Truffle Take Off

[Text by Lynn Wolsted]

Ever wondered what it would be like to step out of your own world and into someone else’s? Being a savory line cook in one of New York Cities top fine dining establishments, I ask myself that frequently. For me, in the culinary world, the cross over between sweet and savory doesn’t always present itself. Sure, we savory cooks might be expected to take a basic pastry course at culinary school or perhaps an inspiration will strike us and we decide to drag out our kitchen aid stand mixers- because we all have one- and whip up a crazy donut inspired creation, doused in ooey gooey deliciousness and then rolled in bacon, of course. To actually get the chance to jump in and see what the other side of the line does, however, is a rare glimpse. That’s why I was elated to be thrown into the pastry trenches when I was invited to help my incredibly talented pastry Chef, Stephen Collucci, tackle the Truffle Take Off hosted by Godiva chocolatier, during the New York City Wine and Food Festival last Friday.

When Chef Stephen called and asked if I was interested in helping him, one of his fabulous pastry girls, Lauren, our vivacious event coordinator, Ashley, I jumped at the opportunity. I have had some great experiences working different events over the past few years in New York City and the Truffle Take Off, was no exception. The winner would receive a trip for two to Brussels Belgium (or Guatemala as Lauren seemed very convinced that that was where the winner would be going).

Being a later event during the four-day food festivities, things didn’t get rolling until close to 7:00 pm. We arrived and were directed to our station where we set to work right away, diligently putting together our plated dessert: a white chocolate cheese cake a top homemade graham crackers, poodled with white chocolate shavings, accompanied by a cooked to order sweet, light and fluffy pistachio mini donut rolled in pistachio sugar, placed atop an “expertly” drawn swoosh and finished with dark chocolate feuilletine.

Once we had the components laid out and our mise en place (this is a culinary term. Look it up and learn!) was ready, Stephen gave Lauren and I time to explore and check out our competitors and their creations. Wandering around I soon discovered that some of the pastry elite were present and accounted for: Chef Ron Ben Israel, Chef Elizabeth Falkner, to name a couple along with some very talented pastry chefs from in and around New York City. At 10:00 pm the event was under way and I was swooshing and setting up plates like a maniac. Stephen and Lauren teased me that I swoosh like a savory cook, but I didn’t mind their gentle teasing and happily continued savory swooshing. Side note: Swooshing is a term we use in the kitchen when you take a small dollop of a puree and are supposed to artistically create a swoosh or a line by running the back of a spoon or small off-set spatula through the dollop. It’s all in the wrist and has become the bane of my existence but I’m getting better at it. But enough about my culinary hang-ups back to the Truffle Take Off.

Each event attendee was given tokens at the front door and told to vote for their favorite dessert creation. Stephen is the king of donuts and his pistachio donut was a big hit! Many people admitted to us how much they weren’t big fans of pistachios but loved every bite of that donut. Some people came back frequently and brought their friends, families and complete strangers by our station. We felt pretty good about winning that trip to Brussels, aka Guatemala, for Stephen and his lovely wife.

As the event started winding down judges came around and collected our votes. The winner would be announced shortly afterwards in the main area. When we walked into the main area there was quite a party going on: They had a live dj, different beverage companies were giving out samples of their cocktails, wines and beers and of course, lots and lots of chocolate truffles. We grabbed some refreshments while Lauren and Ashley were already planning out their beach outfits in their heads, as they would be hiding in Stephen’s suitcase to, “Guatemala.”  When they were about to announce the winner; I took that moment for myself and glanced around at the eager faces surrounding the stage, the anticipation building. Thinking to myself, I realized that this right here was why I chose to take part in this incredible industry.

It’s events like these that make being a cook well worth it. Getting the chance to put on Cinderella’s ball gown or at least cook for her ‘til the clock strikes 12 and then going back to our not so flashy home behind the scenes; back to the heat. Giving these people a glimpse at the faces of the hard working cooks that prepare and plate those mouth watering dishes that come to their tables night in and night out, helps to connect the diner and the cook, even if just for a little while. Helping them realize that we are jumping to leaps and bounds to make their meals memorable with each satisfying bite they take. That is when being a cook is worth the sweat, blood and tears. The long and grueling hours, the back breaking labor, the soar wrists, the burns, it’s moments like that that help bring some of us back and help us to realize, oh yeah, this is why I struggle to make a living, and live pay check to pay check. You don’t stay in this industry to make money, you do it because you love cooking and you enjoy creating satisfying dishes that can help curve your customer’s insatiable palates.  Suddenly the winner was announced and just as Lauren was about to bounce herself out of the building from the anticipation, the pastry chef from Le Cirque’s name was announced.

In other words, we had lost. Now everyone grieves in their own way: some choose, alcohol, others choose, drugs, I prefer to eat my feelings and reached for the nearest piece of chocolate. But being good-natured and amazing, Stephen spun the four of us onto the dance floor and we just danced the rest of the night away, forgetting about losing. That’s the best way to survive the culinary world, when you face disappointment you just have to get back up, brush yourself off, and keep dancing. And that is exactly what we did.

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