Ron Paprocki is of that rare chef breed that comfortably, naturally straddles fun and serious discipline. It might be because he came to pastry relatively late, having tasted some of the real world—and developed a sufficiently thick skin—in his previous profession, landscape design, before trading in his garden tools for pastry tools at the age of 31. Call it life experience or a quirk of personality, it allows Paprocki to keep his cool, and even crack a few jokes, while creating sophisticated desserts in a market positively glutted with pastry chefs.
He might have come to the game late, but training at Germany’s Elisabeth-Knipping Schule in Kassel, and completing his formal apprenticeship at Café Alheit, gave Paprocki a rock solid, Old World foundation in the techniques and practices of the pastry arts. But however serious his schooling, and however seriously Paprocki took it, the chef didn’t lose his lust for fun, imagination, and play. It has endured the rigor of European training and continues to show up in his desserts, even in the austerity of fine dining.
When Paprocki moved to New York he became head baker and assistant pastry chef at the celebrated Financier Patisserie. Not content to let his pastry knowledge stagnate, the chef attended a chocolate sculpture seminar the following year at The French Pastry School under master chocolatier Jean-François Castagne. “Learn everything you can, be exposed to everything you can,” Paprocki advises. “The older you get, the older you get.”
In 2005, Paprocki helped develop and open the Sacha Bakery/Restaurant in the Meatpacking District, serving as pastry sous chef and further honing his repertoire. He joined the opening team of Gordon Ramsay at The London in the Fall of 2006, where he’s been drawing on the classics and incorporating innovations of modern pastry ever since.
Interview with Pastry Chef Ron Paprocki of Gordon Ramsay at The London – New York, NY
Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Ron Paprocki: I love it. I love creating stuff. I love to create stuff. My mom still has The Fannie Farmer Cookbook. Whenever I go home to Rochester, which is not as frequently as she would like, she'll put it up on the spine and it automatically opens up to the sugar cookie page, smeared with every bit of fat. She says, "Here's that book, remember when you were five or seven years old, making cookies all the time, peanut butter cookies, sugar cookies."
AB: Do you recommend culinary school to aspiring chefs?
RP: Yes, I do have a background in culinary school. I apprenticed in Germany. It’s a full-on formal apprenticeship there. I was there for four or five years. I’d highly recommend it as a basis or background on which to understand the basic technology in the professional kitchen; it’s not a necessity, but does provide a solid foundation.
AB: What advice would you give young chefs just getting started?
RP: Learn everything you can, be exposed to everything you can. The older you get, the older you get; definitely grab as much knowledge as you can and never say no. Keep going while you're young, work 19, 20 hours a day, expose yourself to all types of work and technique. The older you get, you get constraints, you get tired; you get a family and all that stuff.
AB: What is your philosophy on food and dining?
RP: Food should always compliment the mood, the surroundings. Also, pay close attention to the dessert—it should definitely compliment the savory courses that come prior to the dessert, too, and it should be fun.
AB: What goes into creating a new dish?
RP: I like the classics but I also like to be on the forefront of the trends of the industry. I always like to try to weave a nice fine line between the two and select the best from both sides. Coming up with desserts, the first things that come to mind are flavor combinations, textures and mouthfeel; appearance has come a long way in the industry in creating things, everyone likes to have stuff look nice too; simple and clean.
AB: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your job?
RP: Really to maintain standards while working, and being a hotel pastry chef. Working in a hotel, I'm responsible for room service, desserts in 560 rooms here in hotel, responsible for desserts in Gordon Ramsay fine dining, maze, banquets, and amenities; [there is] a lot of stuff going on here for me.
AB: If you had one thing you could do again, what would it be?
RP: I wish I would have started this a little earlier. I began at 30, or 31.
AB: What trends do you see emerging?
RP: I feel that a lot of the things I’m doing now, where it's molecular meets the past, the more traditional style dessert; a couple years ago there was molecular and progressive. Now after the recession, breaks going on, now it's a cross between the two—classics using new techniques.
AB: If you weren’t a chef, what would you be doing?
RP: Probably landscape design. It was my background prior to pastry; that's why I started so late. This wasn't a prison release job here.
AB: What is your proudest accomplishment in your career to date?
RP: Working with Markus [Glocker], definitely opened the door to a lot of things here.
AB: Has your style changed?
RP: Yeah, I'm definitely more upbeat about things; I can be a little more whimsical and not so constrained. When I would go to develop newer desserts, Markus would push back. Now I can definitely be a little more progressive, more than I was a year ago; working together, him being Austrian, me being exposed to German culture and baking technology.
AB: What’s next for you? Where will we see you in five years?
RP: Owning my own shop, ice cream and chocolate, something very simple. Ice cream and chocolates and candy, everything. Somewhere downtown or in Brooklyn. Downtown is good.