There are forgotten giants in the food world, people who have profoundly influenced what we eat, but whose names we barely know. James Beard Award-winning pastry chef Claudia Fleming is one of those people.
She is the author, along with Melissa Clark of the New York Times, of The Last Course: The Desserts of Gramercy Tavern, which you'll find on the bookshelf of anyone who's serious about dessert. She is also my guest on the next two episodes of Special Sauce, and man does she have some stories to tell! First, in this week's episode, Claudia talks about ice cream, dance, and dessert construction; then, in next week's episode, she'll talk about love and loss.
When Claudia first became a pastry chef, it was the era of vertical desserts, which she wasn't thrilled about. As she says in the book, "I wasn't very interested in Legos. I wanted it to taste like something." She expanded on that notion in the interview. "They make things that stacked on top of each other and how high can we make it before it falls down," she says. "Technically, the only way to do that is with tons of sugar and it's almost inedible. You'd have this tiny edible thing on the plate and then you have all of these things on top."
Claudia has a gender-based theory for why that trend came about, and why her approach is different: "I think it's a more feminine approach because- I'm going to be really sexist- boys like to build things. Women nourish more. I'm being incredibly generalistic and very sexist, but that's my experience."
But before we hear from Claudia, Serious Eater Ryder Cobean asks Kenji for a non-meat alternative to use in Kenji's very fine pressure cooker chile verde. Kenji offers up two ideas. One is soy-based and not so surprising. The other, however, shocked the hell out of me. I'm not giving it away here, but I will give you a hint: It's a fruit I most often associate with the Caribbean.
Finally, we hear from our beloved Pastry Wizard Stella Parks about how to improve your banana bread, no matter which recipe you use.
Pastry chef legend Claudia Fleming on the rise and fall of Lego-like desserts, Kenji on losing the meat in his pressure cooker chile verde, and BraveTart weighing in on banana bread. Quite an episode of Special Sauce.
The full transcript for this episode can be found over here at Serious Eats: https://www.seriouseats.com/2020/02/claudia-fleming-1-1.html