Chef Jacques Torres: The Sweet Life of Classic Pastry Arts

The French Culinary Institute recently launched their newest Pastry Arts book with a half-day sweet affair that included, for members of the press, a session on creating delicious Pâté â Choux cream puffs.

The French Culinary Institute part of the International Culinary Center.

Situated on the edge of the Soho section of Manhattan, The International Culinary Center, (ICC) houses both the French Culinary Institute and the Italian Culinary Academy. The corner block building, on Broadway and Grand Streets,  is also home to the ICC’s restaurant L’ECole, where student chef’s turn their training into truth all under the supervision of internationally renowned master chefs.

The Masters: Jacques Torres, Alain Sailhac, Jacques Pepin and Andre Soltner.

The book, The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts, is a collaborative effort with an introduction by the French Culinary Institute's founder, Dorothy Hamilton and Dean of The Pastry Arts Program, internationally known “Mr. ChocolateChef Jacque Torres.

Jacques Torres, Dean of The Pastry Arts Program with The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts.

Chef Jacques Torres, was on hand to celebrate the book launch, sign copies and agreed to be interviewed.  The hors’d'oeuvres for the evening were a combination sweet, salty and savory pastry creations.

Salty, savory, sweet chocolate and pastry creations . . .delicious!

Janet Walker: “You’re an internationally known as a Master Chef, why Pastry Arts?”
Jacques Torres: “I think I don’t think I chose that; I think, Pastry chose, well let’s me go back. What’s happening is if a Chef would be a doctor, the Chef that works on the line, the Savory Chef, would be at the emergency room reacting to whoever arrives in the emergency room and reacting to any situation. The Pastry Chef will be someone who is a specialist.

When someone is getting married, we have a meeting with the bride and with the groom. We talk about the cake, we talk about the flavor and we give them a little sample and then we do the cake. When you are Chef someone comes and orders and you send whatever they want. You cook things a la minute. In Pastry you don’t cook anything a la minute. Everything has to be ready to a certain level and then  assembled and then you send it. So, it’s a different animal.

A Chef is the one who likes to react, someone who likes to do things at last minute. It’s a different way of thinking. I think you are someone in yourself and you pick a profession according to who you are not always according to the profession. I think that's how I can answer the question.”

Culinary speciality creations by the students at The French Culinary Institute.

Janet Walker: “What are your most memorable moments as a Pastry Chef?”
Jacques Torres: “You know come back to the basics. Teaching, always being refreshing. I will not say amusing, but fulfilled. You feel a big fulfillment when you go see a class and when you see product coming out of a class and you really love the product. That really makes you happy.

You think, I did my job, I gave my craft to the next generation. Other Chef’s taught me and now I became the teacher who will teach others. You help others to replace you really. So to me this book launch is important. I have three books of my own and now I am a part of this one and that’s important. That’s a part of who we are and what we do.  Come back to the basic’s; That really makes me happy.”

The book launch: From the pages to the table.

Janet Walker: “How did you get the name Mr. Chocolate?”
Jacques Torres: “It’s funny, I was at Le Cirque and I knew I wanted to move on. I wanted to do something else. And I knew I want to do chocolates and my thoughts were pretty ripe at the time and I was ready. Then I was thinking,  'I want a website to sell my chocolates.' Then I’m thinking, 'Jacques Torres nobody’s going to know how to spell that.' Then I say, ‘What do I do?’ And then I’m thinking, ‘Mr. Chocolate.’ And I call my girlfriend and asked can you check to see if ‘Mr. Chocolate' is taken and she gets right on it and its not! So I say take it right away. I bought it immediately and now I am Mr. Chocolate.”

The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Pastry Arts.

The book launch was the cap of a delightful afternoon that included a mini-pastry arts instructional class. The session, Pâté â Choux, taught by Chef Peter Baldino, III, is the art of preparing the perfect cream puff dough used for éclairs and other puff pastry creations including beignets soufflés, gougers and gnocchi (pasta). In fact, eight different French recipes used this basic dough.

Chef Peter Baldino introducing Pâté â Choux.

