Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bill Yosses, not such a classicist

May 13

I enjoyed this story in yesterday’s New York Times that profiled Bill Yosses, the breathtakingly affable pastry chef at the White House (he really is, I had a great chat with him and some of his friends back in 2007 at the opening of Sweetgreen in Georgetown).

But I was surprised by the passage about him being a relative culinary traditionalist:

“He might play with a little agar-agar (to set finely chopped rhubarb into a soft gel) or crystallized vitamin C (to preserve the green of an herb purée), but he has generally kept to a strong French backbone of flavor profiles. In his work, chocolate remains paired with hazelnut; pineapple with lime.

“ ‘He does not approve of a dessert like tomato sorbet with rosemary syrup,’ said Jonathan Hayes, a forensic pathologist and former food writer who has been a friend and fan since the 1980s.”

French backbone, really? I mean, certainly his pastry roots are French, but I’ve always thought his style was a bit more cosmopolitan than what the article describes, and he has spent a significant amount of time in Southeast Asia, which is reflected in his style.

I guess it’s true that he doesn’t get completely crazy with weird flavor combinations, but back in 2006, when he was a partner in a Vietnamese restaurant called Boi, he made a dessert of coconut tapioca garnished with diced mango, toasted coconut and pomegranate molasses. Also in that dish were basil seeds that were hydrated in warm water steeped with vanilla bean, star anise, cinnamon and lemon grass.

Sounds tasty, but not so French.

When he was at Citarella in New York, in 2002, he made a gelatin out of the super-tart juice of the Philippine citrus fruit calamansi. He froze that in a madeleine mold with an orange segment in it, and served that over warm coconut tapioca to give it an acidic spike. That dish was rounded out with coconut sorbet and a pistachio madeleine.

And even when he’s sticking to the French palette of ingredients, he gets whimsical. At Citarella he used a classic French combination — Pears and Fourme d'Ambert cheese (a cow milk bleu from the Loire Valley) — but made up the name Pear Dauphinois for it. The name was a play on pommes dauphinois, which is mashed potatoes mixed with cream puff pastry dough, rolled into balls and deep-fried.

Pear Dauphinois, on the other hand, was made by plunging paper-thin slices of pear into a 50-50 mixture of water and pear juice, spiked with vitamin C (to keep the pears from discoloring) and pear brandy (because why not?), and then layering them with the cheese to make a sort of dessert casserole, which he served with quince paste and almond biscotti.

I never tried the Pear Daupinois, but Bill said it was a very satisfying end to a meal, and I believe him.

1 comment:

Lex said...

I don't know Bill well, but met him at a pastry conference some years back. Remarkably affable? Absolutely. Restrained or classical? No way. He's an amazing talent.