When I first came up with the concept for a NYC-themed book club, well over a year ago now, one of the first books read was foodie extraordinaire Anthony Bourdain’s book, Kitchen Confidential, where he shared secrets of the NYC restaurant world. Now, Bourdain is an impossible cookie to beat, so while I wouldn’t put this month’s book, Spiced: A Pastry Chef’s True Stories of Trials by Fire, After-Hours Exploits, and What Really Goes on in the Kitchen, in comparison to it, I would say that author Dalia Jurgensen did a lovely job of sharing her pastry chef adventures–and it was interesting seeing the restaurant industry from a female’s perspective, something Bourdain most definitely cannot provide.
One thing I gleaned from this read that I honestly had no idea of before was how much f@#$*&^ work goes into making these desserts! Honestly, call me naive, but I guess I always imagined the pastry chef in the back, cutting off a slab of chocolate cake, scooping out some Haagen-Dazs ice cream, and putting a drizzle of Hershey’s syrup on top. Done and done! I never realized that the pastry chef is responsible for BAKING the cake, MAKING the ice cream, and CREATING the syrup–all from scratch, mind you–all while keeping the creations aesthetically engaging to the customer’s eye, and tantalizing enough to the tastebuds to have the dish be ordered again and again. Long hours of standing on your feet, in a hot kitchen, with obnoxious cooks, for very little pay (even in the top NYC restaurants, ((Nobu!!!)), it seems!)–for sure a career of passion. Next time I go into a restaurant, I’m going to send my compliments to not only the chef, but also the pastry chef. Well deserved, indeed.
Jurgensen’s strength in the book comes when she describes the creations in detail, having the average reader that doesn’t know a thing about cooking (err, me), learn a thing or two:
The chocolate was dark and shiny, with two thin stripes of white chocolate decorating its top. He often made hand-molded chocolates as a treat for VIP customers. It was a delight to watch him temper simple slabs of chocolate or boxes of pistoles (chocolate that came in small drops) and turn them into beautifully shiny miniature works of edible art. Tempering the chocolate (melting it down and then re-emulsifying the fats and sugars) made it easier to work with and gave it a more appetizing shiny surface. He would gently heat the chocolate to around 118 degrees, then cool it down by adding unmelted chocolate, stirring until it reached around 92 degrees, depending on how high the cocoa content was. It’s like magic! I told him the first time I had watched. No, Dalia, he said, sternly holding my stare. Pastry is magic.
Keeping with the theme of the book, we had our book club meeting at Podunk, a little tea house in the East Village, where we could gobble up pastries til’ our hearts’ content. Have you read the book? Let’s discuss below!
p.s. For April’s NYC read, we’ll be diving into a classic, Here is New York. Grab your copy and join the discussion on the blog on April 16th!