Named in 2005, one of the 10 best pastry chefs in America by Pastry Art & Design and Chocolatier magazines, Kate Zuckerman takes seasonal, simple and pure ingredients and creates sensational desserts.
Zuckerman is a master of beautifully executed design, nuanced flavors and textural contrasts. She has been pastry chef since 1999 at Chanterelle, the beloved, award-winning NYC restaurant, and has been baking since the age of nine.
Her desserts have been described by The New York Times as a
“life-changing experience,” and have been praised lavishly by every major food critic in NYC.
She is the former pastry chef at Picholine in New York and Firefly in San
Francisco and began her culinary apprenticeship in Boston under
Lydia Shire at Biba and Rick Katz at The Bentonwood Bakery.
Zuckerman has worked in the kitchens of top restaurants in San
Francisco, Paris and New York.
Her book, The Sweet Life, chronicles the fabled desserts which she created for Chanterelle.
She is gracious, thoughtful and possesses an unerring sense of what makes dessert a sublime experience.
Recently, Zuckerman shared with Eat. Drink. Memory. her experiences with the "sweet life."
My earliest memory of dessert is...
Black Bottom Pie from Maida Heater's classic, "Great Desserts." My mother used to make this pie for our family on special occasions.
I am the youngest with two older brothers and they were the big fans and begged for this pie all the time. At first I copied their cries. Now I just remember the crunchy chocolate crust, the whipped cream, custard and strawberries.
What prompted you to choose the life of a pastry chef?
I baked for my family from age 9 on. I also loved to cook and initially worked as a line cook after finishing college. My memories of picking fruit in season with my family and baking for my brothers eventually drew me over to pastry.
As a line cook in the 90's I was overwhelmed by all the ethnic trends in cooking: I was working in Boston and San Francisco and the restaurant vibe was dishes that dabbled with Indian, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Southwestern flavors.
And I wanted more focus which I felt that pastry would provide. Though I use some flavors and spices that come from non-western cuisine in my pastry kitchen, at heart I make desserts that are firmly embedded in French technique with an American sensibility that looks more broadly across Europe for inspiration.
Where do you find inspiration for the desserts the NY Times has called "life-changing?"
What William Grimes was referring to specifically was a Napoleon of caramel mousse and thin, delicate, salty peanut brittle which was one component of a tasting of caramel desserts. The inspiration comes from playing with one flavor and developing it as many ways as possible.
This is why seasonal fruit is so important to a pastry chef. In the height of a fruit's season, a chef is bound to explore the infinite possibilities and combinations offered by the flavors and textures of the fruit.
Another way of saying this is that a great deal of my inspiration comes through repetition -- each month brings back recipes from past years which I build on, refine, tweak and eventually wholly reinvent. My best analogy is that a painter creates a beautiful blue in a painting by using and exploring as many blues as possible.
What's the one dessert you couldn't do without?
It's a little bit like choosing a favorite among my children, but if I have to pick, I would say ice cream.
Dessert gets a bad rap. When were little we weren't allowed dessert unless we cleaned our plates. Should dessert be a part of very meal?
I have three kids and they want ice cream every night. So I alternate ice cream nights with seasonal fruit nights, which of course makes my son skip dessert every other night because he really only likes chocolate and chocolate ice cream in particular.
But it has been great for my daughter. She loves fruit and she looks forward to asking what we have on fruit nights. And my baby will definitely follow in her footsteps.
To answer your question specifically, I do feel like some kind of meal ending sweet is a good thing. It satisfies a very primal craving.
Some people would argue it's not dessert if it isn't chocolate. Is chocolate the best dessert ingredient?
I adore really good chocolate. And my son obviously agrees! But I am a huge fan of fruit desserts.
What's the one kitchen tool you can't live without?
A plastic bowl scraper which is in my breast pocket at work at all times. And at home I have one in every drawer.