Johnny Iuzzini teaches students to “respect the curves of the fruit”
ICE‘s catalogue has some choice offerings this session, including (but definitely not limited to!) classes with chef Michael Laiskonis from Le Bernardin, and this recent class I took with Johnny Iuzzini from Jean Georges restaurant. Iuzzini is a James Beard award winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef of the Year, and has trained with Francois Payard, Pierre Herme, among others. He’s also made TV appearances on Paula’s Party, Top Chef as a quickfire challenge judge, Martha Stewart and, oh yeah, also happened to be twice voted NY’s sexiest chef in a Daily News poll. Iuzzini’s book, provocatively entitled Dessert Fourplay, has just been released, so the desserts in the class were based on his book.
Iuzzini is quite a rock star in the pastry world, so I was a bit starstruck meeting him and some members of his team at Jean Georges, who were on hand to assist students throughout the class (they were all so great and helpful, by the way!). I just got a new camera lens a few days prior to the class which I am not yet accustomed to, so I feverishly snapped away throughout class hoping to get a few decent, in-focus shots – in between chopping fruit, piping cake batter, flambeeing bananas, etc.
Various stages of creating the Polenta-Pineapple Cake, from caramelizing sugar, filling with pineapple and piping cake batter; akin to creating flan or an upside down cake.
Chef discussed his dessert quartet concept used at Jean Georges, or how a single element is carried out in a complementary plating of four mini desserts. We would be working in teams to create the numerous components to ultimately plate our own “fourplay” (har, har).
I really liked this peanut phyllo crisp, for example, with a peanut flour/sugar layer, which was later used to garnish one part of the quartet. After an initial baking, a layer of confectioner’s sugar is dusted and the phyllo crisp is reheated, allowing the sugar to caramelize (though unevenly in the second photo below – you want to avoid that). This creates a delicate, flaky crisp, which is later broken into shards and used for garnish.
Peanut phyllo crisp
One of the other quartet components was the flambeed bananas with rum and coke ice cream, which Iuzzini is demonstrating below.
Fire and Ice: flambeed bananas and rum and coke ice cream quenelle
After working in groups the whole night, we each had the opportunity to plate our own desserts. Here’s Iuzzini’s plated demo. I loved the way he balanced and delicately offset the quenelles atop the phyllo crisp/bananas. He also created carrot foam using fresh carrot juice and an immersion blender.
Clockwise from left: Chef Iuzzini’s plated demo of pain perdu (brioche French toast) with cream cheese ice cream and papaya lime compote, pineapple polenta cake with pineapple spice sauce, mango lhassi with diced fruits and carrot foam, flambeed bananas with rum and coke ice cream, peanut phyllo crisp and caramelized peanuts.
Wow, I hadn’t realized all that we accomplished in class until I just detailed all the components in that lengthy description. The class was really well-orchestrated in this respect. Also, while the components are certainly numerous, none were especially difficult. We were all left to plate our own arrangements using the desserts we created in class.
My plating arrangement with overfilled lhassi, deflated carrot foam, half-assed melting quenelle, sans specialized, compartmentalized Jean Georges dinnerware.
In perusing my copy of Iuzzini’s Dessert Fourplay, I’m quite surprised by the relative accessibility of the recipes. Though I haven’t tried them yet outside of class, I think they would appeal to a wide range of pastry cooks. The recipes and flavor combinations are really quite compelling and I imagine this will be a great go-to book. I particularly like how each of various elements of the quartets can really stand on their own, should the idea of creating four mini desserts at once be daunting, as I imagine it would be to many. Also, the desserts are beautifully photographed, which is always appreciated.
My one minor complaint was that I wish there were a little more of a color contrast in the final dessert – but this is more of a personal photography issue (though the photo of the same dessert in the book is quite stunning). Class was a blast and the mere hours spent there were inspiring, edifying. Iuzzini was a really charismatic, generous and playful instructor, even poking fun at students who burnt their caramelized sugar (tsk, tsk). Good times!