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Top ten pastry chef Criteria!


mjmchef
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Just read about the new top ten "pastry chefs" in America and had a few questions pertaining to how it is achieved. In past years I have seen deserving candidates and others I just do'nt know how they made it in. Nothing against the individuals but I am under the impression that a top pastry chef in America is someone that should have the skills and knowledge needed to produce (wedding cakes, bonbons, petite fors, benchwork for danish, croissants, cake decoration, ice cream, choclolate and sugar work, as well as plated desserts),etc.

Correct me if I'm wrong but a few of the individuals are more plated dessert chefs not exhibiting these other skills! With the numerous amount of deserving pastry chefs in America is it fair to have these individuals make it on the list 2 years in a row. This is a topic discussed among many of my peers and just wanted to get some other thoughts wihtout any ill feelings.As I know alot of people would rather be silent then voice there opinions.

Is it a matter of working in a place of notrity and hiring a public relation firm to help in achieving this honor

Maybe a contest should be in order to determine how the individuals are picked. Beaver creek, and the world pastry contest determine who the best are in that class, so why not here as well!

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No ill feelings, and I hope none are exhibited in this dscussion either, as I think you ask a legitimate question.

Nothing against the individuals but I am under the impression that a  top pastry chef in America is someone that should have the skills  and knowledge needed to produce (wedding cakes, bonbons, petite fors, benchwork for danish, croissants, cake decoration, ice cream, choclolate and sugar work, as well as plated desserts),etc.

I'm not up to speed with who all of the individual pastry chefs are or what they're doing, but I would highly suspect that those who posesses ALL of these skills and can do them extremely well would be very few and far between. Most people do choose to specialize. The top wedding cake designers, for example, are not working pastry chefs, but devote all of their time to this one area of pastry and have their own businesses specifically dedicated to this alone. The same is true of chocolatiers.

I'm guessing here, but I think the awards are likely based on innovation and pushing the envelope in pastry and plated desserts, and so chocolatiers and cake designers aren't considered.

I hope someone else in the know chimes in because I'm interested in the answer too. Is it true the award is only open to Americans?

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I think when you mention that there are few people who possess the skills described is actually larger then you might think. You can relate it to a doctor. All doctors will know basic medicine then will move into to their own speciality. Pasttry chefs at Hotels, country clubs, pastry shops, resorts of the like all obtain these skills. A restaurant which focuses on plated desserts may or may not have those skills. So the definition of pastry chef/Plated dessert chef should be looked at.

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Nothing against the individuals but I am under the impression that a  top pastry chef in America is someone that should have the skills  and knowledge needed to produce (wedding cakes, bonbons, petite fors, benchwork for danish, croissants, cake decoration, ice cream, choclolate and sugar work, as well as plated desserts),etc.

Correct me if I'm wrong but a few of the individuals are more plated dessert chefs not exhibiting these other skills! With the numerous amount of deserving pastry chefs in America is it fair to have these individuals make it on the list 2 years in a row. This is a topic discussed among many of my peers and just wanted to get some other thoughts wihtout any ill feelings.As I know alot of people would rather be silent then voice there opinions.

Is it a matter of working in a place of notrity and hiring a public relation firm to help in achieving this honor

Maybe a contest should be in order to determine how the individuals are picked. Beaver creek, and  the world pastry contest determine who the best are in that class, so why not here as well!

Everyone should have a grasp of the basics in the broad range of what constitutes being a pastry chef. But...not everyone has the means or desire to participate or produce all of the items you mention. Working in restaurants, pastry chefs are rarely afforded the opportunity to produce showpieces, etc. Often, they are relegated to production roles. Really it is a very small percentage of restaurants (mostly high-end) who even have a full time pastry chef position. Often the persone they call the "pastry chef" is a low paid hourly employee who produces the same thing over and over again without much creative control (or even any pastry background).

