Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hail to the Chef: Elaine Baker, Pastry Chef at The Grange, in the Citizen Hotel

This week's Hail to the Chef salute is Elaine Baker, pastry chef for The Citizen Hotel/Grange Restaurant in downtown Sacramento.

1. What made you want to become a chef?
Simple - I am happiest when I’m in the kitchen.

2. Where did you receive your training?
I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Napa, CA with a Baking & Pastry Arts degree.

3. Who have you worked with that you have really admired?
My first pastry chef, Sharon Rosenthal, at the El Encanto Hotel in Santa Barbara. Chef Touhy [Executive Chef at the Grange], of course. Jonathan Kierkseck.

4. What is a typical day like for you at the restaurant?
We also make all desserts in-house for the hotel, and a typical day is 11-12 hours long. It starts with taking inventory of the desserts and components, checking banquet orders, writing up the production list, getting the Grange dessert line stocked for lunch and dinner, ensuring that all banquet desserts are ready for that day, checking to see if any amenities (such as truffles) are needed for hotel guests, and ordering pastry supplies and produce––and in between all of that we do heavy production. The only thing we don’t do is actually plate the desserts on the line––the pantry cooks do that for us.

5. What are/who are your primary cooking influences?
My cooking has always been seasonally influenced, but until I came to Grange I hadn’t seen it practiced so consistently in a restaurant kitchen…it’s very inspiring.

6. What are your favorite and least favorite foods to prepare/eat?
My favorite––anything that has to do with baking and pastry…I love it all. Least favorite––fussy, pretentious food and raw seafood.

7. Please tell me about your most overwhelming moment in the kitchen.
Shortly after the hotel opened we had a banquet that called for about 60 chocolate mousse desserts that were piped into martini glasses. The glasses were filled, the glass racks stacked one on top of another and a banquet cook started to wheel the entire stack down the hallway to the elevator. I turned away and heard a huge crash. One of the wheels had caught in a crack in the floor and the entire stack went over. The banquet chef and I had about 15 minutes to come up with another dessert for 60 people, plate it and get it up to the banquet room…but we did it, and the guests were happy. That’s all that matters.

8. Who are your favorite chefs or famous chefs?
Alice Medrich, Sherry Yard, Gale Gand, Pierre Herme, Johnny Iuzzini, Nancy Silverton.

White wine or red wine? Do you have a favorite wine varietal/label?
I prefer red, usually Zinfandel or Cabernet. I also love sparkling wine, port and Madeira.

What is your "can't live without" kitchen tool and why?
A small offset spatula and my 8” Henckels chef’s knife––I use both constantly.

11. Please tell me how you go about planning your dessert menus.
First, what’s in season? Second, do I want to use the seasonal ingredients as main or secondary components? Third, how can I vary the textures and/or temperatures in a dessert? Fourth, is there a good balance in the overall menu with chocolate, dairy, fruit, nuts, gluten-free etc? Fifth, does the overall menu fit the Grange concept? Fifth, will Chef Touhy like it?

12. If you had a different career choice, what would it be?
Landscape designer––I love to garden.

13. What are the most important things to remember (can be relative to anything) while working as a chef?
Quality and consistency are everything … it starts with selecting ingredients, follows through to the production and finishes with the plating. And nothing matters more than pleasing your guests.

Here is a shot of Elaine's Lime Tart with a Chocolate Cookie Crust, Lime Curd, Whipped Cream, and Fresh Citrus

14. What is the most important thing you have learned in your culinary career?
Don’t try to be everything to everybody. Find the style of cooking that you love and stick with it. And don’t ever compromise the integrity of your food, especially when your name is on the menu.

To read more about Elaine's life in the kitchen, you can follow her blog: Elaine's Pastry Playground. Elaine says her blog is named Elaine's Pastry Playground because "that's how I view my workplace - I get to come in every day and play with the most wonderful ingredients to create beautiful, delicious desserts." You can also keep up with Elaine on Twitter here.

For New Year's Eve Dinner this Thursday at the Grange the featured desserts will be: Chocolate Chambord Mousse Cake w/White Chocolate-Cranberry Bark & Chambord Sauce and Warm Quince Tatin w/Champagne Sabayon & Champagne Gelee. Click here for their New Year's Eve menu.

And to celebrate Dine Downtown Week from Friday, January 8 - Sunday, January 17 the featured desserts at the Grange will be: Guinness Ginger Cake w/Caramel-Braised Pears & Guinness Sauce and Apple-Cranberry Strudel w/French Vanilla Ice Cream & Apple-Brandy Syrup.

To download a current dessert menu for the Grange, you can click here.

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