In the Fanciest Hands: Pastry Chefs, Haute Cuisine, and Donuts
The James Beard culinary awards were recently announced, and their award for best baker went—unsurprisingly—to Joanne Chang of the famous Boston café and Flour bakery. (Chang’s cookbook Flour is worth the twenty bucks for those not lucky enough to live in Boston.) James Beard is the gold standard in haute cuisine, and what makes this cool is that Flour is not the kind of place that typically gets classed that way—it’s casual, affordable, and fun. Furthermore, one of their most popular pastries, selling out almost immediately whenever it’s made, is their famous vanilla cream-filled donut. Unpretentious pastries like donuts are getting more and more attention from purveyors of fancy food, and more and more serious dessert and pastry chefs are considering them an acceptable addition to their repertoire.
— joanne chang-myers (@jbchang) April 26, 2015
Lots of seriously upscale, multi-course-menu types of establishments are serving donuts these days to go with their creative, chef-centered MO. Per Se, one of the most expensive restaurants in the country, has offered coffee and donuts after a $300 dinner for several years (scroll down all the way past the foie gras and salmon cones to see it.) The Blvd in Los Angeles offers a donut dessert option with “passion fruit cremeux” (whatever that is, it has to be good.) New York’s Craft has dessert donuts with “mango lassi and cardamom caramel”, and Perilla has “star-anise-scented” donuts (you know it’s fancy if it’s just scented.) All these places charge over $10 for their donut option and serve them freshly made as a dessert with fancy ice creams and sauces, and they all proudly call them donuts—no “fritters” or “beignets.” The heavyweight pastry chefs running these places are increasingly considering donuts as a good bet—which may end up benefiting those who can’t regularly eat at those sorts of places too.
Take a look at the career trajectories of Elizabeth Belkind and Mariah Swan. Both trained at the famous LA branch of Le Cordon Bleu (alma mater of most of the top restauranteurs in the area) and both started their careers at the nationally famous and pretty-darn-fancy Grace restaurant in Los Angeles (sadly closed now, but you can take a gander at the fanciness of their menu here.) Belkind was hired there early on, and what did she do? She made donuts (“chai filled donuts,” apparently) in addition to classically classy pastries. Swan joined later and continued its legacy.
— icdc (@icdcbeverly) July 1, 2015
And what did they do after leaving Grace? Start donut shops. Mariah Swan started ICDC (Ice Cream Donuts Coffee) which pretty much sums up what they do. Belkind is currently running the fantastically successful Cake Monkey, which does some seriously fancy cakes in addition to donuts. Both bakers gained reputations in the highest echelons of foodidom, but were able to carry those with them to more traditional shops that, while a little pricier than the average donut place, are offering basically the same haute cuisine product at a much more accessible price.
Donuts have made a home in quality, funky bakeries for a long time, but more and more people are also happy to get them even when they’re spending some serious money at a nice restaurant. Hopefully more of the chefs providing them start striking out on their own to bring classy-French-pastry-style quality to the donut-eating masses.