Kyotofu Using Thomas Keller’s Flour For Gluten-Free Treats That Don’t Taste Like Disappointment

Japanese bakery Kyotofu introduced New Yorkers to a brave new world of soybean-based treats when it hung out a shingle in Hell’s Kitchen in 2006. Its inspiring menu of mouthwatering, artisanal tofu-filled weirdness quickly garnered all sorts of accolades, even earning New York magazine’s coveted Best Cupcake title – in a city with the Carrie Bradshaw-endorsed Magnolia. But rather than rest on its beany laurels, Kyotofu has upped the ante by diving headfirst into the gluten-free game. Based on their initial foray, which we recently sampled in the office, they’re in it to win it. To add some star power to their celiac-friendly selections, Kyotofu teamed up with Cup4Cup, a 100% gluten-free flour from chefs Thomas Keller and Lena Kwak of the renowned French Laundry. The results are impressive.

As a relatively new member of the G-Free club (ten months and counting), I can’t help but make a beeline toward any baked good labeled gluten-free (usually in large letters to attract suckers such as myself). Yet this so often leads to disappointment, with bland cookies and dry, insipid cakes masquerading as proper desserts. Fortunately for those of us trying to live a gluten-free life in a wheat-filled world, the Kyotofu/Cup4Cup collaboration finally gets it right.

Kyotofu’s acclaimed chefs have used the cornstarch- and rice-based flour to create such sublime baked goods as yuzu vanilla cupcakes (pictured); sweet potato mini pound cakes; and black sesame, green tea and genmai shortbreads. Don’t be fooled by their innocent little flower-shaped designs, they all pack a satisfying, sugary punch. My particular favorite: Kyotofu’s miso brownies, which have a perfectly moist fudgy consistency, and its green tea financiers: plump, buttery angels straight from gluten-free heaven.

Finally, gluten-free desserts that don’t feel like a compromise. If I could eat like like this forever (and never gain a pound) I’d never crave gluten again.

[Related: BlackBook New York Guide; Listing for Kyotofu]

Industry Insiders: Jonathan Benno, Per Se Persona

Jonathan Benno, chef de cuisine at Thomas Keller’s Per Se Restaurant at the Time Warner Center in New York, on the downside of popular gastronomy, BMW motorcycles, and escaping the kitchen to make time for the fam.

Where do you go out when you’re off duty? Al di Là in Park Slope. It’s a husband and wife team I’ve known for a really long time. They do traditional Italian cooking, and it’s just a place that’s from the heart. She does the kitchen, and he does the dining room. It’s small and special. Either of Michael White’s New York restaurants — Convivio or Alto — because he has such a command of Italian cuisine, and he’s a really, really nice guy. Hearth by Marco Canora, formerly of Craft, and Paul Greco, formerly of Gramercy Tavern, is great because the place is a real labor of love for two guys who were at the top of their games at successful restaurants. They borrowed the money to open this little restaurant in the East Village, and they made it work.

How would you describe yourself? I’m a quiet, focused, disciplined, and passionate person.

How’d you get started? The turning point for me was the first time I worked at the French Laundry. I worked there about 15 years ago, during the first year that it opened. I started at Daniel where Café Boulud is today, then worked for Christian DeLuvier at the Essex House. I spent most of my time working at Gramercy Tavern for Tom Colicchio before I traveled to southwest France to work for Gilles Goujon at L’Auberge du Vieux Puits, then went back to the French Laundry for a couple of years before the opening of Per Se. In my mind, I always look at the French Laundry as the turning point for me.

Who do you admire in the hospitality industry? Thomas Keller for what he’s done for our industry and people’s perception of a chef/owner. Never mind the fact that he’s really set the bar for fine dining at the French Laundry and Per Se as well as Ad Hoc and other venues. Somebody said that he’s a “cook’s cook,” and after all the accolades, that sums him up best. Also, Danny Meyer, for what he’s done for American restaurants and service over the course of the past 20 years at Union Square Cafe. On so many different levels, whether you’re having the tasting menu at Gramercy Tavern or you put up with the lines at Shake Shack, these are two wonderful restaurants at both ends of the spectrum. I was fortunate enough to have worked for him for two and a half years at Gramercy, and it stays with me today.

Name one positive trend that you see in the hospitality industry. I think the downward trend in the economy affects restaurants at every level. You’re not going to see the Per Se’s and the Daniel’s open in the near future as freestanding restaurants. The trend is going to be towards more casual restaurants, and I hope chef/owner-driven small restaurants with a lower price point will make it for the next year or two until the economy comes back.

Negative trends? The use of chemicals in cuisine. There’s this whole molecular gastronomy movement. I object to the manipulation of food that’s been developing over the past couple of years. Even to take a carrot from the green market and juice it and then add chemicals to it to make beads or whatever — why use high-quality ingredients and corrupt them with chemistry?

