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Chef In Focus
44 Pastry & Baking North America
By using only ingredients that are in season, you must
have to stretch your imagination every time something
new pops up from the ground.
I try to start by imagining my guests looking at the dessert
menu and having a hard time making the choice between all
of the delicious options. Then, I imagine them trading plates
and telling their table mates they’ve got to try this. I imagine
them groaning, tableside, helplessly fighting off the urge to
take one more bite before crawling out of the restaurant. I like
to imagine them getting up early and hitting the gym the next
day, so I don’t feel like a dealer. 
That’s the imagination part that I find important. Writing
the menu? That’s easy, there are books with flavor-pairing
charts and menu ideas galore. There are hundreds of pastry
chefs out there sharing their inspiration. Inspiration is cheap.
So what’s on the dessert menu now at Woodberry?
What’s your favorite?
Right now our pantry is loaded with fruit we canned over the
past harvest. I’ve have nectarines,
peaches, and pears in syrup,
strawberry preserves, apricot jam.
We’ve made tons of prunes and
raisins. During the growing months,
we try to really make what we’ll
need. In the winter, we really need
what we’ve made. Even all of the
orchards’ cellared apples are starting
to get iffy, so all of my fruit comes
from our preserving effort.
Sometimes a dish will write itself
– I’ve got these awesome raisins,
really true to the taste of the grape,
and I’ve got this great Carolina Gold
rice from Anson Mills. Two humble,
simple products
that I’m very proud to work with.
Tradition tells me they want to go
together - if I have any challenge as a
chef here, it’s in finding a way to make
it special and memorable without
front-loading it with pretense. We
often do that at Woodberry by using
extraordinary ingredients to make
lowbrow cuisine.
I’ll probably cook a rice pudding base, serve it cold and
lightened with marshmallow fluff (basically meringue), with
raisins, maybe a layer of raisin jelly, topped with a Carolina
Gold rice crispy treat made really thin and extra-crunchy,
maybe it’ll want some ice cream. It’s basically two preparations
of rice and marshmallow, spurred by these raisins. It’s nice
when a dish is kind of funny and goofy but the humor is
not the main point. I’m going to put that dish on today, it’ll
probably be my favorite.
Since you work with local farmers, is that how you
source all your ingredients?
We are not above buying gelatin, baking soda, and other basic
pantry items – yet. Like I mentioned before, we get better at
it every year. Most recently, we started making all of our own
sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese, and fresh cheeses because
the local grower/creamery that sells that just doesn’t exist yet.
We’ve gotten pretty good at making vinegar, and
we’re about ready to make it in bulk and move beyond
buying vinegar whose provenance is not transparent. We
question the origin of everything that comes in, down to
the cutting boards. I don’t think I’ll ever replace chocolate
though.  Sometimes we have to remind ourselves the value
‘local’ is not the end goal by itself - we love it in service to
community and sustainability. A little bit of chocolate is going
to help me sell a ton of well-sourced eggs and cream.
How is it working with Spike Gjerde who has emerged
as a true visionary in the sustainable food movement?
Working for Chef Spike is great. He’s a hard-liner. He’s set us
up for a lot of work, but a lot of reward. He’s helping build
sustainable careers for everyone that works here. Nothing
escapes his eye – because of his commitment to sustainability,
we’ve got about a dozen
different destinations for our
waste stream. The man is
constantly refining even how we
throw stuff away. Working for
him is like taking a master class
in how to consider every part of
the business all of the time.  
Baltimore isn’t exactly
foodie paradise. Is your
overall culinary perspective
a tough sell to the locals?
Conservatively, I’ve sold over
a hundred thousand plates of
dessert here and I’m still often
surprised when a dish does
very well or very poorly. Given
that our mission is to sell
as much carefully sourced
food as possible, my culinary
perspective is to give the people
what they want. 
We are not foodie paradise,
but I think you would be hard
pressed to find an area of the
world with a richer culinary history that is so poorly served
by its restaurant industry. There are beautiful traditions
here whose surface I have yet even to scratch: Smith Island
cake, schmierkase, marshmallow donuts, peach cake, Berger
cookies. In the face of so much tradition, you have to remain
humble, and let your culinary perspective flow from that. I’m
young at this, you know? I just learned how to make croissant
last week.
Congratulations on winning The Restaurant
Association of Maryland’s 2011 Stars of the Industry
Pastry Chef of the Year award. In today’s professional
culinary industry, do you think pastry chefs get
enough recognition?