Nibbles And Sips Around Town – A Conversation With Pastry Chef Joseluis Flores

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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.

Pastry Chef Joseluis Flores.
Pastry Chef Joseluis Flores.

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 dessert 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.

Deconstructed Key Lime Pie.
Deconstructed Key Lime Pie.

How did you come 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.

Cortadita Bar.
Cortadita Bar.

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 photo credit to Jordan Wright.

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Jordan Wright
Jordan Wright is an accomplished writer on food, spirits, travel, and theatre. Her clients include the tony Georgetowner and hip sister publication the Downtowner, the Washington Examiner and San Francisco Examiner, as well as LocalKicks.com, DC Metro Magazine, Washington Life Magazine, Washingtonian Magazine, MDTheatreGuide.com, The Alexandria Times, Hartkeisonline.com, and now DCMetroTheaterArts. Her articles feature restaurant openings, food and wine events, food-oriented film reviews, farmer’s markets, food trends, restaurant reviews, food memories, new food products, hotels, spas, resorts and interviews with the country’s leading chefs – from Jose Andres and Top Chef’s Carla Hall, to CakeLove’s Warren Brown and Top Chef’s Spike Mendelsohn. She has also interviewed famed chef and TV star, Anthony Bourdain, Eric Ripert, cookbook author Joan Nathan, and director Robert Kenner for an in-depth article about his film Food, Inc. Photographs by Wright accompany many of her articles and NBCNews.com has picked up and used several of her stories. Jordan Wright hails from three generations of show business. Her grandmother, Betty Morton, was a Ziegfield Follies girl; her step-grandmother Corinne Griffith, a noted author and silent screen star wrote Hail to the Redskins; her father, Georgie Price, an entertainer and founder of The Lamb’s Club in New York, as well as a CBS radio show host, songwriter and vaudevillian; her sister, Penny Larsen Vine, a theatre critic both on radio and in print for Variety, a former longtime member of the Outer Critics Circle, and a lead performer in countless national touring companies; one brother, Peter Price, appeared in leading roles in over 16 major motion pictures for MGM; while her other brother, Marshall Price performed at Carnegie Hall. Niece, Stephanie Vine, was the final Annie in the original production of Annie on Broadway, and niece, Liz Larsen, has received two Tony nominations and a Helen Hayes award for lead actress in Sunday in the Park with George. Wright sang with Columbia Records in New York and Barclay Records in France. In the sports world her grandfather was the original owner and founder of the Washington Redskins football team. Wright has traveled throughout four continents and currently resides in Old Town Alexandria.