The Making of a Sugar Showpiece
2007 National Team Pastry Championship
2006 World Team Pastry Championship
2006 World Team Pastry Championship (degustation)
2005 National Team Pastry Championship
2007 Culinary Casting Challenge
Stephane Treand MOF Sugar Casting Class
Susan Notter Calligraphy Casting Demo
Chris Northmore CMPC Plated Desserts
Stephane Treand MOF Air Brushing Demo
2008 Sugar Art Casting Challenge
2008 World Team Pastry Championship petit gateau
Lionel Clement from the Wynn Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada, has won the USA national selection for the World Chocolate Masters
Chef En-Ming Hsu named Chef Instructor at the French Pastry School.
Dimitri Fayard named Chef Instructor at the French Pastry School.
Results for the 2008 National Bread and Pastry Championship that took place in Atlantic City, New Jersey, USA
On the second floor of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, ardent students are trained in the art of pastry. Chef Stephen Durfee shares his wisdom and skill with his students. With a prestigious background and an experienced career, he has a lot of knowledge to bestow. And where better to teach than in a historic winery nestled in the lush Napa Valley. The Culinary Institute of America acquired the building in 1989, along with its 15-acre merlot vineyard and undertook a $15 million renovation. The building could not be more picturesque, appearing from the road like a stone fortress. The Christian Brothers were the previous owners of the winery, their gold leaf signature still adorns the immense redwood entrance doors decorated with salamanders and grape leafs. On the back hillside, 13 caves remain from the original winery that will someday be utilized as storage, dining, and classrooms.
To say this would be the most incredible place to teach or learn is an understatement. Walking in to the grand entrance it is hard to believe that you are in a school and not a Hollywood movie set for a Jane Austen movie. In the foyer, visitors revel in the grand cathedral ceiling and magnificent staircase. Upstairs aspiring culinarians, representing 30 countries, work in the open kitchen laboratory. There are no doors and no walls, just students, instructors and rows of production tables. The Pastry and Baking Arts Program is led by Chef Steven Durfee, who arrived here in November 2000 from The French Laundry, where he was the Executive Pastry Chef for Thomas Keller. In 1998 he won the James Beard Award for “outstanding Pastry Chef.” He was also named one of the “10 Best Pastry Chefs in America” by Pastry Art & Design and Chocolate Magazine. His impressive career is highlighted by representing the CIA at the National Pastry Team Championships, where his team took the Bronze Medal in 2007.
Recently, I visited him in Napa Valley to talk about his life and career in pastry.
Chef Durfee, how did you get started in the food industry?
I had a summer job when I was in high school. I grew up in upstate New York. There was a great Japanese restaurant, really progressive for its time, offering one of the first tasting menus and I was a dishwasher. It was a great summer job for a 16 year old.
Were you interested in food and cooking at 16?
Yeah, I was interested. I like to eat, I like to cook. We camped a lot and I liked to cook over the fire. I liked sweets for sure. But this particular job at the restaurant, a friend of mine worked there, I thought it would be fun to work with my friend. I got offered the dishwasher job, and it pretty quickly morphed into helping prep. They had a garden and grew a lot of Japanese vegetables; it was a pretty big garden, like an acre and a half. I worked in the garden in the morning and then the chef gave me a knife as a present. He taught me how to make cucumber salads. Every day I peeled and cut up a case of cucumbers. I learned how to handle a knife and then it was just the action of working in a restaurant. I fell in love with it. It was exciting. I grew up in an area where there was a tourism industry in the summer, we had celebrity guests. Paul Newman came to the restaurant and that was a big deal. So that was really pretty exciting for a 16 year old in my tiny little hometown.
Where was your hometown?
It is called New Lebanon. Right on the state line of Massachusetts, outside of the Berkshires. Tanglewoods was there and they had skiing in the winter.
From there, where did you go?
I went to college to study American history. I thought I was going to be a teacher. I cooked in the summers. I worked at that same restaurant for five summers.
But, did you think about going into culinary?
No, I didn't at all. My parents were teachers. I just figured that I'd be a teacher, so I went to study American history and thought I'd be an American history teacher. In the summers I cooked at my fraternity house to pay bills. I liked to cook Japanese dinners and I used to try to get people to do it for a date, and I would cook a three course Japanese dinner for the couple. At the restaurant, everybody who worked there, besides the owner, was actually a high school student or recent graduate. He had this system whereby if you were a dishwasher when you were in 9th grade, then the next summer you had the opportunity to move up a rank to appetizer cook. You were obligated to hire your own replacement as a dishwasher. Then you moved up. After appetizer you would do a bit of tempura, and after tempura, you got to go to a stove.
It sounds like a great place to work and learn.
Eventually, you would move on and you would go to college. There was one guy who had been there for a long time and he was the head cook. He was five years older than I was, but I had been in Boy Scouts with him. I knew him pretty well and when he quit working there, he did his own catering thing. He was a pretty well seasoned cook. He knew the business pretty well and later he was the head chef at a boarding school and he hired me for summer school to make breakfast. He liked to sleep late and he partied late into the night and didn't want to get up and do breakfast. So that is kind of when I first got interested in dough. At breakfast I did pancakes, muffins and cookies.
