From Sublime to Ridiculous: The Pastry Chef as Mad Scientist

What is the essence of dessert? Sugar? Flavor? Indulgent calories? None of the above, according to pastry chef Will Goldfarb. Technically, he's right: 'dessert' comes from the French 'desservir,' the thing served after the meal. It doesn't have to taste sweet or good. Still, Goldfarb pushes the boundaries of dessert--and arguably, good taste--with dishes such as tobacco sabayon, chlorophyll jello, and squid ink brioche.

The New Gastronomy Strikes Again

Pastry chef Goldfarb's avant garde desserts are part of the New Gastronomy School, the same folks who brought you the spherical mojito and other chemically engineered cocktails. Calcium chloride is a favorite of these mad scientist chefs, who value the substance for its ability to solidify liquid into balls. Bill Buford, the culinary arts adventure journalist, aptly characterizes the typical New Gastronomist as a "downtown laser-torching, hyper-techno gastro kid concocting...culinary performance art."

It Looks Cool, But How Does It Taste?

Flavor is beside the point. New Gastronomy doesn't cater to sugar junkies and chocoholics, who would do better to buy themselves a chocolate muffin. These pastry chefs aim "to change the concept of the eating experience of dessert." To this end they may serve a dish on sandpaper, or perhaps bind and blindfold the customer.

Goldfarb's desserts are concepts. They have names like Voyage to India and St. Barts May 2001, which comes with a beach towel and a side of salt water. While Goldfarb claims to put the 'art' back in culinary arts, many food critics find little to call culinary in his arts. Customers are fascinated by the strangeness of it all.

Pastry Chef School of the Absurd

You may ask, on what planet did Goldfarb attend pastry chef school? In fact, he has the same classical French pastry training that forms the basis of most chef school curricula. In culinary arts as in most other arts, it's important to master the craft before revolutionizing it. Pastry chef wizards might be busy churning pancetta ice cream now, but once upon a time they too caramelized creme brulee, kicking off a brilliant, odd career with a solid culinary school education.

  • Buford, Bill. "The Dessert Lab," The New Yorker (June 26, 2006).
  • Willpowder.net