As Craft approaches its 10th anniversary, it has brought on a new pastry chef: Jennifer McCoy, previously of A Voce. McCoy has worked in Chicago’s Charlie Trotter’s, Blackbird and Bittersweet Bakery, and New Orleans’ Emeril’s. But most interestingly, she took time off from restaurants to open her own apothecary, and she now uses that knowledge of herbs, flowers, and aromatics in her pastry.
We caught up with McCoy about her new dessert menu at Craft, her favorite summer flavor combinations, deconstructed desserts, and how the apothecary inspires her treats.
How would you describe your approach at Craft?
Craft is definitely market-driven, so I find my approach is often dictated by what is in season. In terms of composition, I think about what I’d like to eat, which more often than not is a modern take on an American classic dessert. For instance, the Raspberry Study that is currently on the menu. It is comprised of three miniature raspberry desserts: a float that is made with house-made raspberry soda and vanilla bean ice cream, a tart that is made with a pistachio crust and filled with whipped crème fraîche and topped with fresh raspberries, and a sorbet that is made with fresh raspberry puree and lavender simple syrup.
How does your experience owning an apothecary influence your pastry?
You’ll find lots of aromatics in my desserts. The olfactory and taste senses play off each other so much when eating, so I love to think about scents that pair well together and not just flavor affinities. For instance, I just added a bronze fennel crème anglaise to the menu to pair with the chocolate soufflé. Fennel and chocolate pair wonderfully together because the bright intensity and scent of the fennel balances the deep, earthy flavors and aromas of the dark chocolate.
Does your experience working in other cities like Chicago and New Orleans also influence your style?
I think my time at Blackbird [in Chicago] was really one of the most influential experiences that reflects itself in my desserts today. When I was there, and it still is, Blackbird emphasized its interest in being a very season-based and farm-to-table restaurant. Working under Paul Kahan helped me to learn about amazing products and interesting flavor combinations without going off the deep end. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to take a perfect piece of fruit and keep it that way. I think stylistically Craft reminds me a lot of Blackbird in its early years. As of late, Blackbird is under the direction of a former sous chef from wd~50, so they’ve become much more progressive in their cooking.
However, you’ll often find a take on bread pudding on my menu, which is so typical in New Orleans …
What are your favorite summer flavor combinations?
Wow. Where shall I begin? Peaches and bay leaf. Cherries and thyme. Chocolate, apricots, and lavender. Strawberries, basil, and saba. Watermelon and rose water. Blueberries. Ruby port and vanilla bean.
I often feel like a highly stylized dessert doesn’t quite satisfy the way a more traditional one does. Speaking generally, a deconstructed blueberry pie, for instance, never seems to be quite as tasty as a quality slice of blueberry pie. Do you agree, and what are your thoughts on that?
Absolutely! I think pastry chefs should go for the gusto and make crazy desserts to their heart’s content, if that’s what suits them and presents a platform for professional challenges and development. However, at the end of the day, I just want cherry pie à la mode, or a warm crepe with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and sprinkle of sugar, and so that’s more of what you’ll find on my menu. My personal belief is that people don’t want to think too much when it comes to desserts. Guests want something delicious and comforting, with a slight element of interest, a small step away from a straight classic. Here at Craft, I mostly load my menu with traditional desserts and save my really innovative dishes for the tasting menu.
Is there a particular fruit season you look forward to the most?
Fall. I love working with apples and pears, pumpkins, squash, and lots of warm, toasty flavors like roasted nuts, dark caramels, rum, cinnamon, nutmeg, and brown butter. And with this sweltering heat in NYC, I’d love fall to arrive a little early this year!