What are you excited about right now?
On property, we're excited about Taste & Savor coming up in March. We're inviting chefs from all over the country, including pastry chefs. ... We're partnering with Valrhona Chocolate as a sponsor. I've had a 10-year relationship with them between the places I've worked. They're sending their East Coast pastry chef, Sarah Kosikowski. She's really well-respected in the industry. She worked at The French Laundry, among other places. She's doing a "history of chocolate" seminar, and one night she and I are collaborating on a chocolate buffet. We'll be focusing on different percentages of chocolate and their best applications.
What's the most unusual or odd ingredient you've had in your kitchen recently?
We recently started a new bread program. We're playing with a new trend called "ancient grains baking," taking it back to the way people baked hundreds of years ago and revisiting those techniques. The leaders in the industry are saying it's way better for gut health and digestion, where we're not processing the wheat as much.
We're buying sprouted-grain flour ... it creates a better product. It's somewhat in response to the gluten-free trend — we're reminding people that gluten is actually really good for you. We use a chub, which is sprouted grains ground with water and sold in loaves that look like 10-pound hamburger meat logs. We're doing all kinds of breads with it, and we're trying to incorporate it into our pastries, like as tart dough. We're using it a lot at Natural Epicurean ... it tastes better, in my opinion. Things caramelize better and there's a fruitier, nuttier flavor.
What was your best meal out last year?
I was in Chicago for a recruiting trip, and we went to Paul Kahan's new restaurant Nico Osteria. Everyone's opening an Italian place these days, even The Broadmoor. It had all these boutique no-name wines — I like to drink wine I haven't heard of before. It was just exceptional. The ambiance, and the desserts were great.
I went to two other Paul Kahan restaurants on the trip and this was the better one. I knew the pastry chef. We'd traveled to Switzerland two years ago on a seven-day chocolate seminar. We had her version of a tiramisu — I'm an advocate of not screwing around with the classics, but her modern twist was well done while respectful of the tradition. Also, she had a donut ice cream.
What do you think 2015 holds in terms of emerging food trends?
There's different spectrums [within pastry]. There's hotels — what I do. Then guys in big cities managing one little boutique, then you have the three-star guys. But overall, I think you're going to see a return to the classics, especially in boutiques. For a while we got off track. There's going to be a huge return to classic items like mille-feuilles [layers of puff pastry, also called a Napoleon], éclairs and profiteroles. Cupcakes will also hold on for a couple more years, unfortunately — you saw the big boom with everyone opening shops. ...
I also think there's a trend coming up of made-to-order dessert bars. There were some before, but I think it was bad timing. ... There's a guy in New York, Dominique Ansel, and everything he offers in SoHo is made to order — like, you order an éclair and it's filled and dipped in front of you.
What's your favorite foodie movie?
Mostly Martha was a good one, but the remake was terrible. The original in German is a great movie. I also just watched a documentary called Spinning Plates. It's different stories in the restaurant business. There's a Mexican family at a taco stand, then Grant Achatz talking about Alinea. You see that restaurants are restaurants whether they're a taco stand or a three-star, avant-garde, thought-provoking place in Chicago.
What's one book, recipe, blog or something you've read, that's inspired your cooking?
Right now I'm reading — and this is irrelevant but inspiring — Brewing Up a Business by Sam Calagione ... he talks about running a business, and at the end of the day, that's what we are doing. I read Grant Achatz's Life, on the Line. It's incredibly inspiring. He had cancer of the tongue and comes back to get three Michelin stars.
A friend of mine, an alumni from [San Diego Culinary Institute], runs a blog called Art of Dessert, on specialty pastries and baking — she has two sons with allergies. I reference it on regular occasions. Because, say the Johnson family is checking in, and their son is allergic to eggs. If it is a severe allergy, we'll get in touch with the family by phone. In some instances we've designated a spot in the kitchen just for them, and scrubbed it down.