Beyond Pastry at Blanca

by Rebecca Cohen
Antoinette Bruno
March 2013

Katy Peetz has no preconceived notions of dessert, and neither should diners at Brooklyn’s Blanca, where Peetz holds court over the dessert menu. Forget nostalgic reinterpretations of childhood favorites and deconstructed French classics. Peetz is trailblazing a wild new path for pastry—one that draws much of its inspiration and technique from the savory side.

Take a glance at Peetz’s ingredient list—parsley, fennel, sunchokes, rye berries, and celeriac—and it looks like she rips off the garde manger station before service. In reality, Peetz herself was snagged from the savory side of the kitchen. The zealous young line cook joined the team at Blanca’s sister restaurant, Roberta’s, in 2010. When the restaurant found itself sans pastry chef a year later, Peetz’s uncurbed culinary verve landed her in the pastry kitchen. “I never dreamed I would be doing pastry, but I really enjoy it,” says Peetz.

Nurtured by Chef Carlo Mirarchi, Peetz immediately found parallels between the savory and sweet kitchens. “[Carlo] taught me about the integrity of ingredients and how important it is to stay true to the simplicity and pureness of a dish,” she says. To Peetz, integrity means limited stabilizers, no high-tech equipment, and no contrived methodology. And she doesn’t get hung up on precious quenelles or ostentatious plating—tweezers need not apply. For Peetz, it’s all about flavor.

Rye Berry Milk Jam, Cara Cara and Blood Orange Sherbet, and Rye Berry Crisps

Rye Berry Milk Jam, Cara Cara and Blood Orange Sherbet, and Rye Berry Crisps

She offers flavor combinations that make even the most jaded dessert connoisseurs do a double take, and with no pastry background or training, Peetz’s compositions are unrestrained by learned limitations. “I try to create a dish that goes beyond what a person would consider as dessert.”

Call her crazy, but Peetz considers just about everything fair game when it comes to creating dishes. “There are so many great ingredients people think of as only being savory, when in fact they can taste great in a dessert as well,” she says. For a palate cleanser, Peetz melds soothing, pudding-like textures with vibrant and earthy flavors in Celeriac Ginger Bread, Lime Gelée, Lime Juice, Chestnut Purée, and Roasted Celeriac. In another dessert, an amorphous mound of roasted sunchoke cream serves as a water bed base (instead of the predictable crumble) for a floral scoop of hidden rose apple ice with two sunchoke crisps and powdered sunflower seed brittle.

Peetz’s inspiration comes from unlikely places. Take her Parsley Cake, Caramel Fennel-Black Garlic Gelato, Meyer Lemon Granita, and Parsley-Olive Oil Crumble. Sound familiar? Prompted by the purchase of beautiful winter lemons, she modeled the dessert after Milanese gremolata, the traditional accompaniment to veal osso buco. Next up, sweet sauce gribiche?

Her desserts don’t just walk the line between savory and pastry; they call into question the need for any such distinction. “[Dessert] has to stand out, be memorable, maybe even a little weird and different but still fun,” she says.

And for Peetz, fun means making innovative, unexpected, and delicious not-so-sweet sweets that blow up the traditional tenets of pastry.

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