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Pastry chef by default.

Just out of culinary school, i scored a job in the kitchen of a new restaurant. The restaurant is the brainchild of the Exec Chef and Chef de Cuisine of The Oakroom at the Seelbach here in Louisville. These guys decided to go out on their own, and their reputation (only AAA 5-diamond restaurant in the state) is what they're building on. They quit the hotel and opened their own spot. The slogan/motto is: "New Southern Cooking, Old Southern Charm".

I was going to be a "salad bitch". They hired three of us for pantry, promising to eventually rotate us into the hot line. But, shortly before opening, although we had been told they would probably farm out the desserts and just have the pantry people plate them - one afternoon, Chef said: "which one of you is comfortable with desserts?"

One of the girls said "I'm not really comfortable with that," - to which Chef replied: "Well, at least you're honest." The other one said nothing. In a moment of delerium, i heard myself saying "Chef, i can do that."

Now, keep in mind, i just have a "culinary arts" degree. I consciously did not pursue a pastry & baking degree. I like savory food. I like the heat and the fire of the hot line. It was a pretty surreal moment, but i remember thinking here's a way for me to distinguish myself in their eyes.

So i went home that night and did lots of research and came in the next day with a list of desserts i thought would fit with the restaurant's theme.

I pretty much got shot down. We're doing six desserts, but only one of them was exclusively my idea.

So, as a result, i've been refining the recipes and platings of the desserts mostly picked by the Chef. They're pretty good, and people seem to like them, but fairly soon, we'll start doing dessert specials, especially for the tasting menu. Here's what we're serving so far:

Brown Sugar Pear Poundcake with Poached Pears - The cake is Ben and Karen Barker's (Magnolia Grill) recipe, with the addition of pears poached in port. The menu consultant named this dessert "Drunken Pair". The sauce is a sassafrass anglaise.

Bourbon Bread Pudding with Sorghum Sauce and Sorghum Creme Fraiche.

Warm Apple Clafouti - this is basically apples cooked in sugar and butter and cinnamon, lined up in a boat-shaped single serving dish, and covered with a thin batter, almost like a pancake batter, and baked, then topped with powdered sugar and locally-produced gourmet "bourbon-ball" ice cream, with a curly molasses tuille as a garnish.

Classic Creme Brulee with Fresh Berries - this is the best creme brulee recipe i've ever tasted, it's fantastic. I sell a LOT of this.

"Bluegrass Napolean" is a sweet biscuit made with the addition of "sourmash flour" - the dry leavings from bourbon-making, ground into a flour (it's kind of purple), added to the flour in a buttermilk biscuit recipe. The biscuit is halved, topped with a berry trio that's been marinated in bourbon and sugar, and hand-whipped cream.

Chocolate Chess Pie - this is my biggest seller so far. I'm not a big chocolate fan ( I HATE melting chocolate!), but this was the one dessert that was my idea, and people seem to love it. It's topped with the whipped cream and mint, and i plate it with a strawberry flower and mint leaf.

So....for a special, my first instinct was coconut cream pie.

Anybody have any ideas? Any comments on what i'm serving so far? I'm also serving a Godiva Chocolate biscotti as an amenity with the check.

Gimme some southern ideas. I want to do a sweet potato riff, maybe a sweet potato creme brulee, or a sweet potato cheesecake (although Chef says cheesecake is "so 1998". Heh.)

