Amy Sayles, pastry chef of Panzano: "I won't stop until each dessert on the menu is the best I can make it"
What do you enjoy most about your craft?
I get to be imaginative by creating art with food, and I get to create new and exciting flavors for people who might have never thought to try X and Y together.
This is part two of my interview with Amy Sayles, pastry chef of Panzano; part two of our chat ran Wednesday.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given?
This silly little frying pan my mom gave to me a few years ago as a joke, except that I use it all the time. It's the perfect size for frying an egg, and the exact size of a bagel. The other greatest gift would have to be my pink KitchenAid mixer.
What's your fantasy splurge?
There are so many things I wish for every day, but my fantasy pastry splurge is a huge pastry kitchen with standing ovens and enough table space for all of us to work comfortably.
If you could get a free ticket to, and a free dinner at, any restaurant in the world, where would you go?
I'd fly to Yountville, California, and have dinner at the chef's table at the French Laundry. I've admired Thomas Keller for as long as I can remember, and would love nothing more than to sit and have dinner and a glass of wine with him.
If you could train under any pastry chef in the world, who would it be?
François Payard, for a few reasons. He's known for his ice creams, which are my favorite, but he's also mastered the art of a perfectly crafted French macaron. I'd also love to study under Bill Corbett, of the Absinthe Group; his style is fresh and his flavors are clean.
What piece of advice would you give to a young pastry chef?
Stay strong. There will be thousands of obstacles along the way. Trust me -- I've seen my fair share of fallen cakes, crystallized sorbets for no apparent reason, adjusting every recipe for change in altitude and humidity. But at the end of the day, if you can go home and say to yourself, "Today I succeeded in overcoming this challenge, tomorrow is a new day, and I will continue to learn how to remedy the issues brought before me," then one day, one month, one year at a time, you'll slowly but surely grow and become something amazing, and when all is said and done, you'll look back and laugh at how silly it all was.
Is having a pastry chef separate from the executive chef important in a restaurant?
I think that having a pastry chef who focuses solely on pastries and desserts and an executive chef who oversees the savory dishes is extremely important. I've seen chefs try and do it all, but I've never seen it work. The overall quality of both pastry and savory dishes suffers, because the focus of the executive chef is spread too thin and dessert becomes an afterthought.
How does executive chef Elise Wiggins's menu influence your desserts?
Elise's food and style plays a very large part in how I develop my dessert menu at Panzano. We're a modern but traditional Italian restaurant, and if you look closely at my dessert menu, you'll see that although the plating and execution of each dessert is not necessarily "Italian," the flavor profiles are all based on very classic "Nona-style" desserts from all regions of Italy. The chocolate-mousse cake is based on a classic chocolate-and-orange dessert known as torta di arance e cioccolata, which is served for Passover all over Italy. I do extensive research -- not only on flavor profiles, but also about how the food pairs with the rest of Elise's cuisine.
Favorite dessert on your menu:
Right now, it's the chocolate and orange mousse cake. It just screams autumn, from its multi-shades of brown and orange to its cinnamon parfait. And to top it off, the entire dessert is gluten-free and one of three gluten-free desserts on the fall menu.