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A Pastry Chef’s Healthy Desserts

A delicate pavlova, supermoist chocolate cake and creamy panna cotta by Marisa Churchill of the new Yoshi’s San Francisco are all delicious and stealthily healthy.

Japanese cuisine aspires to balance lightness, seasonality and simplicity—a philosophy that, although gaining popularity in America, is often lost on pastry chefs. But Marisa Churchill, who has been a pastry chef at several top Asian-influenced restaurants in the Bay Area—including Ame, the Slanted Door and the new Yoshi’s San Francisco—creates desserts that fall in line with the Japanese principles, finding innovative ways to cut fat and sugar out of her recipes while adding healthy ingredients. She uses fat-free yogurt to enrich honey-topped panna cottas and moist chocolate cake, which she cleverly sweetens with red beets, a trick she first used as a contestant on Top Chef. Her coconut-flavored pavlovas become featherweight pedestals for fresh fruit; they’re the kind of light desserts she features in her low-fat cooking classes at Calistoga Ranch in Napa Valley and for CHEFS (Conquering Homelessness through Employment in Food Service), a San Francisco–based program. “People think that fat equals flavor,” says Churchill. “That’s a common misconception. I think freshness, balance and texture are more essential.”

Published May 2008
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