Interview with Pastry Chef Lynn Moulton of blu – Boston, MA

April 5

Amy Tarr: What is your philosophy on pastry?
Lynn Moulton: Dessert should be the perfect end to a meal - not overwhelmingly sweet or big. It’s hard to make a really inedible dessert; if it’s sweet, generally people will eat it and be content. My goal is to make it memorable. I want the diners to taste the dessert, and to take another look at it, ponder what they’re tasting. I like to look at traditional pairings and rethink them. For example, is blueberry really the best summer compliment to lemon? Is there a third flavor that will bring out new qualities in the first two?

AT: Did you attend culinary school?
LM: I studied for 2 months at NECI. My previous education was at Bennington College and then Massachusetts College of Art. When I was finishing up art school, I realized that I didn’t have any plan for a career with a steady income. I always liked to bake, so I audited the associates level pastry classes at NECI to see if it was something I was serious about.

AT: So basically you figured out how to get a culinary education for free! Next question: How did you get your first pastry job?
LM: I called Paul Connors, who was then the pastry chef at Radius. He often took non-industry volunteers who wanted to work one day a week for some experience. I started part-time at Radius and then went on to a full-time position.

AT: What restaurants that you have worked in as a pastry chef have been the most influential?
LM: My seasonal pastry chef job at L’Etoile on Martha’s Vineyard was the first time that I was responsible for a department. It was only myself and a part-time assistant, but it forced me to become very efficient and organized. I grew the most at Rialto. I was very green when I started, and was just figuring out how to design desserts and run a full-sized department. I feel there’s still lots of room to bring my desserts to their full potential, but I came out of Rialto with strong management skills and a fully formed philosophy about food.

AT: What pastry or kitchen tools can’t you live without?
LM: A Kuhn peeler—it’s a plastic peeler with a horizontal blade. It costs about 5 bucks, so you can always replace it when the blade is gone. Also Victorinox’s serrated paring knife – it’s the same way: cheap, and you can always have a good sharp one on hand. My dream piece of equipment for a kitchen, that’s not necessarily a given, is a Pacojet for ice creams and sorbets. And my newest “why didn’t anybody think of this before?” gadget is an electric coffee/spice grinder that has a removable metal canister – it’s indestructible and easy to clean.

AT: What are your favorite flavor combinations?
LM: Everything tart and acidic—citrus, sun-dried cherries, yogurt. I tend to start with an acid, and then pair rich creams, fruits and nuts to create rounder notes and balance it all out. Some individual flavors that I always come back to are cornmeal, coffee, citrus, and fresh herbs. I don’t think herbs in desserts is just a passing fad– it had a spike in popularity, when using anything beside mint was the “new” thing to do, but I think that has allowed herbs to become an important permanent part of the pastry vocabulary.

AT: What are your top three tips for dessert success?
LM: Technically, I think the most basic advice is the most important: measure carefully (I always think of the detailed type of directions in “The Joy of Cooking.”) And in terms of getting desserts to the dining public, making and describing desserts in a way that is accessible is critical. People will try something new generally only if they have been given a frame of reference for it – a way to approach it. When I’m testing desserts out on wait staff or friends, I often get: “how should I eat this?” or “do I need to eat this in any particular order?” Taking time to taste and enjoy a dessert is important, but it shouldn’t need an instruction manual.

AT: Who are your mentors/pastry heroes?
LM: The pastry chef who first inspired me was Paul Connors – his desserts were incredible, and he was fun, friendly, and approachable as a manager.
The designer whose work I most admire would have to be Pierre Hermé – he’s achieved the pinnacle of mind-bogglingly good pastries! I lived a few blocks from his second boutique in Paris and couldn’t stay away. And finally the chef who was most influential would be Jody Adams. Above all, she taught me never to lose sight of the importance of the freshness and immediacy of food.

AT: What are your favorite desserts?
LM: Everyone asks that, and I always struggle to answer. I love dessert. One of my enduring favorites is crème brulée – it’s simple to make and I love to eat it. I like my own the best; I think any pastry chef would say that – it’s the way you get it just right for your own taste. And of course chocolate is the thing I crave the most if I don’t have it for a day. I use Valrhona and El Rey at work, and Dagoba for eating at home.

AT: What trends do you see emerging in pastry arts?
LM: The most recent was the influence of the techniques introduce by restaurant El Bulli. There was quite a sensation in the professional food world, both savory and sweet, when their work became well known. A lot of new food has been produced using their techniques and style, both skillfully and less so. It’s been a bit slower to hit Boston than New York because we have fewer restaurants that can afford to be edgy and experimental. But we’re seeing it nonetheless in the exploration of new techniques and previously unknown ingredients (I thought tonka was a toy truck, until recently). Advanced kitchen chemistry allows techniques that weren’t feasible before. For example, stabilizers allow you to whip things you couldn’t whip before – like making a mousse with skim milk. Every time a new trend comes along it reinvigorates people, but it can get overused too.

AT: Where do you see yourself in 5 - 10 years?
LM: Ultimately I’d like to have my own place – a dessert bar, a chocolate shop or a restaurant. In the interim, I’m focusing on being here and learning to be the best I can be.