CLASSICS IN THE MAKING

Creamy comfort endures

THEN – 2016

THE SECRET BEHIND CLASSICS

Be the same but different

Chef Michael Kornick once said that restaurants just need to include menu classics roast chicken and Caesar salad to be successful.

That was 23 years ago when Kornick ran several of Chicago’s buzziest restaurants, from his namesake MK to Marche and Red Light. Forward-thinking chefs generally want to be more adventuresome. But classics exist for a reason. They’re familiar and safe, but they also elicit other emotions, such as comfort and nostalgia.

Do you still need roast chicken and Caesar salad or other classics, such as crème brûlée and chocolate molten lava cake on the menu?

Yes, despite the restaurant boom of the last decade that has dramatically changed the dining landscape since Kornick’s heyday. And double yes, considering how the world has been upended by the pandemic and with the threat of a recession.

They can’t just be snoozers. That is because tapping into what’s familiar yet exciting transcends time and will always be the cornerstone of a successful menu.

Recipes from this article:

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NOW

► Each decade has brought a new European dessert to Americans’ attention. French chef Michel Bras gets credit for the molten chocolate cake that defined dessert menus through the 1980s. Creamy créme brûlée surged through the 1990s. Crispy macarons spread all over in the aughts; canelés, too.

“Dominique Ansel Bakery is responsible for popularizing the canelé,” says Niko Triantafillou, a food writer who recorded much of chef Dominique Ansel’s early work. Ansel debuted his cronut in 2013. But by then, his tender and custardy canelés were already opening minds. The cronut furthered interest in such offerings.

Today, creamy European pastries continue to make deep cuts in American dessert menus. And no other showstopper of a plate has recently spread as much as the Paris-Brest.

An almond-studded ring of pâte à choux sandwiching créme mousseline, the Paris-Brest is a visual stunner. Its workable components mean a lean kitchen staff can impress with minimal fuss. “Not all restaurants these days pay for a full-time, top-tier pastry chef,” says Gabriel Rucker, chef/owner of Canard and Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon. “A savory cook can grasp the choux dough that makes the Paris-Brest. It’s very utilitarian.”

Rucker changes up his Paris-Brest seasonally. In late winter, it may present with crémeux, kumquat honey, chamomile anglaise and candied poppyseed. In the summer, it may be presented with coconut cream and strawberries. Flavor familiarity helps diners order the dessert with little coaching from servers. “People will see a word they might not understand and a bunch of flavors that they really like,” Rucker says. “They’ll say, ‘Well, I might not know what a Paris-Brest is, but I like things that have coconut and strawberry.’”

Also quickly rising the ranks are the Portuguese pastéis de nata, buttery puff pastry cups filled with custard and baked until caramelized. Until recently, they were only sold among Portuguese communities peppering the Northeast. American diners might recognize them as the daan tat (egg tarts) sold in Chinese bakeries, which hail from Macau. But a huge rise in tourism to Portugal has Americans now seeking them out locally. Social media posts featuring them often go viral. “If you are a fan of warm, fresh, flaky croissants and créme brûlée, then pastéis de nata are a must try,” says Mauro Magalhães, owner of Natas and Bowls in Kearny, New Jersey.

“It is only a matter of time before they are rightly recognized as one of the top European pastries,” Magalhães believes.

Which creamy, custardy, crackly pastry will win in the decade to come? Only time will tell. But for now, the present looks sweet.

CLASSICS UPDATED

Young chefs may sneer at putting chicken or Caesar salad on a menu, but the experienced ones with the burn marks up and down their arms prove they know better. Some examples:

❱ ROAST CHICKEN
Umeboshi with baby bok choy and plum wine, and white sesame and Caesar salad with little gem lettuce, anchovy, sourdough croutons and Parmesan

Ray Hayashi and Cynthia Hetliner, Ryla, Hermosa Beach, California

❱ ROASTED CHICKEN with haydari yogurt, za’atar, Aleppo pepper and pea vines

Chef/owner Renee Erickson, The Whale Wins, Seattle, Washington

❱ ROAST HALF CHICKEN from Joyce Farms, with mulberry, braised carrots, carrot top gremolata and sochan (greens)

Chef/co-owner Eric Burleson, Eldr, Asheville, North Carolina

❱ CAESAR SALAD with napa cabbage, vegan tahini Caesar dressing, chickpea-hazelnut dukkah and shaved halloumi

Chef/owner Michael Shemtov, Butcher & Bee, Nashville, Tennessee

❱ CAESAR SALAD with gem lettuce, baby arugula, capers, migas, Grana Padano and Greek yogurt dressing

Beatrix, Chicago, Illinois

CLASSICS UPDATED

Young chefs may sneer at putting chicken or Caesar salad on a menu, but the experienced ones with the burn marks up and down their arms prove they know better. Some examples:

❱ ROAST CHICKEN

Umeboshi with baby bok choy and plum wine, and white sesame and Caesar salad with little gem lettuce, anchovy, sourdough croutons and Parmesan

Ray Hayashi and Cynthia Hetliner, Ryla, Hermosa Beach, California

❱ ROASTED CHICKEN with haydari yogurt, za’atar, Aleppo pepper and pea vines

Chef/owner Renee Erickson, The Whale Wins, Seattle, Washington

❱ ROAST HALF CHICKEN from Joyce Farms, with mulberry, braised carrots, carrot top gremolata and sochan (greens)

Chef/co-owner Eric Burleson, Eldr, Asheville, North Carolina

❱ CAESAR SALAD with napa cabbage, vegan tahini Caesar dressing, chickpea-hazelnut dukkah and shaved halloumi

Chef/owner Michael Shemtov, Butcher & Bee, Nashville, Tennessee

❱ CAESAR SALAD with gem lettuce, baby arugula, capers, migas, Grana Padano and Greek yogurt dressing

Beatrix, Chicago