After tasting desserts across the country, Food & Wine editors have named five Best New Pastry Chefs, including Lexington’s Stella Parks from Table Three Ten on Short Street.
Only professionals who have run a restaurant pastry kitchen for five years or fewer were eligible. The winners and their recipes will be featured in the May issue of Food & Wine on newsstands April 13.
“We’re thrilled to find so much talent in so many regions of the country — from a Kentucky pastry chef who creates fun, whimsical, homey desserts to a New York City pastry chef who prepares exquisite versions of French classics using molecular techniques,” Food & Wine editor in chief Dana Cowin said in a press release.
Best New Pastry Chef Winners are:
■ Shawn Gawle, Corton, New York City
■ Bryce Caron, Blackbird, Chicago
■ Laura Sawicki, La Condesa, Austin
■ Stella Parks, Table Three Ten, Lexington,
■ Devin McDavid, Quince/Cotogna, San Francisco
As part of the Best New Pastry Chefs program, Food & Wine announces that Chris Ford of Wit & Wisdom in Baltimore is the winner of The People’s Best New Pastry Chef 2012 award, selected by the dining public in an online poll presented by Godiva. Danica Pollard of Lidia’s in Kansas City and Francis Ang of Fifth Floor in San Francisco are the regional finalists in Central and West, respectively. For more on The People’s Best New Pastry Chef winner and finalists, visit Foodandwine.com/the-peoples-pastry.
At 3, Stella Bussey Parks was making biscuits from scratch with her father; at 21 she was creating baked Alaskas at Emmett’s Restaurant, and at 30, she is one of Food & Wine’s Best New Pastry Chefs in America.
Dana Cowin, editor in chief at Food & Wine, called Parks “a Kentucky pastry chef who creates fun, whimsical, homey desserts.”
Parks, who is pastry chef at Table Three Ten on Short Street, started her career in restaurants at 14, and went to culinary school straight out of high school. She graduated from the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in 2002, worked for Emmett’s, and when Chris and Ouita Michel opened Wallace Station, she joined their team. “I wrote the original pastry menu at Wallace Station. The danger brownies are my babies,” she said.
Then, Parks had what she calls “a quarter life crisis.” “I needed some adventure in my life.” She cashed out her savings and moved to Tokyo. The CIA has a work-abroad program, but first Parks wanted to learn the Japanese language and studied two semesters in Shinjuku. After the second semester she met future husband John Parks, and decided marrying Parks and being a pastry chef was exactly what she wanted to do.
When she returned home, Parks worked for a year at Bluegrass Baking Company, and then with the Michels again. This time at Holly Hill Inn. “Ouita is everyone’s inspiration. She’s amazing,” Parks said.
Parks left Holly Hill hoping to start a family, but ended up with another job offer and not having children.
While shopping at Wine + Market, Parks had become friends with owners Krim and Andrea Boughalem, who were renovating an old building on Short Street to open a restaurant. “When we opened Table Three Ten, I knew we needed a very strong dessert department. I had known Stella for a few years and saw she had the experience and spirit to become a great pastry chef. Johnny Shipley, our chef, and I have the same idea and commitment to season, freshness, and simple ingredients in food, Stella matched this philosophy perfectly. She had a certain romanticism when it comes to desserts,” Krim Boughalem said.
“It was the offer of a lifetime,” Parks said. “I have no restrictions. They’re tremendous employers. I’m 100 percent in charge of my domain.” “Familiar,” “comfort,” “nostalgic,” and “satisfying” are words Parks uses to describe her creations. “I trained in classical French technique, but I’m not interested in making high brow desserts, I have a great appreciation for that, but I want people to really feel something when they eat the dessert. I don’t want them to merely say this was delicious or this is very interesting. I want them to feel like a kid again and say these animal crackers are like I remember.”
Everything Parks makes is done by hand, including marshmallows, animal crackers, and sprinkles for the cupcakes.
Parks has other talents besides making outstanding pastries. She writes about food for SeriousEats.com and Gilttaste.com, and her own blog, BraveTart.com. She started blogging in 2010, not long after professional photographer Rosco Weber started following her around with a camera. Whatever Parks baked, Weber photographed it. “Making pretty dessert is my job, but those desserts always lived and died undocumented. Seeing them in a photo really energized me,” she said.
Weber and Parks talked about writing a cookbook, but decided on a blog. “BraveTart became a home to Rosco’s food photography and my recipes and ramblings,” she said.
Recently Parks researched and wrote “The Unknown History of Red Velvet Cake” for Gilttaste.com.
BraveTart, Parks said, “looks like Table Three Ten in the rearview.” Readers can find recipes for the desserts she has created at the restaurant on her blog. You also can follow her on Twitter @thebravetart.
Here are two of Parks’ dessert recipes.
Sweet potato panna cotta
1/4 ounce gelatin
1 1/2 ounces milk
10 ounces cream
7 ounces milk
1 vanilla bean, scraped, seeds reserved for vanilla layer
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1/4 ounce fresh ginger, grated
4 ounces peeled and cubed sweet potato
4 ounces brown sugar
1 ounces sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
Arrange eight 3-ounce plastic drinking cups (like Dixie) on a baking sheet. Grease lightly with cooking spray. Alternatively, make and serve the panna cotta in champagne flutes or other glassware, which don’t require spray.
