Holiday times mean dessert times in any way, shape, or form. And when it comes to dessert, there are few people as talented as Chef Emily Luchetti.
As the executive chef of Waterbar and Farallon restaurants in the city, an author, AND a James Beard Board member, Chef Emily is a true professional. She is even participating in Dandelion Chocolate’s 12 Nights of Chocolate for a pop-up chocolate party tonight!
Snag tickets here, and read on for an interview I was lucky enough to have with her on the world of pastry:
——- ~ ——- ~ ——- ~ ——- ~ ——- ~ ——- ~ ——- ~ ——- ~ ——- ~ ——- ~ ——- ~ ——
What is you favorite part about being a pastry chef?
There are two things I like. I like the craft of it – working with my hands all day to create something; and I like the creative aspect of it – thinking up new flavor combinations, and presenting the food to other people so they leave happy.
You’re always on the road – how do you have time to find and experiment with new recipes?
It’s one of those things that you make time for. On the road, you’re outside of your own kitchen and you’re looking for new things. Every time you see something you put in the back of your mind and revisit it. There is always something going on even if you aren’t cognizant of it.
What sorts of events do you do?
[A couple months ago] I did an event with Sur La Table in Palo Alto, and I’m doing a fundraiser for the James Beart board of directors in NYC about food sustainability.
Food sustainability is such an important thing – you have to be careful not to just throw those words around. We have to shift our thinking and doing long-term on how we can product quality products that are good for the land economically feasible. It’s a compound issue and isn’t going to happen overnight.
Where do you like to get dessert in the Bay Area?
I [recently] went to 20th Century Café and really liked it. I like Coco500, Coqueta, Akikos, the new Fog City. I also like Delfina and Foreign Cinema. It’s hard to choose a restaurant in the city. You have your favorites but you have so many favorites! And so many new places pop up that there aren’t enough hours in the day.
There is a stigma that pastry is a very exact science with exact measurements. Do you agree or disagree with that?
There are techniques and rules you need to know, and precision is important. That being said, there is a lot of flexibility – with trifle, you don’t really need a recipe. You have to know the rules so you know which ones to break. That you get through experience.
I think culinary school is one of those things like getting your MBA – you can get it or not and be really successful. If you’re not going to go, how are you going to get that knowledge? I’m a proponent of it as it gives you an overall base education so when you get to a restaurant, you can take it further. And you don’t need to go an expensive one to get all the information you need quickly. Of course, going to school isn’t going to teach you good knife skills.
The Fearless Baker is one of the first cookbooks by an experienced pastry chef that is meant to really help the home cook. How did you come up with the concept for that?
People would get my book, look at the picture and say, “I can’t make that” by just looking at the photo – you haven’t even tried! But then I started thinking seriously about what it is that makes people motivated to make it work. People know more than they think they but they throw their confidence out the window – I wanted to take the fear out of baking and demystify it..
[This season,] what kind of desserts can we expect to see from you?
I’ve been on an apple phase. Years ago, I used to make an Apple Charlotte and I’ve made it again. It’s such a fabulous dessert. People forget how good the old desserts are!
It’s hard to reinvent desserts nowadays. How do you make a dessert your own?
There is really only so many ways to make an apple pie. But what you can do is make it really, really good and put your signature on it. It’s one of those things where people ask what your style is. If you’re a pastry cook or chef, it doesn’t come right away and you can’t really articulate it, it’ll suddenly come out from the inside. My thing is always making things really flavorful. I feel that desserts out there are usually too sweet or too bland. Unless you’re going to kill the flavor and get it 110% right then it’s not worth eating.
San Francisco or New York City?
Both. They have different styles, like apples and oranges. They both have their plusses and being able to experience both is great. California has a straightforwardness to it because of the agriculture here. New York is more about sophisticatedness. I wouldn’t give up one for the other, it’s a combination.
Find the recipe for Chef Emily’s Apple Charlotte in her piece in the SF Chronicle Food section, and join her at Dandelion Chocolate tonight!