What is in this article?:
- Experimentation pays off for pastry chef Stella Parks
- Parks' most popular desserts
The head pastry chef at Table 310 has found critical acclaim by taking her own path
Stella Parks, the head — and only — pastry
Whether that means working with gluten-free flours or baking spontaneous birthday cakes for customers, the Culinary Institute of America graduate aims to keep things fresh and unpredictable.
Since Food & Wine magazine named her one of the country’s top pastry chefs in 2012 — the first Kentucky chef to be recognized for the honor — Parks can barely keep up with the growing demand for her quirky spins on American classics. She recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about her inspiration, indulgent desserts and eschewing culinary trends.
What desserts at Table 310 are you most excited about now?
I'm in a bit of a doughnut craze at the moment. We’re a very small restaurant with extremely limited space and staff, so I haven’t been able to offer doughnuts in the past, since we could not fry them to order. But I’ve come up with a recipe and technique that keeps them light and fresh and crisp on the outside. It was such a huge surprise to figure out a way to keep them so wonderful without being fried to order. I had chocolate doughnuts with lavender ice cream and caramelized marshmallow fluff on my menu last week.
How often do you change the menu?
I’ve been known to change it three or four times in a week. It’s a chalkboard menu and I constitute the entire pastry department, so it’s very easy for me to turn on a dime. It’s very invigorating to be able to pursue my whims without having a required menu holding me in place.
What inspires you when it comes to creating new desserts?
I love creating desserts meant to mimic an experience. A mint julep panna cotta with a bourbon pecan macaron has a certain Derby Day excitement. A blueberry violet tart feels like a spring day; smoked vanilla bean ice cream with marshmallow brulee and crumbled grahams feels like a summer camping trip. I hope each dessert can evoke a sensation that’s bigger than the sum of its parts.
What ingredients do you find challenging or rewarding to work with?
I love working with the whole spectrum of gluten-free flours. They are both incredibly rewarding, in terms of the flavors and textures they offer, and also a huge challenge, since they don’t behave as wheat flour would. It takes some time to get to know them, but the payoff is huge. Teff flour makes chocolate chip cookies taste chocolatey-er; mochiko makes snickerdoodles chewier than ever; kinako adds amazing nuttiness to brownies. They’ve all got something to offer, and if we as chefs write them off as something meant only for “dietary restrictions,” then we’re actually the ones baking with a restriction — wheat flour only.
You spent some time in Tokyo. How did that influence your approach to creating desserts?
Being in Tokyo really turned me on to these alternative flours. Here, they’re special “GF” [gluten-free] flours, but over there, they’re just part of the arsenal. Sobako, mochiko and kinako all have different purposes (soba noodles, mochi cake, dango) that wheat flour could never accomplish. It made me want to find out what desserts those flours could work with.