F&W Star Chef
Restaurant: Pastry chef, Colicchio & Sons (New York City)
Experience: Craftsteak, Rene Pujol
Education: Culinary Institute of America
What dessert are you famous for?
Coconut cream yeast doughnuts with coconut pastry cream and toasted coconut sugar.
What was the first meal you ever made?
I was rolling meatballs at the table when I was 2 while my grandparents made Sunday dinners, and I’d spend an hour peeling garlic and keeping quiet.
Best dish for a neophyte cook?
Pancakes. I am obsessed with them.
Who is your mentor?
Tom Colicchio. There is such joy in him when he cooks. He has shown me how to keep that love and happiness in the forefront of your mind.
Favorite cookbook of all time?
Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course. I got it as a high school graduation present from a friend. Conceptually, it was so exciting to me because it was seasonally oriented. I’ve met Claudia several times, and I feel like a big loser when I’m in front of her. I’m a little star-struck.
What’s the most important skill for a great cook?
How to take criticism and make it constructive. You have to make some big mistakes to progress.
Best bang-for-the-buck ingredient?
Vanilla bean. It’s pretty expensive, but I can really utilize it: We dry the husk out and make a vanilla powder. We steep the bean in a good bottle of whiskey, and then in a couple of months we have an amazing vanilla extract.
What’s your food obsession?
Anything fried. I’ve been trying to taste fried things all over New York City. Also, I’ve been working a lot with candy: molded chocolates, truffles, cotton candy. I also love junky candy, like Sour Patch Kids.
What talents do you have besides cooking?
Sketching and doing anything crafty. I like writing. I’m musically inclined, and my sister and I will sing for the hell of it.
If you could invent a restaurant for your next (imaginary) project, what would it be?
A pop-up doughnut bakery-café.
What dishes define you?
Doughnuts, funnel cake and milk chocolate panna cotta, which reminds me of the pudding my grandmother made when I was growing up. My target audience is the inner child in everybody.
What do you eat straight out of the fridge, standing up?
Spanish olives and Maraschino cherries, but not at the same time.