Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Top Chef Just Desserts 2 Episode 2 Previews

BRAVO's Top Chef Just Desserts 2, tonight 8/31 @ 10/9c: The competition is heating up­literally. The cheftestants are asked to team up and create a music-inspired dessert. Some people rise as the leaders of their team while others struggle to keep up. But when the chefs must present their creations outside, it’s the desserts that can’t take the heat! Which masterpiece will survive and which sends its creator home for good?

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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Recap Roundup: Top Chef Just Desserts 2.1

Jordan Baker on Chef who?: "I have conflicted feelings about it myself. I liked both challenges a lot, but something seemed super off with the editing. After episode one, I don’t know half the cheftestants names – and I feel like Bravo doesn’t either. It seems like they introduced a few people: The Villain (Orlando); His Nemesis (Chris); The Sassy Black Lady (Melissa); and The Bottom Two (Craig and Lina) and then didn't bother with the rest of them."

Picktainment is a recapper after my own heart: "Time for Judges’ Table. Isn’t it nice that this show gets that apostrophe usage correct? I love that. You just know that if this was Top Model it’d be wrong. Way to be, Top Chef."

Culture Mob on tough Johnny: "I do enjoy that this season has the judges being harsh right away on the chefs, particularly Johnny who’s much more engaging this season than last. I think my favorite moment of the whole judging was his casual question to Team Hansel, who were trying to evoke the forest with their smoked pineapple: 'Do pineapples grow in the woods where you come from?' Snap, Iuzzini. Snap."

After Elton on the cast of characters: "When it comes down to it, the contestants – or 'characters' – make a reality show. In this case, the usual reality show archetypes are present, but not all of them are assigned their places. There's Chris Hanmer, the talented pretty boy next door, who immediately calls out Orlando Santos (a "I'm a damn good chef and I know it!" kind of guy) as his competition. Craig Poirier is the naive young chef who still has a lot to learn and who no one wants on their team, while Sally Camacho is the uber-experienced pastry chef at Wolfgang Puck's WP24.

For some worldly flavor there's Argentina native Nelson Paz, whose ambiguously gay accent will swoon viewers and judges, and Melissa Camacho, a Haiti native with a slightly sassy mother hen attitude. Other people/archetypes worth mentioning include Katzie Guy-Hamilton, the possible 'Aggressive Kitchen Tyrant;' Lina Blancamano, 'Miss Overconfident Bossypants;' and Vanarin Kuch, the possible 'Convoluted Diva.'

Then there's everyone else – who, at this point didn't get much camera time, or are too boring to mention." on Team Hansel and Gretel: "Take the Hansel and Gretel team, with Fort Worth lady Lina, Houstonian Vanarin and Melissa. You’d think this sweet-centered story would put them at an advantage, but they completely ignored the details of the story. No gingerbread. No candy. No sweets to lure kiddos. They went completely random with sagey smoked pineapple on brioche cake and a chocolate nougat with hibiscus apple seltzer (ugh, that doesn’t even sound good, does it?). Bossy Lina bragged about winning 'the best cupcakes in Austin' and made the team go with a cake-based showpiece, which wasn’t as sleek as the others’."

Eater on elimination: "True to form, Melissa ('I'm gonna save all her opinions for Judges' Table and throw my fellow losertestants under the bus') threw Lina under the bus and the best little cupcakes in Texas was sent packing, leaving us Craig, the spaztestant, to return for next week's Harry Potter sequel. Dislike: Gail's refusal to adopt 'take your whisk and beat it' (as suggest by one of our Twitter followers) as her 'you're fired' line."

If you're doing a recap of Top Chef Just Desserts and want to be featured here, please drop us a line at!

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Friday, August 26, 2011

Thursday, August 25, 2011

All Top Chef Interview with "Just Desserts" Chef Lina Biancamano

Pastry Chef Lina Biancamano talks about her experience on the Bravo Show.

A highlight: Chef Lina has plans to open her own bakery/cafe and attended the same Culinary School as Top Chef Season 4 champion, Stephanie Izard.

Click here for the podcast.

Thank you Chef Lina!

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ATC Love to Chef Lina Biancamano

It's always so hard to see the first pastry chef of the season pack up their offset spatulas and pastry bags and hit the road. After all, we haven't even begun to know the season's competitors. Such is the case with Lina Biancamano, who had conflicts with her team mates and wasn't able to show us how dedicated and talented a pastry chef she really is.

We're sorry to see you go so soon, Chef Lina, and we wish you much success in the future.

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Congratulations, Team Red Riding Hood!

The four talented pastry chefs on Team Red Riding Hood - Matthew, Amanda, Carlos, and Chris - rose to the occasion, creating a gorgeous centerpiece evoking the dark and scary woods, and a cute little pulled sugar Red Riding Hood figure. Both of the desserts they created had balanced flavors and textures and worked well with their theme. The judges were dazzled, and I dare say - so was the viewing audience.

Great work, guys! We're excited to see how each of you do in the remainder of the competition.

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Reactions to Top Chef Just Desserts 2 Episode 1

Top Chef Just Desserts has returned for a second season, and in this first episode, we find the pastrycheftestants gathering in front of a shop called "Soda Jerks" in Santa Monica. They are soon met by Gail Simmons - looking sporty in a grape-colored motorcycle jacket - and Johnny Iuzzini, who waste no time in giving them their first challenge: they must raid the soda fountain for ingredients with which they will create a modern, fountain-inspired dessert.

But first, they must break up into pairs. Fun!

When time's up, Gail and Johnny taste what ends up being many variations on a banana split. Their favorite dessert belongs to pastrycheftestants Amanda and Nelson, who are awarded immunity in the next challenge.

