A couple of years ago, I was talking to one of my cook friends at work, some food related conversation (because really, what else do I ever talk about), and I brought up the fact that I did the Baking and Pastry Arts program at The Institute of Culinary Education. This friend of mine, who worked the hot apps station at our restaurant, asked "So what did that consist of – Section I: whisking and Section II: measuring?"
That instance, and my following years of working in really amazing restaurants in New York as a pastry cook, led me to this theory: The pastry department is the Vatican City of any given restaurant. We exist within the borders of the restaurant, but really we're our own little city-state. We're diminutively populated, with our own leader, our small lot of land, and our own set of rules. Also, much like Catholicism, we have many worshippers (who doesn't love dessert?!), but many are inflicted with feelings of guilt in their worship (cake makes me fat!!). The citizens of the nation that houses us will come and visit every now and then, but really they let us do our own thing and our inner workings remain strange and mysterious to them.
As I see it, savory cooks, in relation to pastry cooks, largely fall into two categories with one common denominator: You guys have no idea what we do here, do you?
Category 1: The Pastry Chef as Betty Crocker
Judging by his snide little remark, this is the category my lovable yet ignorant hot apps friend belongs to. These are the cooks that associate making dessert with pouring brownie batter into an Easy-Bake Oven. "What's the big deal? You take some eggs, some flour, some butter, mix it up, you've got cake!" Umm, it's science, people! It's a tad more complicated than that! There are procedures to follow, rules that just can't be bent! That has always been the longstanding consensus between savory and pastry cooks – pastry is more cerebral, more scientific, with less room for improvisation than savory cooking. That may be true to a certain extent. I just don't get why some savory cooks see this as a bad thing, and therefore scoff at our use of recipes and measuring cups, as if we should "lighten up and cook from the gut". Karma eventually bit Ignorant Hot Apps Friend in the ass, when Chef assigned to his station a savory pizzele, for which he had to make the batter. After his third consecutive attempt which resulted in misshapen, burnt cookies, he humbly entered our little kingdom with a Kitchen Aid bowl and a look of defeat. (For all those dying for the exciting conclusion of this story, turns out he was using cold butter which caused his batter to separate and therefore not bake up properly).
Into this category falls every single contestant who ever appeared on Top Chef. I could make a drinking game out of this. These chefs from around the nation are at the top of their game, own their own restaurants, manage kitchens, possess amazing knife skills and can pull off mouthwatering creations from any type of cuisine with 90 minutes ticking on the clock. But then Padma unveils a dessert challenge, and they all stand there looking like extras in a Japanese sci-fi monster movie. "Dessert?! The horror!! What is this mythical beast you speak of?! I can't work that voodoo magic!" To which I slap my hand against my forehead in disgust. I know I said it's science, but it's not rocket science! Really, it's all food - if you're capable of braising a pork loin, you can spend twenty minutes before you jet off to Top Chef Miami reading up on how to make a frigging soufflé. These are the cooks who stand there with eyes wide open while I'm tempering chocolate, as if I've just levitated off the ground, muttering "I could never do what you do." Really, buddy? If you can read a thermometer, you can do what I do.
It would appear that the cooks who worship at the altar of Category 1 and those that put their faith behind ideas like Category 2 need to sit down, talk about their feelings, and have an open dialogue about dessert, and essentially meet in the middle. I know a number of you rationalists already exist. You can mediate if you want. It's not child's play (especially in high-end restaurants), but it's also not black magic. At the end of the day, we both make food, just with different methods and skill-sets. Oh, and we have more sugar.
Yes, we're fairly autonomous and have our own ruler, but we're still part of your country… err, restaurant. So please don't treat us like strange foreign beings. I mean, you're already hanging around begging for warm cookies. You could actually (gasp!) learn something while you're here. I can teach you how to properly whip egg whites in case that phone call from Bravo ever comes in.
It's pretty crucial to have a decent working relationship between the savory and pastry sides. I love sliding over a bowl of ice cream to a cook that's sweating away half his body mass on the line during a crazy first seating. In return, I get protein and vegetables. You know, stuff that won't eventually lead to adult onset diabetes. But I swear, one more crack about measuring, and I'm revoking the treats!