I think the people who get recognition (have you read that thread about men v. women?) are people who push their own agenda. They have publicists or spread the good word about themselves, or they do it themselves. Pastry Art and Design (the magazine I assume you're referring to in this discussion) probably doesn't have a budget to send teams out to sample from the huge number of offerings in the United States...they must wait for people to approach them. That is why I think they often have a disproportionate number of hotel pastry chefs included in the top ten. Besides, wouldn't you get sick of seeing the pastry chef of the French Laundry, Jean Georges, and eight other high end restaurants (pick randomly) given the title year after year?

At the same time, I don't think that being a Certified Master Pastry Chef makes you immediately qualify for a top ten position either. How many of the top restaurant chefs are Certified Master Chefs? I doubt you'll find many. Most of those people are teaching in culinary schools or are corporate chefs for huge processed food producers (no offense intended, just stating facts).

After all that rambling, I'm not sure where I stand and to be honest, I'm not exactly sure what you're asking. Can you explain your position a little more clearly? What kind of work do you do? What is your background? I've often complained about who makes it on the "list", but at the same time, I don't put too much weight on what Pastry Art and Design says. When I was in culinary school and shortly thereafter, I used to think it was important, but I've reached a stage where I think the magazine is schlock. It is good publicity for the pastry chefs, don't get me wrong, but as you state, there isn't much criteria...it isn't as if they have independent research and auditing to decide who these best are. Let's just say I wouldn't argue if they decided I was one of the top ten, but I wouldn't base my career decisions on having achieved it or not having achieved it.

I'm not up to speed with who all of the individual pastry chefs are or what they're doing, but I would highly suspect that those who posesses ALL of these skills and can do them extremely well would be very few and far between. Most people do choose to specialize. The top wedding cake designers, for example, are not working pastry chefs, but devote all of their time to this one area of pastry and have their own businesses specifically dedicated to this alone. The same is true of chocolatiers.

I'm guessing here, but I think the awards are likely based on innovation and pushing the envelope in pastry and plated desserts, and so chocolatiers and cake designers aren't considered.

I hope someone else in the know chimes in because I'm interested in the answer too. Is it true the award is only open to Americans?

Sugarella,

I think that mjmchef is referring to Pastry Art and Designs annual Ten Best Pastry Chefs award. And yes, it is Americans because it is an American publication...read what I said about budget, etc. above.

I agree with you that due to specialization, there are very few pastry chefs out there who are proficient at everything. Unless one went through a French pastry apprenticeship starting at fourteen years old...very few and far between. Including myself, I think it would be safe to say that most people that enter the field have had one experience with many of the categories above (wedding cakes, sugar work, chocolate, etc.) and that is in culinary school. After that, you can get away with not knowing much about anything else but what is required for your job. Sometimes that's frustrating to me, but I realize that it is inevitable. If I want to do something well, I just have to push myself to work on it at home. After working in a place that only used purchased puff pastry, I decided to work on making it at home to get some practice in to see if I could still do it by hand. That kind of thing.

I think the awards are given to people who do plated desserts because that seems to be easy enough to put into a magazine. Example: This person won, this is their signature dessert, here is the picture and a recipe. Isn't that great?! But I don't necessarily agree that it is people who push the envelope. I haven't bought PA&D in years because I don't really like it much...so I can't speak for who the winners are this year. I know that Nicole Kaplan won (second time?)...she might argue with me as she is a poster here on eGullet...but I wouldn't consider her desserts pushing the envelope too far. That doesn't mean that they don't taste or look good...she just doesn't have hot gellified sweet consomme noodles on her menu like you might find at El Bulli. Sam Mason won last year and Will Goldfarb won this year...they push the envelope a little further (I also think this is a function of the time we're living in...these items are becoming more popular, so they're easier to include)...but there were also a couple of corporate pastry chefs and people that I bet haven't baked a cake in a while, much less alginated something. So, take it as you will. I'm pretty sure that Ron Ben Israel made the list in the past (but I'm not 100%) so I think that cake designers have been included. I think the list tries to be varied (see below)...but I guess that's what mjmchef is trying to ask. Who is good at everything?