Later, they meet up at the Top Chef Just Desserts kitchen for the Elimination Challenge. Each chef is encouraged to choose one of four books which tell a famous fairy tale: Hansel and Gretel; Goldilocks and the Three Bears; Jack and the Beanstalk; and Little Red Riding Hood. Thus divided into teams, the chefs are expected to create a showpiece and 150 portions of two desserts for a fairy tale-themed gala. With six hours of cooking that day, and 4 more the next, there's not a whole lot of time to do all that work.

Quickfire winners Amanda and Nelson are allowed to choose the teams they wish to be on, which gives them four members. Perhaps an unfair advantage?

After the struggles with pulled sugar and chocolate are over, the guests arrive, attired in "wacky outfits." The judges - Gail, Johnny, Hubert Keller, and Dannielle Kyrillos, are also dressed as fairy tale characters. They visit each team's table to taste their wares and inspect their showpiece.

Four-member Teams Goldilocks and Red Riding Hood do well on all fronts, with beautiful showpieces and delicious desserts that relate to the theme. On the other hand, Team Beanstalk and Team Hansel & Gretel miss the mark completely, so it's pretty easy to figure out who's on the top and who's on the bottom this week.

Overall, Team Red Riding Hood did the best job and were awarded the win. While Team Beanstalk was a mess, Team Hansel and Gretel was worse, complete with under-the-bus throwing. Pastry Chef Lina, who wanted to make the showpiece out of cake, rather than chocolate or sugar, and did not create the candy-covered-gingerbread house of the story, is out.

So did you watch? What did you think?

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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Top Chef Just Desserts 2 Episode 1 Previews

The chef'testants and the sugar are back for season 2! As the pastry chefs meet and greet, they are surprised by host Gail Simmons and head judge Johnny Iuzzini with their first Quickfire Challenge. One of the first challenges includes a fairy-tale inspired dessert. Imagination and talent are a must to survive the not-so-sugar coated competition. Will the chef's be able to get past their first-challenge nerves and fight their way to sweet success, or will the pressure make some contestants crumble from the start? Find out tonight 8/24 @ 10/9c on the PREMIERE of BRAVO's Top Chef Just Desserts 2!

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Sunday, August 21, 2011

Sneak Peek: Tasting the Food of Just Desserts’ Chef Megan Ketover!

When you live in a medium-sized city in the middle of the country, it is a rarity to be able to taste the food of any of Top Chef’s contestants. But I am in luck that one of the chefs on the new season of Top Chef: Just Desserts cooks, er, bakes in my hometown!

Megan Ketover is the pastry chef at Orchids, in Cincinnati’s historic art-deco Hilton Netherland Plaza Hotel. I hadn’t been there since Executive Chef Todd Kelly came on board, garnering Orchids “Best Restaurant in Cincinnati” designation from Cincinnati Magazine for the last two years and consistently glowing praise from other media sources. I was already looking forward to trying Chef Kelly’s food during Downtown Restaurant Week when the new Just Desserts cast was announced and I found Megan’s name on the roster.

I enjoyed one of the most memorable dining experiences of my life there a couple of weeks ago (you can read more about it here). But the icing on the proverbial cake was that Megan was kind enough to come out into the dining room and chat with me for a few moments, and I got to taste her food!

I’m always on the lookout for news to bring you here on ATC, and one of the best sources I’ve found is to friend/fan contestants on Facebook, where many share news about special events and new ventures. When I asked on fb if the desserts on the Orchids Restaurant Week menu would be her creations, Megan confirmed they would be. I made my reservation and eventually screwed up my nerve to ask if I might possibly be able to meet her while I was there, promising I wouldn’t ask anything prohibited by the famous Bravo non-disclosure agreement, violation of which carries a $1 million penalty. She said she would “pop out” out of the kitchen if she could, and I kept my fingers crossed.

I had an early reservation, and my guess was that chances of meeting Chef Ketover would improve if I let her know I was there before the dinner and dessert rush hit. So I asked the server who cleared my (second!) amuse-bouche plate to let Megan know I was there. The server came back with word Megan would stop by shortly, and she did!

I was immediately charmed. Megan is warm, genuine, down-to-earth, and clearly loves what she does. She spied my bread plate and gave me a baker’s tour of her breads that evening (in addition to desserts, she is responsible for all of the hotel’s breads): this thin, crisp grissini, an airy sesame-seed-topped roll, and her new favorite, she told me, a wheat roll made with herbs grown on the 17th floor of the hotel.

This trio of stellar accompaniments rounded out bread service: Paquillo pepper pesto made with garlic and almonds; an herb and garlic infused olive oil, and a thick European butter with topped with Maldon salt.

In addition to growing hyper-local herbs, Chefs Kelly and Ketover recently started bee-keeping on the hotel’s rooftop. I’d read this article with fascination and asked Megan how the bees were doing. She said she goes up and checks on them every day, and that she and Chef Kelly were looking forward to their first honey harvest last Friday (an unusually short time to get to harvest, she informed me). From the gleam in her eyes, I could tell she was looking forward to exploring what she could do with it.

Trying to keep my questions in the here and now rather than inquiring about details of Megan’s experience on Just Desserts, I asked about the possibility of local viewing parties. She told me her Bravo contract prohibits her from attending any, although there is talk the show will be shown in the Orchids bar, where guests could sample desserts she would create appropriate to different episodes. And she’s heard the same rumors I have that the show might be shown on the giant screen TV overlooking Cincinnati’s outdoor Fountain Square (especially if she makes it to the finals, how awesome would that be!).

Megan asked if I’ve watched the show. “Oh, yes.” I laughed. “Every episode of every season.” I asked if she had watched it prior to competing, and was glad to hear she had. I’m always surprised when contestants say they went on Top Chef without having watched it. “It must be hard enough to have any idea what you’re getting into even if you have watched, but if you haven’t – ??!!??” Megan nodded in agreement.

