Nadine Donovan, pastry chef of Old Major: "Bourbon makes everything better"
This is part two of my interview with Nadine Donovan, pastry chef of Old Major; part one of our chat ran yesterday.
What do you enjoy most about your craft?
It's rewarding. At the beginning of the day, I step into a calm kitchen, set up my station and start scaling, mixing, stirring, baking, poaching and kneading. It's a whirlwind of creation starting with a few simple ingredients and ending with cakes, pies, breads and ice creams. And it's a great feeling to step back and see all of the things that you've produced. An even better feeling is watching what you made being placed in front of an eagerly awaiting guest.
What's your fantasy splurge?
It doesn't take much to keep me happy in the kitchen, or in life. I always try to make the best of what I have. But if I could treat myself to one thing at this very moment, it would be a collection of knives from Cut Brooklyn. The passion and dedication that they have for their craft inspires me to be better at mine.
What's the best food- or kitchen-related gift you've been given?
As a chef, most of the gifts that I receive are food-related. They've all been phenomenal, but my very favorite gifts are cookbooks; they're knowledge and inspiration all wrapped up with a bow, and it's almost impossible to beat that. The ones I cherish the most have little sentiments scripted under the jacket -- such a great personal touch.
Why are people so obsessed with chocolate?
Lots of reasons. Chocolate has powerful nostalgic properties, and for most people, it triggers memories about the holidays, celebrations or good times in their childhood. Second, chocolate triggers the release of endorphins -- and that makes all of us feel great. Third, it's absolutely delicious. I'm obsessed with chocolate because it's so versatile. We have a dessert on our menu right now that showcases the different elements of chocolate, from its unprocessed state (cocoa nibs) to the extraction of cocoa butter (white chocolate) to perfectly crafted 74 percent coverture. Chocolate is really fascinating stuff.
What's the secret to baking bread?
Don't be afraid of it. Bread is relatively simple; just try it. If you combine flour, water, sugar, yeast and salt, you'll wind up with some kind of bread, and after that, it's just about adjusting the measurements to get the desired result.
If you could get a free ticket to, and free dinner at, any restaurant in the world, where would you go?
Noma, a stunning restaurant in Copenhagen that's renowned as one of the best restaurants in the world. I believe that they're one of only a few restaurants who have stayed true to the farm-to-table concept. They grow, they forage and they cook. One day, I'll make it there.
What piece of advice would you give to a young pastry chef?
Never go at it alone. If you're confused, ask questions; if you're weeded, ask for hands; and if you're creating a new dish, ask for feedback (and listen!). We're not here to be heroes; we're here to make great food.