To use a loaded term, in my opinion it is all just an "old boys network" and the p.r. thing we were talking about in the other thread. Again, my position is that I just discount it because of the source. But...to repeat what I said earlier...I wouldn't argue if I was chosen. Of course, I've alleviated that responsibility by posting this on the internet!

Sorry for the babbling post...it's a little late and I often post first and think later.

edited to add the list from Pastry Art and Design's 2006 10 Best Pastry Chefs in America:

* Jean Francois Bonnet

Tumbador Chocolate, Brooklyn

* Will Goldfarb

Room 4 Dessert, New York City

* Nicole Kaplan

Eleven Madison Park, New York City

* Elizabeth Katz

BR Guest, New York City

* John Kraus

The French Pastry School, Chicago

* Joe Murphy

Jean-Georges Management, New York City

* Antony D. Osborne

Culinard, The Culinary Institute of Virginia College, Birmingham

* Anil Rohira

Albert Uster Imports, Gaithersburg

* Sebastien Rouxel

Per Se and Bouchon Bakery, New York City

* Sherry Yard

Spago, Beverly Hills

**all kinds of editing after the fact, but not enough to save me from someone's wrath :wink:

Edited by alanamoana (log)
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No ill feelings, and I hope none are exhibited in this dscussion either, as I think you ask a legitimate question.
Nothing against the individuals but I am under the impression that a  top pastry chef in America is someone that should have the skills  and knowledge needed to produce (wedding cakes, bonbons, petite fors, benchwork for danish, croissants, cake decoration, ice cream, choclolate and sugar work, as well as plated desserts),etc.

I'm not up to speed with who all of the individual pastry chefs are or what they're doing, but I would highly suspect that those who posesses ALL of these skills and can do them extremely well would be very few and far between. Most people do choose to specialize. The top wedding cake designers, for example, are not working pastry chefs, but devote all of their time to this one area of pastry and have their own businesses specifically dedicated to this alone. The same is true of chocolatiers.

I'm guessing here, but I think the awards are likely based on innovation and pushing the envelope in pastry and plated desserts, and so chocolatiers and cake designers aren't considered.

I hope someone else in the know chimes in because I'm interested in the answer too. Is it true the award is only open to Americans?

I think you're mostly right, but the guy from Godiva got top 10 two (or three?) years ago, so thats an exception to the norm.

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I have to say that I know MJMChef and he is one of the few chefs that can do both sides of the kitchen with the skill, precision and creativity as any pastry chef I have come across, he's been lucky to have worked with many of the top minds and in turn perfected his talents to include not only being a well regarded savory chef with many accolades but has skills in chocolate, sugar and plated desserts.

His opinion should be taken seriously.

I think what the basis of this discussion is that we all feel that we should get some recognition for the Blood, Sweat and tears we shed every day for our labor of love, it certainly aint the money. and some of us dont understand how some individuals keep popping up onto these lists. I own my own business-a small upscale pastry shop, with wholesale and retail, i will be adding a chocolate line and more emphasis on wedding and sculpted cakes. Do I think I'm good? Hell Yes! Do I think there are bettter pastry chefs out there? Yes. Most times in their presence I feel humbled, are these chefs deserving of my respect you bet. Collegues like Biagio Settapani, Jacquy Pfeiffer, Francois Payard and the like have inspired me to acheive greater depths with my desserts. Do people like Will Goldfarb, Sam Mason and John Krauss push the envelop yes. I feel that individuals doing plated desserts for a 1 unit restaurant are not really "Top 10 Pastry Chefs, they really are plated dessert chefs, but as it has been stated on this thread previosly that the category is not broken down into sub categories and that the source may be biased. I myself have yet to be visited or contacted by either publication but after seeing this months PA&D and actually knowing the covergirl makes me feel that they may soon trickle down and start showing the laymen (or women) in our industry. I am in awe of some of the work produced by the top names and again there are others who squeek in and you wonder how the hell they got there. I held Elizabeth Katz' position at BR GUEST long before Fiamma was built, handling the desserts for 9 NYC restaurants-producing everything with a limited crew and a super talented baker, do I feel she should be on the list? Yes, because she went from 1 unit , to 2, to 3, to company wide and assuming the Corp Pastry Chef role, she has made huge strides. Nicole, I have respect for you as well and I am in no way looking to shoot daggers but I just dont see it, Sherry Yard???? shes been on it a few times, an envelop pusher, i think not, a good dessert chef probably yes.