I was so smitten by meeting Megan Ketover that I completely forgot to ask if I could snap a pic of her and had to chuckle when I pulled up this promo photo of her on the Bravo site. She seemed much more at home in her chef’s jacket and pants that night, her hair pulled up under a short chef’s cap. Based on appearance alone, I would have guessed Megan to be younger than her 31 years. But her warm, confident smile and quiet self-assurance suggest a maturity that belies her looks. She has also competed on television before, on Food Network’s Food Challenge: Cereal Bridges 2, in which she built an edible version of Cincinnati’s Roebling Suspension Bridge. (Here’s a great interview she did with the American Culinary Federation about that experience.)

Megan came across as even-keeled – one of those traits we prize here in the Midwest, and a good quality for a Top Chef contestant to possess. Whatever stresses she may have encountered as she faced the challenges scooped out by Just Desserts, I can’t imagine Megan receiving a “villainess” or “drama queen” edit. In fact, I’d be surprised if she were caught on camera uttering the infamous reality TV line “I’m not here to make friends.” My guess is Megan probably made lots of friends during the competition, and will make many more once it airs.

Not wanting to keep her too long during service, and going with another question I thought would be “safe,” I asked Megan which of the two dessert offerings on the evening’s Restaurant Week menu she would recommend – “unless that’s like asking you to pick your favorite child.” She described both the “chocolate option” and the “non-chocolate option” in detail, saying when she plans desserts for set-menu events like this, she usually finds about two-thirds of customers opt for chocolate, while her own personal preferences veer to the non-chocolate side. But she seemed pleased her non-chocolate offering for RW was faring better than usual, a Brown Butter Cake with Cinnamon Toast Ice Cream, Bourbon Blackberries, and Vanilla Bean Tuille. She talked about playing with the flavor of cinnamon toast, making it with brioche, and turning it into a streusel she incorporated with the ice cream. Oh, my, I had still had decisions ahead of me.

Positive experiences always make food taste better, don’t they? Meeting Megan fulfilled the highest hopes I’d walked in the door with that night. But the Orchids team continued to unfold more surprises, tastes, and extra courses than I would ever have imagined.

After two amuses, two first courses, and a high-end comfort food entree of Pork Cheeks with Chanterelles and Roasted Garlic Gnudi (when, for goodness sake, I had come to the “best restaurant in the city” for the budget-friendly three courses for $35 Downtown Restaurant Week special), my server cleared my bread plate, and it was time to choose between Megan’s two dessert options. I often go the chocolate route, but decided to go with Chef Megan’s personal favorite, the Brown Butter Cake.

Another surprise was in store when this stunning plate was placed in front of me instead: Megan’s Malted Chocolate Bavarian with Roasted Bananas, Peanut Streusel and Dolce de Leche.

The Orchids team had done a fine job of managing my expectations – and the surprises sent my way! – all evening. As my server set the “chocolate option” before me, he assured me: “Megan wanted you to try both and thought the other would travel better.”

I’d had thoughts of ordering both when I walked in that evening, but was too full to try for more than one when it came time to order dessert. I did, however, find room to sample Megan's exquisite mignardises: Dark Chocolate and Pistachio Truffles, Caramel Hazelnut French Macarons and Blackberry Pate de Fruit.

Local blogger Cati from Crave and Create apparently found room to do an entire tasting menu of Megan’s desserts. You can find Cati’s photos of more of Megan’s masterpieces here.

My to-go dessert, with the ice cream thoughtfully packaged separately, was delivered in a bag bearing the hotel’s logo, and I savored it the next evening.

The cinnamon toast in the ice cream immediately took me back to childhood and matched perfectly with Megan’s homey brown butter cake and bourbon blueberries. I hadn’t heard of brown butter cake before, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her make some version of it on Just Desserts. Megan's Bravo bio mentions that her favorite fall dessert is “warm brown butter apple cake with crème fraiche sorbet, bourbon caramel and spicy glazed pecans,” and I’m guessing variations on brown butter cake are one of the non-chocolate desserts she loves to experiment with. I couldn’t quite pick out all the flavors in this cake, but the dish just made me smile, a sophisticated turn on classic comfort food.

I would have been rooting for Megan Ketover on season 2 of Top Chef: Just Desserts (premiering this Wednesday at 10:00 Eastern on Bravo) if only because she’s a hometown girl. But after tasting her food, I’m a fan for life. However she fares on Just Desserts, Megan is an enormous talent with a bright future!

For more about my spectacular dinner at Orchids, click here.

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Poll - Who Will Win Top Chef Just Desserts 2?

Based solely on what you've read so far about the Pastrycheftestants in the upcoming season of Top Chef Just Desserts, who do you think will will it all?

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Saturday, August 20, 2011

Rocco's Recipe of the Week - Frank Picchione's Floating Island

Floating Island

18 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cream of tartar
1 cup + plus 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Crème Anglaise:
4 cups half-and-half
12 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Caramel Sauce:
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup water


1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit with rack in center. Fill a large roasting pan halfway with water and transfer to oven.

2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, slowly whisk whites and salt until slightly foamy. Add cream of tartar, and gradually increase the speed to high. Add sugar, 1 tablespoon at a time, until meringue is stiff; lower speed and add vanilla, whisking until combined.

3. Spray a nonstick angel-food cake pan without a removable bottom with nonstick cooking spray. Using a rubber spatula transfer meringue to the pan, firmly press down on meringue to remove any air pockets, and to smooth the surface.

4. Gently place the pan into preheated water bath. Bake until lightly golden and puffed, 45 to 55 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and cool until meringue deflates back to the height of the pan. Invert into a shallow serving bowl wide enough to hold the sauce, and chill until ready to serve.

