Interview with Pastry Chef Jacques Torres
What is your favorite dessert using only four ingredients? Or favorite dessert created in under 30 minutes?
The Fondant which primarily contains chocolate, cocoa, egg whites and sugar. The dessert contains a little more than four ingredients and cooks in less than half an hour. It has a full chocolate flavor and can work in any kind of oven. It's also a great Sunday dessert.
For working people, what can be made ahead of time, frozen and ready to heat up when one comes home from the office? (We know that fresh products are the ultimate but occasionally we all need to resort to "defrosting").
The Fontaine is always a good one to freeze ahead and pop in the oven. It's very French. There is less chocolate in the Fontaine than the Fondant. The raspberries in the Fontaine gives it more acidity and the phyllo dough gives it more texture. This dessert is filled with warm/cold, acid/sweet, crunchy/smooth sensations. The Pithivier is more of a cake than a dessert but can also be made ahead of time and frozen to heat later. It's great to make if entertaining 6-12 friends at home.
What do you consider to be the five must have ingredients in your pantry? And why?
For me there are really six ingredients someone must have in the pantry if he or she wants to make desserts and other pastries. Chocolate -- because it is just something you have to have -- and fruit -- all kinds of fruit. You can play around with these two ingredients and develop anything. Then there is flour, sugar, eggs, and butter. These four ingredients really form the base of a lot of desserts. For instance you can make dough, cakes, etc. You can do a lot.
What are the three most important kitchen tools in your home kitchen? Does it differ from your professional kitchen?
I have the same kitchen tools at home as I have at Le Cirque -- a Kitchen Aid stand-up mixer, oven, commercial blender and electronic scale. I take my scale everywhere! My oven at Le Cirque is a professional one and my oven in my New York apartment is a lousy one. I'm putting a good convection oven in the house I am building in Michigan. When you have a good oven you can do many things.
What tips do you have for home cooks for making splendid desserts?
1) Before you start the recipe, read it through 2-3 times so you understand the steps and why you are doing them.
2) Be sure to have all the ingredients on hand and the best ingredients you can afford.
3) Make sure you have all of the equipment the recipe asks for.
4) When you make the recipe remember that you are not a professional so it will take some time to make the dessert. You have to plan for this time. This is a commitment. Allow yourself the entire afternoon to bake so you can do it right.
Pastry is something you plan in advance and have to think about. It's like building.
You are known for being a brilliant traditionalist. In the years you have inn in America, how has you classical training adapted to meet the demands of the American kitchen and audience?
I believe that Americans today prefer a less sweet and heavy taste. So I try to cut as much fat and sugar from my recipes and I try keep them on the light side. In France I usually don't make my pastries as crazy and funny as I do here. For example, at Le Cirque I make the clown face, the hat, and the stove. Desserts in France are more serious. Here I go a little more crazy.
Le Cirque is known for its glamorous surroundings, exquisite cuisine and, of course, its unforgettable desserts. Of all the desserts you have made at Le Cirques, which one has been you favorite? And why?
This is like having six kids and having someone ask which one you prefer. I like what I do and when I put something on the menu I do it because I like it. I have to have some hot desserts and some cold desserts. The menu is not about one dessert. It's about one dessert with another. I like to have a balance and I try to make my menu harmonious.
Finally, what advice would you give to any aspiring chef?
Never work in a place where people don't use the best ingredients. Always work with a good chef, someone who can give you direction, inspiration and can set an example. You need to work with a leader -- a person who will teach you how. The restaurant has to use good ingredients. You can become a good chef if you work in a place that provides you with excellent ingredients and good equipment. Don't settle for what you think is not the best place.