Notable Pastry Presentations from Four Bay Area Pastry Chefs

While these four pastry chefs from the Bay Area all present plates that are contemporary and incorporate some forms that are similar, each dish has its own aesthetic. Luis Villavelazquez of Absinthe presents a boldly colored and visually striking dish with his Blood Orange Crème Brûlée with Devil’s Food Cake, Beet Foam, and Hibiscus, while Melissa Chou’s Hazelnut Financier, Fromage Blanc Bavarian, Balsamic Granita, and Cherry at Aziza is sophisticated, with its angular forms and quiet tones of cream and plum. At Oakland’s Commis Carlos Salgado keeps a detailed dessert from feeling too scattered by working with subtle yellows, greens, and pale creams. And Catherine Schimenti’s Heirloom Squash Cheesecake with Cranberry Gel, Rosemary Caramel, and Honey-Pine Nut Ice Cream at Michael Mina mixes bright color and acidity with sweet pastels; her plate almost mimics an artist’s palate in form.

Blood Orange Crème Brûlée with Devil’s Food Cake, Beet Foam, and Hibiscus
Villavelazquez combines an upscale dessert classic and a comfort food staple—crème brûlée and devil’s food cake—to create a vibrant dish with a younger feel. The devil’s food cake is in crumb form here, topped with a vermillion free-form crème brûlée and dollops of burgundy-colored beet foam that resemble a strawberry patch; microgreens complete the illusion as their leaves appear to sprout from the pebbly cake crumb “soil.” Translucent scarlet hibiscus sauce drizzled around the plate adds visual pop in an otherwise earthy-looking dessert.
Heirloom Squash Cheesecake with Cranberry Gel, Rosemary Caramel, and Honey-Pine Nut Ice Cream
Schimenti’s imaginative cheesecake brings pumpkin pie flavor profile into unusually decadent territory. She also plays with savory flavors to create a balanced plate with a sweep of pale rosemary caramel—its stickiness an apt textural change from the adjacent crunchy crumb base that props up the soft ice cream quenelle. Smooth circles of cranberry gel add color to the plate, contrasting prettily with thick and glossy slices of deseeded candied kumquats, both adding necessary acidity. A flower of pine nuts mimics a lilliputian lavender-colored blossom on the opposite side of the plate, balancing the composition.
Butternut Squash Custard with Licorice Cream, Gingerbread Streusel, Candied Pepitas, and Root Beer Reduction
Salgado emphasizes the warm spices that usually play a supporting role in pumpkin pie and makes them active participants; ginger and licorice marry with the sarsaparilla and sassafras of reduced root beer, laced with bourbon and vanilla. A “Z” of reduction sauce preps the plate for a palate of fern, olive, lemon and ivory hues. Microgreens and pepitas top stiff licorice cream. Firm yellow squash custard with a rectangular cake base is topped with pale golden gingerbread streusel. The effect is playful without being chaotic or haphazard, because each element of the dish reads as intentional.
Hazelnut Financier, Fromage Blanc Bavarian, Balsamic Granita, and Cherry
Chou’s financier dish has an architectural bent. She values form, but still pays attention to color, layering shades of cream, eggshell and tan with an expert eye. The results are clean lines. Mahogany balsamic granita garnishes the fromage blanc cube. Its tidy shape echoes the cuboid of golden hazelnut financier. Cherry quarters and toasted hazelnuts garnish opposite corners of the plate. A plum-colored streak of sauce gives this otherwise measured dish a sole splash of brightness. But it is less about flash than neatness—Chou creates a balanced finish with precisely cut and molded shapes.