Crème Anglaise:
1. In a medium saucepan, heat cream over medium heat until just beginning to steam, stirring occasionally. Meanwhile, whisk together yolks and sugar in a large bowl until smooth. While whisking constantly, slowly add 1/4 of the heated cream to yolk mixture, being careful not to cook the yolks.

2. When thoroughly combined, slowly add remaining cream. Transfer yolk mixture back into same saucepan, and set over low heat, stirring and scraping down the sides of the pan with a small heatproof spatula until thickened. Strain crème anglaise through a fine sieve into a bowl and stir in vanilla. Chill until ready to serve.

Caramel Sauce:
1. Combine sugar and 1/4 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Do not stir or allow to boil until sugar is completely dissolved; gently swirl or tilt saucepan to help dissolve. Bring syrup to a boil by increasing to high heat; cook, covered, for 2 minutes. Uncover, and continue to boil untouched until caramel begins to darken; swirl until syrup becomes a dark amber color. Remove from heat, and immediately add 1/3 cup water, being careful to stand back. Swirl until smooth and let cool; chill until ready to serve.

2. When ready to serve, pour enough crème anglaise to the serving bowl to surround the meringue. Drizzle meringue with caramel syrup; serve immediately.


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Friday, August 19, 2011

Thursday, August 18, 2011

All Top Chef Interview with "Rocco's Dinner Party" Winner, Frank Picchione

Rocco's Dinner Party Winner, Chef Frank Picchione, talks about his experience on the show.

A highlight: Frank prepared his Floating Island dessert on the Martha Stewart Show.

Click here for Frank's website.

Click here for the podcast.]

Thank you Chef Frank!

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Rocco's Dinner Party Finale Recap

Welp, folks, gotta admit that I wasn't feeling well last night and didn't manage to stay up to watch Rocco's Dinner Party. I know - it was probably hella exciting, right, what with Liza Minnelli and Friends? What I do know is that out of the three starting chefs - truck driver Tony, opera singer Lucia, and personal trainer Frank, Tony went home for raw steak and the other two went on to cook for famous people.

Then I fell asleep.

I'm still doing a recap for Minxeats today, one that's completely fabricated (it'll have to be) so if you are of strong constitution, come on over to check that out.

So who out there did watch this episode? Want to guest blog in the comments?

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Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Monday, August 15, 2011

Meet the Pastry Chefs - Amanda Rockman

RESIDES: Chicago, IL
PROFESSION: Executive Pastry Chef, The Bristol and Balena 

CULINARY EDUCATION: A.O.S Pastry and Baking Arts, C.I.A 

FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Vanilla Basque Cake with confit apples, apple cider sabayon with cinnamon candied walnuts

Amanda Rockman grew up in Katy, Texas, where her mother would prepare lavish meals made from fresh and seasonal ingredients; she still recalls the day her mother made a Sacher torte when she was eight. Those meals around the dinner table provided enough inspiration for Amanda to attend The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park where she received her A.O.S. in Baking and Pastry Arts. Upon graduation, Amanda moved to Chicago to work at TRU under Gale Gand, where she started their chocolate program, offering 12 hand-made confections nightly, and importantly, met Chef Chris Pandel who was her sous-chef. Shortly thereafter, she traveled abroad for a few months and returned to Texas to work as the Executive Pastry Chef of FINO and ASTI Trattoria in Austin. After a few years, she returned to Chicago where she helped open Laurent Gras’s L.20, and at the age of 26, she became the Pastry Sous Chef at The Peninsula Hotel where she met her mentor, Celine Plano. In January 2011, she was honored with Chicago’s Jean Banchet Rising Pastry Chef award alongside Chef Chris Pandel, whom she rejoins at The Bristol. Amanda’s culinary philosophy is “Flavor comes first. Technique is second.” Amanda says, “Last but not least, your food needs a bit of soul. Sure, it can be simple or complex, but I want you to be able to feel the love and attention that was put into making that pastry.” She always has almond flour, vanilla bean, salt, vinegar, and chocolate on-hand. Amanda will be opening The Bristol group’s second restaurant, Balena, in Chicago come Fall of 2011.Posted on

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Meet the Pastry Chefs - Carlos Enriquez

HOMETOWN: Los Angeles, CA
RESIDES: Las Vegas, NV
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Apple crisp with vanilla gelato

Carlos has worked at some of the nation’s most pre-eminent hotels, resorts and restaurants, including the Brown Palace Hotel (Denver, CO.), Alex Restaurant (Las Vegas, NV) and the Ahwahnee Resort (Yosemite National Park, CA). A native of Los Angeles, Carlos grew up in a small family-run bakery. In 1996, he moved to Las Vegas and was part of the opening team of the Paris Hotel. There, he met artisan bread chef Stephan Mourabit, who became an early mentor and friend. In 2010, Carlos was approached by Block 16 in Las Vegas to oversee and open Holsteins Restaurant at The Cosmopolitan Resort, along with creating the dessert programs for LBS Burger Joint and Barrymore Restaurant. Since then, his desserts have been featured in Esquire, Las Vegas Weekly, 944 Magazine,and Taste of the Nation. A father of six, Carlos loves to add a playful modern twist to childhood desserts. “Food to me is a simple playground,” Carlos says. “How you approach it will determine how much fun you will have in it.”