By the way, i've already experienced all those things i've heard folks moan about....no burners available to melt chocolate...ovens mysteriously turned up in the middle of baking something, resulting in burned product...shooed off the hot line after helping prep entree food but still needing a burner to reduce sauce....frustrating, very frustrating, but rewarding when you find a way to get around it. Can't spare me a burner for a double-boiler? Then i'll melt my chocolate - very carefully - on the edge of the grill :rolleyes:

Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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Congratulations! Sassafras, sorghum, sourmash? That all sounds so cool! In fact all the desserts sound really great - would love to see pix if you get a chance. I have to say though - and I know you sell a lot of them - that the classic creme brulee's the only one that sounds a little too normal. How about a riff on a pecan pie? It's funny, I'm working on developing a classic American dessert menu with guys here at ADPA - and as far as the French are concerned pecan pie's gotta be on that menu. But back to the creme brulee/pecan pie - I don't know southern desserts and therefore their correctness but I liked the one I did best that I explained was just set like a creme brulee. And then there's got to be some caramelised pecans in there. But I do love the sweet potato ideas too - with housemade marshmallows of course. OK going to look up Chess Pie. Congrats again!

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The accidental pastry chef. I love it. I hope you're keeping careful notes -- this is something you should write about someday for a magazine, in order to let people know how the restaurant biz really works. And of course, as ridiculous as this employment selection technique is, in the end the restaurant is probably getting a more enthusiastic, conscientious, and useful pastry chef than it would have gotten by hiring an actual pastry graduate from one of the cooking schools.

Have you heard about the incredible coconut layer cake they serve at the Peninsula Grill in Charleston? I've been wondering why there aren't more knockoffs of that, because it's a lot more interesting than coconut cream pie (which is after all something any idiot can make pretty well at home with minimal labor). Here's a picture of it. I believe the restaurant is currently going through the charade of keeping the recipe a secret, because the cake is being sold by mail, but I'm also pretty sure the recipe appeared in some of the cooking magazines or newspaper food sections before the cake became a mail order product. In any event, it shouldn't be hard to reverse-engineer something like it.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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About 4 or 5 years ago I went down to Louisville to do a tasting for The Seelbach for the position of Exec. Pastry Chef. This was just before they received their AAA 5 diamond rating. Their pastry Chef had left and the Exec. Sous Chef was creating the dessert menu ( I believe -could be wrong). I had dinner with The Chef de Cuisine of the Oakroom( I believe his name was Michael ) and had one of every dessert. Very good tasting , but each was swimming in sauce and had strawberries as a garnish, even if there wasn't a strawberry flavor to be found in the dessert itself. I didn't get the job ( there was some missunderstandings about how much time I would be allowed to create some things , plus I wasn't experienced enough for an establishment of that quality, at that time in my career.)

Having meet Chef Michael ( as well as Chef Jim ), I was wondering how you perceive the food? But enough about me.

One of the best desserts I had when I was there was ( at least I think it is called), was Thoroughbred Pie? :unsure: A sort of light colored pecan pie with great flavor . You could think about doing a different take on this ( although I believe it is somewhat overly done in many restaurant in your area) But, people know the flavor and a more upscale or different take could win you over some fans.

Good Luck



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Here's a list of desserts off of the sample menu from Magnolia Grill and its Beard Award-winning pastry chef, Karen Barker. Realize that these aren't desserts in the Steve Klc mode, but are more "down-home" sort of bakers' delights. Very tasty nonetheless.


Orange Tea Sorbet with Persimmon Apricot Essence

& Winter Citrus

Meyer Lemon Shaker Pie with Berry Sauce & Huckleberry Compote

Milk Chocolate Malt Ice Cream Sandwich with Fudge Brownie

& Chocolate Sauce

Zabaglione Rice Pudding with Sundried Cherries & Hazelnut Pizzelles

Warm Banana Caramel Upside Down Cake with Bourbon

Praline Ice Cream

Tropical Fruit Sundae with Coconut Ice Cream & Macadamia Brittle

Chocolate Raspberry Soufflé Cake with Raspberry Sauce

& Whipped Cream

Dean McCord


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I did notice that there are no banana or peach desserts on Zilla's list. Those strike me as priorities for a Southern-oriented dessert menu.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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high end cobbler and/or key lime pie? maybe a selection of Southern fruit -inspired sorbets?

how about a pecan gelato? (if that can be made - altho i don't see why not..if you can make it with hazelnuts)

and you can use it to top some sort of praline shortbread or perhaps a brownie altho that might be too overpowering. or even serve it in praline or caramel "bowls"

Edited by tryska (log)
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I like the idea of pecan gelato. You need a pecan flavored something or some kind of fancy pecan pie. Its not the south without pecan pie.

