.  I popped the chewy, salty caramel into my mouth to start.  The buttery flavors melted over my tongue.  Then I broke the thin ring of white chocolate and ate that, too.  I dipped my spoon into the glass to scoop up a bit of the creamy milk chocolate, the apricots, and the streusel all in one bite.  It was a bit of sweetness, some tart aspects, and crunchiness all rolled into one taste.

Brooks Headley - Red Chopsticks to use for dessertBrooks Headley – red chopsticks

Using chopsticks to eat dessert?  Yeah, I thought it was a bit daring, too.  It worked, sort of, but not completely, at least not for me.  As you can see from the photo below, the dessert was a bit challenging to eat with chopsticks, and I had to keep some of the dish from dripping down my chin and onto my shirt.

Brooks Headley - Burrata with StrawberriesBrooks Headley – Strawberries with Burrata, Olive Oil, and Sweet Croutons

The creamy, milky cheese was made more luscious with the addition of olive oil topped with sweet-tart strawberries done three ways.  Then, there were crunchy, sweet croutons sprinkled on top to add depth and additional texture.  This was a dessert that hit some of my favorite notes, despite its messiness to eat.  I think I might have to figure out a way to re-create this dish at home.

ICE students plating desserts from WD~50ICE students plating desserts from wd~50

Throughout the evening, students from ICE were assisting the chefs with plating and serving the dishes to the guests.  While moving from table to table and room to room, we managed to get a look at the process as it was taking place, the students carefully constructing each of the plates as they’d been shown to do.  With several different components in this particular dish, it definitely took a deft hand to get them all placed just right.

Malcolm Livingston II - Mango-lemongrass gel w Sheep's Milk YogurtMalcolm Livingston II – Mango on Lemongrass Gel with Sheep’s Milk Yogurt and Crumble

It should come as no surprise that the pastry chef from wd~50 arrived with one of the more out-of-the-box creations of the evening.  A tube of compressed mango on a lemongrass gel topped with sheep’s milk yogurt, a sprinkle of crumbs, and a few sprigs of herbs were put before us.  As much as I admired the ingenuity and incredible talent that went into this dish, it had a bit too much going on for me.  I also found that the mango part had an odd backnote of meaty funkiness to it, which isn’t something that I find appealing in a dessert.

Jimmy MacMillan - plating dessertsJimmy MacMillan – Plating Desserts

Chef Jimmy MacMillan also had a complex plating for his dish.  When I walked up to the table to photograph this selection, I noticed that the edible flowers were being added to the final presentation using large tweezers.  This intricacy and detail made this a stunning dish visually.

Jimmy-MacMillan-Barolo-Nebbiolo-ices-with-freeze-dried-berries-a-raspberry-chipJimmy MacMillan – Barolo and Nebbiolo Ices with Freeze-dried Berries and a Raspberry Chip

Wine ice creams seem to have appeared on quite a few menus lately.  Done correctly, they are filled with rich flavor that captures the notes of the wines as well as their personality.  The Barolo and Nebbiolo ones in this dish did just that with the chocolate and berries highlighting those same notes in the wines.  The freeze-dried strawberries and raspberry chip gave the dish an intriguing textural component as well.  It all just worked so wonderfully together.

Clarisa Martino - Blueberry Panna Cotta w Blueberry Compote & Lemon-Poppy Seed MacaronClarisa Martino – Blueberry Panna Cotta with Blueberry Compote topped with a Lemon-Poppyseed Macaron

I loved the colors in this dessert.  They just leaped off of the table and begged to be eaten.  The smooth panna cotta paired with sweet-tart blueberries partnered with a pillowy, citrusy macaron.  Again, this dish just hit so many high notes.  At the awards ceremony, Chef Martino’s boss, Bobby Flay caused a bit of a stir with his presence.  I thought it was terrific that he showed up to support one of the members of his culinary team, who brought with her not only this dessert but also a couple of other amazing ones.

Clarisa Martino - Deconstructed Banana Cream PieClarisa Martino – Deconstructed Banana Cream Pie

As a child, we went through a banana pudding phase at my parents’ house.  You know the version, the one made from a box, with the Nilla Wafers along the sides of the bowl.  Well, this is light years away from that.  The cup was filled with creamy mild banana essence combined with crunchy bits folded into the filling.  Then, thin slivers of banana were layered on top of it along with some whipped cream.  The final garnish was a crunchy wafer somewhere between those childhood cookies and a graham cracker.  It was fantastic.