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Meet the Pastry Chefs - Chris Hamner

HOMETOWN: Costa Mesa, CA
RESIDES: Las Vegas, NV
PROFESSION: Owner of The School of Pastry Design
CULINARY EDUCATION: Culinary Certificate from Orange Coast College, CA
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Vanilla poached apples with white pepper ice cream and cinnamon churros

Chris has worked for some of the best Pastry Chefs in the world. Over the course of his career, he’s worked at the prestigious Bellagio Hotel and multiple Ritz-Carlton hotels. In 2004, Chris became the youngest American to win the title of World Pastry Champion. In 2010, he continued to push the limits of the pastry world by opening The School of Pastry Design because, as he puts it, “I have a passion for helping people reach their goals.” Chris’ favorite thing to make is his very own chocolate chip cookie recipe. If he could have one last meal with anyone, it would be with his wife, Caryn, and he would make almond cake, caramelized bananas, vanilla cremeux and passion fruit sorbet.

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Rocco's Recipe of the Week - Vicki Ferentinos' Cuban Sandwich

Cuban Sandwich with Honey Rolled Plantains

8 1/2 inch slices Portuguese roll (or crusty baguette of choice)
4 slices smoked ham
4 slices swiss cheese
1/2 cup honey (divided in two 1/4 cups)
1/4 cup chopped pecans
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 tablespoons butter
1 ripe plantain
Olive oil

1. Heat small pan with two inches of oil to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Peel and slice plantain into 8 one inch slices. Carefully drop in oil and fry until golden (3-5 minutes).

2. In small sauce pan heat 1 tablespoon butter with 1/4 cup honey. Brush bread slices with olive oil and place on baking sheet in 400 degree Fahrenheit oven for 4 minutes, remove and top with 1/2 slice of ham and then with 1/2 slice of cheese, return to oven just until cheese melts (2-3 minutes).

3. Remove bread slices and place on plate. Place plantain slices in honey mixture and coat. In another small saucepan heat 1 tablespoon butter, 1/4 cup honey, pecans and cayenne pepper.

4. Stir and heat on medium until butter is fully melted and incorporated.

5. To plate place honey coated plantain next to open faced sandwich and drizzle both with spicy, pecan honey sauce. Enjoy!


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Friday, August 12, 2011

Meet the Pastry Chefs - Craig Poirier

RESIDES: Las Vegas, NV
PROFESSION: Pastry Chef, First Food & Bar
CULINARY EDUCATION: Notter School of Pastry Arts
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Warm cinnamon roll with hazelnut ice cream, spiced caramel and toasted hazelnuts.

Craig works as a pastry chef at First Food & Bar in Las Vegas. He attended the University of Nevada before realizing he found more enjoyment and a new creative outlet in making cakes for family and friends. At the age of 23, he decided to move to Orlando to attend The Notter School of Pastry Arts where he found that cake decorating was only one of numerous ways to express himself. He now enjoys making desserts with a rustic home-style, American flare. Craig’s kitchen is never scarce of chocolate, Oreos, vanilla beans, cream cheese, and bacon. His favorite dessert is his very own hot chocolate crème brûlée with toasted marshmallow.

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Rocco Extras - Dinner Party Conversation Episode 9

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Thursday, August 11, 2011

All Top Chef Interview with "Rocco's Dinner Party" Winner, Vicki Ferentinos

"Rocco's Dinner Party" winner, Vicki Ferentinos talks about her experience on the Bravo show.

A highlight: In addition to running her catering business, Soulfully Good, Vicki is a stand-up comic!

Click here for the podcast.

Thank you Chef Vicki!

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Meet the Pastry Chefs - Katzie Guy-Hamilton

HOMETOWN: Worcester, MA
PROFESSION: Executive Pastry Chef, New York Central at the Grand Hyatt New York
CULINARY EDUCATION: French Culinary Institute
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Sticky toffee pudding with pears and coffee

Raised in Massachusetts, Katzie now runs the prestigious pastry program at New York Central inside the Grand Hyatt at Grand Central in New York City. She loves creating approachable and whimsical treats as well as cohesive concepts for both pastry and entertaining, and she attributes her knowledge, approach and tenacity to her mentor, Sherry Yard. Katzie sees no boundaries with her pastry career, focusing on creating concepts grounded in her knowledge and love of dessert. Her favorite New York City restaurant is Empellon in the West Village. If she were a food, she would be a bottomless bowl of mussels with a crusty baguette, a perfect precursor to a backyard blackberry crumble.

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Rocco's Dinner Party, Episode 9 Recap

This week, our three intrepid chefpetitors are Vicki, a caterer, Chris, an executive chef with a food truck, and Yuki, who works in finance. Chris is a bit full of himself because he has training, whereas Vicki and Yuki have not. Let's see if this bites him in the ass, shall we?

For their signature dishes, Vicki presents a fried chicken salad that looks a mess but tastes delicious. Yuki makes a "Japazuelan" taco using an arepa, cod, and a tomatillo sauce. While Rocco loves the flavors, he's a bit critical of the presentation. And finally, Chris offers pancakes, eggs, foie gras, and an extremely tart gastrique. Rightfully, Yuki is asked to leave (although I would have loved to see her compete).

This week's party theme is the "perfect pairing." The guests will be three couples, one of which is celebrating an anniversary. The chefs must also provide perfect pairings in their meals, with each course containing one food that tastes wonderful on its own, but even better with its companion on the plate. As if that wasn't difficult enough, the happy couple - comedians Samantha Bee and Jason Jones - come into the kitchen and request a Cuban-inspired additional course. AND...two other guests have issues with red meat and shellfish.

Vicki, as winner of the Signature Dish Challenge, has decided to present first. She does a carrot ginger soup with a coconut shrimp (a mini grilled cheese for shellfish allergic cheesemonger Tia Keenan, who is there with her financé, sommelier Hristo Zisovski); a deconstructed Cuban sandwich; lamb chops and vegetable risotto (shrimp for non-meat-eater Simon Doonan, who is there with his partner Jonathan Adler); and a pumpkin donut with warm vanilla sauce for dessert.

