Interview with Pastry Chef Michael Laiskonis of Le Bernardin – New York, NY

September 20

Antoinette Bruno: What is your philosophy on pastry?
Michael Laiskonis: I just want to make people happy. I’m continually learning new ways of doing this using texture to bridge the gap between science and artistry. I think the curiosity comes from my savory side.

AB: Do you recommend culinary training to young cooks?
ML: Absolutely! I couldn’t afford it unfortunately, and I’m very jealous of people who are able to go to culinary school.

AB: Which of the restaurants you’ve worked in as a pastry chef have been the most influential?
ML: Emily’s was the first formative experience for me, a very low-tech, single oven kitchen with only three feet of counter space. But it was at Tribute’s amazing culinary la-la land that I really found my voice.

AB: What pastry tool can’t you live without?
ML: I love my egg topper, which I use to remove the tops of eggs in one clean cut. When I first bought it, I didn’t know exactly what I was going to do with it. But I was inspired by Alain Passard’s famous egg dish at Arpege and loved the contrast between the warm yolk and the cold crème. I knew then that I wanted to use my egg topper for my crème brulees.

AB: What are your top three tips for dessert success?
ML:

1. Taste as much as possible.
2. Be inquisitive and always experiment
3. Learn how to work well with other people so you can be a good manager

AB: Who is your pastry hero?
ML: Pierre Herme really led the current generation of haute patissiers. But the underexposed Philippe Conticini is another of my heroes and has published some excellent, inspiring pastry books.

AB: What are your favorite desserts?
ML: I really enjoy eating a classic combination of fruit and chocolate. Sometimes the simplest desserts can be the most comforting. For example, at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, I had a bowl of unpeeled tangerines and dates that was just perfect. I do enjoy more complex desserts every now and then, but usually I tend to go for the simpler ones..

AB: What trends do you see emerging in the pastry arts?
ML: I think there will be a continued emphasis on ingredients, with pastry chefs becoming more of a part of the green market movement. I am interested to see how, further down the line, this will translate to fine dining.

AB: Where do you see yourself in 5 years? And in 10 years?
ML: My original goal was to get to New York. I had no idea I’d enter at the top, but here I am! I am interested in working in retail pastry, or perhaps opening a dessert only restaurant. Lately, I’ve also been thinking about trying my hand at teaching.