Anil, Jean F, Sebastian all big names and well known-deserving of it. Joe Murphy, who's Joe Murphy. I guy I know. He worked his ass off for so many years, Gotham then Jean Georges, one of the few who finally got noticed after busting his hump for so long.

If I have offended anyone, I apologize-I'm just voicing an opinion, mine. But congratulations to all.

"Chocolate has no calories....

Chocolate is food for the soul, The soul has no weight, therefore no calories" so said a customer, a lovely southern woman, after consuming chocolate indulgence

SWEET KARMA DESSERTS

www.sweetkarmadesserts.com

550 East Meadow Ave. East meadow, NY 11554

516-794-4478

Brian Fishman

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I think also it is Pastry Art and Designs job to search out the unsung heroes of our industry and find those deserving individuals that are flying below the radar not to keep highlighting the same people over and over.

I love the magazine, it offers me so much as far as creativity and inspiration, i'm just alittle dissapointed..............

Edited by bripastryguy (log)

"Chocolate has no calories....

Chocolate is food for the soul, The soul has no weight, therefore no calories" so said a customer, a lovely southern woman, after consuming chocolate indulgence

SWEET KARMA DESSERTS

www.sweetkarmadesserts.com

550 East Meadow Ave. East meadow, NY 11554

516-794-4478

Brian Fishman

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Are they searching out anyone though? I'm not "in" with the pastry industry... but in the design industry, awards are certainly not recognising the unsung heroes, they're recognising people who send in their own materials, and possibly an entry fee, to the awards committee before the deadline.

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Are they searching out anyone though? I'm not "in" with the pastry industry... but in the design industry, awards are certainly not recognising the unsung heroes, they're recognising people who send in their own materials, and possibly an entry fee, to the awards committee before the deadline.

exactly the point.

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First, I would like to say:

It's all about the marketing. :wink:

Second, I really would like to see PA&D list the criteria for their choices. You know, stuff like, talent, beauty, thoughts on world peace, and especially the swimsuit competition. :raz:

Ok, one more thing:

How about the 10 MILLION best PC's? There are tons of us who work our BUTTS off, no matter what our specialty.

We'll never get "god-like" status, but that's not what it's about for us, it about personal satisfaction in the jobs we do every day. If a diner makes the effort to let a PC know they thought the dessert they made them was fabulous and made them happy, well, then I'd say that's better than any award from some schlocky Pastry rag.

Ok, I'm done now. :hmmm:

Edited by chefpeon (log)
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Its a very simple matter, and sorry I didn't read the above since there was soo much. So if anyone already said this or related I am sorry, just being redundant.

PA&D's criteria is obviously directed to the restaurant pastry chef, WHICH IS A GREAT THING!!!!!!! The last thing I want is for them to broaden their criteria and bring in all the specialty people as the greatest, thats BS.

There are other magazines out there who devote all of there articles and highlights to other sides of the culinary world. There are magazines soley on wedding cakes. Baking and Pastry is a HUUGE field. I think one day schools should have a culinary program, a baking program and a pastry program. The pastry chefs featured in PA&D are more closely related to a restaurant chef than a baker in my opinion. So it is HIGHLY necessary that it stays strictly plated dessert based. I would be THOROUGHLY dissapointed if they went with a broader criteria.

I hope I didn't sound mean, I just wanted to sound demanding I suppose. So don't take what I said to heart, but I firmly believe in it all.

Dean Anthony Anderson

"If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly" ~ Herve This

Pastry Chef: One If By Land Two If By Sea

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It's funny how this same topic rears its head every year around this time. While perhaps the criteria subtly shifts over time, I believe Mr. Schneider and staff have often explained (and sometimes defended) their choices and methods- if I'm not mistaken, usually in the perennial issue 'Ten Best' issue itself.