Chris sends out a very complicated tuna poké with mango purée and poached lobster with celeriac purée as his first course...30 minutes after the guests are seated. Tia Keenan can only eat the tuna portion of that dish, as Chris does not make any substitutions. Nor does he offer Simon Doonan anything other than the short ribs and onion soup for the main course; luckily, the beef looked so good to Simon, he ate it anyway. The Cuban course was chicken and a salsa verde; and finally, with only 2 minutes to spare, Chris gets out his pot de creme/creme brulée dessert.

In the end, Vicki's conscientiousness with the food issues wins out, despite having overcooked lamb. Chris' dishes were good, but not good enough to win him the $20K.

So what did you think of this episode? Please leave a comment!

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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Meet the Pastry Chefs - Lina Biancamano

RESIDES: Fort Worth, TX
PROFESSION: Executive Pastry Chef, Stephan Pyles
CULINARY EDUCATION: A.O.S. Culinary Arts, Le Cordon Bleu
FAVORITE SIMPLE SUMMER RECIPE: Fresh berry tart with creme chiboust

Lina was born in Long Island, NY, and raised in Arizona, where she later received her culinary education at the prestigious Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale. Professionally, she is inspired by Thomas Keller, whose food she finds beautiful, innovative, and clean, and because he presents unusual ingredients and complicated techniques in an approachable way. Lina also believes in incorporating seasonal ingredients into her recipes. If she had to decide on her last meal, it would be a well-seasoned, grilled ribeye steak with a salad and some garlic cheddar biscuits.

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Rocco's Dinner Party Episode 9 Previews

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

This Just In - Top Chef Texas!

NEW YORK ­ August 9, 2011

Go big or go home ­ that’s the motto for season nine of the Emmy and James Beard Award-winning No.1 food show on cable, "Top Chef," as it heads to the state that does everything bigger: Texas. Possibly the worst kept locale secret in this moment’s culinary universe, the new season of “Top Chef” will heartily embrace the Lone Star State’s adage that all things are bigger as, in a series first, the production will head to three cities within the season ­ Austin, Dallas and San Antonio. Season nine will also showcase many surprising twists and turns and never-before-seen challenges and events. Returning to the judges table is host Padma Lakshmi and head judge, chef Tom Colicchio, alongside judges Gail Simmons and new this season, famed chef and restaurateur Emeril Lagasse and critically acclaimed chef Hugh Acheson. “Top Chef: Texas” will air later this fall.

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Meet the Pastry Chefs - Matthew Petersen

RESIDES: Arlington, VA
PROFESSION: Executive Pastry Chef, CityZen and Sou'Wester at the Mandarin Oriental in Washington, D.C.
CULINARY EDUCATION: A.O.S Baking and Pastry, Johnson and Wales
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Griddled pumpkin cake with raisin compote and ginger ice cream.

Matthew works as the Executive Pastry Chef at two of Washington, D.C.'s most celebrated restaurants, CityZen and Sou'Wester, both located inside the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Prior to landing in D.C. with James Beard Award Winner Eric Ziebold, Matthew worked for Daniel Boulud in New York City at db Bistro Moderne, and also served as Executive Pastry Chef at Café Boulud in Palm Beach for two years. Before moving to New York to work with Boulud, Matthew was the Pastry Chef at two of Philadelphia's most coveted dining destinations -- LaCroix and Morimoto. If he could have one last meal with anyone, it would be with his wife Laura, and they’d make BLT's on fresh ciabatta bread with arugula salad with chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwiches for dessert.

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Monday, August 8, 2011

Meet the Pastry Chefs - Megan Ketover

HOMETOWN: Cincinnati, OH
RESIDES: Cincinnati, OH
PROFESSION: Pastry Chef, Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza
CULINARY EDUCATION: AAB, Midwest Culinary Institute
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Warm brown butter apple cake with crème fraiche sorbet, bourbon caramel and spicy glazed pecans

Megan is the Pastry Chef at the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, a historic art-deco hotel in downtown Cincinnati. She creates desserts, chocolates, breads and pastries throughout the hotel including Orchids at Palm Court, the No. 1 restaurant in Cincinnati. Drawn to pastry by a fascination with the science of baking, she enrolled in pastry school and turned her passion into a promising career. In 2009, she won the American Culinary Federation’s Northeast Region Pastry Chef of the Year award. Demonstrating a unique sense of fun and creative flair, Megan provides a fresh point of view and modern twist to classic dessert flavors promising that her desserts taste as good as they look.

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Sunday, August 7, 2011

TC News and Information 8.7.11 - Happy Anniversary to the Magical Elves!

Variety spotlights the production company behind Top Chef as the Magical Elves turn 10! Take a trip down memory lane here. And read more about upcoming Top Chef Season 9 here, where a Bravo exec discloses “We started things a little differently with more chefs. A big challenge for us after ‘All Stars’ is to make everything seem big again and I think we've succeeded. The challenges are inventive, there are a lot of special guests and there will be a traveling element, which is new.”

Meanwhile, Top Chef Masters has been renewed for a 4th season and the Elves are casting a new Bravo series, ‘Around the World in Eighty Plates,’ which “will follow up-and-coming chefs as they travel to various cities around the world to compete in culinary challenges. Contestants will have to learn the local cuisine, culture and customs so that they can best reinvent the menu at world-renowned restaurants,” according to TV Guide.

In other news, check out this New York Times item about head judge Tom Colicchio’s “secret farm” next his new Riverpark restaurant. (Take that, Elia.)

Top Chef Masters judge/former Gourmet editor/food memoirist Ruth Reichl is penning a new novel “set in World War II and the present.” It may involve food.

TC Season 2 and All-Stars contestant Marcel Vigneron is doing low-tech street tacos for The Gap.