And from there you graduated from college.
Yes, I just graduated from college a year before I did that job.
Did you teach?
I did. Yeah, I taught three years at boarding school.
Why did you stop after three years?
I spent a couple of years teaching and I wasn't very good at it, mostly because I was young. I was real immature. I was 22 and my students were 18, and I coached sports, and played soccer with them, smoked cigarettes. I thought if I really want to be taken seriously at this I should get a masters degree. So I quit my job and I wanted to travel. I really couldn't afford it, so I moved to New York City and took a job as a private chef for a woman that I had met in Berkshire County. She had a summer house and she wanted a chef for her family. She advertised in the Berkshire newspaper and hired me to come and cook. I thought this is great. I am going to cook for them and then I'll go to school in my off hours. I applied to graduate school at Columbia University and my application was late, the semester had already started, and my grades hadn't been that great. They said if you really want to be considered seriously for this program then you are going to have to come part-time and demonstrate your aptitude, etc. I really didn't have any money, so I thought, well I'll get a job and make some money and then I'll reapply to school. So I took a job, it was advertised in the New York Times. It was a health food restaurant but they were looking for a bread baker. I had spent one summer working at a Scottish Tea Room in Lenox. I made scones and shortbread. I thought, I know baking, I can make shortbread. So, I applied for this job as a bread baker and I actually got invited to come for an interview. Literally, on my way to this interview I stopped at a book store and bought James Beard on Bread, a paperback book. I breezed through it on the subway on my way to the interview, and then just sort of dropped some terms that I picked up from this reading. They hired me to be their bread baker right away.
That is amazing. Then you eventually won the James Beard Award!
I eventually won the James Beard Award. That is right, ten years later.
What did you do in those 10 years? Did you go to Culinary School?
I did. It was called Peter Kumps School. It is now called ICE. It was really small but Nick Malgeri was one my teachers and three of my four teachers are still there. I was just there last week. I went to do a culinary competition in New York and I prepped at the ICE School and Michelle Tampakis who was one of my teachers, and Richard Simpson was director of student affairs.
You did the pastry program at Peter Kumps?
I did, because I got hired as a bread baker and one of the new chefs had been a line cook at Raquel, Thomas Keller's restaurant. He came in and said you need to be more than a bread baker; I'd like you to do some desserts for us. This was a health food restaurant and there were no eggs, no butter, no dairy products, no refined sugar, no flour. I really didn't know how to make any better desserts and so the chef knew the former pastry chef at Raquel, and he invited her to come in and teach me some basic desserts items. I married her couple of years later. We got divorced a couple of years after that. But she said “you know you should go to cooking school.” These other people at the same time convinced me too. I liked cooking in a restaurant and I had experience and New York City is totally different from New Lebanon. Everybody knows each other and there are great restaurants to go to. I didn't know anything about bread baking either and the chef’s girlfriend noticed that and told me; if you don't know about bread baking you should go work with my friend who is the bread baker at the restaurant where I work, Mondrian. It was Tom Colicchio’s restaurant. The bread baker was Amy Scherber and she was cooking bread at this dinky little restaurant. Eventually, she became Amy of Amy's Breads in New York, one of the biggest bread companies.
Amazing breads, I have been there. You were working with two amazing chef’s.
So the two of them were bread baker and chef of this really nice restaurant, but they weren't household names like they are now. It was great because you get to meet these people and work with them. And Nick Malgeri has written books, but he wasn't the celebrity that he is now. I was really lucky that I got to work with really great people, maybe before they became so really great. I even got to work with Thomas Keller. Thomas Keller is great. There were three of us on the line. Me, Ron Siegel and Thomas Keller.
That was at the French Laundry, what brought you to the West Coast?
He hired my wife, now my ex-wife, to be the pastry chef at the French Laundry and I tagged along. He hired me as the garde manger because I told him I knew how to do that, too. I charmed my way into a lot of jobs.
How did you get to be his pastry chef?
She quit. In the meantime I had been a pastry chef. I worked at the Wheatliegh Hotel in Lenox and I was the pastry chef for Berkshire County and there were no other jobs for her. We'd had a baby; she was taking care of a baby. So when Thomas called and said do you want to move to California, I'll hire you both, it seemed like a great opportunity. We needed to work because we were so broke. She had her set of skills and I had a different set of skills, so we actually complemented each other. She hated making puff pastry and I love making puff pastry. She didn't know anything about tempering chocolate and I really liked to temper chocolate.
How do you temper chocolate? What is your favorite method of tempering?
I use all kinds of methods and I teach all of the methods. I like to table chocolate, but around here there is marble top tables and people roll out dough, and five minutes later they want you to temper chocolate and the marble is cracked and it is dirty.
Along with teaching what else are you involved in at Greystone?
We do a lot of events that are health focused here and conferences that are targeted towards that. One of the roles of the school is to educate, not just to teach students, but to try to be a leader in education and research. Certainly, one area of concern for the world at large is how to have a more healthful diet. That has become a pretty significant area of research that happens here at the school. The findings of the research are presented at our conferences, we have several a year. We have a conference for example coming up at the end of this month and there are 350 participants and they are all physicians. For a physician they are required to maintain their certification. They do continuing education and so this is a great way to get continuing education, go to the Napa Valley and cook and eat.