I've always thought, in order to save themselves a little grief, they should simply call the issue 'The Ten Pastry Chefs We Think Are Cool At This Particular Moment, Excluding Those We've Already Mentioned in Years Past'... But then the public likes their neat and tidy Top Ten lists, and the word 'Best' simply streamlines it.

As for the criteria, I really think they are trying to present a cross section of the industry (we can certainly argue how broad it should be)... a hotel chef, a competition chef, a corporate chef, an educator, an 'avant garde' chef, etc. Then I'm sure they factor in geography (people will always argue the high proportion of New York chefs chosen, but I think it in some ways reflects the high concentration of talent here), gender (always touchy, but I'm sure they try to balance it out)... Sometimes the primary consideration is simply about discovery, sometimes they will choose someone who's been kicking around for awhile, but have just recently hit a personal peak. And as much as their world tends to revolve around either the New york scene or the realm of competition, they are interested in seeking out fresh faces- even I was plucked from the obscurity of suburban Detroit and given the nod a few years back.

In any award system (and there is no cash award here- simply bragging rights, a plaque, maybe a Kitchenaid mixer, and the honor of cooking for hundereds of guests at your own party!) people will find faults. You could say the Beard Awards have neglected a far larger portion of the industry, yet their criteria are much different, and ultimately chosen in a sort of popularity contest.

Of all the media out there, in my experience, Pastry Art and Design is one that actually stands outside the whole PR system (at least in relation to the huge glossies), instead relying more on a sort of 'good old boy' network of chefs and people in the business. Anyone who thinks they need a publicist to crack their world simply hasn't picked up a phone or licked an envelope. And Michael Schneider has even said as much on these very pages. And if I recall, it was criticism from these pages that may have already done a little to influence the scope of the 'Ten Best', if not the magazine itself.

As I wrote this time last year, intead of worrying about who is or isn't on the list, and why or why not, I'd rather congratulate those chosen and see what I may be able to learn from their story and from their work.

Michael Laiskonis

Pastry Chef

New York

www.michael-laiskonis.com

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(people will always argue the high proportion of New York chefs chosen, but I think it in some ways reflects the high concentration of talent here)

I'm sure there IS a high concentration of talent in NY, LA, Boston, Chicago, etc. I think any aspiring PC or wannabe PC should head for those areas if they really want to be on the cutting edge of the industry, and actually make a wee bit more money.

Who knows where I'd be now, if I made the choice to re-locate. But I didn't, and I never will. I'm one of those people who DETESTS city life. Won't go there. No way. So there ya go.

I'm not complaining about who makes the list and who doesn't, but I think a lot of us are puzzled about what the definition of "best" is. Is it purely innovation? Is it artistry? Is it the ability to pump out quality stuff day after day under unrelenting pressure? Is it pure luck in who you know and where you work?

Chiantiglace has the opinion that PA&D is mostly a magazine geared toward the plated dessert PC.

And yeah, you see a lot of that. But when you read the annual "State of the Industry" issue, you know that PA&D looks at every aspect in the industry, from artisan bread, to retail grocery to high end cake designers. It is my impression that PA&D is trying to be a mag for ALL PC's, no matter what their specialty is.

If I were to decide the criteria for choosing the "Best" Pastry Chefs, this is what I would look for:

1. The most important......how good you are at being an all-around PC.

Not only can you roll in a great croissant, but you can fry a doughnut, build and decorate a decent occasion or wedding cake, make a crapload of beautiful (and delicious petit fours), bake an artisan loaf of bread, make ice cream, do a little showpiece work (in their choice of media-chocolate, sugar, bread display, etc), make beautiful cookies, perfectly domed moist muffins, crank out tarts, genoise, meringues, napoleons.....you get my drift. The Jack-of-all-trades element is the most important element.

2. Temperament.......how do you treat people around you and your staff? Do you set a good example? Do you mentor your people? Are you inspirational to those around you?

3. Can you do well under pressure? If your exec says he needs 1000 petit fours by tomorrow, and you've already got 7 hours under your belt, do you rise to the occasion or crumble?

