When Food & Wine magazine offered Sylvain Marrari the executive pastryposition at its Chefs Club, the critically acclaimed chef jumped at the unique opportunity.
The program, designed by Food & Wine to showcase its Best New Chefs platform, inspired Marrari to leave his position as executive pastry chef of the five restaurants at the award-winning Setai resort in Miami for a chance to work with some of the culinary world’s most exciting up-and-coming talent.
Marrari recently spoke with Nation’s Restaurant News about his new position, working with a rotating lineup of chefs and the art of simplicity when it comes to desserts.
Tell me about Chefs Club by Food & Wine. How did you come to be involved with it?
Chefs Club by Food & Wine at The St. Regis Aspen Resort [in Aspen, Colo.,] is the flagship restaurant under the Chefs Club USA brand and brings the Food & Wine brand to life through their signature Best New Chefs awards platform honoring the country’s most promising up-and-coming chefs. Each year, Food & Wine selects from their coveted list of Best New Chefs to consult and curate new menu items in collaboration with the culinary team at the restaurant to create an epicurean experience beyond expectation.
I first met Chefs Club executive chef Didier Elena at the renowned two-Michelin-starred restaurant La Chevre d’Or in France. We then reconnected in Miami during my time at Setai, and Didier then offered me the position of executive pastry chef.
You’ve had a wildly successful career, particularly at The Setai. What made you decide that it was time for a change?
I always like a new challenge, and after about a year and a half at The Setai I was ready for a new challenge. Didier then introduced Chefs Club to me. The concept, goal, opportunity to continually meet influential chefs throughout the country and the potential to oversee the pastry program inspired me to take on the role and be part of the brand’s growth.
What can we expect from the dessert menu?
The dessert program has a mix of French and American influences, as well as featured dishes from Best New Chefs. I always like to cater my desserts to the location of the restaurant. For example, in Aspen I stayed close to traditional comfort desserts, such as riffs on an apple, cinnamon and cranberry crumble, and carrot cake, to name a few. In New York City, I will be taking on a completely different approach with desserts that will continuously surprise the guests and have an influence on city’s culinary scene.
Do you have any dishes in particular that you are most excited about?
I am particularly excited about the chocolate moelleux with coffee and kumquats that mirrors the “C” logo of Chefs Club in the chocolate sauce. Another is the exotic vacherin, topped with a snowflake to resemble winter and the snowflakes on the ceiling of the restaurant. My personal favorite is the extremely fresh-tasting caramelized brioche with fresh mango and hazelnut truffle sorbet.
The program features a rotating lineup of Best New Chefs. Will you change the dessert menu with each new chef?
The Best New Chefs simply enhance our menu. They add three dishes to the menu, and if one of them is a dessert it will be an additional dessert.
Inspired to keep it simple
What is the menu development process like?
Before a Best New Chef puts their dishes on the menu, they come to Aspen and work with our culinary team, teaching our chefs the dishes they wish to showcase on the menu until they are perfect.
What challenges does this position present as opposed to a more traditional restaurant environment?
I like to make sure the dessert complements the dishes of each chef. It is an exciting challenge to create new desserts and understand each chef’s inspiration, unique flavor and style, whether they come from Seattle or Cleveland. Say, if a guest enjoys a special menu created by Missy Robbins, we need to have a dessert available to guests that would complement that menu.
When it comes to creating desserts, where do you derive your inspiration?
A lot of my inspiration comes from my surrounding environment. I enjoy looking at pictures, art and food, and truly taking in the concept of the restaurant. At times I can visualize a dessert and create the tastes from there.
What are some of your favorite ingredients to work with? How do you incorporate them at Chefs Club?
I really try to focus on the simple ingredients, such as chocolate and fruit. Some of my desserts only consist of two to three ingredients, while still maintaining different textures. I do not like incredibly sweet desserts, but rather strong and bold flavors complemented by decoration and presentation.
Are you influenced by current culinary trends?
I am always influenced by fashion and the culinary trends in Europe. I always try to create a dessert with color, flavor and decoration.
As a pastry chef, how do you see as the role of dessert in the overall dining experience?
Although dessert may be at the end of meal, it plays an important role in the dining experience, as the guests are left with that lingering picture and taste of dessert.
Are there any chefs in particular that you look forward to working with at Chefs Club?
I was inspired to create an Italian dessert during Missy Robbins’ appearance. I am looking forward to meeting executive chef Bryant Ng of The Spice Table in Los Angeles and executive chef Viet Pham of Forage in Salt Lake City.
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