Interview with Emily Luchetti, appearing at The Sun WineFest, January 27-29

by David Dadekian
Chef Emily Luchetti

Chef Emily Luchetti

The Sun WineFest ’12 at Mohegan Sun is coming up and in addition to the spectacular two-day Grand Tasting there are a number of special tastings and events taking place over the three-day Festival. Chef Emily Luchetti of Waterbar and Farallon restaurants in San Francisco is one of the many celebrity chefs coming to southern New England to participate in Saturday evening’s Celebrity Chef Dine Around Presented by Moët & Chandon as well as Sunday evening’s closing event Bubbles and Bon Bons Presented by Perrier-Jouët which sounds like the must-attend event for dessert lovers.

Eat Drink RI spoke to Luchetti and it turns out she has some very local ties to a Rhode Island dessert institution. Read on to find out which flavors are her favorite and what she’ll be serving up at The Sun WineFest.

eat drink RI: Tell us a little about yourself.

Emily Luchetti: I am the Executive Pastry Chef at Waterbar and Farallon restaurants in San Francisco. I’ve written six cookbooks and I’m also a Dean at the French Culinary Institute—they have a campus in New York and in California. I’m originally from the East Coast. I moved out to California in 1984 and started working at Stars. I worked there for 11 years. The first part of my cooking career was in the savory side and then in 1987 I switched to desserts because I figured it would be a lot more fun to make desserts. It was one of those things where, as soon as I switched to it, I felt like I found my niche and knew that was where I wanted to be.

edRI: Do you get a chance to do some cooking every day or is it more overseeing things as an Executive Pastry Chef?

EL: I’m lucky to have a team in each restaurant. We develop menus together. I’m always involved in menu development. I’m at one of them [Waterbar or Farallon] five days a week so when I go in there, my belief is you don’t just sit there in an office in front of a computer. If you’re going to really get a sense of what’s going on, you look at the clipboard, see what needs to be done, and you roll out tart dough, you make cookie dough or you do whatever is needed. I like to bake, so I really do get to bake on a weekly basis.

edRI: Is there one part of the job you like to do best?

EL: At this point in my career, I kind of like the diversity. When I was younger I loved creating the dessert menu everyday and making sure everything was done by 5:30 and everything was perfect and explaining it all to the waiters. You’re really focused on that one part of your job. Now I get different kinds of challenges and exposures. The beauty of it all is that, when I seem to get sick of one, I seem to have another responsibility that I can switch to.

edRI: How often do you come up with new desserts at the restaurants?

EL: I would say we change the dessert menu in each of the restaurants about every month. A lot of it’s driven seasonally, a lot of it’s driven by what we get bored with and we want to do something different.

edRI: Is there something on your menus right now that you really love?

EL: We’ve just been switching the menus the last couple of weeks and we’re now pretty excited about the citrus in California that’s coming up. We have Meyer lemons, the different kinds of oranges and things like that. We use a lot of passion fruit. The citrus is fun because it’s bright and vivid. Visually and texturally and taste-wise it adds some excitement to a January day.

edRI: Have you been to The Sun WineFest before?

EL: No, I haven’t. I’m really looking forward to it. I have family in the area so I’m very familiar with that part of the country, but I’ve never been to Mohegan Sun so I’m looking forward to going.

edRI: What will you be doing at the Bubbles and Bon Bons event?

EL: I’m going to be doing some ice cream sundaes. We wanted it to be chocolate, but I thought I’d do something different, because I’m sure Jacques Torres will have truffles, which are absolutely lovely and delicious. So I’m doing crème fraîche ice cream with caramel sauce, fudge sauce, cocoa nibs or candied almonds. But people will be able to make it their way.

edRI: How do you make the crème fraîche ice cream?

EL: I make a traditional crème anglaise base with egg yolks, sugar, milk and some cream. I cook that over the stove top and get it nice and thick to cook the eggs. Then I take it off the stove and whisk in the crème fraîche. I don’t heat the crème fraîche because it starts to breakdown and changes the texture of it. It’s got a good ratio of cream and milk. I probably use a little bit more cream than milk in my ice cream but I definitely use milk. You don’t want to use all cream because then it tastes too fatty. There is a point where you can actually have too much cream. It’s hard to believe!

One of my favorite ice creams in your area is Gray’s. The Mocha Chip and the Ginger are my favorites. I have a beach cottage in South Dartmouth. I go there in the summer and work on my cookbooks. When I get there I don’t really feel that I’m there until I go over to Gray’s and get an ice cream cone. In one of my books, A Passion for Ice Cream, I profile about a dozen great ice cream places around the country and Gray’s is in there.

edRI: Tell us about your most recent book The Fearless Baker?

EL: I wrote that because people come up to me often and ask “what do you do?” and I say, “I’m a pastry chef” and they say, “oh I could never do that, I can’t bake.” I started thinking about what makes people so fearful of baking and I said to myself, I want to help people get over this fear of baking [by giving] them a book where they can not feel so intimidated and realize they can be successful when they bake dessert. It’s geared toward the beginning baker, but at the same time I make stuff from it all the time because it tastes really good. All the recipes I made with people who haven’t baked before so I really got a feeling for what questions would come up and what problems they would have.

edRI: What do you have planned for the Celebrity Dine Around?

EL: I’m doing a Brownie Brown Sugar Parfait. That’s layers of brown sugar pastry cream with caramel sauce, brownies and toasted pecans. That was one of the desserts on the opening menu of Waterbar. We’ve been open for four years and it makes a reoccurrence [on the menu], but it’s not on the menu right now.

edRI: Is there a dessert on one of your menus you just can’t take off or people would scream?

EL: There is a chocolate pudding cake. You serve it warm and when you bake it, it separates so it’s cake-y on top and pudding-y on the bottom. People really like it. We’ve had it on for four years and we finally said we’re going to take it off and see what happens. Maybe there won’t be that big of a revolt and we’ll try to replace with something they’ll like even better. The jury’s not back on that one yet.

The Sun WineFest runs Friday, January 27 through Sunday, January 29 at Mohegan Sun. Check the site for more information including schedule of events, guest chefs and exhibitors.

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