And to Top It Off...
by Andrew MacLauchlan
VanNostrand Reinhold, $39.95 hard
The publisher gladly rushed me a review copy of this new book when I explained to them that Coyote Cafe would be opening an Austin location. Author MacLauchlan was the executive pastry chef at Charlie Trotter's in Chicago when the book was written, but has since moved west to take the same position in Santa Fe for the Coyote Cafe operation. So while you won't find the recipes for the new restaurant's popular Chocolate Thunder or the signature Cajeta Caramel Tart, this interesting book can definitely teach you the building blocks the accomplished and artistic pastry chef uses to create his architecturally challenging desserts.
While several mentions are made of "the serious home cook," this book strikes me as something presented more for chefs than for the general public. Like his former employer Trotter, MacLauchlan creates food that is artistically and architecturally complex. Most of the recipes include several component preparations for each dish, which seems much more possible in a commercial kitchen than at home. While many of the basic recipes (variations on tuiles, sorbets) greatly appealed to me, my personal bias is that this whole trend in food is entirely too precious. In the catering business, we referred to it as "terminal cuteness."
Because MacLauchlan's work is representative of a culinary trend that is currently very popular, I decided to discuss the book with a local pastry chef who has recently spent some time training with MacLauchlan in the Coyote Cafe corporate kitchens in Santa Fe. You may remember talented pastry chef Lisa Fox from her excellent desserts at 612 West. The Coyote Cafe team wisely chose to retain Fox when they opened in Austin, and sent her to Santa Fe to train with MacLauchlan for a couple of weeks this spring. Chef Fox currently heads up a staff of five people who are preparing and serving dessert menus that feature five selections at lunch and seven during dinner.
While Fox acknowledged the complexity of MacLauchlan's desserts (the Chocolate Thunder includes eight different preparations), she told me that she feels MacLauchlan does make his creations accessible. This is accomplished by using top quality ingredients, paying special attention to the seasonality of ingredients such as fresh fruit, and demanding an intensity of flavor in each dish. Indeed, the book is arranged according to the seasons, and MacLauchlan several times states his premise that the flavor of a dessert should be considered as a complementary finale to the savory portion of the meal rather than just an overabundance of fat and sugar at the end of a meal.
According to Fox, the dessert menu at Austin's Coyote Cafe is evolving to suit local tastes and products and making a few concessions to the famous local humidity. Fragile tuile cookies and meringue decorations must be made in smaller batches so as not to deteriorate into soggy blobs, not a problem in the high desert at Santa Fe. She expects to begin adding occasional examples of her own renditions of "Coyote-style" desserts very soon. Some presentations have been simplified, but I'd venture that the dessert menu at Coyote Cafe is the only one in town that requires a regular staff of two people just to plate up desserts every evening. Therein lies the key to the $5.50 price tags.
New Classic Desserts is a definitive example of a specific culinary trend. MacLauchlan presents a thorough and educational body of information, methods, and formulas which will allow the pastry chef or serious home cook (with plenty of time and money) to re-create the desserts in the book. Better yet, the book can also serve to provide building blocks to further inform and inspire a repertoire. - Virginia B. Wood