The workshop is run similar to the other amateur courses offered through The International Culinary Institute, in that it is set in the industrial kitchens and taught with the same hands on method of emersion that has built the school’s curriculum into an internationally known credible culinary program.

Agitating the Pâté â Choux until it separates from the sides.

Beginning with a brief introduction Chef Peter explained that for our class we would be learning the best method to prepare the Pâté â Choux. The look, texture and feel so, that visually when we try to prepare this type of dough at home, we would comprehend the proper look for the perfect Pâté â Choux.

Pâté â Choux or better known as éclairs waiting to be filled and glazed.

The Pâté â Choux is prepared over heat and agitated until a thickness develops and it forms a dough look and separates from the sides. The dough is then transferred into a table mixer. After the ingredients are added, and for the Choux dough egg seems to be the defining ingredient as it has a fine line between perfect and improper. Excess egg and the dough won’t shape properly; not enough and the dough will not rise properly. Understanding the importance of egg is paramount. For perfect Choux dough follow the recipe and use the specified egg size.

Chef Peter adding the eggs into the mixture.

The eggs are added while the dough is begin agitated with the mixer. Chef Peter had placed the eggs in a measuring cup to make pouring the eggs into the agitating mixture easier. The dough when properly prepared will fall in a ribbon. Elongating from the mixing blades in a single line folding over as it meets the mixture.

(l.) The Pâté â Choux needs more mixing. (r.)The perfect Pâté â Choux elongates from the mixing blades in a ribbon folding over as it meets the mixture.

Piping the Choux dough into form was the next step. For our limited instruction we watched the process of dough prep and piping. Amateur classes are expanded to allow the student participants the opportunity to complete the entire process of dough preperation and piping.  Chef Peter piped the dough on wax paper with a five point tip into the traditional four inch éclair

Piping the Pâté â Choux into éclairs; coating lightly with egg wash.

Éclairs, were the pastry of the afternoon. In order to have a complete éclair there must be filling.  The prep time for the instructional classes are cut in half or less by the pre-class prep. The assistants who work in the background make possible the full learning potential in the short time frame.

Piping and éclairs fresh from the oven.

Today was no different, the Pastry Arts assistants had prepared two different fillings prior to the session and for demonstration purposes Chef Peter prepared a vanilla filling. The vanilla filling was created with the use of a whole vanilla bean. The interesting aspect of the vanilla bean is its shape. The elongated bean, is probably four inches, round and less than pencil thin. That is probably not a shock to anyone but to the culinary challenged it is an epiphany!

Chef Peter Baldino extracting the vanilla bean.

The bean is split and when the insides are scraped the extract gathers on the blade. The entire inside of the bean is milligram in weight and produces kilograms in flavor. During the cooking process the entire bean, internal and external, is used to add flavor.

Agitating the vanilla crème filling.

To demonstrate the filling Chef Peter used, as we would, éclair's that had been previously prepared. To fill an éclair one must create entry. That’s how filling is piped into the center of the baked éclair or any cream filled pastry. A small circular hole is carved into the pastry. The tip of the pastry bag is placed into the hole and the filling is squeezed into the pastry. The force of the filling pushes past the baked Pâté â Choux membranes, hollows and fills the inside, and when the process is completed filling rises out of the opening.

Chef Peter demonstrates filling the éclairs.

After the demonstration it was time for the practical. The empty éclairs were stationed in front of each student and as the assistant’s placed three types of filling, chocolate, vanilla and caramel, at each station, we were to fill as many of the éclairs as we desired. By the end of the class each student had  filled more than a dozen éclairs and, to identify the center filling, dipped them into the glaçage of the same flavor.

Pâté â Choux puff pastry: Perfectly plated éclairs.

The day was filled with delicious treats and the evening delightful conversation with a signed copy of the newest pastry arts book so to relive the sweet life with the turn of each page.

Ah! Amour! Here’s to the sweet life!

Hand blown sugar creations for the Halloween season. Everyone's favorite Linus, Sally and Snoopy wait for The Great Pumpkin.

For more information on Chef Jacques “Mr. Chocolate” Torres:
For more information on the French Culinary Institute:

All pictures by Janet Walker courtesy of Pulse Point Productions, Inc.
For more information on Pulse Point Productions, Inc:

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