The future of pastry may lie in a lab rather than a kitchen. Chefs across the world are creating groundbreaking new desserts using ingredients both familiar and wildly unknown. Join me for a quick look at some of the new and innovative ways pastry chefs are using chocolate:
Grant Achatz’s Chicago restaurant Alinea is known for adventurous cooking and unusual flavors. Desserts at Alinea normally use chocolate as one of several building blocks of flavor, rather than as the key ingredient. An example of this is a dessert inspired by winter, featuring menthol cream, cocoa crumbs, chewy coconut, coconut mousse, frozen dark chocolate mousse, crystallized menthol and warm chocolate pudding.
James Beard nominated pastry chef Will Goldfarb uses his own line of powdered additives to create desserts like Chocolate Parfait with Madras Curry. Similar to what Ferran Adrià is doing at El Bulli, Goldfarb’s “Willpowders” can create carbonated chocolate, milk gel and “fried” meringue.
San Francisco chef Boris Portnoy, recently hired to head up pastries at Meadowood in St. Helena, finds his inspiration in art. The sculptor Richard Serra inspired Portnoy to use ice water to sculpt chocolate into curves reminiscent of undulating steel. Robert Rauschenberg’s collaged paintings led to the creation of chocolate transfers with a similar look.
Spanish pastry chef Jordi Roca, of El Celler de Can Roca, uses emotion as his guiding principle. Dishes like A Trip to Havana (chocolate cigar with spiced “ashes”) and the perfume-inspired Terre d’Hermes (chocolate-covered patchouli ice cream with hazelnut and orange) work with all the senses to evoke nostalgia and humor.
Innovation is not always about new techniques, sometimes it be as simple as pairing foods that on paper don’t seem to go together at all. Patrick Fahy, pastry chef at Chicago’s Blackbird created a dessert that melds the flavors of butternut squash, chocolate and horchata (milk chocolate crémeux with butternut squash, gingerbread and horchata sorbet). Another Fahy creation that might sound odd—but is in fact delicious—is tonka bean ice cream paired with chocolate-infused roasted barley “soil.”
Kate Steffens is a pastry chef, writer, DJ, artist, designer and all-around Renaissance woman. She is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy and the University of Texas at Austin. She runs the rock-and-roll chocolate company, Straight Outta Chocolate. When she's not elbow deep in chocolate, you can find her reading, gardening, working on art projects and listening to old records.