Pastry Chef Malka Espinel
Johnny V's | Ft. Lauderdale
Growing up on a farm in Colombia, Malka Espinel learned the foundations
of her culinary style from her grandmother, and avid cook and baker
who taught her to use what’s in season and to embrace tropical
fruits. Espinel graduated from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute
of Chicago, and went on to work for Chef Mark Militello in Grove
Isle, 1220 at The Tides, and Nick’s
Place in Miami Beach. Soon after, she joined Chef
Johnny Vinczencz at Astor Place on Miami Beach; she’s
been with Johnny V ever since, traveling with him to De la Tierra
at Sundy House in Delray Beach, and then to the eponymous Johnny
V’s when it opened in 2003.
Espinel’s pastry is boldly American – it plays with familiar flavors and forms, and gives old classics a new twist. Crème brulee is turned into a pot pie, with a graham cracker-macadamia nut crust, a caramelized sugar top, and berries layered in the custard between. Flan is part of a “Spanish Parfait,” with layers of simple cinnamon cake and rhubarb compote, topped with churritos (little churros).
Espinel loves to design pastry programs; she teaches pastry at the Art Institute of Ft. Lauderdale and is currently working on opening the second Johnny V’s in Saint Petersburg.
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AB: Where have you worked professionally as a chef?
ME: All around Florida: Bittersweet,
The Tides Hotel, Grove Isle, Astor Place, and The Sundy House in
AB: Did you attend culinary school?
ME: Yes, I have a degree from the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago (now The Cordon Bleu).
AB: Who are some of your mentors?
ME: My grandmother – she taught me to use what you have available, and to use tropical fruits.
AB: In which kitchens have you staged?
ME: Fauchon in Paris; Hoffman in Barcelona.
AB: What question gives you the most insight to a cook when you’re interviewing them for a position in your kitchen?
ME: I ask, “What are the most important things that you need to create a new dessert?”
AB: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
ME: Keep it simple!
AB: Is there an ingredient that you feel is underappreciated or underutilized?
ME: Tropical fruits - they haven't been used nearly as much as they should.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
ME: I like to use fruits and herbs. Flowers and fruits is another one.
AB: What’s your most indispensable kitchen tool?
ME: My Coldelite ice cream machine.
AB: At StarChefs we publish technique features for chefs to learn. Is there a culinary technique that you have either created or borrowed and use in an unusual way?
ME: I do a lot of infusions
of creams with herbs and teas – like rosemary, tarragon, basil,
jasmine tea, etc., and use them as bases for mousses, ice creams,
custards, or whipped creams to finish desserts.
AB: What are your favorite cookbooks?
ME: Tropical Desserts by Andrew McFallen.
AB: What is your best pastry resource?
ME: My purveyors and the internet.
AB: Where do you like to go for culinary travel?
ME: Europe for pastry and also Spain.
AB: What languages do you speak?
ME: Spanish, Italian and a little French.
AB: Where do you like to eat pastry?
ME: Ice Box Café on Lincoln Road – its kind of a coffee shop.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
ME: I see a lot of new techniques becoming standard: sous vide for poaching, for making bases, etc.
AB: What is your pastry philosophy on food and dining?
ME: Stay true to the main flavors of your ingredients and keep it simple. I have total control over the pastry menu, but of course my clientele dictates what I can serve. Here they are more traditional – so I cater to that.
AB: Which person in history would you most like to cook for? Who would you most like to cook for you?
ME: I would like to cook for
Simon Bolivar - he gave independence to South America. I would most
like to try Albert Adria's pastry.
AB: How are you involved in your local culinary community? What are some of your favourite food-related charities?
ME: Project Newborn. We had to create desserts using Bailey's and serve them for their charity event. I also teach at the Art Institute in Ft. Lauderdale. I think that is a good way to give back.
AB: If you weren’t a chef what do you think you’d be doing?
ME: Something related to art, sculpture, or painting.
AB: What will success look like to you?
ME: I would like to be part of opening more restaurants and creating the menus. We’re working on opening a second Johnny V’s this year.
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