What is something that people might not know about you? I’ve always daydreamed about being a BMW motorcycle mechanic.

Any non-industry projects in the works? My wife and I have a nine-month-old baby girl. So, they’re my projects out of working hours. I like to read, but it’s like stealing time, and so is going to the gym.

Industry Insiders: Chef Corey Lee of French Laundry Fame

The French Laundry’s chef de cuisine Corey Lee on late-night Chinese food delivery, his non-scenester bar of choice, and the rigorous work schedule of a culinary master.

What’s your job description? I’m a chef at a fine dining restaurant, French Laundry. My job includes a lot of things; mainly maintaining the standards of the restaurant — making sure that the restaurant continues to evolve and gets better but in a way that’s consistent with the identity of French Laundry and with the chef/owner Thomas Keller. Those are the things that are important … that we’re not locked into the same things that we’ve done for years, but making sure that the changes are sensible and still identifiable with French Laundry.

Any culinary guilty pleasures? My one culinary guilty pleasure is definitely American Chinese food. It stems from getting takeout in New York. You can go home from work and have delivery to your home within ten minutes at three in the morning.

Where do you eat or go out? Three come to mind right away, and it’s just a coincidence that they’re sorta Japanese-based. One is Masa at the Time Warner Center in New York — Masa Takayama’s restaurant. The other one is Urasawa in L.A. Those are really the two best meals I’ve had in the States. There’s a certain amount of personality and intimacy that’s conveyed when you eat at those restaurants, and it has to do with the size of the restaurants and that they cater the meal to each individual diner.

The last one is a small bar called Angel’s Share on St. Mark’s in New York. It’s a small bar, but it’s unique in that it’s very much like the kind of bar you’d find in Tokyo where the service is really great. It’s not a scene, it’s not a trendy bar, and it’s been around for 15-16 years now. It’s a place where they make the cocktails very well; the bartenders are serious about what they do. They train for years to finally tend bar, and they have a great whiskey list and great scotch list. It’s one of those places where it’s not about the place that you’re going or the backdrop, it’s about the person you’re with. It’s quiet enough to enjoy your companion. It’s like hundreds of bars you’d find in Tokyo but are hard to find in New York.

Have you noticed any positive trends in your industry? You hear these terms like “ultra-modern cuisine” or “molecular gastronomy” — whatever you want to call it. But to me, the basic idea is that you have a scientific understanding of what’s happening when you cook and what happens to the food. Certainly this trend is happening with food that’s very new and very modern, and it’s something I like not necessarily because of the results but because it’s allowed chefs to have a deeper understanding of what they’re doing on a scientific basis and not just out of tradition. There are so many misconceptions and things you were taught from previous chefs, or that you’ve read in books, that are just blatantly wrong; like folklore, really. And finally we’re coming into an age where chefs — not just industrial chefs, like, say, the people at Frito Lay — but chefs at restaurants are collaborating more with scientists to get a better understanding of what they’re doing and how to better their food.

Negative trends? There’s so much interest in restaurants and chefs the past decade or so; it’s almost been at a vertical slope in terms of outside interest in the restaurant industry. Unfortunately in some instances it’s made the goals of chefs very different than they were a few years ago. Certainly the interest is great for business, it helps people understand the cuisine and helps people understand what we do, but at the same time people have come to associate being a successful chef with having a certain amount of fame. And more and more you see young cooks coming out of school and pursuing those aspects of the industry. That’s not what you should be in the hospitality industry for. We’re there to serve our guests and to work as craftsmen; we work with our hands. That should be the premise behind becoming a chef, not the pursuit of some kind of fame or accolades from the media.

What are you doing tonight? Well, it’s Friday night, so I’m at the restaurant preparing for the evening. Ask any chef what they’re doing on a Friday, and more often than not they’re working.

The Most Expensive Restaurants in America

imageNot to be outdone by the hotel scene, the price of entry to some restaurants is sky-high. Here’s a short list (via Forbes) of the most expensive places to nosh around the country:

Tom: Tuesday Diner in New York – Tom Colicchio’s latest innovation. Tom is only open two Tuesdays a month, and only accommodates 28 at a time. $250 per person.

L’Espalier in Boston – The prix-fixe menu starts at $75 per person, but add-ons are steep: side dishes are in the neighborhood of $24 each.

French Laundry in Napa – The famed nine-course tasting menu clocks in at $240 per patron.

Masa in New York – 29 courses, $400 a person. Sushi, sushi, sushi.

Alinea in Chicago – 24 courses, $195 per person.

Joel Robuchon at The Mansion (MGM Grand) in Las Vegas – 16 courses, $360 a person.

Urasawa in Los Angeles – 29 courses, $275 for the prix-fixe menu.