So they come here and they take part in seminars co-sponsored with Harvard School of Public Health. They take seminars from experts that are doctors, research physicians and then chefs. For example there will be a presentation on cooking with whole grains and so they do a presentation, they see a demo, and they come into the kitchen and take a hands-on class. Then they go home and say to their patient, you have high cholesterol, you need to have a more healthful diet. They can tell them; here are some suggestions for you, have you tried cooking with whole grains? Here is a recipe I just learned at the CIA last week. So they always fill in a segment about dessert and I'll teach a class on healthful cooking for desserts. Obviously, there is a lot of fruit based things and ways to reduce saturated fats in desserts and maybe replace butter with oils and things like that. I like to focus in on chocolate and fruit right now. So I'm presenting a demo and doing a talk on cocoa powder and chocolate and what are the health benefits of cocoa powder and chocolate in terms of increasing your blood flow.
What are some of the healthy desserts you have come up with?
As a demonstration I'll make cocoa sorbet and that is a recipe that is not entirely fat free because it is made with cocoa, but it is largely fat free. It is not sugar free, but it is delicious for somebody who likes to have a frozen dessert.
What is your favorite pairing for chocolate?
I definitely like fruit. I like caramel.
I have read about the infamous “Flip” dessert, can you describe how that came about?
If you are used to having an indulgent dessert, than you can recognize what are the healthful aspects of an indulgent dessert. And literally flip the concept so instead of having a rich luscious piece of cheesecake with a few strawberries on the side, you can have a bowl of strawberries garnished with a small piece of cheesecake, and flip the role of a food. Now you have a healthful dessert and still satisfy your urge for indulgence.
Who pegged the word?
That was from Greg Drescher, who isVP for continuing education and strategic initiatives. We came up with it in a brainstorming session.
It’s a great word for pastry when everyone is health conscious. Do you think the word will stick?
I use it all the time, it’s my word.
What are your views on Molecular Gastronomy?
I don’t really have the venue here to work from that angle, because of the nature of my program, we have an introductory class and then we do a very short class on contemporary plated desserts. The contemporary dessert is a class I teach where I introduce some contemporary topics that are not necessarily things that are my style but I want them to learn different techniques.
So what is your style?
An idea of creating something personal for you. It has to be high quality ingredients, attention to detail, and flavor and texture. Simple.
What is the main idea you want to teach your students, some bit of wisdom that they can take from here as a student?
Flavor and texture. We talked about contrast. These students are beginners. So, I have a ten day class on plated desserts. Ten specific lessons that are based on a cooking technique. The first day is sauce, the second day is mousses and creams, the next day is custard, the next day is still frozen desserts, poaching and steaming, deep frying, table side presentation, sauté, flambé, baking, roasting, and aerated soufflé desserts. And coupled with each one of those, you have to have balance, like sweet with sour, creamy with crunchy, to provide balance with in a dish, all the garnishes need to support the focus item.
Are you going to the world pasty forum.
Yes, I am teaching chocolate, and I can teach my own gospel there and what is important. I will teach chocolate desserts instead of fruit desserts. We will have plenty of fresh fruit involved, but chocolate will be the underlying theme.
When you are teaching, what do you see in the students who aspire to be great culinareans.
Enthusiasm, curiosity, ask questions, accept criticism, show aptitude, read. You can pretty much teach some one how to hold a pastry bag and spread with a spatula, but you can’t teach enthusiasm. If you don’t have enthusiasm or ambition, or a work ethic, you really don’t stand a chance, compared to someone who is really eager, but has a hard time folding.
Do you miss working in a restaurant?
If I could open my own and be financially successful here, that would be great. But one thing I love about this job is that I can influence people here. But I do love to cook. It is a trade off.
Have you had any kitchen disasters that still haunt you from your past.
(smiling) I worked at a restaurant and I had just introduced chocolate truffles and molded desserts. One of the chefs was coming to dinner that night and as a joke I enrobed a raw shallot in tempered chocolate and rolled it in cocoa powder. It was enormous, a huge shallot.I put it on a plate with some candies and molded chocolates and here was this enormous shallot. Three times as big as a truffle. The chef was coming in to dinner that night and I thought it would be kind of funny. Obviously he was going to notice this. But, at the restaurant that night we had this big party, they were really disappointed with all their food, this was overcooked and this was wrong, and they complained a lot. They thought to mollify these guests; they would give them this plate of chocolates. And the first chocolate this guy bit in to was the chocolate covered shallot, he was so furious, because he thought he had been bitching all night about the food and how dare you give us this chocolate covered shallot (laughter). And so I had to write this letter of apology and they had to comp their meal, it was kind of a disaster, the chef was pretty angry. Nobody knew about it, but me.
And so ended our meeting at the unforgettable Greystone Campus, until later Chef Dufree tracked me down in the bookstore, sharing with me a few gifts from his student’s kitchen; chocolate covered caramelized almonds, and chocolate and almond toffee.
by Ellen Anderson