With the rise of TV dessert competitions, pastry chefs are new players in the fame game. Here, F&W's favorite desserts and the talents behind them.

July 01, 2010

Pastry chefs have become the latest food celebrities—starring on TV shows like Top Chef: Just Desserts and displaying their creations at bakery counters in top restaurants. "We're done being the last thought," says Zoe Nathan, co-owner of Huckleberry Bakery and Café in Los Angeles. At her once-a-week dinners, guests order dessert first: "We put the blueberry corn cake in the oven when they sit down, so it comes to the table hot and crazy."

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7 Pastry Talents

Goat Cheese Puddings. © Stephanie Foley.

Dana Cree: The Modernist

Poppy, Seattle

Poppy, known for simple, seasonal dishes from chef Jerry Traunfeld, keeps a molecular gastronomist in the pastry station. Cree uses techniques she picked up at the Fat Duck in the U.K. and New York City's WD-50. "I learned to divorce flavors from their original textures to create something new," she says.

Baked Currant Doughnuts

Baked Currant Doughnuts. © Stephanie Foley.

Christy Timon & Abram Faber: The Traditionalists

Clear Flour Bread Bakery; Brookline, MA

Timon opened her bakery in 1982, hiring Faber to help with deliveries. The now-married couple are revered as early champions of classic European baking. They continue to hunt down rare recipes, like these light doughnuts adapted from Robert Jörin, a third-generation Swiss baker at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Jumbo Brownies

Jumbo Brownies. © Stephanie Foley.

Anne Quatrano: The Purist

Star Provisions, Atlanta

"Like all great desserts," says Quatrano, "these brownies have only three pertinent flavors: chocolate, butter and walnuts." Quatrano, an F&W Best New Chef 1995, is the chef of a small empire of restaurants in Atlanta.

Jennifer Shelbo: The Archivist

Maialino, New York City

Now the pastry chef of Danny Meyer's new Roman-style trattoria, Shelbo was once a financial research analyst. She is still a crack researcher, searching for authentic Italian recipes like this moist, airy cake.

Zoe Nathan: The Free Spirit

Huckleberry Bakery and Café, Los Angeles

Nathan has the zany, freewheeling air of a person on a permanent sugar high. "It's a huge pastry playground," she boasts of her bakery. Her salted-caramel squares are just as bold, with tender caramel atop a dense, buttery crust. "I've always loved salt and sugar," she says. "As a kid, I'd dip my fries in milk shakes."

Jennie Lorenzo: The Reinventor

Fifth Floor, San Francisco

Lorenzo was raised in Manila, the Philippines, but she understands the San Francisco psyche. "People here prefer artisanal foods," she says. "If I do something strange, it won't be a top seller." To stay creative, she morphs the classics, like this riff on the French gâteau basque, a dense cake of almond custard and cherries.

More Great Pastry Recipes:

Beautiful Desserts

Beautiful Desserts

Amazing Layer Cakes

Amazing Layer Cakes

Indulgent French Desserts

Indulgent French Desserts

3 Reasons Why Pastry Chefs Are Stars

1. Because top restaurants now have great pastry counters.

  • ABC Kitchen: Jean-Georges Vongerichten's new NYC café inside ABC Carpet & Home proudly displays Cynthia Bearman's locavore desserts.
  • Tavern: At Suzanne Goin's new Los Angeles spot, diners can buy pastry chef Breanna Varela's brownies to go.
  • Cakes & Ale: This fall, the Decatur, Georgia, spot expands to better show off Cynthia Wong's creations, like Phatty Cakes (cookies stuffed with icing).

2. Because they are the original molecular gastronomists.

  • Il Cane Rosso: Bill Corbett from Il Cane Rosso and Coi in San Francisco draws on his molecular know-how to make stabilizer-free soft-serve ice cream.
  • Red Medicine: A vet of NYC's WD-50, Jordan Kahn is known for liquid crusts and grilled milk. His latest, unexpected project: a Vietnamese restaurant in L.A.

3. Because they're reality-TV superheroes.

  • Top Chef: Just Desserts: F&W's Gail Simmons will host this sweets-only spin-off of Top Chef. Airing this fall; Bravo.
  • Cupcake Wars: The country's top cupcake makers compete. Fridays at 10 p.m.; Food Network.
  • Cake Boss: Buddy Valastro makes cakes with authority at his New Jersey bakery. Mondays at 9 p.m.; TLC.

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