GRACE | Los Angeles
Pastry chef Elizabeth Belkind whips up sweet endings that
complement Neal Fraser’s celebrated New American cuisine with
an inventive, whimsical style. Born in Mexico City to parents of
Russian heritage, Belkind spent her earliest years in Mexico before
moving to Miami as a young girl. She studied dance at a performing
arts high school and then Russian language and literature in New
York at Bard College.
The proximity of Bard College to the renowned Culinary Institute
of America was a big influence on Belkind. After receiving her Master’s
Degree in Russian Studies from the University of Michigan, Belkind
relocated to Chicago, where she accepted a position as an indemnification
worker acting as a liaison between Russian Jewish Holocaust survivors
and the German government, which was ordered to disburse reparations.
The idea of Southern California’s persistent sunshine eventually
drew Belkind to Los Angeles in 1998, where she decided to pursue
her dream of wearing chef’s whites. While at the California
School of Culinary Arts, she worked her way through school by bartending
at Houston’s Restaurant. A natural talent in the
kitchen, Belkind was soon invited to complete her externship under
Mark Peel at Campanile.
Belkind sharpened her skills working the pantry during weekend
brunches and Wednesday-night tastings at Campanile. After
graduating, Belkind stayed on as a cook in the savory station. She
worked side by side with Roxanna Julepat (now pastry chef of Lucques
and AOC) and realized that she was completely inspired
by the beautiful, clean presentation of Roxanna’s sweet creations.
When a position opened in the pastry kitchen, Belkind jumped at
the chance to train in Nancy Silverton’s kitchen under Roxanna,
Kim Boyce (former pastry chef of Campanile) and Dahlia
Nervaez (current pastry chef of Campanile).
In anticipation of Grace’s 2003 opening, Neal Fraser
met with Belkind and instantly knew he had found an ideal complement
to his unique style. Abandoning fussy presentations, Belkind’s
pastry creations and presentations are simple and elegant. With
her wildly popular Jelly Doughnuts and elegant “Morning After
Pastries,” Belkind has been praised as one of the hottest
young pastry chefs in Los Angeles by publications ranging from the
Los Angeles Times to Gourmet.
AB: What pastry or kitchen
tools can’t you live without?
EB: I can’t live without
Silpats. When you want a smooth finish they come in super-handy.
Also, my fryer. I do so many doughnuts.
AB: What are your favorite
EB: I like using vanilla beans
because they round out the flavors and pull everything together.
I like brown butter as a stock and it’s a really good base.
Chestnut honey has such a distinct flavor and combined with other
spices it has such an unusual aroma. And chocolate.
AB: What are your top 3 tips
for dessert success?
EB: Always make desserts to
order, use seasonal products, and avoid being contrived.
AB: Who are your mentors/pastry
EB: Nancy Silverton (at Campanile)
absolutely embraced me. She is an endless resource of knowledge
and technique. She was great at teaching me and explaining why it
was better than any school. The restaurant is referred to by many
of Silverton’s protégée’s as “the
camp.” Claudia Fleming goes out on a limb with the flavors
and pairings she uses. Recchiuti, a chocolatier, creates very unusual
flavors and designs for chocolate. His
book is most informative.
AB: What are your favorite
EB: Doughnuts, cupcakes and
things with really light flavors.
AB: What trends do you see
emerging in pastry arts?
EB: Minimalism, impressionism,
and an avant-garde use of equipment. I played with the Pacojet,
but I didn’t like it.
AB:Where do you see yourself
in 5 to 10 years?
EB: I want to open my own shop
with a fryer out in front and make doughnuts to order. In terms
of the bigger picture, I’m in the process of opening a place
with Roxanna Julepat from AOC and Dan Mattern (AOC chef de cuisine)
in Silverlake. The three of us are planning a restaurant together.
The pastries would be baked to order, which is the front and center
of the concept.