The Sweet Spot: Celebrating Desserts

For the past 19 years, Dessert Professional Magazine has hosted an awards and tasting party for the country’s top ten pastry chefs. Last night, at the Institute of Culinary Education, New York took the largest piece of the winning pie with chefs Sandro Micheli from Daniel, Marc Aumont from The Modern, Angela Pinkerton from Eleven Madison Park, Damien Harrgott from Bosie Tea Parlor, and the city’s darling, Christina Tosi from Momofuku Milk Bar.

As they lined up with the other winner—Sally Camacho from WP24 in Los Angeles, Craig Harzewski from Naha in Chicago, Nathaniel Reid from Norman Love Confections in Florida, Jean-Marie Auboine from his self-titled shop in Las Vegas, and Chris Hanmer from Las Vegas’s School of Pastry Design—I couldn’t help but notice all the champs were skinny. I’m not talking about just being smaller than Mario Batali, but I-never-even-eat-dessert thin. Oh well, so what if Tosi looks like she could be a vegan? It’s her pretzel and chocolate-chip cake-truffles we really care about.

You can just look at Tosi’s innovative creations to see that the art of dessert has come a long way. While a decade ago the real trick came in making superb chocolate mousse, a moist flourless chocolate cake, or perfect, airy pastries, today’s chefs have made dessert more than the end of the meal treat. They are creating art. Take Pinkerton’s lavender meringue with cocoa sorbet, for example; it didn’t look like anything you would order off a cafeteria sweets bar. The dish she offered had layers of crumble, cold, hard, light, sweet, and sour—all on one plate, which is a theme she carries over to Eleven Madison Park. Tosi too has been known for her original use of packaged crackers, pretzels, and various candies to spruce up cookies and cakes. Based on some of the other dishes at the awards ceremony, this trend isn’t going away, and people like it.

As guests fought to sample the gourmet sweets, past award winner Pichet Ong of Spot Dessert Bar flittered about the tables, garnering an excited “Hey chef” every where he went. Anita Lo of Annisa was also seen heading to the dessert room where Top Chef: Just Desserts Season Two winner Chris Hanmer whipped up a modern looking pineapple confit with a crazy tube of passion fruit studded with cilantro. Hanmer’s show mate and the United States representative of the Culinary Olympics in Germany, pastry chef Sally Camacho, also offered an interesting dessert involving a cup filled with a landscape of fluffy, crumbly, stiff, floral, salty, and chocolaty.           

Across New York you can find enjoyable desserts like the ones represented at the awards including the crazy flavors of rice pudding at Rice to Riches, everything chocolate at The Chocolate Room in Brooklyn, and next level desserts by chef Justin Hilbert of Gwynnett St., also in Brooklyn. If you happen to be in San Francisco, check out Humphry Slocombe ice cream parlor where Jake Godby creates the strangest flavors including salt and pepper, oolong tea, and peanut butter curry.

Despite all the innovative desserts being passed around the culinary school last night, I still go for the simplest, like Jean-Marie Aubione’s perfect chocolates and crispy bars and the bright raspberry and chocolate pastry by Nathaniel Reid. No matter how you like your sweets, though, there is something for everyone to indulge in. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 25th Annual James Beard Award Winners

Over two decades have passed since the James Beard Awards began handing out trophies to the best in the restaurant world, and it continues to be the Academy Awards of the food world. Last night, at the packed Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, the awards commenced with their 25th annual ceremony that honored the country’s top chefs, restaurants, food writers, journalists, servers, bartenders, and television personalities. Not surprising, New York took a big chunk of the glory, with awards going to Michael Anthony of Gramercy Tavern, who won Best Chef in New York, and Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar who won Rising Star Chef of the Year, beating out Dave Beran of Grant Achatz’s Next, which won the Best New Restaurant award. New York also boasts a win for the outstanding chef award, which went to Daniel Humm of Eleven Madison Park. He trumped the other top-notch contestants including David Chang, Paul Kahan, Nancy Silverton, and Gary Danko. Paul Grieco took the prize with Terroir for Outstanding Wine, Beer, or Spirits Professional. PDT won for Outstanding Bar Program, and La Grenouille achieved victory for outstanding service.

Though only a handful of people walked away with a medal, Lincoln Center filled up with the country’s hottest foodie folk. April Bloomfield of the Breslin and Spotted Pig made an appearance decked out in a snappy suit and—shocker—with makeup on. Food Republic spotted Jamie Bissonnette of Coppa in Boston sneaking a flask of Fernet, and, rumor has it a PR gal got fired after failing to recognize renowned French chef Jacques Pépin and not letting him enter the pressroom. Naturally, the nominees were there, as well as haute chefs like Ed Lee, Rick Bayless, Wolfgang Puck, Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Stephanie Izard, Cathy Whims, and dozens more. Keep making us tasty treats guys, and, may you all win next year.

The List of Winners:

Outstanding Chef: Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park (NYC)

Outstanding Restaurant: Boulevard (San Francisco)

Rising Star Chef: Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk Bar (NYC)

Best New Restaurant: Next (Chicago)

Best Chef: Great Lakes (IL, IN, MI, OH):  Bruce Sherman, North Pond (Chicago)

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic (D.C., DE, MD, NJ, PA, VA): Maricel Presilla, Cucharamama (Hoboken, NJ)

Best Chef: Midwest (IA, KS, MN, MO, NE, ND, SD, WI): Tory Miller, L’Etoile (Madison, WI)

Best Chef: New York City: Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern

Best Chef: Northeast (CT, MA, ME, NH, NY STATE, RI, VT): Tim Cushman, O Ya (Boston)

Best Chef: Northwest (AK, ID, MT, OR, WA, WY), Matt Dillon, Sitka & Spruce (Seattle)

Best Chef: Pacific (CA, HI), Matt Molina, Osteria Mozza (Los Angeles)
Best Chef: South (AL, AR, FL, LA, MS): Chris Hastings, Hot and Hot Fish Club (Birmingham, AL)

Best Chef: Southeast (GA, KY, NC, SC, TN, WV): Tie between Hugh Acheson, Five and Ten (Athens, GA) and Linton Hopkins, Restaurant Eugene (Atlanta)

Best Chef: Southwest (AZ, CO, NM, NV, OK, TX, UT), Paul Qui, Uchiko (Austin, TX)

Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional, Paul Grieco, Terroir (NYC)

Outstanding Wine Program, No. 9 Park (Boston)

Outstanding Bar Program, PDT (NYC)

Outstanding Service, La Grenouille (NYC)

Outstanding Pastry Chef, Mindy Segal, Mindy’s Hot Chocolate (Chicago)

Outstanding Restaurateur, Tom Douglas, Tom Douglas Restaurants (Seattle)

For a complete list of winners, go here.

Photo of Momofuk’s Christina Tosi by Kent Miller