The Art of Dessert
There’s one thing pretty much all desserts have in common – sugar. Beneath that commonality lurks a world of incredible variety. Cloudlike meringue, airy mousse, silky ganache, rich cremeux, tender cake, flaky pie crust – all these and more can be conjured from the basic building blocks of sugar, flour, butter, eggs and dairy. Flavors derive from a world of fruits, nuts, spices, chocolate in its many forms, and sometimes more esoteric ingredients. Temperatures can range from a steaming hot fudge sauce to a frozen ice cream – in the same dish. And perhaps most interesting, desserts are all about transformation. While we want our steak to look like a steak, or at least a hamburger, a dessert doesn’t have to look like anything in particular, leaving the chef free to manipulate the components in all sorts of ways.
South Florida is fortunate to be home to one of the most imaginative guys in the business: Antonio Bachour. He is the executive pastry chef at the St. Regis Bal Harbour, but that only scratches the surface of what he does. Bachour has repeatedly been recognized in the industry as one of the top pastry chefs in the country, has published three books, teaches pastry courses all around the world, and will soon be opening his own shop, Bachour Bakery and Bistro, in the Brickell World Plaza.
His desserts are eye candy of the highest order: gorgeous, precise modernist swooshes, swirls and poufs, all rendered in a Pantone catalog of hues. But they’re grounded in rock solid technique and focused, pure flavors. And in kaleidoscopic fashion, Bachour is always tinkering. One day there may be a disk of pale yellow lemon cremeux surrounded by a rubble of emerald green pistachio sponge cake topped with a Greek yogurt sorbet. The next, it may be a goat cheese cremeux surrounded by neon magenta beets in various forms: cake, gel, candied cubes of the root and tender “bull’s blood” microgreens. At his new place, expect to find a colorful assortment of desserts that draw on local flavors: guava and cheese, key lime, mango, passionfruit. Everything will be made fresh daily from scratch, from individual verrines to bonbons to entremets to a small assortment of savory lunch items.
ANTONIO BACHOUR ON THE ART & CRAFT OF DESSERT
Your food is distinct. If I see a picture, I know it’s yours. How does that come about?
I decided 10 years ago to do a new dessert every week. In the beginning it was very tough, but after many months, everything came (snap) quickly. It’s a funny thing. Every day I get Instagram messages from people who say, “Chef, you inspired me.” I know people need inspiration, but you need first to be a good chef. Then you need to create an image, a brand, a style, that everyone can say, “This is Antonio Bachour.” When you can do that, you can be happy. Step by step, it’s not from one day to the next – it’s taken me 17 years.
So how does it feel when you see your own stuff duplicated all around the world?
I’m proud because when somebody duplicates you, it’s because they like you and you’re doing something good. They don’t copy you if you don’t do anything good. For me it’s great, because that makes me do something extra. I’ve been working for six months on new things that I’ve never done before – for next year. I can’t keep doing the same because everyone is already doing it now. Always I help a lot of people, give out recipes.
You’re like an open book.
All my recipes, you can make them. Many of the classes, I do for free. Some of these schools they don’t have money, the students are poor people. I went to Bolivia to do a class. I went to Brazil two times for a culinary school that’s practically in the jungle.
What’s your starting point for a dish?
The thing is, always when we do a new dessert I may have all the ingredients, but I never know how they will look on the plate. It’s “a la minute.” That’s why I take a lot of pictures, because I can never do the same. I went to Milan, I cooked with Massimo Bottura, one of the best chefs in the world. He did one dessert, and he spent one hour drawing on paper how he wanted it to look. And I said, “Listen, I cannot do that. I don’t know how it’s going to look, but I’m sure that when it’s done, it will look good.”
While Antonio Bachour is a rare talent, he is not alone in creating artful desserts in Miami.
At The Dutch, pastry chef Josh Gripper’s works are less flashy in appearance, but their more classical style exudes an elegant and refined simplicity. Gripper knows all the modernist tricks; he just exercises restraint in using them. Some of his desserts embody the spirit of the seasons, like a wintry bourbon soufflé served with poached pear and a French toast ice cream. Others put Miami’s Latin American chispa and old school Americana together on the same plate, like a creamy flan paired with Florida citrus and a gingerbread cookie. And his pies, baked fresh daily, capture the Platonic essence of all that is great and cheerful about pie, much like a Wayne Thiebaud painting.
Gripper turns out pies daily. His bourbon soufflé is served with a poached pear and French toast ice cream. “I try to be anti-trend and focus on well rounded,” he says.
At the newish Byblos in Miami Beach, executive chef Stuart Cameron and chef de cuisine Nelson Fernandez create desserts that stand up to the jewel-toned colors and grandiose two-story murals of the dining room, while matching the elevated Middle Eastern flavors that are the menu’s focus. A dramatically two-toned baklava ice cream sandwich is shellacked on one side with salted caramel and couscous praline, while a moist pistachio cake is topped with a creamy yogurt mousse, then ringed with a fragrant, floral jam of Paradise Farms flowers and the multi-hued petals of those flowers.