Maybe a death by chocolate cake with lots of pecans in it? Or some kind of variation on rocky road with pecans and caramel? Or some riff on praline?

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Um, okay, so I'm just a stay-at-home Yankee mom in my twenties but I have a few ideas (take my background into consideration- I don't know is any of these are "soo 1997" since I hardly ever dine out, and when I do it's at a family style place -read crapola- with the kidlets):

what about a charlotte? I've never seen them served in a restaurant but they're southern, attractive, and can be made way in advance. Sometimes simplicity, done well, can be novel.

a sweet potato cream of some sort- maybe even ice cream?- served over a warm pecan bread pudding?

corn- sweet corn ice cream, or warm corn pudding, or even a corn cake with peaches or strawberries incorporated somehow. okay, i know corn is midwestern, but lots of folks associate it with the south, perhaps because of corn bread.

upscale strawberry shortcake- although since it's fall, maybe done with peaches instead?

bourbon ice cream over chocolate-pecan tart/brownie

a really good fruitcake (if done well, can be delicious, and that by itself is enough to surprise and impress people)

everyone loves cider doughnuts- someone somewhere should invent an upscale take n the doughnut idea- maybe really little dounuts with buttermilk ice cream-- am i crazy? yeah, i guess doughnuts are not really restaurant fare- nevermind

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Zilla, how odd - I'm in almost the same position as you, but so far you're a lot luckier, I think. I got hired into the kitchen as pantry bitch, which is what I still do during service. The desserts frustrate the heck out of me because they're so... eh. Non-thrilling?

Anyway, our exec chef ended up leaving about a month ago and a new guy came in; I have his permission to play with desserts and get some good stuff on the menu. I'd love to do some type of shortcake but going into winter I don't know that it would be appropriate.

Oh, the other weird thing is that I work at a Southern restaurant, too (fried catfish with greens and mac is our #1 seller, I think).

I've been pondering a sweet potato jelly roll type cake with a hazelnut mousse filling and some kind of sauce - I'm still new enough to the pastry world that exciting concepts are hard to fully come up with, and I work so many hours I don't have time to look at books! :shock:

At any rate your dessert menu looks a lot more exciting than mine, but hopefully that will change as I get more time to play with things (odd circumstances at the restaurant have prevented it thus far).


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The accidental pastry chef. I love it.

And of course, as ridiculous as this employment selection technique is, in the end the restaurant is probably getting a more enthusiastic, conscientious, and useful pastry chef than it would have gotten by hiring an actual pastry graduate from one of the cooking schools.

I'm sorry to post this....and have nothing but well wishes for you Zilla (in all your pursuits).

BUT Fat guy you got to be kidding? I can't recall now how many posts of yours where I've read about how lousy desserts are due to lousy pastry chefs and you do a 180. Gladly embrasing a person who, until 5 seconds ago wasn't even interested in pastry?

I'm terrible confused!!!

I've studied and worked hard to be a PC and I:

A. Don't believe your a chef of any sorts imediately out of school.

B. Feel a angered, that at a much cheaper rate- your chef has filled a job that requires a highly skilled and EXPERIENCED PC postions with anyone he could sucker into it....demeaning my profession completely.

I'm sorry to bitch....but well that's life... and this is an issue we often talk about here in the pastry area. In fact it pisses me off that we (pastry chefs)take grief for the over all quality of pastry in every restaurant in America....and yet you want to condone chefs for dumping pc's in place of new grads!!!

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Congratulations, Marsha! Sometimes doors open to us for a reason...I have nothing but confidence in you.

