Palatable Panache

Category: Connoisseures Published: Monday, 23 August 2010 22:23 Hits: 2288

And so, next time you are being served a delightful dish of soup, an entrée of one delicate sort or another, or a sensuous scoop of sorbet for dessert, remember that your utensil—with its tradition of craftsmanship, substance, value, and beauty— shall most definitively outlive us all. It could even be in a museum someday.

New York’s Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum presents Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500-2005 through October 29th. The exhibition, sponsored by The Tiffany & Co. Foundation, brings the museum visitor along a historical journey through the history of Western tableware. John McCarthy

Feeding Desire: Design and the Tools of the Table, 1500-2005

Sponsored by The Tiffany & Co. Foundation The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum

2 East 91st Street. New York.

212.849.8400. www.cooperhewitt.org.

Chef George Fritzsche: Patina, Los Angeles

Something wasn’t right about the bonbons—and George Fritzsche could feel it.

He had created the new dessert to serve at the lavish events his company, the Patina Group, caters regularly. The taste was right on: smooth white chocolate with Tahitian vanilla bean and cream, a cocoa butter finish and a lemon tang.

But the look—not perfect.

“It was irking me for the longest time,” says Patina’s Executive Pastry Chef, who also created desserts for last September’s Emmy Awards.“It looked to me like it was missing something, you know? It just didn’t have that ‘wow’ factor.”

Fritzsche worked it over in his mind again and again. He wanted the bonbon’s look to represent its flavor: light and clean but decadent, too. As it was, the yellow food coloring was too plain, not special. Considering the candy’s light flavors, its shiny yellow coating, Fritzsche toiled over this culinary enigma. Something was missing.

Then, one night, the solution came to him; in fact, it knocked him right out of his sleep.

“I woke up in the middle of the night, and it hit me,” he says. “Gold powder.”

He went in to work early the next day and sprinkled 23-karat edible gold dust under the yellow. It was the perfect solution; he had his masterpiece.

Fritzsche has had this kind of inspiration before.The native New Yorker came to L.A.’s famed Patina in April 2005 and quickly began to shake up the kitchen with new creations.

One of Fritzsche’s best ideas arose from a debate between two hostesses. One wanted to serve a post-dinner cheese plate; the other insisted on dessert. For a while, he listened to the women bicker back and forth. Horns were locked.

Then it came to him.

“Why don’t we turn this whole thing around?” he said, and as he talked, a plan came to him: a warm walnut frangipan and pear tart served with sweet, earthy gorgonzola cheese ice cream. A brand new idea: cheese plate dessert.

This artist’s sensibility is a big part of what makes Fritzsche such a distinctive and successful pastry chef. It works together with his love for dessert and his incredible, innate sense of discipline. Fritzsche grew up in his family’s Long Island bakery, which his father, now 75, still runs to the exacting standards George remembers from his tutelage there.

“Everything he did was perfect every time,” Fritzsche recalls. “He said,‘Whatever you do, do it right. People always like the best.’” Recently, during a client tasting, Fritzsche enjoyed the hard-won success of his golden lemon bonbon.

“I can’t eat this,” a woman said, holding the candy up to her face to inspect the gold flecks floating in the layers of yellow. “It looks like jewelry.” Lindsey Johnson

Patina.

141 S. Grand Ave. Los Angeles.

213.972.3331. www.patinagroup.com

Chef Ashley James: Four Seasons Beverly Hills

Ashley James knew he wanted to engage in the art of chef’ing from age 12.“When I was a kid I used to go to parties and I’d eat myself sick,” he recounts. Initially guided by his father’s walks around England’s produce markets, James took the learn-how-to- walk-before-you-can-run route to the top, working in Michelin-starred restaurants from age 14 and training as a pastry chef before branching out with the unbridled restraint relished at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, his latest hotel home.

With 21 years of professional food-creation under his belt, the passion for his profession sits firmly at the fore.While origi- nally schooled in French and English fare, these roots merely set the scene for his foray into the cuisine of Singapore and then Mexico, the latter presenting a number of welcoming surprises. “The thing about Mexican food is that they were grinding spices 2000 years ago, well before the French even started cooking, and something clicked in me. If you look at the basic ingredients and flavors: chili, cilantro, tamarind, ginger, coconut, lemongrass, cumin—those flavors are prominent in both Asia and Latin America, but the cooking techniques are so different that they yield different results,” he explains.

James’ meals are clean, crisp, balanced, and he forgives you for tuning out the charmingly boyish enthusiasm for his craft when his banana soup is served. It rates four m’s on the mmmm scale, a combination of the Asian and Latin flavors he prefers. What started as a plantain, chicken and sour cream experiment in Mexico has been perfected over time to form the lemongrass and coconut milk phenomenon now serenading me from a coffee cup bridged with succulent shrimp.

The chef respects his produce.“I try and cook with the ingredients added in one direction, I don’t aim to confuse the palate,” he cites. An artist at work, James jumps around the world in a sentence, turning Spanish ceviches into Latin salsas and back again. “Olive oil, shallots, garlic, sambal chili paste, caramelized sugar, fresh mango, all heated before adding the crisp fresh fruits, tomato berries...and foie gras on a slightly crisped brioche crouton,” he explains, adding with a grin, “after working for many years in Bordeaux, I could live without the foie gras.”

Living without foie gras is understandable considering James has spent the days before our meeting driving around the city eating pizza, pizza and more pizza in his quest to create the perfect dough.The day we meet culminates in the kitchen’s purchase of a specialty oven for these flat culinary canvases.

James admits that it’s the guests themselves who provide him with the best reward for his work and that, in spite of—or because of—his travels, culinary surprises still present themselves.“About 2 months ago, I was in the North of Argentina, about 200 miles from Bolivia...very nice people, extremely friendly, and I ate an empanada from an old woman in the street and it was delicious,” he smiles.“It was in first position joined with the best empanada I’d ever had, with potatoes and chicken, great potatoes, really fantastic potatoes. They were 15 cents, and the potato was cut so beautifully, cut into perfect little squares. I haven’t used that taste yet but I’ve stored it in my head...it had chili and cumin, and was just so juicy, and the pastry was light and crisp and wonderful...”

His eyes light up. He loves food. He always has. Elliot V. Kotek

The Four Seasons Beverly Hills

300 S. Doheny Drive. Beverly Hills.

800.819.5053. www.fourseasons.com/losangeles.

Image: George Fritzsche prepares one of his acclaimed desserts at Patina. Photo by Steven Barston.