While in Phoenix to cover the National Team Pastry Championships I was invited to sit in on a class by Stephen Durfee. Pastry Profiles had just posted an interview with Chef Durfee, so I was happy to sit in on his class get a chance to experience the “professor” first hand. His class was on plated desserts and with his strong background from his days at the French Laundry and teaching experience at Greystone, I knew this would be an interesting event. My first impression of chef was how kind and caring he was, not only to me but to everyone in the class. Moments before the class started he went around to everyone individually to introduce himself and to find out a little something about each student. Chef Durfee is energetic and at the same time calm. His sweet voice is easy to listen to and his mannerisms entertaining. He lights up when he is explaining his concepts. He is passionate talking about plated desserts obviously something dear to his heart. On this day he is demonstrating 4 plated desserts. His enthusiasm has not slowed even after doing this same demo twice a day for 5 days now.
Chef starts out talking a bit about contrast of colors and flavors and textures and how these balancing components make desserts more interesting both in flavors and eye appeal. During his three hour demo Chef shares many interesting tips. Many of these tips were born from his need to get things done quickly and efficiently during the many competitions he takes part in. He explains that his idea for a microwavable mousse comes from the lack of burners at the National Team Pastry Championships. He then goes on to demonstrate a crème anglaise based chocolate mousse in which the crème anglaise part is made in the microwave.
He also built a nice little gadget to place tuilles on to give them a curve or a bend. What’s different is that this technique can do about a dozen at a time again saving valuable time in a competition setting. He also shares little tips like processing almond paste in a robot coupe when making frangipane to remove lumps. All along he walks a line between being very serious, especially when listening to a students question to very humorous as he is often quick with a joke or and interjection like his mantra about cream for a mousse. “If it’s not pourable it’s deplorable” he says. He also points out that he is a fruit and vegetable based dessert chef and briefly explains his flipped desserts concept.
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One dessert that really stood out is his “Callison D’Aix” Charantais Melon Parfait Glace and Quinine Sorbet. Chef explains that this dessert is based on a candy he had while visiting France. The components of this dessert are Melon Parfait, Almond “Pain de Genes”, Quinine Sorbet, a Royal Icing “tuille” and garnished with melon balls. The CALLISON D’AIX is an almond paste/marzipan type of candy flavored with citrus and melon and presented in a football type of shape. One interesting fact about the quinine is brought up by Keegan Gerhardt of food network fame who is also sitting in on the class, is that quinine can actually glow in the dark due as he learned in a recent challenge. Another interesting part of this dessert is the royal icing tuille. So simple that I have forgotten about it since seeing it what seems like twenty years ago. This garnish gives great color and crunch to this dessert and is a perfect and simple component. This dessert is simple, elegant and presented nicely. This is definitely a crowd pleaser. If you ever get a chance to see chef Durfee Spread his pastry gospel trust me "dont miss it".