We hear Season 6 finalist and Fan Favorite Kevin Gillespie won the Celebrity Chef Cookoff at this weekend’s Gig Harbor Wine and Food Festival in Washington State. Don’t miss this great video interview with the Bearded One filmed prior to the event. Turns out this Atlanta boy used to cook in the Pacific Northwest.

TC All-Star Dale Levitski and the team from his Chicago restaurant Sprout (which includes his Season 3 co-contestant and bff Sara Nguyen) were invited to cook at the James Beard House in NYC. Don’t miss the photos of their feast from Feast.

Season 3’s Camille Becerra’s newest gig is as a culinary producer of “pop-up” dinners in Manhattan. The Daily Meal explains.

Season 4’s Nikki Cascone is in on the culinary producer action as well, with “Southampton Supper Under the Stars” August 27, where she’ll be joined by TC contestants Manuel Trevino and Angelo Sosa, and a Bravo Housewife (or three?).

And reaching into the “way-back machine,” we’re glad to see Cynthia Sestito (who elected to leave at the beginning of the first Season of Top Chef due to her father’s illness) is out and about and picnicking with panache. Check out these photos from a recent Grey Goose event in the Hamptons.

Only two weeks and change until Top Chef returns to Wednesday nights, with Season 2 of Top Chef: Just Desserts! I’m especially excited because one of the contestants, Megan Ketover, is from my city (Cincinnati) and I have Downtown Restaurant Week reservations to taste her food! Anyone else have a hometown contestant to root for?

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Meet the Pastry Chefs - Melissa Camacho

HOMETOWN: Port-au-Prince, Haiti
PROFESSION: Pastry Chef, ilili
CULINARY EDUCATION: Institute of Culinary Education
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Classic apple pie with miso caramel and smoked vanilla ice cream.

Melissa was born and raised in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, before moving to New York City at the age of 18. She has loved baking ever since she was a young girl, and while in junior high, would make homemade caramels, candies and lollipops for her classmates. When she arrived in NYC, she attended the Institute of Culinary Education where she graduated with honors with a degree in Pastry Arts and Baking, and went on to work there after graduation. Before landing at ilili where she is currently the Pastry Chef, Melissa helped create the dessert menu at Stephen Starr’s acclaimed restaurant Buddakan and went on to help open Tipsy Parson. What Melissa loves about pastry is all the endless possibilities. She loves taking a classic dessert and giving it a unique and tasty twist. She has a weakness for Little Debbie oatmeal crème pies, and if she could have her last meal with anyone, it would be designer Diane von Furstenberg, and she would make her a strawberry and chocolate macaroon ice cream sandwich.

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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Meet the Pastry Chefs - Nelson Paz

HOMETOWN: Buenos Aires, Argentina
PROFESSION: Executive Pastry Chef, Mandarin Oriental, Boston
CULINARY EDUCATION: Profesional Gastronómico, I.A.G
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Warm 64% Manjari Chocolate Tart, Caramelized Hazelnut, Madagascar Vanilla Ice Cream

Currently the Executive Pastry Chef at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Boston, Nelson was born in Buenos Aires and trained in classic French cuisine. He believes in cooking from the soul and especially loves chocolates because there are a million varieties and flavors to combine. He has traveled the world over learning different types of cuisines. He incorporates French and Spanish influences in his cooking. The five ingredients he always has on hand are chocolate passion fruit, almonds, vanilla and raspberries. If he were a food, he says, "I would be a passion fruit -- it has an intense acid and aromatic flavor, but once you blend it with the right fruit it is unique and quickly appreciated by many people."

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Rocco's Recipe of the Week - Frank Otte's Poussin

Roasted Poussin with a Purée of Carrot and Ginger

4 poussin breasts
4 sage leaves
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons butter (divided in half)
1 cup medium diced carrots
1 tablespoon peeled and coarsely chopped ginger
1 cup cassis juice
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Heat skillet with olive oil, season poussin breasts and sear (hot pan!) skin side down till golden brown, turn over, add 1 tablespoon butter and let cook addition 2 minutes till just cooked through.

2. Add carrots to pot cover with water, add ginger and sage leaves and bring to a boil cook till carrots are very tender about 20 minutes. With emersion blender puree till smooth, season with salt and pepper.

3. Add sugar to small pot and melt till caramel forms add red wine vinegar and cassis juice, bring to a boil and reduce 75% and add 1 tablespoon butter, season with salt and pepper.

4. Putting it all together: place in center plate carrot puree, top with breast and drizzle syrup around plate.

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Friday, August 5, 2011

All Top Chef Interview with "Rocco's Dinner Party" Winner, Frank Otte

Chef Frank Otte talks about his experience on the Bravo show and about his life as a chef.

Click here for the podcast.

Click here for Chef Frank's website.

Thank you Chef!

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Meet the Pastry Chefs - Orlando Santos

HOMETOWN: St. Croix, US Virgin Islands
RESIDES: Pittsburgh, PA
Profession: Owner/Pastry Chef of Orlando's Chocolate Treasures
Culinary Education: Johnson & Wales University, North Miami, FL
Favorite Dessert: Chocolate Caramel Raspberry Entremets

Born in the US Virgin Islands, Orlando now lives in Pittsburgh, PA, where he is the Owner and Pastry Chef of Orlando’s Chocolate Treasures. He is trained in the classical and contemporary art of pastries and artisanal chocolates and believes that flavors should speak for themselves with a majestic eye appeal. Orlando loves chocolate as its aroma invokes mind-altering senses that tantalize the palate before it’s consumed. He incorporates French, American and Native Virgin Island flavors and techniques into his desserts and confectionary creations. If he could have a last meal with anyone, it would be Oprah Winfrey, and he would make coconut jasmine rice, roasted plantains, and mahi mahi with his chocolate caramel raspberry entremets for dessert

