Now, I’ve had some less-than-desirable assignments, but this was not one of them. I was heading to New York for the Valrhona C3 in Brooklyn to watch some of the world’s top pastry chefs compete in chocolate and plated desserts. The dozen or so competitors comprised mid-career chefs at the top of their game. They were focused, skilled and practiced down to the minute, adeptly moving from required element to required element.
was cool to meet them in person and watch as they tasted each dish. I examined their faces, their expressions of surprise, delight, dismay, disappointment, and I reveled in them devouring a whole dish even when there were maybe 10 more in each round.
The winner, Yusuke Aoki, Executive Pastry Chef at the Four Seasons Hotel Resort in Bali, was inspirational. His plated dessert with fig and chocolate was as beautiful as it must have been tasty… Okay, so there’s that.
After the C3, I met two amazing pastry chefs in the City – Michael Zebrowski, Pastry Chef and Instructor at the Culinary Institute of America, and Michael Mignano, then Executive Pastry Chef at The Pierre Hotel and now Chef/Owner of the brand new Farine Baking Company in Jackson Heights. Beyond their “day jobs,” these two penned “The Pastry Chef’s Little Black Book,” which is a not-so-little, best-selling compendium written by chefs, for chefs. I was thrilled to add a signed copy to my shelves – not to collect dust, but as a practical, to-the-point workbook. The weirdo editor in me was thrilled it was on matte paper – ever make a note on coated or glossy paper, only for you to accidentally run your hand over it? Ack.
After touring the kitchen – which, if you know me, I’m a total dork about – we sat down. And ate. I was coerced into ordering the “best burger in the city,” which was amazing and enormous, potentially worthy of the accolade. We talked as Zebrowski regularly nicked my fries, which I took as a chef’s version of blood brothers (er, what’s the PC-version of that? I dunno.). Whatev – instant friends.
But then dessert. Sweet Holy Moses! Mignano brought out pretty much every dessert on Perrine’s menu, including the Mignano Bar: his trademarked, drool-worthy deliciousness of cashew and macadamia salted caramel, caramelized puffed rice, single-origin dark chocolate ganache, all covered in dark chocolate and garnished with Hawaiian sea salt…and house-made candy corn…and caramel movie-theater buttered popcorn gelato (top left, below). And, yes, the recipe is in the book, and I’m sure you’ll be able to get it at Farine when it opens. You’ll want one. Get in line behind Jimmy Fallon, who reportedly ordered a bunch of these.
As I rolled out of our meeting, I went back to my hotel to meet up with a friend who came from L.A., along with some cousins from Boston – hopefully you have these types of friends/family who are totally down for an afternoon in NYC and a pastry crawl. Here’s our path through some of the best shops in the city:
Supermoon Bakehouse – the trendy, opal-esque shop attracts people for the Insta-worthy snaps alone, never mind the embellished croissants, but they were just ok. I know, I know, blasphemy, but I judge every shop by the quality of their plain croissant, which wasn’t exceptionally buttery. But, the other flavors were fun, even though cloyingly sweet. The shop is clean, unclear and has poor seating; but, whatever, go spend $6 on a croissant worthy of social media.
Stick with Me Sweets – Chef Suzanna Yoon has a lovely, NYC-sized (i.e., tiny) shop filled with gem-like bonbons and adorable packaging that just invites you to invest. Yes, they’re pricey, but totally worth the splurge. Good chocolate and good bon bons are good for a reason. The clerk wasn’t too hospitable or knowledgeable beyond what we could read in the display, but ignore her and pick up a six-pack of your favorites. You know, for your BAE.
Mah-Ze-Dar – A hip little shop with computer-campers occupying the very few tables in the place. Since we got there after noon, they had few pastries available except for this reputed “old-fashioned donut,” but I found it to be a donut in search of a coffee dunk. Oh, and bring plastic because they don’t take cash. Um, what? However,Umber Ahmad was just nominated as a 2019 James Beard Semi-Finalist for Outstanding Baker, so it may be worth another try. In the morning. With cash.
Patisserie Chanson – Ever see “Big Night”? Ignore the block-sized Eataly across the street, and step into this great spot from Chef Rory MacDonald. It’s a bright, shiny space filled with happy people and plenty of pastries to go or enjoy in. I got the buttery, sweet Kouign Aman (one of my faves) and, on the way out, had a starig problem with the Dark Chocolate Ficelle Baguette – I mean, don’t we need that for something? A snack later? Oh, and don’t forget to ask about the late-late-night dessert tasting.
My cousins abandoned my friend and I at this point as we continued on. We’re serious crawlers, lumbering around NYC at this point. Our next stop was a schlep from Chanson, but we felt it was necessary. We felt wrong.
Epicerie Boulud was over-crowded, under-appealing and disorganized. With no sign of a line (not in the good way) and what seemed like more fast-lunch options than I thought Boulud was known for, we passed up the pre-packaged madeleines and walked out. I think this might be worth another try because of the Chef’s rep; but, by now, we were tired and cranky and not willing to figure it out.
Almondine – We got back to DUMBO around 2pm where we found Almondine to be out of pretty much everything. I can appreciate this as an indication that we missed something tasty. This shop is on a totally cute street, right across from…
Jacques Torres – As it was the end of October and a “little chilly” (not exactly how my friend would describe it; dressed like she were in the Arctic, she would say, “fucking freezing”), Torres’s special hot chocolate with chili pepper was tempting and exactly the type of thing my friend would love (and need). Perusing the rows of Halloween-themed chocolate bon bons, we opted instead for Torres’s famous chocolate chip cookie (you know, for later). I know, some of you are saying, why not have both, but seriously consider everything we ate to this point…and we weren’t about to skip dinner! (Insert pig emoji here.) The cookie was delicious and nutty, I’d imagine made with ground almonds. The massive amount of bonbons went virtually unnoticed among the hordes of people slugging down the hot chocolate and cookies.
We walked approximately 20 minutes from there to finally sit, rest, warm up and eat a solid meal at Queen, a family-run Italian joint since 1958. I assume it was the owner who greeted us in old-world-style class, clad fully in a thre-piece suit. We settled in for an authentic Italian meal – how could you have anything else in Brooklyn? I could have sat there for hours chatting with the servers and fellow diners…except I was about to fall asleep in my parm.
A warm Uber back to the hotel in Brooklyn, and we said our good nights and cozied up in our closet-sized rooms. Ha, I’m SO oblivious to New York life, but I’m willing to go back and get used to it!
Places to try next time:
- Peter Pan Donuts
- Damascus Bread and Pastry
- Bien Cuit – Worth a trip since Zachary Golper was just nominated as a 2019 James Beard Semi-Finalist for Outstanding Baker.