Yesterday, she talked about her education and excitement about returning to the Kansas City restaurant scene. Today, she shares the secrets to her desserts and where she turns for inspiration.
What are your culinary inspirations? Pierre Herme. He's my favorite pastry chef. What he does is incredible. I want to go to France and eat his macarons. He's never going to come to the United States. I get a lot of inspiration from French pastries in general. Right now we've got éclairs with a thin cookie crust on top of them. The pate a choux [dough] tends to get soft, so a little cookie dough on top gives it a really crunchy texture. We serve it with diplomat cream, pastry cream with whipped cream folded in, fresh raspberries with raspberry compote and a tuile for crunch. If you can execute something so classic and do it consistently, you don't need to go crazy or that outside of the box. Rochester was conservative; Kansas City is a lot further along. But I still want my desserts to sell.
What's your favorite ingredient? Salt. I was making pineapple sorbet one time and I tasted it. I put just a little bit of salt, and it was like ... pineapple [wafts hands in front of face]. That little teeny bit of salt brings out the flavor, and you don't even know it's there.
What was your best recent food find? Michael Smith. [Laughs.] When I drove from Rochester to Kansas City, we stopped in Chicago. We ate at Avec. It's owned by the same people who own Blackbird. We walk in, and there's wood paneling on the walls and this big long table with a huge bench against the wall. I went with my mom, and we ordered this focaccia with ricotta cheese. The ricotta was slightly warm, and it just melted in your mouth.
What's your favorite local ingredient? Beef. I love barbecue. When I was in Rochester, I seriously missed barbecue. And at school, barbecue was first on my list. But I've only had it twice since I've been back.
What's one food you hate? Blue cheese. I just don't like it. It's gross. I'm not a fan of the stinky cheeses.
What's one food you love? Macarons. I love making them. And eating them. I'd open up a macaron shop where that was all I did.
What's your guilty pleasure? It changes. Right now, I can't get enough of the baklava that I make for Extra Virgin. I have it for breakfast. It's loaded with butter, pistachios, cinnamon and cardamom. Then there's a simple syrup of honey and lemon juice on top of flaky phyllo.
What's always in your kitchen? Sugar. To be honest, I don't do a lot of baking at home. I'll spend 10 to 12 hours a day baking, so unless it's something special for my family, I'm not baking. Sugar... and... sriracha. In school [at the Culinary Institute of America], every class is 14 days long. So if you're on meal plan, you eat what the difference classes make. So you'll cycle through American, Asian and Mediterranean. After a while, you know you're going to be eating the same thing. You just need something to make it different. That's why I had a friend who put sriracha on everything.
Besides your own place, where do you like to eat out? I don't go out a lot. Michael [Smith] is the most generous person I've worked for. He feeds his employees twice a day. I'll go to the Vietnam Café. My favorite Kansas City pastry shop is Andre's. They consistently make the most beautiful and delicious petit fours in the city. My favorite is called the Matterhorn. It is a tiny mountain of chocolate cake and buttercream all mixed together atop a butter cookie and enrobed in ganache. And there's lot of places I want to try: Lidia's and the Rieger. I want to go everywhere.
If you could steal one recipe in town off any menu, which one would you steal? If I didn't work at Extra Virgin, I'd want the baklava recipe.
What's one book that every chef should read? Definitely No Reservations by Anthony Bourdain. It's real. And it's just one of those books that it's easy to agree with. At school, they gave us On Food and Cooking. That's really good to pick up and read randomly. It's more like an encyclopedia with little bits of information about ingredients. They told us to put it in our bathroom and read it.
Who's got the best barbecue in town, and what are you ordering? The Oklahoma Joe's Z-Man. I'll sometimes get the fries because they're seasoned. That sandwich is awesome. It's got an onion ring on it. If I want baked beans or burnt ends, obviously I go to Jack Stack.
What's your dream drinking/eating destination? Definitely France.
A chef is only as good as... their humility. If you're not humble about what you're doing, it won't work in a restaurant. Michael Smith is the most humble person. He was mopping the floor the other day. If the toilet's not working, he'll fix it. There's nothing he is above doing, although the food is obviously the most important thing.
I got a really good education and I'm still paying for it. I still have so much to learn. I'm never going to learn everything. There's always room for growing and changing. I could have a totally different style in a year. I hope I do. If I'm not constantly challenging myself to come up with new things or techniques, then I'm wasting my time.