Now, I'm not saying this necessarily should be a criteria, because my above example toes the line of martyrdom and "cruel and unusual punishment". A lot of PC's, wanting to please, or who are trying to climb the proverbial ladder, will bite their tongues and get the product out.

Should this be rewarded? I'm not sure about that. Making yourself a martyr just sets you up to get taken advantage of. And yeah, I speak from experience on that one.

Ok, here's my idea. In the spirit of America's favorite show, "American Idol" we should have our own "PC Idol" (to be broadcast on the Food Network of course). Every week, the competition should focus on a different aspect of the business. Whomever does the best overall in all the tasks gets to be "Best" for a while. Yeah, that's how I'd choose.

I think Mr. Laiskonis is right........PA&D, should call their "Ten Best" issue what it really is:

The Ten Pastry Chefs We Think Are Cool At This Particular Moment, Excluding Those We've Already Mentioned in Years Past'

Then maybe we'd all quit whining about it. :raz:

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I'll take it one step further....

I really enjoy the magazine and enjoy trying to decipher the recipes as a non-professional. However, what I see is an advertising outlet. It reminds me of the wine mags that tout certain wines, but in fact, they are positive reviews of advertiser promoted wines. I look at the pics of the chefs in the magazine and often they have hats and jackets emblazoned with the logos of companies advertising in the magazine.

No, this takes nothing away from their accomplishments - no one questions their abilities and artistry. But refer back to the previous comments about publicists, and consider who pays for the magazine ["we" do now that it is subscription-based :)], but that may play into their decisions.

[For purposes of full disclosure...This is pure speculation by a former Show Me Stater, and I now come from a state that is sure aliens exist!]

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As stated by Ted & Michael - and very well stated - the whole 10 Best concept is essentially opinion and casting about to include and recognize different types of representatives of the community. A quick 10 Best search will come up with Rock bands, photos of Mars, restaurants, bachellors, beautiful people, whatever

Most people seem to accept the inclusion in a non-statistical non-metrics-based 10 best list in any publication as a nice honor so why would you feel that PA&D somehow belongs to any of us and should or would be any different.

FWIW, no one who is on the 10 Best PC list is any type of slacker. From my experience in the past, they all can do all the requisite pastry things.

Just the other day, I came across some article in the paper indicating that many of the to 10 most eligible batchellors were not actually available.

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This wasnt really set up to cause ill feelings but it always seems to go that way alittle. Maybe we can get M. Schneider to tell us how the mag reaches their decisions? I myself love the magazine, havent missed an issue-pretty pissed when mine is late. It has been a source of great inspiration, never an extreme let down, some issues better than others. think the coverage of competition chefs is great we all get to see new and interesting techniques, isnt that what we all want? I'm going back to the same problem I stated earlier-

Should individuals reappear on the list when there are sooooooooo many talented individuals who are deserving? I am not saying that they dont deserve and I recently looked through PA&D and realized that they are searching out individuals who are in out of the way places. Same idea I mentioned to Bobby Flay at a NY Mag event- "Bobby, you do that show where you travel all over and everytime to do NY it's either the city or the Hamptons, there's some serious talent in the "wasteland" in between"

I'm not a glory hound, I've done TV, print, video, still my greatest joy is the look on a customers face when I present them with a cake or they see the desserts in my case for the first time. So if I sounded like I feel I was over looked, Hell no. I do want to offer my congratulations to all the winners and like most of you I cant wait to see the 10 Best Issue, I might even call Joe Murphy to see if he needs an extra pair of hands on event night (Yeh I know Michael I was supposed to be there for you, sons 2nd birthday, wife wouldnt let me skate out early and she would like to apologize to you in person)

"Chocolate has no calories....

Chocolate is food for the soul, The soul has no weight, therefore no calories" so said a customer, a lovely southern woman, after consuming chocolate indulgence

SWEET KARMA DESSERTS

www.sweetkarmadesserts.com

550 East Meadow Ave. East meadow, NY 11554

516-794-4478

Brian Fishman

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