Clarisa Martino - Sticky Toffee Pudding with Caramel Sauce & Ice CreamClarisa Martino – Sticky Toffee Pudding with Caramel Sauce and Vanilla Ice Cream

This dessert alone would make me plan my trip to Mesa Grill around when it appears on the menu.  It was hands-down my favorite dish of the evening.  This opinion was shared by a number of other folks whom I bumped into at the event, too, with plates of it flying off of the table the instant the ice cream touched down on them.  Cool ice cream in a pool of buttery-sweet caramel sauce and a mound of super-moist, intense, sticky toffee pudding to go along with it.  There’s a reason the English refer to this dessert as being moreish.

Laurie Jon Moran - finishing up Dark n stormy dessertLaurie Jon Moran – Plating his Dark n Stormy

For a unique spin on a dessert inspired by a cocktail, Laurie Jon Moran was the chef who pulled that off last night.  His Dark n Stormy had a frothy top and layers of creamy smooth chocolate and ginger underneath.  All the flavors married together beautifully as I dipped my spoon into the glass again and again scooping up some of each layer in every bite.

Laurie Jon Moran - Dark n Stormy - Ginger & Chocolate with FoamLaurie Jon Moran – Dark n Stormy – Ginger & Chocolate with Foam

I also loved that Chef Moran replicated the straws in cocktail with thin chocolate ones.  I don’t think I’ll be able to convince my friends to abandon the alcoholic version of this dish for the dessert one, but I could easily see swapping them out, using this as an idea for a future dinner party.

Nancy Olson - Chocolate Macaron w Peanut Butter Semifreddo, Hot Fudge Sauce, Caramel & Candied PeanutsNancy Olson – Chocolate Macaron with Peanut Butter Semifreddo, Hot Fudge Sauce, Caramel and Candied Peanuts

Can I have yet another favorite dessert from the evening?  I’m a huge fan of chocolate and peanut butter eaten together.  The delicate, soft macarons and the cool peanut buttery semifreddo with a dollop of caramel sauce just seemed perfect for each other.  The intense fudge sauce and sugary peanuts were extras that added extra layers to bring these two tastes even closer together.  I think if you put this plate in front of a group to share, they’d be fighting over every last morsel of it.

Nancy Olson - Chocolate Macarons and Caramel SauceNancy Olson – Left over Chocolate Macarons and Caramel Sauce

While scraping up the last of this dish from my plate, trying hard not to leave a spare speck of the fudge sauce, I spotted the leftovers to the side of the counter.  What would happen to these at the end of the evening, I wondered.  Do they just take them back to the restaurant for the staff to devour?

Roy Schvartzapel - Chocolate Layer CakeRoy Schvartzapel – Chocolate Layer Cake

Another chef who had traveled with his pastry creation to this event was Roy Schvartzapel.  Unfortunately, as we were told during the ceremony, his original selection met with a bit of an accident in transport, so we were treated to this glamorous presentation instead.

Roy Shvartzapel - Raspberry Layer CakeRoy Shvartzapel – Raspberry and Fruit Cream Layer Cake

He had made several cakes that spelled out the name of the event and the year, each of them in a different flavor.  The top one was in chocolate, this one was fruit flavored, and the one in the photo below tasted of cappuccino.  The attention to detail and the meticulous construction of each of these layers was awe-inspiring and demonstrates the incredible amount of technique and dedication that goes into this level of pastry-making.

Roy Shvartzapel - Cappuccino Layer CakeRoy Shvartzapel – Cappuccino Layer Cake

This was another cake that received rave reviews from the folks around me who were trying it.  The creamy “foam” layer with the cake and chocolate were harmoniously composed.  As with last year, I probably ate way too many sweets at this one event, but I enjoyed seeing the craftsmanship and the incredible flavor pairings that went into each and every dish.  Congratulations to all the winners!

Dessert Professionals - Top 10 Pastry Chefs in America backdropBackdrop for the group photo

Buon appetito!

Thank you to Ruskin International for inviting me to participate in this event.