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You know those people who say "I'm not a desserts person?" Well I'm not one of them! I typically get offended if someone doesn't accept a dessert I made. See for me, dessert is as important as the meal itself. It's like the finale to a show, a conclusion to a story. Without dessert you wouldn't know how everything ended. And what would life be without a happy ending?
Pastry chef Johnny Iuzzuni has a motto: "desserts are last, but don't let them be least." He even signs his cookbooks with it, as he did mine a few years back at a culinary demo at New York's French Culinary Institute. (He and chef Dave Arnold were showing off some new techniques for making drinks and desserts.) It's a profound motto I totally agree with and follow.
What Johnny does is give dessert all the attention it deserves, and he doesn't just put out any cake on a plate. At Restaurant Jean Georges he served desserts in themed quartets: four different chocolate desserts, or four different cherry desserts, and so on. The themes matched the fruit that was in season, and I became such a fan of Johnny's that I frequented the restaurant every time the dessert menu changed (sorry, Jean-Georges).
Johnny combines components you wouldn't think worked. My first time eating at the restaurant, I was served Jean-Georges' signature molten chocolate cake, placed atop a grapefruit gelee. The grapefruit helped cut the richness of the chocolate. It worked as a type of palate cleanser because it was a bit tangy -- it made for a unique contrast. This understanding of how flavors work together is one of Johnny's key traits as a pastry chef.
Not only that but he's also a bit of the scientist. At the demo he made a sponge-like substance out of chocolate. By blending melted chocolate with agar agar he was able to achieve a thick liquid, which he then carbonated. His final step was to put the mixture into a Cryovac, which sucked out all the air from the bubbles. What was left was a chocolate sponge -- it was weird and fantastic.
So where has Johnny's career path led him? He worked with Daniel Boulud for about seven years and recently quit his job with Jean-Georges after working with him for 10 years. His future is wide open and if judging on "Top Chef Just Desserts" is a part of that, then I forgive him. But Johnny's at his best in the kitchen, experimenting and creating. I'm hoping he opens his own restaurant featuring all desserts. That would be my kind of eatery.
What do you think of Johnny Iuzzini? Leave a comment below.