Interview with Pastry Chef Elizabeth Belkind of Grace - Los Angeles, CA
Antoinette Bruno: What is your philosophy on pastry?
Elizabeth Belkind: I try to work with the product to show all the facets of an ingredient without violating it. I buy my produce direct from the growers myself and pick out each piece I’m going to use. I don’t sacrifice the taste for the visual.
AB: How was your training at the California School of Culinary Arts? How about other schools you attended, such as Bard College for performing arts, and University of Michigan for a Master’s Degree in Russian Studies?
EB: Being at Bard put me in the Hudson Valley and exposed me to the Culinary Institute of America. I never thought cooking was viable as a career but was wowed by what I saw. Later, doing my masters, I decided I wouldn’t be happy in an office and decided to go to culinary school. I decided that I would go to California because I was sick of the winter in New York.
AB: What pastry or kitchen tools can’t you live without?
EB: I can’t live without Silpats. When you want a smooth finish they come in super-handy. Also, my fryer. I do so many doughnuts.
AB: What are your favorite ingredients?
EB: I like using vanilla beans because they round out the flavors and pull everything together. I like brown butter as a stock and it’s a really good base. Chestnut honey has such a distinct flavor and combined with other spices it has such an unusual aroma. And chocolate.
AB: What are your top 3 tips for dessert success?
EB: Always make desserts to order, use seasonal products, and avoid being contrived.
AB: Who are your mentors/pastry heroes?
EB: Nancy Silverton (at Campanile) absolutely embraced me. She is an endless resource of knowledge and technique. She was great at teaching me and explaining why it was better than any school. The restaurant is referred to by many of Silverton’s protégée’s as “the camp.” Claudia Fleming goes out on a limb with the flavors and pairings she uses. Recchiuti, a chocolatier, creates very unusual flavors and designs for chocolate. His book is most informative.
AB: What are your favorite desserts?
EB: Doughnuts, cupcakes and things with really light flavors.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in pastry arts?
EB: Minimalism, impressionism, and an avant-garde use of equipment. I played with the Pacojet, but I didn’t like it.
AB:Where do you see yourself in 5 to 10 years?
EB: I want to open my own shop with a fryer out in front and make doughnuts to order. In terms of the bigger picture, I’m in the process of opening a place with Roxanna Julepat from AOC and Dan Mattern (AOC chef de cuisine) in Silverlake. The three of us are planning a restaurant together. The pastries would be baked to order, which is the front and center of the concept.