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Ryan Butler

Features

THE SEASONS OF COOKING

August 2, 2010

By Ryan Butler

Photo by Matt Biancaniello

In the realm of professional kitchens, the unwritten rule is never to cook food that is out of season in your region. This is especially important in the dessert world where fruit is often the centerpiece of a dish and the year round availability of green house produce, imports from around the world, and chemically-enhanced fruit can be very enticing. But in reality, using a strawberry in January that was trucked in from Mexico and treated with who knows what to keep it crimson red, is not only just plain wrong, but unnecessary.

Avoiding what’s wrong and cooking seasonally requires creativity. In the summer, when local fruits are abundant, that creativity is channeled into considering new and interesting ways of presenting the fruits with minimal manipulation to showcase their natural flavors and textures. In the winter (particularly in the northeast) when product is scarce, thereby making options limited, tasty and beautiful desserts are still achievable. Winter is a great time to reach for those exotic, tropical fruits which, for the most part, have no seasonality up here as they are always shipped in. This time of year we look at ways to work with the imported produce and employ a multitude of spices. It’s an opportunity to offer diners the experience of tangy palate-popping passion fruit, the versatile pineapple, and the beloved coconut.

Passion fruit is one of those flavors that you either love or hate. Mixing it with bitter chocolate tames the sour notes and works especially well in a creamy ganache. Wintery spices such as cinnamon and clove give the sensation of studded orange peel as in spiced passion fruit custard.

Pineapple is the workhorse of the tropical fruits and is great caramelized, roasted, or Continue Reading…

Features

SWEET TEXTURES

May 13, 2010

An Exploration Through Rhubarb
by Ryan Butler (Pastry Chef, Double Crown, NYC)

Photo courtesy of Double Crown

In the realm of contemporary pastry, employing a multitude of textures in plated desserts allows the chef to access seemingly endless creative approaches, thereby transforming even the simplest ingredients.

One Ingredient Exponentially
Through a focus on textures, the pastry chef can offer guests a variety of taste experiences created from the various interplays of frozen, cool and warm temperatures with crisp, soft, and chewy elements; all developed from one core ingredient or flavor. Concentration on a single ingredient, complemented with one or two additional minor elements, prevents overcrowding the dish and presents a visually impressive and wonderfully flavored result.

The Oft-Neglected Rhubarb
An excellent example of this method features a one of my favorite ingredients, the often misunderstood and always underestimated rhubarb. The tart, crimson-colored vegetable may scare some but always has my fellow devotees yearning for rhubarb on the dessert plate.

The first tip for to the rhubarb non-believer is to learn about its versatility. A great basic recipe to start with is rhubarb jam, made by simply chopping the rhubarb, adding sugar and lemon and cooking down. Simple but elegant. For a great variation, swirl the jam into a batch of vanilla bean ice cream and you have two very basic components creating a delicious, balanced combination with great texture and visual appeal; the rhubarb ripple. Basic but very satisfying.

Tacking On More Texture
The building of textures in our pastry kitchen is a constant pursuit remembered by every member of my team. In the case of our rhubarb desserts that process often begins with a basic rhubarb stock acting as the foundation of many of the dishes. Ours is simply prepared with water, sugar and a selection of Southeast Asian aromatics, all combined with the rhubarb then brought to a simmer and strained.

Starting with this fundamental component we are able to create numerous dishes with diverse and unique textures on the plate. The stock is frozen into a sorbet or Continue Reading…