Amy Tarr: What got you into pastry?
Ralph Perrazzo: My love for food started to develop at a young age when I would work in the kitchen with my mother and grandmothers helping with basic food preparation. In my eyes, the love of family and the love of food are on the same level. My great-grandmother was known for her assortment of Italian cookies, and to this day I still use her recipes. My maternal grandmother was the boss of the family. She always made the best salad, and her chicken cutlets were always perfectly fried. Zucchini Pie was and still is my mother’s specialty. She was always able to make a perfect meal for our family, even when times were tough.
AT: What is your philosophy on pastry?
RP: You’re only as good as your product; nothing should be frozen. And desserts have to be fun – there’s nothing worse than a boring day at work.
AT: Who are your pastry mentors?
RP: Eric Hubert is my primary mentor. He’s been a big influence in my career. To this day I still talk to him and go to him for advice. He’s like a father to me.
AT: Where did you go to school?
RP: I graduated from the CIA, just after Bryan [Ogden].
AT: What pastry or kitchen tools can’t you live without? Why?
RP: Rubber bowl scraper – I keep it in my back pocket. Also a food injector; it’s basically a syringe. I use it for homemade ice pops.
AT: What are your favorite ingredients?
RP: Chocolate from the Original Hawaiian Chocolate Factory in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii. It’s 100% grown and produced in Hawaii. Bob and Pam Cooper are the owners. Their chocolate is made from beans extracted from pods that grow on the cacao trees in their orchards. The chocolate has an excellent flavor and texture. I like that I can get my chocolate from small farmers who still care about natural and organic products.
They care about their product and their customers the way I care about my desserts and everyone who tastes them.
AT: Tell me about an innovative technique you have created or adapted in an unusual way.
RP: I make puffed-style fruit using strawberries and tapioca starch. I cook the strawberries sous vide in a Cryovac bag. It becomes like a hard jelly. Then I cut it up and dry it in a hydrator. Then I fry it and it gets all puffed up like puffed rice.
AT: What restaurants do you like in Las Vegas off The Strip?
RP: Lotus of Siam – for their Thai Beef Jerky.
AT: What are your top three tips for dessert success?
RP: 1) If it’s not in season, it’s not worth doing. 2) Don’t le the freezer be your friend. 3) Take time to do testing and look for new products.
AT: What’s your favorite interview question?
RP: I pick up their resume and say, “Tell me about yourself.” When I get a student out of culinary school, they are already a step ahead of the game. But culinary school can be misleading. I try to only hire people who share the same passion and outlook on food products as me.
AT: What advice would you offer young chefs just getting started?
RP: Stay passionate and don’t get misled by the negativity in some kitchens. If you’re passionate, you are going to be successful.
AT: What trends do you see emerging in pastry arts?
RP: The crossover from savory to sweet is acceptable now.
AT: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
RP: Definitely playing with chocolate! My biggest dream is to have a pastry shop and an Italian pork shop next door. I’m really into making cured meats.