Pastry Chef Robert Truitt
Corton | New York
Robert Truitt’s love affair with the pastry arts began in 2000 in his hometown of Philadelphia. After a first job in the industry apprenticing to James Beard Award-winning chef Guillermo Pernot at the now closed ¡Pasión!, Truitt joined restaurateur Stephen Starr’s popular Buddakan as assistant pastry chef and then worked with Chef Masaharu Morimoto on the opening of his stateside debut in Philadelphia. Truitt eventually partnered with friend and mentor Will Goldfarb in 2005 as chef de cuisine of his new experimental dessert bar Room 4 Dessert in New York.
In 2007, Truitt made his way to Catalonia to stage at the legendary el Bulli. Under the mentorship of Albert Adrià, Truitt learned how to look at ingredients and traditional techniques with a different point of view.
Back in New York, Truitt’s next move brought him to Chef Paul Liebrandt and his Tribeca restaurant Corton. Truitt complements Liebrandt’s modern French cuisine with whimsical, texturally engaging creations, including the Caramel Brioche, which was selected as one of The New York Times “Best New Restaurant Dishes of 2008.”
Since Truitt joined Corton, the restaurant has received three stars from The New York Times, six stars from Time Out New York, and four stars from New York Magazine. It was also nominated for “Best New Restaurant” by the James Beard Foundation.
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Antoinette Bruno: What inspired you to pursue cooking professionally?
Robert Truitt: I've always wanted to cook and whenever anyone asked me when I was a child I said I wanted to be a chef. I always wanted to cook. I was at a very young age so I couldn’t tell you my exact pinpoint of inspiration. I love eating. It's been my life for a very long time and I've indulged in it.
AB: Would you recommend culinary school to aspiring cooks?
RT: I didn't go to culinary school. I think people should do what they want to do and whatever’s best for them. There’s the benefit of going, but there’s also the debt, which is probably the biggest reason I didn’t go. I couldn’t afford it.
AB: Who are some of your mentors?
RT: My best friend, Will Goldfarb. He has the most unique personality of anyone I've ever been around in my entire life. And he's funny as hell. He makes me laugh.
AB: What advice would you offer to young chefs who are just getting started?
RT: Work hard and don't go home. Don't expect anything to be given to you. Don't stop trying. If that is really what you want to do, then do it.
AB: What are a few of your favorite flavor combinations?
RT: Black sesame, coconut, raspberry, and wasabi. The first dish we made here was black sesame, huckleberry, lemon, and toffee, which I love. Black sesame is great; it’s a huge flavor with me. I like raspberry and fresh wasabi, like fresh wasabi on just a single raspberry. Stinky cheese and vanilla ice cream. White chocolate and Campari.
AB: Is there an ingredient that you feel is underappreciated or underutilized?
RT: In pastry, black sesame.
AB: What’s the toughest thing you’ve had to do in your job
RT: It's been a long ride. I've done some pretty hard things. Firing somebody that tried very hard, but under circumstances we had to. I don't consider the physical work to be very hard.
AB: Do you have any regrets? If you had to do one thing over what would it be?
RT: Nothing. I wish I could have stayed in Spain a little longer. I like the beach a lot.
AB: What is your pastry philosophy?
RT: For me cooking is cooking. There are different techniques that chefs and pastry chefs use that are different, but also the same—like meringue. I try to see it from everyone’s point of view. I can use a technique that’s savory, like using vegetables in pastry. I try to bring it all into one; I don’t rule out other techniques because they're pastry. I'm very open-minded in how we do things.
AB: What are your top three tips for pastry success?
RT: Hard work, confidence, and professionalism.
AB: What trends do you see emerging in the restaurant industry now?
RT: I don't go out to eat or see anything else besides the inside of this building. Using savory ingredients in pastry, that's not new. Pervasive use of it is new. Michele Bras was candying fennel in his first book at least 20 years ago. A lesser use of modern, molecular technique I see a lot of people going back to more classical pastry. I definitely had my stint of using the modern additives, but I tend to rely on classical technique.
AB: What is your favorite food resource?
AB: What is your favorite tool?
RT: Patience and offset spatulas.
AB: What tool do you wish you had?
RT: A Koma Freezer.
AB: What is your favorite interview question?
RT: What’s your favorite thing to make?
AB: What is your most important kitchen rule?
RT: Focus, confidence, and professionalism.
AB: In one sentence, what is ‘American Cuisine’ to you?
RT: It is ethnic cuisine. American cuisine has been influenced by immigrants through varying cooking techniques, evolving to what we now consider ‘American Cuisine.’
AB: How do you stay involved in your local culinary community?
RT: I will be attending and leading demonstration classes at the FCI this summer. This coming year I've signed up for a few things. I just did [a class on] sugar and whips at the Astor Center for iSi. It was a lot of fun. There were a couple hundred people there. Dave Arnold made a great drink. It was put together very well.
AB: What are some of the main challenges facing your restaurant?
RT: Not being open enough hours for the demand. We're extremely fortunate to be as busy as we are. I think we have a very approachable restaurant for New Yorkers and people who enjoy dining. The menu covers our costs but isn't expensive. For the experience it’s a great deal.
AB: What does success look like for you?
RT: I'd say successfully accomplishing the goals that I had set forth in front of me. Going to Spain was something I put in front of myself years ago that I wanted to do. Learning from my mentors and learning from my leaders first. Also taking on a pastry chef job at an establishment like this one and challenging myself and doing it.
AB: What’s next for you? Where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
RT: In five years I'll be selling bikinis on the beach. No, you'll find me in a kitchen. I would love to continue what I'm doing. Also my future and life goal is to open a center where I can have both a learning center, an experimental center, and a service spot where people can come to take a class or browse through ingredients or have play time in the kitchen. It would just be meant for that and also to dine. Make people happy through food—that’s my goal. In five years, I don't know. That's a hard one, anything can happen. I just take it in stride as it comes.
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