Sunday, April 24, 2011

Real Chefs Don't Blog.

Imagine a spectrum of chefs in the world.  Cut off one end, the food bloggers. Cut off the other, the televised contest winners. The array in between is filled with real, live chefs, paying their bills by putting food on your self-selected dining room table. They are the ones who walk behind the farmer’s market stalls tapping vendors for the sake of time to buy what they need.  They are, at their ages, burned out on a profession that makes them feel 20 years older in the mornings. They are inspiring characters, risk takers, and raw, honest types who will take a pan of hot oil thrown by the Chef de Cuisine for you if you cover their asses for something on the line. They are some of the most passionate people I know.

Last week, I walked through the farmer’s market with Roxana Jullapat, pastry chef at Ammo, in Hollywood, California. While there, in an interview, she gave a candied kumquat and Costa Rican prestiños recipe to Good Food's Market Report. She wrote the candied kumquat part down for me at coffee afterwards, and at home, I went crazy with all the free time of a freelancer to come up with a Candied Kumquats and Marzipan Cream Tart recipe, inspired by her original combination. 

The tarts were delicious. The photos turned out well. Sieved twice to a silken smooth, complex pastry cream, the decision to fold the marzipan directly into the pastry cream was a good one. Whether to use a Mexican vanilla bean or one from Madagascar, that the kumquats needed to be blanched three times before candying, I experienced alone in a home kitchen without feedback. The recipe creeped into chef territory from recreational spaces. I need to get back into the capital-K kitchen.

They sounded like they were recussitated with new life every time they went in, hissing under water, gasping on their way out. The kumquats. 

I accepted Roxana’s invitation to stage at Ammo next week, because these kinds of observations don't hold the same shared sense of visceral acumen at a home cooktop with self-imposed deadlines as when you're trying in concert to set a standard for an excellent plate and serve it to someone you don't know. They happen in a world where they better be perfect every time, and one better know why or why not. Either way, you shrug it off, have a shift drink and go home, get up and do it again the next day.

This recipe is written for my cheffing days. If such a recipe is written on a sticky note and handed to you, you are being tested in any Kitchen. If this recipe is spoken to you and you are expected to write it down and then make it, you are being challenged for the privilege of returning to your post the next day. At home, I see few reasons for such an unnecessary challenge. Make the candied kumquats and put them on buttermilk pancakes or dark chocolate brownies, drizzle the syrup on top of either and serve an amazing dish. Don’t make the whole tart. It’s too much effort, unless you have the urge to over-indicate something to someone. 

The kumquat recipe is Roxana’s. The rest are standard ratios.

Candied Kumquat and Marzipan Cream tarts
Roxana Jullapat, and trained pastry chefs everywhere

Serves: 4 (Makes two four-inch tarts)

1 # kumquats, blanch 3x
4 ½ c H2O
750 gr sugar
Method: 45 minutes, simmer, store in syrup

Pastry cream
1 cup milk
2T cream
3 yolks
1/3 cup sugar
3T cornstarch
½ vanilla bean – Madagascar
¼ cup marzipan

Method: Split and scrape vanilla bean, infuse with milk on stove, 15 minutes. Don’t scald. In nonreactive bowl, add cream, yolks, sugar, cornstarch and whisk until smooth. Crumble in marzipan and whisking, work as many clumps out as possible. Temper with hot milk, slowly add all milk plus bean into bowl and whisk vigorously.  Pour back into pot, on medium, whisk until thickened to desired consistency, about 15 minutes.  Remove bean, press through chinois into bowl, twice, place cling film directly over the top and chill.

Pastry dough
1 cup flour
1/2t salt
¾ stick butter
1 ½ T cold water
1 T cream

Method: Cut butter into flour and salt with hands.  When coarse sand with a few pebbles, add liquids until forms into a ball, split into two rounds, press into discs, wrap in cling film and refrigerate for an hour before use. Do not overwork. Roll out into two 4” pastry tins, form into tins and bake at 375F, rotating once, about 20 minutes. Let cool.

Present: Unmold tarts, pipe in pastry cream and place kumquats on top. Brush with syrup. Chill to set, serve. 


  1. Great piece and simply gorgeous tart. Kumquats are one of my favourite fruits!

  2. What a fun excursion. Nothing like being on the inside track at the Farmer's Market especially with such a great literary and desserty outcome. Love the photos!

  3. get this tart in my belly, stat!

  4. LOVE your description of the outing and your narration. The photos are beautiful, the tart looks delicious. Wow!

  5. I just got a large bag of kumquats from my friend who lives in Ojai and have been combing the internet for more ideas. Candying some was definitely an option. Now I think I must!

  6. I love Roxana -- she brings magic to her food.

  7. This was awesome! I happened to have everything on hand so I decided to give it a whirl and WOW- I can't wait to show this off at my tea party!
    The filling reminded me so much of pistachio ice cream that I decided to add some halved pistachios to it. I also added a ring of pistachios on the top, for color. It really brought out the other flavors!

  8. Funny, I made a comment on Dianne Jacobs' blog about how I work with chefs and have been laughed at for mentioning I have a food blog. Then I started to write more about the real world of food and deleted it all. I was thinking about that a lot after the weekend in Atlanta and what it means to say, "I work in the food business."

    Your description of people who cook for a living for other people is dead on. Your writing is seriously great. I look forward to going back into the archives and catching up.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts. Stay positive!