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Rocco Extras - Dinner Party Conversation Episode 8

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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Meet the Pastry Chefs - Sally Camacho

HOMETOWN: Los Angeles, CA
RESIDES: Los Angeles, CA
PROFESSION: Pastry Chef of WP24 a Wolfgang Puck Restaurant at the Ritz Carlton, Los Angeles
CULINARY EDUCATION: A.O.S Culinary Arts and Baking and Pastry Program, California Culinary Academy
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Pecan and Cashew Pie, Pumpkin Ice Cream

Currently the Pastry Chef for WP24 at the Ritz Carlton in Los Angeles, Sally has worked in some of the finest kitchens across the country including The Four Seasons, The Wynn Resort, and the James Beard Award-winning restaurant Bradley Ogden. In 2007, she was part of the first all female pastry team to compete in the National Pastry Team Championship. The team won silver and Best Sportsmanship. In 2008, she represented the United States in the Culinary Olympics in Germany where the US Pastry Team received gold medals in hot and cold foods. In April 2011, she won the Valrhona C3 Competition in France, and will represent the Americas in Madrid in January 2012. Ice cream is her favorite dessert to make, and the five ingredients she keeps on hand at all times are palm sugar, black forbidden rice, agar, 100% chocolate and pandan leaves.

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Rocco's Dinner Party, Episode 8 Recap

This week on Rocco's Dinner Party, our competitors were Bill Haley, a sous chef at the Plaza Food Hall, caterer Sharon Robustelli, and "executive" private chef Frank Otte. Frank comes off immediately like the King of the Douchebags, but of course he's not there to make friends.

For their signature dishes, Frank makes a prosciutto-wrapped halibut with sauerkraut and potatoes. Rocco loves his food, apart from the slightly underdone potatoes, but really doesn't appreciate his smug attitude. Sharon makes an espresso-crusted steak with cauliflower puree; Rocco is surprised by the steak but is not fond of its accompaniment. Finally, Bill's rack of lamb is overtrimmed, but overall a nice plate. And even though he didn't get many negative comments, Bill is out.

The theme this week is fashion, and Rocco expects his two chefs to present both a couture version and a ready-to-wear version of each dish they serve.

This week's guests are Brendan Newham and Rico Gagliano of radio's The Dinner Party Download, fashion journalist Katrina Szish, actress Nikki Blonsky, and fashion designers Kara Janx and Nicole Miller.

Sharon presents her meal first, starting off with a tuna tartare amuse, followed by a duo of RTW potatoes gratin and couture caviar-stuffed mini potatoes. She's a bit pokey in the kitchen and after 44 minutes, Rocco goes in to find out if the rest of the food is ever going to get served. Eventually, a duo of RTW tuna salad and couture seared tuna comes out, followed quickly by a dessert combo of RTW smores and couture chocolate ganache pudding. Time's up before most guests take a bite so they end up doing dessert "to go" as they walk to the next room.

Frank serves up a roasted poussin as his opening course, followed by RTW Caesar salad and a couture version featuring a white anchovy. RTW Steak Frites and a couture filet of beef come next. The couture version is accompanied by a pungent bleu cheese sauce that literally makes Rocco cringe. Finally, a RTW apple crumble and a couture apple tart with cinnamon ice cream round out the meal.

After all is said and done, Rocco goes back to the kitchen to choose his winner. While Frank had missteps, apparently the timing thing really worked against Sharon, and she was sent home penniless.

So what did you think about this episode? Please leave a comment!

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Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Meet the Pastry Chefs - Vanarin Kuch

CULINARY EDUCATION: AAS Culinary Arts at The Art Institute of Houston

From an early age, food has always played a critical role in Vanarin’s life. The child of Cambodian refugees, food was a way for his family to celebrate their past and present lives. After graduation from The Art Institute of Houston, he pursued his culinary career in the hospitality industry, working at Bank Jean Georges at Hotel Icon. After that, he took his first pastry position at Rice University, working as a baker and pastry cook. He later found himself at Hotel Zaza, working as the assistant to the Pastry Chef before assuming that title himself. Chocolate, brown sugar, any seasonal fruit, smoked sea salt and eggs are the key ingredients he always has on hand. He continues to work as a Pastry Chef in Houston.

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Rocco's Dinner Party Episode 8 Previews

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Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Meet the Pastry Chefs - Rebecca Masson

RESIDES: Houston, TX
PROFESSION: Pastry Chef/Owner of Fluff Bake Bar
CULINARY EDUCATION: Diplome de Patisserie, Le Cordon Bleu, Paris, France
FAVORITE SIMPLE FALL DESSERT RECIPE: Butterscotch Panna Cotta with Chocolate Banana Fluffernutter Sandwich

Born in Laramie, Wyoming, Rebecca realized at an early age that baking would become more than a hobby. In 1999, she attended Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, France, followed by an internship at Hotel le Bristol. Once her pastry studies were complete, Rebecca left for New York where she worked in the renowned kitchens of db Bistro Moderne and Daniel. In 2003, Rebecca was named Pastry Chef at The Biltmore Room, and the following year she joined The Red Cat. An invitation from Chef Ryan Pera brought Rebecca to Houston in the summer of 2006, when she joined him at *17Restaurant at the Alden Hotel. She was well received by Houstonians and was soon named Best Pastry Chef by Houston’s My Table Magazine and awarded Best Ice Cream by H Texas magazine, both of which were public opinion honors. Now as Owner and Pastry Chef of her own Fluff Bake Bar, Rebecca is affectionately known in Houston as “The Sugar Hooker.” Rebecca’s signature style creatively marries the tradition of French pastry with beloved homemade favorites reminiscent of childhood.

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