After a 10-year career as a landscape designer in upstate New York, Ron Paprocki is now using his eye for presentation to craft unique, contemporary desserts at New York City mainstay Gotham Bar and Grill, where he has served as executive pastrysince May 2012.
Prior to his current position, Paprocki honed his skills as pastry chef at celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay’s two-Michelin-starred Gordon Ramsay at The London in New York. He also has worked as head baker and assistant pastry chef at New York’s Financier Patisserie, after receiving his diploma in pastry arts in 2004 from Elisabeth-Knipping Schule in Kassel, Germany.
He recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about the influence of his former career, working with chocolate, and current dessert trends.
How did you make the transition from landscape designer to pastry chef?
I was a landscape designer in Rochester, N.Y., and made my way over to Germany and did an apprenticeship over there. I always enjoyed working with my hands and being creative. When I was in the landscape industry, I first started off doing residential design. I always loved the challenge of coming up with something creative and nice looking, and I loved the satisfaction of that. I always had a knack for baking. I baked as child with my mom and it never went away through my landscape career. I always baked a lot and I figured that my next move was to see if I could get money for it.
What desserts are you working on at Gotham right now?
We just put something on starting Feb. 1, and it will be going for the next eight weeks up until April 1. We are doing a three-course late-night chocolate dessert tasting. That’s something Gotham has never done before. People come in and have three courses of small chocolate desserts, and if they like they can pair that with some wine. We’re teaming up with Valrhona and we have different courses of different types of chocolate. We have a white chocolate, as well as a milk and a dark.
How much does that cost?
It’s $30, and the guest has the option of pairing it with wine, which is $20 extra for three wine flights.
As far as your main dessert menu, what is most popular with your customers?
Gotham has been open for almost 29 years, and since day one they’ve had on the menu this Gotham Chocolate Cake, which has always been the most popular item. It’s very classic. It’s really just a slice of warm, flourless chocolate cake accompanied with an ice cream.
What is your style in terms of creating a dish and presentation?
I’m more or less influenced by the Spanish guys. Whether it be Albert Adrià or Ramon Morató. Guys that are very contemporary in their plating styles. That’s what I’ve inflicted on the menu.
My plating style is very organic, unlike a very classical French dessert where it is either a square or a nice round mold where it towers. My style is more organic. It resembles more the environment or the forest. I do things like take sable cookie dough and make it appear to look like rocks. It is certainly more landscape-ish, which is an homage to what I did for 10 years prior to getting into the pastry industry.
What ingredient do you most like working with right now?
Right now I’m on a big chocolate kick. I’m doing a lot more with chocolate than I’ve ever done in the history of me being a pastry chef. A little more than half of the desserts we do here right now have some sort of chocolate element on them.
Which ones stand out to you?
There is one dessert that I just put on. I didn’t really have a nice name to call it, so on the menu I Just called it The Chocolate Dessert. It is more of a landscape-esque plating style and I didn’t want to overwhelm the guest with some ornate description. I wanted to be as basic as possible so that there is some excitement when it is delivered to the table.
I use a dark chocolate cremeux and it is accompanied with some black cocoa sable dough. On the menu I call it black cocoa cookies. I basically make a sable cookie dough, but instead of using the regular cocoa powder I use a black cocoa powder. I chunk up the dough on a sheet pan with parchment paper and then bake it off. When it comes out it looks like coal, almost like lava rocks. When you first see it, it looks like someone burnt something. It is really neat. It is basically the same cocoa powder that they use in Oreo cookies. So same flavor as an Oreo cookie, but definitely a different look.
Is that a permanent menu item?
Yes, I just added that to the menu about two weeks ago and it is actually a part of the three-course tasting menu. It’s really neat and tastes really good. The initial reaction from guests is very exciting.
What are some of the trends you are noticing happening right now with desserts?
It seems that we’re using a lot more egg whites in things. We’re using egg whites and egg white powders to make mousses now instead of whipped cream.
Is that strictly for health reasons?
I think that is a side reason, perhaps, but it really makes a much softer texture. It keeps it not so hard. It is definitely a looser mousse when you use a meringue as opposed to whipped cream. Another thing I’m seeing is using dried meringues in desserts. Taking a basic two-to-one sugar-to–egg-white mixture and then adding stuff like black cocoa powder. Also using soft marshmallows and then introducing flavor and color with things like freeze-dried strawberries or blueberries. I see a lot more meringue-based dessert components coming out this year.
Do you have anything special planned for Valentine’s Day?
To be honest, I haven’t finalized that menu, but it will certainly be within the realm of a chocolate-based dessert, and then inflict that with some acidity, probably passion fruit.
Contact Charlie Duerr at firstname.lastname@example.org.