On October 11 at 9 p.m., 41 of the greatest pastry chefs and bakers in the city will converge at La.venue for the New York Wine & Food Festival's Sweet dessert party. Tickets are $175 in advance, and we have two more pairs to give away this week. If you didn't win in the previous contest, no worries. You can enter again here by answering the following question at the bottom of this post: What's your favorite childhood dessert memory?
But first, to get you prepped for the event, we've asked some of the participants to sit down for a special dessert-themed Meet & Eat. The first one here is with Le Bernardin's Michael Laiskonis. He's not only one our favorite pastry chefs but is also a first rate blogger. His favorite childhood dessert memory was warm cinnamon doughnuts with apple cider. Doesn't that sound so serious?
Meet & Eat: Michael Laiskonis
Who inspires you as a pastry chef? The answer is two-fold: on the one hand, all of my mentors, up to and including Eric Ripert, have been and are instrumental in my career. And then on the opposite end, I’m inspired by my own staff, and all of the fresh young faces coming up through the ranks of kitchens.
Which pastry chef or cookbook author has had the greatest influence on your desserts? Outside influence comes from many sources; what’s important is how it filters through one’s own experience and sensibility. Certainly, if I were to pick one, I’d probably give the nod to someone like Pierre Hermé, who continues to innovate, yet keeps a foot in tradition at the same time.
What's your favorite childhood dessert memory? My “madeleine,” so to speak, would probably be the warm cinnamon doughnuts and fresh apple cider that we’d get at the nearby cider mill every autumn where I grew up in Michigan. That combination usually conjures up a very specific time, place, and mood for me. And to this day I still love to riff on that classic idea.
Chocolate Chip Cookies: Chewy or Crispy? Chewy, I guess. Though either way, getting to them within a minute or two out of the oven is always best.
Brownies: Cakey or fudgy? Nuts or no nuts? Somewhere, someone must make a specimen with the best of both qualities, though I’d have to side with cakey version. Nuts are OK, but often a distraction.
Black and White Cookies: Yay or Nay I’d have to say I’m indifferent. But in defense of local food traditions everywhere, it’s comforting to see them around.
Ice Cream, Frozen Custard or Gelato: What's your preference? I don’t have a technical preference per se; it’s really all about the raw materials that go into it and the care taken no matter the method. That said, I’ve had some spectacular gelatos recently, with beautiful, clean flavors.
What is your guilty pleasure sweet? It’s perhaps a bit cliché, but I’d have to say your everyday, pedestrian candy bar. I think there is part of us, as pastry chefs, that seek to either recreate or improve upon such things, especially when there is a bit of nostalgia involved.
Is there a dessert you absolutely loathe? Nothing immediately comes to mind. Certainly, I have my preferences, as with savory foods, but I can usually choke down whatever is placed in front of me.
Ingredient that should never appear in a dessert? I like to keep an open mind, but I’d probably say anything in the realm of fish. Ironic, I guess, coming from the pastry chef at Le Bernardin!
Is there a great dessert missing from New York's restaurants and bakeries? There are, of course, a few stellar examples out there, but I’m always looking for more well-done classics, like really good croissants. I’d love to see more serious neighborhood pastry shops that excel at the classics.
Most memorable New York City meal? We become jaded as chefs, I think, especially considering how well we can eat every day here in the city. I’d have to say that my most memorable meal has to be my first ever visit to Le Bernardin, over ten years ago, for lunch. I can still conjure up each dish in my mind. And of course, not knowing then that I would return all these years later makes the memory even more special.
Best pizza in the city? Perhaps I speak heresy, having never been to places like DiFara’s or Grimaldi’s, but I have to say I’ve been having fun making my own pizzas at home in recent months. There is a lot you can do with a good hand-kneaded dough, a pizza stone, and a crappy apartment oven!
What is New York missing, foodwise? The great thing about this question is that it’s almost impossible to answer! I always say that you can find anything in New York; there may only be one person doing it, but they are there, somewhere. I guess the excitement and the enjoyment comes just from the mere quest. If you don’t think it exists, perhaps you just haven’t looked long enough!
Win a Pair of Tickets for the Sweet Dessert Party
Alright, now you can enter to win the Sweet dessert party tickets. To put your hat in the ring, just answer this question in the comments below: What's your favorite childhood dessert memory?
Two winners will be chosen at random from among eligible commenters. Contest will end and comments will close at noon ET, Thursday, October 2, 2008. One entry per community member. The standard Serious Eats contest rules apply.