Place the gelatin in a medium bowl and add the 1 1/2 ounces milk. Mix with a fork to ensure no lumps of undissolved gelatin remain. Place a mesh sieve over this bowl and set aside until needed.
In a small pot, bring the cream, milk, vanilla bean and spices to a simmer along with the cubed sweet potato. Simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally to make sure the bottom doesn’t scorch, until the sweet potato cubes are fork-tender. At that point, remove from the heat, cover and set aside for one hour.
When the hour has elapsed, fish out the vanilla bean pod and cinnamon stick. Use an immersion blender, food processor, or blender to puree the sweet potato into the cream mixture. Combine the sweet potato cream puree in the pot with the sugars and salt. Whisk, over medium heat, until dissolved. Once the sugar has completely dissolved, strain the hot liquid into the bowl of gelatin. Use a rubber spatula to help pass the mixture through. Discard any lumps or stringy bits that won’t pass through the sieve.
Whisk the puree and gelatin together until the gelatin has melted completely. Transfer the warm panna cotta to a small pitcher or measuring cup with a pour spout, and pour the mixture evenly between the prepared cups.
Refrigerate until the mixture has cooled. Once cool, cover the cups with plastic (if covered while the panna cotta is still warm, condensation will form on the plastic, drip back on the panna cotta, and create an unpleasant film on the surface); continue refrigerating until the gelatin has fully set, about 12 hours. The finished panna cotta will keep, covered and refrigerated, for about one week. Serve with maple syrup, bruleed brown butter marshmallows and homemade animal crackers.
Brown butter sage marshmallows
1.5 ounces gelatin
8 ounces cold water
3/4 ounce fresh sage, chopped as finely as you can manage
11 ounces corn syrup
8 ounces water
28 ounces sugar
1 teaspoon salt
6 ounces unsalted butter (or 4 ounces prepared brown butter, melted)
Powdered sugar for dusting
Unless you have a supercharged motor on your hand mixer, it probably won’t survive this recipe. Use a stand mixer if at all possible.
Lightly grease a 9- by 13- pan and set aside. Combine the gelatin and water together in the bottom of a stand mixer bowl. Set aside.
In a large, heavy bottomed pot, combine the sage, corn syrup, water, sugar and salt. Set over medium heat and stir gently, taking care to not splash liquid (and thus sugar crystals) up the sides of the bowl. Once the mixture starts to simmer, stop stirring and let it cook undisturbed until the mixture reaches 240 degrees. Shut off the heat and let it stand until it cools to 210 degrees. This is important; if the syrup has not sufficiently cooled it will prevent the gelatin from setting up properly.
Meanwhile, prepare the brown butter. In a small skillet, melt the butter over low heat. Turn the heat to medium low and cook the melted butter until it simmers, bubbles, stops bubbling, and begins to brown. Once the butter has turned a nice golden brown, remove the skillet from the heat and set aside until needed.
Once the marshmallow mixture has cooled to 210 degrees, pour it into the mixing bowl with the awaiting gelatin. Fit the bowl with the whisk attachment and crank it up to medium speed. Keep whipping until the mixture has more than doubled.
Now drizzle in the browned butter, a tablespoonful at a time. At first, it will resist incorporating and a buttery barrier will form between the marshmallow stuck to the bowl and the marshmallow caught in the whisk attachment. Just keep mixing. It will all come together and incorporate in the end. Once you’ve added all the butter, including any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet, crank the speed up to high for a few moments, just to make sure the whole mixture has evenly whipped.
Once you’ve shut off the mixer, scrape the marshmallow goo into the prepared pan. Lift up and smack the pan a few times against the counter to dislodge any air bubbles and help it level out.
Dust the top of the giant marshmallow with some powdered sugar, cover in plastic and refrigerate overnight.
To cut the marshmallows, prepare a cutting board by dusting it generously with powdered sugar. Take your pan of chilled marshmallows and literally reach your fingers between the marshmallow and the pan, and pull out.
Dust the exposed bottom of the marshmallow with more powdered sugar. Use a chef’s knife to cut the marshmallows into about 13, 1-inch strips. You’ll have to stop periodically and clean your knife under hot, running water. Always dry your knife thoroughly after this step. Once the strips are cut, roll them in some powdered sugar so none of the sides are sticky.
Now use the knife to cut each strip at 1-inch increments. The marshmallows are probably close to 2-inches tall, so they won’t be perfect cubes, but rather rectangles. Toss these cut pieces in more powdered sugar to prevent them from sticking.
Store in an airtight container or a big Ziploc bag. They’re essentially nothing but sugar, so they have a terrific shelf life, weeks at room temperature, months in the fridge, indefinitely in the freezer.
Note: Be sure to chop the sage into the most tiny pieces you can. If the sage pieces have any length to them whatsoever, they’ll wrap themselves around the whisk attachment, clump together, and essentially remove themselves from the marshmallows in the process. As an alternative, you can grind the sage into the sugar in a food processor. This gives the marshmallows a nice pale green hue and a slightly stronger sage flavor. This is Parks’ favorite method, but not everyone has a food processor, and a knife gets the job done too if you’re willing to take your time.