I think F.G., Jason & tryska are right. Something with peaches, pecans or bananas screams "southern" to me. Banana desserts, while seeming more common denominator-ish (i.e., white trash), also tend to be involved in a lot of comfort foods. And I keep assosciating chocolate with the banana...a yin-yang mousse or chocolate cake with a banana liqoure sauce? Or a banana coconut cake? With a chocolate sauce?

The combinations are endless...chocolate bourbon pecan pie...peach shortcake with a bourbon sauce?

I sound like a lush with bourbon on everything!

Or, it sounds summery, how about a Mint Julep granita?

Let us know what you come up with!


“Peter: Oh my god, Brian, there's a message in my Alphabits. It says, 'Oooooo.'

Brian: Peter, those are Cheerios.”

– From Fox TV’s “Family Guy”


Tim Oliver

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A warm peach shortcake using a buttermilk biscuit base sided by a generous serving of butter pecan gelato would work for this southern boy.

Being in Louisville, why not work some red into the menu? How about an

updated Red Velvet cake? Add some peanut butter chips, swirl in a little kirsch, and frost it with mascarpone. And bake it in a Gugelhupf mold instead of the traditional cake pan.

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Peaches are difficult, as they're not really in season much anymore. Think of some typical southern junk food and try deconstructing them. I mean, a Moon Pie could be quite good, in another format -- graham cracker, chocolate and marshmallow.

Dean McCord


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Peaches are difficult, as they're not really in season much anymore.  Think of some typical southern junk food and try deconstructing them.  I mean, a Moon Pie could be quite good, in another format -- graham cracker, chocolate and marshmallow.

I like Varmint's junk food idea.

What about a spin on Pepsi and peanuts? For instance, a Coca-cola cake (made with Pepsi) garnished with peanut butter mousse of some sort?

Or maybe you could do something with peanut patties? Ever had one of these things? They're kind of a Texas thing, but we're in the south, right? :blink:



You could make a batch of the red candy, break it up and use it as a garnish for vanilla ice cream (or whatever).

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Zilla, I'm not much of a coconut fan - but there's a simple coconut pudding called haupia which is made in Hawaii - might be worth searching along that angle - haupia cheesecake, haupia cream pie, etc.

I'm not sure if these are passe, but here are a few rough ideas -

sweet potato souffle with white chocolate anglaise

baked alaska made with sweet potato ice cream inside, flamed with Southern Comfort or bourbon

banana pudding - pecan biscotti crumb crust, real vanilla pudding

apple cider vinegar or peach vinegar pie - agrodolce like a key lime pie, but a little out of the ordinary

Toliver's mint julep granita (or sorbet) gets my vote...


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Thanks for the ideas, everyone. First of all, i should say, we're not making our own ice creams or gelatos yet, as we don't have an ice-cream maker. But that is the first thing on my wish-list.

Secondly, while i agree that pecans and bourbon are quintessentially "southern" ingredients, i'm trying to steer away from them as much as i can, since we already have bourbon in the berry "napoleon", pecans in one of the salads, and bourbon sour mash in the house bread (the same bread i use for the bread pudding). In addition, most of the desserts on the menu are chromatically (shades of) brown. Chocolate Chess Pie with Chocolate Sauce (brown), Brown Sugar Pear Poundcake (brown), Classic Creme Brulee (yellow with brown carmelized sugar on top), Bourbon Bread Pudding with Sorghum Sauce and Sorghum Creme Fraiche (brown, brown, and tan), Warm Apple Clafouti with Bourbon Ball Ice Cream (tan and white with brown - this dessert is particularly anemic-looking to me.) The only dessert with any vibrant color in it at all is the biscuit-and-bourbon-soaked-berries "napolean" - and the biscuit is fairly brownish-purple in color.

I like the "deconstructed junk food" ideas a lot, but fear that Chef would consider them too "cute"...i'll have to broach this subject with him at some point to find out for sure.

