You may have noted that I only occasionally report on desserts. Often they can be so cloyingly sweet, targeted to a juvenile palate, or just something to bump up the check total. And unless there is a designated Pastry Chef on board, I find that this is too often the case.
Joseluis Flores, Richard Sandoval’s Pastry Chef and Executive Chef for Kitchen Operations, does not fit into any of the aforementioned categories. He is an astounding and accomplished chef who has been recognized by Star Chefs as a “Rising Star”. As Pastry Chef for Toro Toro he has created two desserts that I would get on a red-eye for. Thankfully I do not have to. His “Cortadito Bar” and the dreamy “Deconstructed Key Lime Pie” are on the I Street restaurant’s printed menu. Recently I spoke with Flores about his work and inspirations.
Jordan: What was your first dessert or memory of something sweet?
Joseluis: I’d say the orange pound cake my grandma made. As the only boy in the family I learned from her. As kids we’d all gather around and she taught us how.
What was the first desert you made?
The orange pound cake certainly, and a chocolate pound cake too. We usually ate these cakes once a month on a Sunday and not necessarily for a special occasion.
Can you talk about how you came up with the Deconstructed Key Lime pie? I loved it. It is beautiful and unpretentious as well as delicious. Something you want to dig in to, not stand back from.
Italian meringue a rich key lime custard and garnished with complementary flavors without missing the essence of the idea. I think people overthink desserts. They try to put too much stuff in it. Sometimes the simplest thing is the most challenging.
What about your lavish Cordadita Bar?
It’s a takeoff on the Cuban coffee that’s an espresso with a dash of milk.
What kind of chocolate do you prefer?
I use many different kinds, but for that dessert I use Valrhona 64% chocolate. It’s a combination of white and dark chocolate and a lot of coffee and milk in the mousse. The base is a smooth and silky almond and hazelnut cake, a typical French genoise.
Who are your greatest professional influences?
I’d have to say Jacques Torres and Francois Payard, and from elBulli, Ferran Adria, and his brother, Albert Adria, whom I met once at a Star Chef event in New York.
What is your favorite dessert?
I like everything chocolate! I like a simple chocolate mousse with raspberries. For myself, believe it or not, I like hot apple pie with chocolate ice cream on top. Sometimes I make apple empanadas in the restaurant using pie dough and eat it with cinnamon and vanilla-flavored chocolate ice cream that I make with Abuelita using some smoked ancho chiles.
What types of sugar do you use?
I use granulated white sugar and a lot of brown sugar too, both dark and light, for cookie dough. I use agave for marinating fruits and make a flan with piloncillo. Also I like agave syrup with spices for making my churros. Occasionally I use sugar from beets or dates.
What do you think is the next trend in desserts?
Wow! That’s difficult to say. But I think a lot of the pastry chefs are going back to the basics, not so much molecular gastronomy. Everything has its time. A lot of the chefs give us the trend of the food. But some of the desserts have become very expensive to create and not everybody can afford that. A lot of restaurants are using more basic ingredients. So many restaurants try to overdo, and just don’t decorate the plates right. Not everyone can play with the more molecular techniques.
I make one dessert that is served only in Miami and New York. It is a Mexican cream cheese mousse with a cream cheese crust and cookie crumbs and French preserves with strawberries and raspberries. We use the same ingredients to decorate the plate. I try not to go beyond or crazy. You can just take one ingredient and transform it with out losing its integrity.
How do you get all your ideas?
The company we have now with Richard [Sandoval], affords me a lot of opportunities to be creative. It also lets me explore flavors and ingredients from around the world to create new Latin and Asian flavors. With so many combinations at hand, I can always create something new.
Can you describe the differences in Latin-inspired desserts?
People often ask me, “What’s a Latin dessert, a Peruvian dessert, a Mexican dessert?” If you look back in history there was no sugar in America. It was honey and vanilla. We didn’t have these things until the mix of cultures. For example in Argentina alfajores is a cookie made of corn starch and sugar that they are very proud of. Those desserts came from the Old World, places like Arabia and Dubai – – and the kind of sugars they use. We have to mix the Latin flavors somehow – – otherwise we end up with nothing.
For example some fruits came from America. Pineapple, that’s now used all over the world, was once for the very rich. All these flavors like guava and mamey, they came from Latin America and were brought to Europe.
When I was writing my first book [Dulce: Desserts in the Latin-American Tradition, 2010] I did a lot of research about baking ingredients. For example the vanilla bean was brought from Mexico to Spain and then spread around the world. Then, look at who are the masters of chocolate – – Switzerland and France. Chocolate was brought to Europe from the Americas.
What’s next for you?
This September I will be at a Star Chefs competition in New York City. There are usually 20 different pastry chefs from around the country. I really like to do this because a lot of the money goes to the students. Plus it keeps me in shape. The last time I went I had to train for two weeks! I like to see people from the industry and all the latest technology so I can have a knowledge of what’s in the marketplace. Like a lot of other pastry chefs, I like the PacoJet [ice cream machine] a lot and also all the different Silpat pans and molds that allow me to create different shapes.
Is there another book we can look forward to?
Actually, I am working on another book. The last one took me a couple of years to develop, compile and test the recipes, so I imagine this one will too. I like to put all my memories in it.
All photos by Jordan Wright.