Francoise Villeneuve: What was the inspiration behind the pre-dessert?
Ron Paprocki: The challenge of creating a fine-dining pre-dessert is something I’m used to. I do it every day, so I was comfortable in this round. My intention was to invoke a cocktail. The gin gelée, macerated cucumber and celery ice cream came together almost like a gin and tonic.
FV: Tell me about your plated dessert.
RP: I built my dessert around the Wisconsin cheese Les Frères mousse. From there I married classic flavors. I made a fig and olive oil cake, which was complimented by with sage, pink champagne reduction, candy-striped figs, and cognac ice cream.
FV: Entremets are a pretty unusual choice for a pastry competition challenge. How did you approach that round?
RP: I had so much going on with rounds one and two of the pastry competition and attending the Rising Stars Gala in New Jersey that I didn’t prepare. I didn’t think I would make it beyond plated desserts, so I didn’t have any supplies ready for the third round. When I found out I made the cut, Ian [Gresik] and I had to hop on a train and go to my apartment to pick up cake rings and molds. From there, we went to my kitchen in midtown to grab more supplies. The third day was an exercise in shooting from the hip.
FV: Anything turn out differently than you envisaged?
RP: I really didn’t expect to go to the final round, but once I made it I thought, “now that I’m in it, I have to win it.”
FV: How do you prepare for a competition like this?
RP: We knew most of the pantry ingredients in advance.
FV: What was your favorite moment from the pastry competition?
RP: Collectively, everyone was so friendly. I really enjoyed interacting with the other chefs. It was refreshing—not at all like reality TV, where chefs are competitive and evil. Everyone was friendly and talked back stage. I made a lot of friends.
FV: Were you nervous when you heard who the judges would be?
RP: The caliber of the judges was overwhelming—in a good way. To have Albert Adria as a judge was fabulous. I wasn’t prepared to have judges walking around with a stop watches and clipboards, watching every move. That brings out the shakes.
FV: What advice would you give a pastry chef interested in entering next year’s StarChefs.com International Pastry Competition?
RP: The bar has been raised. This year was interesting because there was no measuring stick. Next year there will be a lot more people involved. No one knew about the cash prize this year. People with a broader range of experience will enter for 2011, so it will be much more of a challenge.
FV: What did you do with the prize money?
RP: Put it away for safe keeping.
FV: What’s one thing you would have done differently?
RP: I wish I would have prepared more. And I wish I would have paid closer attention to my plate-up time in the second round. I almost ran out of time because I miscalculated the timing on the blast freezer. I wish I would have plated the dish nicer.