Finally, and believe me, i thought seriously about not responding to Sinclair's misgivings at all, but after reading Steve KLC's reply on her "should i take this job?" thread, i feel i must ask - what should i have done, when offered these responsibilites (that no one else was willing to take on?)? Should i have refused, given that there are certainly people in town more qualified than me for this position? We're a small kitchen - just 6 cooks, including the sous chef. We'd already been hired. Would any of you, given the same opportunity, have turned it down? And, by the way, no one's referring to me as "pastry chef" - i put that in the title of my thread to try to communicate my nervousness at the responsibilities i've been assigned. If anyone asks, i tell them i'm "doing desserts" at the new restaurant. "Marsha's doing all our desserts," i heard Chef tell one of the culinary school instructors that came to dinner tonight.

I'm also "doing" the sweeping and the mopping :rolleyes:

Someone who works in the restaurant at the office mentioned "Lane Cake" to me - i looked it up, it looks interesting. Anyone ever tasted one?

Marsha Lynch aka "zilla369"

Has anyone ever actually seen a bandit making out?

Uh-huh: just as I thought. Stereotyping.

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Zilla I would have done the same exact thing, but I would have jumped for it before the words were finished coming off the chefs lips. I have no harsh words for you WHAT SO EVER. I wish you great success!!!!!!!!!!!!! Many great PC's started exactly as you.

I have concerns, jealousy, frustrations, worries but they have nothing to do with you as a person Zilla. Any possible anger/frustration I might have is toward your chef who undercut my profession which is something I'm always hurt by when it comes from an seasoned pro from a fine dining background.....and because from what I read earilier on this thread he is experienced and well thought of-yet his actions tell me he doesn't really take this seriously.

And at Fatguy who keeps telling us PC's that our profession turns out horrible desserts as a average- ....because hey " in the end the restaurant is probably getting a more enthusiasit, conscientious, and useful pastry chef then it would have gotten by hiring an actual pastry graduate from one of the cooking schools".

Can no one but a pastry chef understand how hurtful those words are?

I'm enthusiasitic, conscientious, I didn't graduate from a cooking school. I have experience and probably know more about pastry then any of the candiates in your kitchen yet I wasn't offered the chance to even apply for the job. Why? My bet is your chef knows that I'll want more money then his candiates. He's also just told everyone in the kitchen dessert isn't important cause he isn't going to put his money into that position. That's re-installing a constant murmer that runs rampent thru even top culinary schools-dessert isn't nearly as important as the rest of the meal. It's a very quite murmer but it sets the tone for kitchens throughout the States and underminds pc's importance and sets back our industry.

There is history in the culinary world, patterns of employment, dues some ask you to pay before you call yourself a chef. "Issues" that you won't read in a cookbook and plenty you won't get taught in culinary school either. Kitchens are full of politics, favoritism, sexism........we have the same issues all jobs have, plus some that other fields aren't as plagued by.

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Best of luck, Zilla!

I have nothing to add to this thread, with all the suggestions you've gotten, but I want to know more about sour mash. (No, the "leavings after Bourbon is made" doesn't explain everything to me.) Should I be posting on a board about liquor instead of here?

Michael aka "Pan"


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Just uneducated ideas...

I have experimented with sweet potatoes a bit, because we have various October family celebrations.

I tried a sweet potato dacquoise, substituting steamed and sieved sweet potato for nuts -- but that really needs some nut flour as well, the sweet potato alone was too moist. It might be better as a base for something with an intense chocolate layer on top, for example.

Sweet potato vermicelles were successful though. I cooked them much as for chestnut vermicelles -- soaked the prepared sweet potatoes for a couple of hours (brightens up the color when they are cooked) and cooked them gently in milk and flavorings before sieving out fibers then using for vermicelles or in custards or creamy fillings. Sorry I can't remember what I used to flavor the basic sweet potato paste with.


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